- From a recent news story:
Kazakhstan crackdown on human Hobbits
By Craig Nelson in Moscow
DEVOTEES of J R R Tolkien and his hairy-footed hobbits in the central Asian
state of Kazakhstan have encountered a real-life threat to match the evil
dark lord Sauron: a police crackdown on "counter-cultural groups".
The peaks of the Tian Shen Mountains which tower over Almaty, the main city
in the former Soviet republic, offer an impressive representation of Middle
Earth, the world created by Tolkien.
An estimated 1,000 local aficionados of the British author, <A HREF="http://news.telegraph.co.uk/htmlContent.jhtml;$sessionid$SRFFJ0AAABYGDQFIQMFCFFWAVCBQYIV0?html=/archive/1997/02/12/wtolk12.html">who call
themselves Tolkienisti</A>, trek regularly to forts they have built in the
foothills, dress up as their favourite characters and re-enact adventures
based on The Hobbit and the subsequent trilogy, The Lord of the Rings.
"I find city life so crude and gloomy. I want to get away from it and create
a different world," one 17-year-old said of Tolkien's allure. "When I look at
other kids who hang out with nothing to do and no interests in life, I feel
sad. Their lives seem so empty."
The pastime, however, is viewed as subversive by Almaty police, whose ranks
include veterans of the old communist security forces and rural Kazakhs who
have never heard of the Oxford professor and his creations.
They have launched a campaign against the Tolkienisti, and any group that
they believe exhibits undesirably "Bohemian" traits, including street
musicians, "alternative" artists and homosexuals.
Victims of the crackdown have been beaten and detained for up to three days
without charge, according to a report by the Institute for War and Peace
Reporting. One victim, the leader of a well-known punk rock bank was forced
to squat in a jail cell less than 5ft high and half-filled with water.
The most frequent form of harassment is less severe, said the 17-year-old
Tolkienist, who spoke on condition of anonymity. She said Tolkien enthusiasts
were stopped in the street and ordered to remove their costumes and surrender
their rubber axes and home-made wooden swords.
The threat of a three-day detention on charges of carrying a concealed weapon
is used to extract a bribe of up to £2.80, - a large sum by the standards of
The young woman, an art student, denied that the Tolkienisti posed any
criminal or political threat. "The police and soldiers stop us because we are
different. They believe if you are different from everyone else you are
against everyone else," she said.
Erbol Jumagulov, an Almaty journalist and a co-author of the IWPR report,
blames the wave of harassment on a clash of cultures. The junior ranks of the
police and army are burgeoning with non-Russian speaking, ethnic Kazakhs who
have flocked to urban centres.
They have little experience of people who dress and act differently to what
they are accustomed. Furthermore, Mr Jumagulov said, the police and soldiers
are products of Kazakhstan's rigidly conformist police and military
academies, where hazing (brutal initiation rites) is routine.
The resulting mixture is volatile. "They hit the streets and see people
dressed in an eccentric way and they want revenge. Or, they're simply
envious," he said. The Kazakh embassy in Moscow refused to comment on
allegations of brutality by Kazakh security forces.
Tolkien's world of elves, dwarves, orcs and hobbits comprises one of the most
treasured series of books ever written. It has sold more than 90 million
copies worldwide since the first appeared in 1937.
The books were translated into Russian in 1976, quickly becoming enormously
popular throughout the Soviet Union.
This can be found at
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
> The books were translated into Russian in 1976, >quickly becoming enormously > popular throughout the
Soviet Union. > I've heard that they weren't
available in the USSR until 1989. Does anyone know?
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