Back After the USSR

Philip Mantle and Paul Stonehill. Mysterious Sky: Soviet UFO Phenomenon. Publish America, 2006. 

Both in its own eyes, and in the eyes of many of its enemies, the former Soviet Union projected the image of being an atheist state dedicated to the principles of dialectical materialism. The reality was quite different, for underneath the surface all sorts of mystical and occult beliefs, many dating back from before the Revolution, flourished. From time to time these would surface and appear in various official and quasi-official publications. In a sense the totalitarian nature of the regime aided the dissemination of such material, for the normal processes of peer review and debate did not operate. The first consideration that would-be critics had to bear in mind was not whether an outlandish claim was valid or not, but mindful of the Lysenko affair, was whether or not the claimant had the backing of some powerful patron it would be unwise to antagonise.

Thus the former Soviet Union saw the publication of many paranormal-type claims, which would flourish for a while, usually until the senior leadership decided otherwise. Once the processes of democratisation got under way, this sort of material exploded. As the ruling ideology collapsed people looked for new sets of beliefs to make sense of their lives. Many have turned back to the Orthodox Church, but others have turned to this underground of occult beliefs. These can now by freely published, but society still lacks the tradition of independent critical thought and public debate.

This is the climate from which this often fascinating collection of ufological and semi-ufological folklore has emerged. This Russian ufology seems to have some things in common with western ufology, but in other ways it has its own spin. UFO stories merge with older occult traditions, beliefs in mysterious locations, bottomless lakes, occult revelations, strange forces and the like. The Tunguska meteorite and various ancient astronaut/secret civilisation type speculations also feature heavily, as do various cosmonaut-based ghost and UFO stories. There appears to be little in the way of 'scientific ufology' in the fashion of the old NICAP to structure the belief system. The line between 'serious' ufology and the sort of material which appears in the Weekly World News is very blurred, if present at all.

'Serious' and 'scientific' ufologists reading this book are likely to be disappointed, for almost nothing in the way of actual evidence is presented, and to be honest the chances of much of this material turning out to be more or less accurate reportage of actual historical events is likely be pretty slim. Indeed purists might actually argue that we cannot be sure of how much is actual 'real' folklore - i.e. stories and rumours which are actually circulating in society - and how much is just made up by the various writers whose views are presented here. Some of this folklore looks as though it was concocted to cover for various military activities.

Whatever is origins however this material is now 'out there' in magazine articles, the internet and books, and serves the same function of much traditional folklore in symbolising the inescapable otherness of wild nature. -- Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 93, September 2006.

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