Stalin's space monkeys
But the years of Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika, then the Georgian-Abkhaz war, took a heavy toll on the centre. Most of its scientists left to set up a new centre in Russia, along with most of the monkeys that were not killed. What is left today is a disturbing shadow of the institute's former glory....
Legend has it that the institute, which opened in 1927, was born of a secret Soviet plan to create a man-ape hybrid that would become a Soviet superman and propel the Soviet Union ahead of the West. The Soviet elite, goes the apocryphal tale that has appeared widely in Russian media, wanted to create a prototype worker that would be inhumanly strong and mentally dulled, to carry out the gruelling work of industrialising the vast expanses of newly Sovietised territory.
Scientists at the institute today admit that these experiments did go on at the institute, though they deny it was part of any overarching plan for the creation of a new race. The tests were performed by Ilya Ivanov, an eminent Russian biologist who had also collaborated with the Pasteur Institute in Paris. About the turn of the century he had perfected the technique of artificially inseminating mares, and had also produced cross-breeds between various different species. Then, Europe was alive with ideas of eugenics, and the Soviets were out to prove once and for all that Darwinism had superseded religion.
"Professor Ivanov started these experiments in Africa and continued them here in Sukhumi," says Vladimir Barkaya, who started at the institute in 1961 and is now scientific director."He took sperm from human males and injected it into female chimpanzees, although nothing came of it." Professor Barkaya denies monkey sperm was used on human females, although letters were apparently received by the institution by people of both sexes offering to participate in the experiments.
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