MTSU history professor travels to Russia to study ‘Siberian Seven’ after receiving $6,000 NEH grant


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An MTSU assistant professor of history has traveled to Russia to investigate the “Siberian Seven” after receiving a grant to fund her expedition from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Emily Baran will be conducting research in Moscow for about nine more weeks because of the $6,000 NEH grant and her desire to study an infamous Cold War-era incident. Baran plans to eventually write a book on the culmination of her investigations regarding the Siberian Seven.

Baran originally gained an interest in the story of the Siberian Seven almost 15 years ago while she was an undergraduate student at Macalester College.

“I was surprised that I hadn’t already heard about them, since their story seemed so unusual and newsworthy,” Baran said. “Although I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation and first book on another topic, I’ve planned to research the Seven for some time now.”

As explained by Baran, the Siberian Seven was a nickname for a group of seven Pentecostals from Chernogorsk, a Siberian town. In order to gain asylum abroad and religious freedom, they lived in the American Embassy in Moscow from 1978 to 1983 and fought for emigration rights for themselves and their families. The group took this bold stand due to the persecution that practicing Pentecostals faced in Chernogorsk. Soviet officials arrested, fined and separated families due to their religion. In 1978, when the Chernogorsk natives first arrived at the embassy, there were eight in the group. The eighth member was stopped, arrested and sent back home before he was able to enter the embassy. The remaining seven decided to stay in the embassy until asylum was granted. After five years and extensive negotiations between American and Soviet officials, the Siberian Seven finally obtained asylum and traveled to America.

During those five years, the Siberian Seven made national news, appearing in publications such as The New York Times. Authors such as John Pollock and Timothy Chmykhalov have written novels on the group of Pentecostals in the years following the incident.

“Emigration rights is a global issue that extends beyond the Soviet Union and Soviet Pentecostals,” Baran said. “The right to leave one’s country is a fundamental human right and one that is not always available to people worldwide. Moreover, other countries are not often eager to get involved in such matters, as emigration is usually seen as a domestic issue. This was certainly the case for the Siberian Seen for the bulk of their time in the embassy.”

Baran has begun her research in Russia by reading through the files of the Council on Religious Cult Affairs, which monitored Soviet religious life in the period after World War II. These files are currently housed by the State Archive of the Russian Federation.

Baran stated that the Siberian Seven’s journey to asylum is not as unusual as it seems in today’s society.

“The tactics of the Siberian Seven–seeking asylum in a foreign embassy–are not unique to their experience,” Baran said. “Embassies are often seen as refuges. Although it is a myth that embassies are ‘foreign soil,’ it is true that most countries are reticent to violate the sanctity of another country’s embassy to extradite individuals. If we need a contemporary example, we can look to Julian Assange, who is currently living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and has for nearly four years.”

While it is her first time studying the Siberian Seven in Russia, Baran has performed previous research and archival work on the subject in the United States. A 2014 MTSU Faculty Research and Creative Activity Committee grant allowed Baran to gain access to the Siberian Seven Special Collection at Wheaton College in Illinois, and, last summer, she received a grant from the Keston Institute to access their archive at Baylor College in Texas.

“I still have a lot of work to do, both in the U.S. and in Russia, but it’s coming along,” Baran said. “A book project is a major undertaking, and you have to find the patience to work on it for several years before you even begin to see the fruits of all your labor.”

To contact News Editor Andrew Wigdor, email newseditor@mtsusidelines.com.

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