Well…this is the last thing I expected to see at a pro-life conference
I’ve been going to pro-life conferences since long before I can remember. But leave it to Russian pro-lifers to show me something completely new.
When I arrived, bedraggled and jetlagged, in Moscow late last Monday night to speak at and report on the Moscow Pro-Life Festival, my gracious host, Pavel, told me that they would have a surprise for me the following morning, at 9:00, and that I must be sure not to miss it.
“Alright,” I said.
The seven-hour time difference and a sleepless night didn’t make fulfilling this promise easy, but I dragged myself down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast, and then out to the reception desk for 9:00, after which myself and the other foreign pro-life activists, were led out to the hotel parking lot.
And there, lumbering up to the front door, accompanied by a be-sequined trainer and two women in traditional Russian garb, was…a bear.
Though muzzled, the magnificent creature was remarkably tame, and guests lined up for photos, freely petting and embracing the bear; some were even graced with a good-natured lick. The bear wore a giant orange shirt with the image of an unborn child and the name of the pro-life festival.
I asked my interpreter whether it was a normal thing in Russia to have a live bear around. He confessed himself similarly flummoxed. “I have interpreted for many conferences,” he said, “and this is the first time I have ever seen a bear.”
Later, I asked the president of the pro-life festival, Sergei Chesnokov, about the bear. He responded with a bemused smile that they decided to enlist the bear after becoming aware that some westerners thought that bears freely roamed the streets of Russia. “Otherwise our guests would have to go home disappointed without having seen a bear in Russia.”
Certainly, a lack of hospitality is not a crime of which the Russian pro-life movement is guilty. After a long day of pro-life presentations from leading scientists from around the globe, the organizers of the conference herded their foreign guests onto a bus and shipped them to the banks of the Moskva River, for a gorgeous night-time cruise.
And here again, I got a unique taste of the famous extremities of the Russian character, as, over wine, vodka, and hor d'oeuvres, we were regaled with music played by a remarkably talented, and hilariously animated Russian violinist who at one point, to my intense amusement, produced a violin lined with flashing lights, and a light-saber-like bow covered with red lights. He then proceeded to play an epic version of “Who Wants to Live Forever,” his violin filtered through an amp to produce a wailing electric guitar sound.
But that was only one part of a truly remarkable performance, which included some nearly virtuosic playing. Where the conference organizers found him, I don't know. Perhaps the same place they found the bear?
We got a taste for more traditional musical fare the following day, as a couple in traditional Russian garb played for us during a break in the conference. Their harmonies were haunting, their unusual instruments fascinating, the music beautifully sweet, and their message a powerful one: namely, that the Russian people must return to Russian traditions, particularly regarding family life. “If you love a woman, marry her!” exhorted the male musician, whose name I did not catch (and even if I had, I would have had no idea how to transcribe it into Latin characters). “And then live together according to our tradition – in joy.”
Simple advice. But good advice.
Of course, it wasn’t all fun and games. I count myself privileged to have spent three days listening to the cream of the crop of the Russian pro-life movement explain their strategies for ending abortion in Russia – strategies that, by all accounts, have already yielded extremely positive results.
Indeed, there is a great deal of optimism in the Russian pro-life movement, even as they frankly admit the magnitude of the task before them. Until recently, Russia boasted the dubious distinction of having the highest abortion rate in the world. Meanwhile, though Russia was the first country in the world to legalize abortion, pro-life Russians were prevented from responding in any organized way to the abortion holocaust under the repressive communist regime that held the country in its grips for 70 years (although, legally speaking, there was a period of reprieve when Stalin banned abortion after its initial legalization).
Now, however, Russian pro-lifers are compassionately responding to the enormous need in their country, diligently founding shelters for women, lobbying the government, organizing educational initiatives and marches for life, and opposing abortion outside the doorsteps of the country’s abortion clinics.
Stayed tuned for more reporting on my trip to Moscow.