Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/455

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SUICIDAL FANATICISM IN RUSSIA.

Great interest attaches to Theodore Kovaleff. He was the most responsible person in the whole party. He never assented to or believed in any of the ideas and plans. He was the agent of the whole transaction. By his hands his wife, children, sister, mother and brother died. He did what he was told to do. Vitalia's final orders to him were not to eat or drink, but to await the end of the world which would come in a day or two. He held out four days; then as there was no war, as no one came to take him to prison, and the world did not end, he began to eat. When the facts became known and he was questioned, he said that they did not think they could go wrong in obeying Vitalia, because she fasted, prayed, read good books, etc., and he repeated the question: 'Why was there no one to set us right?' His portraits, which are here reproduced, show that he is a stupid and ignorant but harmless peasant. The face portrait shows an expression of anxiety and distress, as of a man who finds himself in a situation which he can not understand. In the full-length picture which represents him in the costume of a monk of the Old Believers, his face shows more of the mild melancholy which, as Sigorski tells us, was one of the traits of his character.

The reports of the existence of a sect, one of whose religious principles is suicide, prove to be unfounded. The religious element in the affair was small and remote. The Old Believers have fallen into an attitude towards society and the state which is traditional and false, although not without some historical explanation and excuse. They are under the dominion of fixed ideas and live in a seclusion and ignorance which cause them to take a false position towards all their surroundings. They fear imaginary enemies and unreal dangers. Their extreme ignorance of the world causes them to adopt crazy projects for meeting enemies and dangers. All this nourishes fanaticism and bigotry up to the stage of insanity. Then there are traditions of the extravagant behavior of their ancestors in the sect to suggest for imitation models of right and noble action. When a man is at hand of feeble character and stupid submissiveness to act as the agent of the half-insane fanatics all the elements and conditions of the tragedy are provided.