MOSCOW—Official reports from the Kremlin Tuesday confirmed that the Society for Creative Anachronism, a group of medieval-wargames hobbyists, seized control of Russia in a bloodless coup over the weekend.
"Weakened by food shortages, political instability and widespread economic chaos, our military's combined forces proved no match for the enemy's rattan-and-duct-tape broadswords and homemade weaponry," said deposed Russian president Boris Yeltsin during a national radio address in which he relinquished rulership to the "Principality Of The Mists," one of several dozen SCA "kingdoms."
"I can't tell you how humiliating this is," he added.
The SCA, founded in 1966 by a group of Berkeley science-fiction and fantasy fans, is a non-profit organization dedicated to fun and learning through such medieval activities as metalwork, calligraphy, lute-playing and brewing. Boasting more than 20,000 dues-paying members in 14 countries, the club is also known for holding elaborately staged mock battles, followed by feasting and merrymaking amid the revelry of troubadours and jesters.
The seizure of over 70% of Russia's land mass marks the first time the SCA has ventured into the arena of international politics.
"I can't believe how easy it was to claim Kiev for the Kingdom Of Ealdormere," said Royal Peer Gawain Falconsfyre, a 44-year-old tech-support assistant from a suburb of Toronto. "It was a piece of cake. Haven't any of these Russians ever heard of a moving-shield-wall offense?"
Falconsfire and an SCA faction armed only with rubber maces successfully captured two Russian tank divisions outside Moscow Saturday when fuel shortages immobilized the armored vehicles.
Due to the disarray of communications within Russia, information regarding the actual invasion is sketchy. It was confirmed, however, that St. Petersburg was taken without a shot being fired late Saturday morning, after thousands of Russian soldiers deserted their posts, joining approximately 70 SCA knights advancing on the city in hopes of being issued new boots and coats.
The SCA also overtook vast areas at the borders of former Russian republics Ukraine and Belarus simply by trading several sacks of potatoes for enemy guns.
"Forsooth, mine legions of brave warmakers hath conquered the Lands West O' the Urals! Let there be great rejoicing in our noble victory!" exclaimed Cedric, Bard of the House of Æthelmearc, 36, hoisting a flagon of ale. "What, ho! Bring on the serving wenches!"
Cedric, known as Harold Freed when among non-SCA members, is credited with capturing two military air bases and a string of missile installations throughout the north Caucasus region along the Georgian border—an area rendered vulnerable by ethnic infighting, corruption and military anarchy.
SCA leaders, who have called the weekend's campaign "a really good time," were said to be especially pleased with the invasion's early wrap-up, as it left the remainder of the weekend free for social recreation in the form of mead-drinking, archery contests, and the singing of bawdy madrigals.
Even captured Russian soldiers were invited to join in the fun and campfire dancing. Such "good sportsmanship" has some analysts arguing that the SCA's power base in Russia may even benefit the troubled land in the long run.
"Though civilian rioting and widespread starvation still rock the major population centers, Russia is actually more stable right now than it has been for the last 18 months," Harvard political science professor F. Horace Gunderson said. "Candle-dipping seminars are addressing the problems posed by energy shortages, and the booths selling roasted turkey legs represent, in many regions, the first source of food in weeks."
"This could be the best thing to happen to Russia in years," agreed State Department foreign-affairs analyst Howard Plum. "The sale of jewelry, driftwood art and other medieval handcrafting at concession tables throughout Russia has boosted local economies, and SCA presence has even created new jobs in the custodial and campground-rental fields."
The U.N. security council is drafting a proposal urging SCA forces to remain in Russia, at least until a more viable interim government can be structured.
"Under the current political system, the Russian people face Mafia domination of the black market and a deteriorating national infrastructure," U.N. Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering said. "With an elaborately networked consortium of amateur gamers in charge, however, there will at least be some semblance of order."
Members of SCA nobility, however, say the group has no interest in running Russia for any great length of time, especially with the members' need to prepare for their next major event, this summer's Pennsic War between the East and Middle Kingdoms, to be held in Pennsylvania. Insiders expect the occupying forces to return power to the Russian government "on the honor system" and return to their day jobs by the end of the week.
"We're doing this for fun, not the vulgar acquisition of personal political power," said insurance actuary and Arizona native Willownook Pendragon, of the Kingdom of Atenveldt. "We're here to celebrate our mutual interest in the ways and customs of pre-1600 feudal Europe, and to bedeck ourselves in the heraldic regalia of our fictional medieval personas, not to get mixed up in politics."
Pendragon added that "anyone who wants to have a fun time and make new friends" should check out the SCA home page or contact the group's California headquarters directly at its toll-free number for more information on an SCA chapter in their area.
"We're really just friendly folks who welcome outsiders," Pendragon said. "Plus, now is a great time to get involved, because there's lots of super events coming up this summer, and you'll want time to prepare the correct blazon for your heraldry."