Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Political Coming Out of Sacramento's Slavic Community

Organizers of the annual Rainbow Festival were prepared for trouble.

The Q Crew, a local "queer/straight alliance," distributed cards telling people what to do if approached by hostile demonstrators. Sympathetic local church groups formed a protective buffer along the festival ground's cyclone fence. Mounted police were on patrol.

Jerry Sloan manned a table for Stand Up for Sacramento, a recently formed gay self-defense organization.

"So far, so good," he said. "No Russians."

Russians, as is so often the case in America, here means anyone from the Former Soviet Union, and in particular those Ukrainians in the Sacramento area who arrived ten or fifteen years ago but only recently have started to show an interest in local politics.

Numbering between 80,000 and 100,000, Sacramento's Slavic community isn't Jewish or Orthodox, but largely evangelical -- Baptist and Pentecostal. (The Pentecostal church was introduced into Ukraine in the 1920s by missionary and martyr Ivan Efimovich Vornaev.)

That the community chose to settle in Sacramento, making it the largest non-Jewish, non-Orthodox destination for Russian and Ukrainian immigrants, can be explained by the Cold War.

Before emigrating, many of the refugees learned about Sacramento from two sources: a short-wave fundamentalist religious radio program, "Word to Russia," that originated here, and a Russian-language newspaper, Our Days, that was printed in Sacramento and distributed to underground churches in the Soviet Union. A local Russian Baptist church persuaded several Sacramento evangelical churches to sponsor the refugees.


Michael Lokteff, 69, is a former high school teacher who was the voice of the "Word to Russia" broadcasts into the Soviet Union. A cheerful, white-haired lay Baptist who takes a glass of wine with his meals, Lokteff said that many of the immigrants were unprepared for culturally laissez-faire California.

In part, Lokteff blames his own broadcasts, which he said left the listeners with the impression that America, and particularly Sacramento, was a Christian bastion.

"They even thought my program was government-sponsored," Lokteff said. "They came here expecting a Christian commune, and all of a sudden the first thing they see is a gay parade."

An interesting article. Read it while you can.


The Ranger said...

Stephan, I don't understand this . Are they saying that Russians are Anti-Gay ? I guess that they are making a statement about Russians or FSU people in general. I am lost !!

The Author said...

They're talking specifically about the Slavic community in Sacramento, which is predominantly Ukrainian and Evangelical Christian, believing in a literal interpretation of the Bible. More than anything, they're showing how this immigrant group is beginning to express its political voice and power. And the group is anti-gay.

Anonymous said...

I hate categorizing "groups" it's unfair. I am a Russian person who lives in the Sacramento area, and there are indeed many Christian people here. However, it is almost always nonviolent protesting--not against gays per se, but when legislature tries to force propaganda/etc. in schools. If prayer is forbidden in schools, then this should be too. This is the biggest issue. They don't want to be forced (they were already forced to do many things against their religion back in the Soviet Union); they don't want this to happen to them and their children. Everyone should have a right to what their children are taught. I personally agree that prayer probably shouldn't be "taught" in schools...because education should be seperate from such things as to not offend others who don't agree with your point of view. Same with gay teaching in schools. It's illogical and makes the Slavic community really angry that they seem to not have any say in what their children are taught.