The end of an academic year is a good time to recall the most interesting readings. Last time I talked about Fidelis’ book on Poland, and now I would like to present an article A Parasite from Outer Space: How Sergei Kurekhin Proved That Lenin Was a Mushroom by Alexei Yurchak. Even the title sounds promising.
So what is it all about? Sergey Kuryokhin, a Russian artist, made a TV show in May 1991 on the Russian national TV and provided “scientific evidence” that Lenin was a mushroom. The show shocked the audience and left many wondering if it was the truth. It was carefully planned program that utilised atmosphere in the Soviet society during Perestroika, when many new historical facts were presented to the public for the first time. By presenting his “findings” as scientific, with serious tone, interviews with real scientists not aware of the hoax, historical footages, and images, the artist made difficult for viewers to see that everything he presents was false. The main thesis was that the Bolshevik revolution, and Lenin himself, was influenced by hallucinogenic mushrooms:
“I have absolutely irrefutable proof that the October revolution was carried out by people who had been consuming certain mushrooms for many years. And these mushrooms, in the process of being consumed by these people, had displaced their personalities. These people were turning into mushrooms. In other words, I simply want to say that Lenin was a mushroom.” (As quoted in Yurchak, 2011, p308)
Some did realise that it was an irony, but they were still shocked that such thing was possible to be broadcasted. Other viewers were just left puzzling.
This funny event opens serious question on representation of academic findings and possible hoaxes, and pseudoscience. In past 20 years we have witnessed proliferation of pseudo history in the Balkans. In Serbian version of pseudo history these “scholars” (who never had any formal education in history) claim that Serbs are the oldest people on Earth, predecessors or creators of all great civilisations. In similar paradigm they would argue that Serbs were natives in the Balkans, tracking theirs origins to the Neolithic times. Such rubbish is always disguised in a serious academic tone - some “evidences” would be presented, naively analysed and then conclusions would be made. Similar versions exist among other Balkan pseudo scholars, mostly in Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia, Croatia and Hungary. The only difference is “the nation” that is glorified. Now, the problem is that these pseudo histories are not easily seen as fraud by the general audience. The books are being sold and these pseudo historians are even given the public space to promote them. On the other hand, an academic community often thinks that it is below par to even to discuss these rubbish ideas (bar excellent work by prof. Radivoj Radic who has published a book to debunk most of their “arguments”). Nevertheless, serious historians who are dealing with the medieval and the pre-modern history (and those interests pseudo scholars the most) need to publically engage in debunking pseudo history. After all, being paid by the public institutions and universities should bear some responsibility toward the tax-payers. The fraud, false arguments and conclusions should be explained to ordinary people, as those pseudo historians are not just artists like Kurekhin whose intentions were very positive.
Cut English version
A little better cut version in the Russian language: