By Jade Mardirosian
An exhibit commemorating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Soviet Union will be unveiled Thursday at Baylor’s W. R. Poage Legislative Library.
The exhibit, titled “U.S.S.R. in Retrospect” is a collaborative effort by the library and Baylor’s Keston Institute for Religion, Politics and Society. Included in the exhibit will be political and personal relics from the Soviet Union as well as narratives of religious persecution from that time period.
The exhibit features two parts, with the section put together by the library focusing on the everyday life of the people of the former Soviet Union and the section put together by the Keston Center focusing on religion and the religious persecution endured by Christians in the U.S.S.R.
Ben Rogers, director of the Poage Library, said he hopes the exhibit will impact the way people view the former communist country.
“I hope that people will realize that folks in Russia were just like the people here. They liked fun things and collected pins and buttons, and the astronauts were their heroes,” Rogers said. “But at the same time there was religious persecution going on that the people also had to deal with.”
Dr. Robert Platt donated the artifacts and memorabilia on display, which include pins, banners, comic books, political buttons, flags and more. Platt collected these materials after visiting Russia in 1992 and donated his entire collection to the library in 2009. Platt will be a special guest at the opening reception, which will take place from 3 to 5 p.m. Thursday. Also attending the reception will be the Rev. Michael Bordeaux, founder of the Keston Institute in Oxford, England, and Xenia Dennen, current chair of the institute.
The Keston Center was founded at Baylor in 2007 in order to house the Keston Archive and Library, which was moved from the Keston Institute, said Larisa Seago, administrative archivist at the Keston Center for Religion, Politics and Society.
Seago said she hopes the exhibit will bring attention to the center, which focuses on the research of religion in communist and post-communist societies.
“I hope that people will know about the collection and the exhibit will kind of tell people about [the center] and get them interested,” Seago said. “I hope after this people will understand the significance of [the center] because it contains unique materials in many ways.”
Material in the exhibit from the center includes a panel that describes the story of Aida Skripnikova, a Baptist woman persecuted for her faith in the former Soviet Union.
“The history is remarkable. We have in the collection we’ve restored the original trial transcripts from her trial,” Seago said. “They are handwritten with ballpoint pen done on cloth sheets because it was easier for someone to smuggle out.”
The cloth sheets could be wrapped around a person’s body and that way taken out of the country. The sheet on display was scanned and painted out in a large format and is accompanied by a translation.
Graduate student Sasha Choulenina works as a research assistant at the Keston Center and helped organize the materials on display. She said the exhibit presents an interesting contrast between common life in the Soviet Union and the personal stories of religious persecution that have been untold.
“I think [the exhibit] is important especially at Baylor where faith is so central to people’s lives,” Cholenina said. “I think it will be interesting for people to become familiar with these stories of religious dissidence in the Soviet Union.”