Back in the day (by which I mean from 1733-1867), Alaska was a Russian colonial possession, rather than being that weird bit of the USA that looks like it ought to be Canada. In 1867, the Yanks bought it off the Russkies for two cents an acre. That may sound like a measly sum, but in those days two cents was considered riches – you could buy a pair of Air Force 1s with it and still have enough change left over to start your own slave colony.
Anyway, last weekend, a Russian Orthodox group known as the Pchyolki called bullshit on that deal and demanded that Alaska be returned to Russia. These guys previously gained notoriety for their reaction to Pussy Riot’s controversial performance in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior, when they produced a handy guide for any Russian Orthodox Christians unlucky enough to be accosted by blasphemers. Apparently you’re supposed to destroy their electronic equipment with holy water, spit in their faces and keep in mind to "avoid shedding of blood in the church itself, but if the scorners are violent outside the church grounds, you shall fight back accordingly".
Media reports suggested that the thorny issue of gay marriage (only thorny among bigots, tbh) had prompted the demand to get Alaska back. Predictably, the group isn't two keen on two guys exchanging vows and with Obama said to be considering that very act, the Pchyolki are taking pre-emptive action to protect the state's Orthodox Christian community. I phoned up Nikolay Bondarenko, the Pchyolki leader, for a chat.
VICE: Hi Nikolay. Why are you questioning the legitimacy of the USA's ownership of Alaska?
Nikolay Bondarenko: Because the original deal wasn't done properly. Legally, the USA shouldn't own Alaska. In the legal documents of the original deal that sold Alaska to the US government in the 1800s it specifies the terms of payment – it says that Russia will sell Alaska to America for $7.2 million and payment of the equivalent of this sum should be made by gold. But in fact the payment was made by cheque. Why was that? It is not known where that actual cheque is now, so we can’t even prove that Russians received that payment. At the time Russia and the USA were allies, so whoever was responsible for that deal must have done it on purpose.
Why do you want Alaska back?
As a human rights organisation we have to think about the rights of the Russians and other Orthodox people of Alaska. Article three of the original agreement highlighted that all people living there will be treated by the government according to their traditions, beliefs and religion, and the majority of residents were Orthodox. When Obama announced his plans to legalise same-sex marriage, we realised it will really affect the Orthodox population of Alaska and it will directly violate the agreement.
Have you wanted it back before now? What prompted you to file the lawsuit?
We could have claimed it back a few months ago; we could have claimed it back 100 years ago. The formal "trigger" – was the Schneerson Library case, when – a few months ago – an American court ordered Russia to hand over the library to Hasidic jews of America with a $50,000 fine for every day it wasn't handed back. This was so outrageous and caused a lot of discussion.
How do you rate your chances of getting it back?
We have much better legal grounds to get Alaska back than they had then, so we are quite positive about our chances.
What would you change if you did?
When our lawsuit is accepted and we win, for the delay in accepting it, we will ask a payment of $1 million per day from the US government. We recommend that all the money should go to charity to help Russian orphans and kids with disabilities.
That's nice, I suppose.
As for the use of the land, we would like to sign all the local business and produce to be under Russian jurisdiction. So in future they would belong to big Russian companies. In general, it’s a beautiful place and I think we could promote it as a unique conservation area. It has a beautiful landscape.
I'm down with nature and stuff, but what would you do with gay people in Alaska?
Gays can live as they like, but promoting this lifestyle and relationships among youth is not acceptable for us Russians.
What would you do if there were an Alaskan gay bar, would that be allowed?
Perhaps such clubs also exist in Russia, I'm not sure. Venues of that nature are allowed by the law, but there would be a problem with their advertisement and promotion. We need to think about it. Maybe there would be gay propaganda in them. If it is a closed venue and they do whatever they want in it, it’s OK, but we should not allow them to tell others about that lifestyle.
We will offer the local American citizen within the first three years to move to the mainland in the other parts of the US. If they prefer to stay in Alaska they will be very welcome to accept the Russian citizenship and become Russian. At the time the US did the same.
Tell me about your human rights work. I've heard that you try to help orphans by campaigning against sexual education in schools.
When the USSR became modern Russia there were lots of Orthodox priests taking care of orphans and neglected children, creating small orphanages. It was not very good, most of the modern Russian state orphanages led children to a future of crime. Orthodox orphanages educate children in a very patriotic and healthy way and children from those orphanages create healthy families and bring up healthy, clean children. They don't have any sexual education, it's too early for children to know about sex.
Don't you understand why adults would want kids to know about how to have sex in a healthy way, even if their interest in sex itself is, as you say, "unhealthy"?
The strange wish of the adults to tell children about sex makes those children take an unhealthy interest in sex and leads to young pregnancies and early abortions. Americans agree with us – they are now abandoning the idea of sexual education and have decided to bring children up in chastity and purity. We are promoting the ideas of saving sex until a married life. We want young people to have honest marriages and pure children!
I see. I'm not totally convinced getting rid of sex education stops people having sex. But thanks, and good luck.
More stuff to do with religious people in Russia: