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Rant #55
(published August 30, 2001)
Hobbits Liked to Have Books Filled with Things They Already Knew:
Reflections on a Post-Soviet Kazakhstan
by Erik Garner Warren

on 8/1/01 10:08 AM, xxxxx at xxxxxxxx wrote:

Hey Erik,

I thought of you yesterday when I heard a report on the BBC World Service. You may want to go to their website and check it out, if you can find it. Apparently, the police in Khazakstan are arresting youths who are dressing up as Hobbits and acting out scenes from Tolkien's books. They're kids who can't afford to get into clubs and it seems there's something nefarious about Hobbits. I couldn't stop laughing.

Hope your summer's going well.


Read a good account of this situation here.


Yeah, I just heard that report as well. Apparently the Kazzy government is waging war on all people it considers to be part of the "profligate Bohemian lifestyle" (quote from translated Kazakhstani docs).

Anyway, what this is about is not really Hobbits. Tolkien's books were HUGE in the Soviet Union in the 80s the same way that they were huge with Hippies here in the US in the 1960s. Mostly because the books were interpreted as pro-environment, pro-worker pro-rural and pro-farmer. (Hobbits are a perfect representation of the Soviet Rural Worker, small and carefree, but hardworking and no-nonsense). The ultimate result is that, with the fall of the Soviet Union, each individual country had to deal with its local fragment of Soviet Society in its own way. The Muslim countries are having the hardest time because, essentially, while Soviet Institutions like the Kremlin, the Politburo or the KGB were authoritarian and very conservative, Soviet Society in general was extremely liberal (especially by the eighties... first woman in Space, anyone?). Consequently, socially conservative regimes like Muslim governments in the south have run up against a horde of hippies in the form of former Soviet Citizens living "bohemian" lifestyles within their borders. Mostly this means that people treat women with a requisite level of dignity and respect and that they generally expect to be allowed to live in a manner that suits them. The Muslim government has therefore run into a real pickle whereby it needs to take back twentieth century progress all in one fell swoop. That's a hard thing to do. They can't just go into a town and say "Start oppressing your women right now!" Though they would like to do that, it would cause another revolution. So they are using codewords like Bohemian Lifestyle. And they are picking on the fringe people first. The groups that seem so far left or just weird that the majority can get behind persecuting them.

What this means is that gays, hobbit lovers and other fringe groups get attacked. And we laugh. And the general population of Kazakhstan laughs. And everybody gets used to the idea of persecuting people. Jeez, they might say, those Hobbits are weird folk. Serves them right for being so weird. Or, Jeez, gay people are just too weird. Maybe they shouldn't be beaten by the police, but, well, I guess they kind of asked for it.

And it is a classic frog in a pot scenario where the water is turned up by little half degree moves, until, all of sudden, the frog is boiled and dead.

This will all end like the Taliban in Afghanistan, blowing up statues of Buddha and keeping women locked in their kitchens all day in robes of black.

Yeah, I laughed when I heard that report on the BBC. I can't say that I didn't.

I said, "Man, living like Hobbits is just taking it all too far. Very renaissance fair and all." And I shook my head for a few minutes and marveled at the world.

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