Religion in the Soviet Union

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When the Soviet Union was established by the Bolsheviks in 1922, it was the constitutional organization which took over from the Russian Empire. At the time of the 1917 Revolution, the Russian Orthodox Church was deeply integrated into the autocratic state enjoying official status. This was a significant factor that contributed to the Bolshevik attitude to religion and the steps they took to control it.[1] Thus the USSR became the first[citation needed] state to have, as an ideological objective, the elimination of religion[2] and its replacement with universal atheism.[3][4] The communist regime confiscated religious property, ridiculed religion, harassed believers, and propagated atheism in schools.[5] The confiscation of religious assets was often based on accusations of illegal accumulation of wealth.

The vast majority of people in the Russian empire were, at the time of the revolution, religious believers, whereas the communists aimed to break the power of all religious institutions and eventually replace religious belief with atheism. "Science" was counterposed to "religious superstition" in the media and in academic writing. The main religions of pre-revolutionary Russia persisted throughout the entire Soviet period, but they were only tolerated within certain limits. Generally, this meant that believers were free to worship in private and in their respective religious buildings (churches, mosques, etc.), but public displays of religion outside of such designated areas were prohibited. In addition, religious institutions were not allowed to express their views in any type of mass media, and many religious buildings were demolished or used for other purposes.[citation needed]

State Atheism in the Soviet Union was known as gosateizm,[2] and was based on the ideology of Marxism–Leninism. As the founder of the Soviet state, V. I. Lenin, put it:

Religion is the opium of the people: this saying of Marx is the cornerstone of the entire ideology of Marxism about religion. All modern religions and churches, all and of every kind of religious organizations are always considered by Marxism as the organs of bourgeois reaction, used for the protection of the exploitation and the stupefaction of the working class.[6]

Marxist–Leninist Atheism has consistently advocated the control, suppression, and elimination of religion. Within about a year of the revolution, the state expropriated all church property, including the churches themselves, and in the period from 1922 to 1926, 28 Russian Orthodox bishops and more than 1,200 priests were killed. Many more were persecuted.[7]

Christians belonged to various churches: Orthodox (which had the largest number of followers), Catholic, and Baptist and various other Protestant denominations. The majority of the Muslims in the Soviet Union were Sunni. Judaism also had many followers. Other religions, practiced by a small number of believers, included Buddhism and Shamanism.


The Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow was demolished by the Soviet authorities in 1931 to make way for the Palace of Soviets. The palace was never finished, and the cathedral was rebuilt in 2000.

Orthodox Christians constituted a majority of believers in the Soviet Union. In the late 1980s, three Orthodox churches claimed substantial memberships there: the Russian Orthodox Church, the Georgian Orthodox Church, and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (AOC). They were members of the major confederation of Orthodox churches in the world, generally referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church. The first two functioned openly and were tolerated by the regime, but the Ukrainian AOC was not permitted to function openly. Parishes of the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church reappeared in Belarus only after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, but they did not receive recognition from the Belarusian Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, which controls Belarusian eparchies.

Russian Orthodox Church

According to both Soviet and Western sources,[which?] in the late 1980s the Russian Orthodox Church had over 50 million believers but only about 7,000 registered active churches. Over 4,000 of these churches were located in the Ukrainian Republic (almost half of them in western Ukraine). The distribution of the six monasteries and ten convents of the Russian Orthodox Church was equally disproportionate. Only two of the monasteries were located in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Another two were in Ukraine and there was one each in Belarus and Lithuania. Seven convents were located in Ukraine and one each in Moldova, Estonia, and Latvia.

Georgian Orthodox Church

The Georgian Orthodox Church, another autocephalous member of Eastern Orthodoxy, was headed by a Georgian patriarch. In the late 1980s it had 15 bishops, 180 priests, 200 parishes, and an estimated 2.5 million followers. In 1811 the Georgian Orthodox Church was incorporated into the Russian Orthodox Church, but it regained its independence in 1917, after the fall of the Tsar. Nevertheless, the Russian Orthodox Church did not officially recognize its independence until 1943.

Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church

The Ukrainian AOC separated from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1919, when the short-lived Ukrainian state adopted a decree declaring autocephaly from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.[clarification needed (from it or for it?)] Its independence was reaffirmed by the Bolsheviks in the Ukrainian Republic, and by 1924 it had 30 bishops, almost 1,500 priests, nearly 1,100 parishes, and between 4 and 6 million members.

From its inception, the Ukrainian AOC faced the hostility of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Ukrainian Republic. In the late 1920s, Soviet authorities accused it of nationalist tendencies. In 1930 the government forced the church to reorganize as the "Ukrainian Orthodox Church", and few of its parishes survived until 1936. Nevertheless, the Ukrainian AOC continued to function outside the borders of the Soviet Union, and it was revived on Ukrainian territory under the German occupation during World War II. In the late 1980s, some of the Orthodox faithful in the Ukrainian Republic appealed to the Soviet government to reestablish the Ukrainian AOC.[clarification needed (with what result?)]

Armenian Apostolic

The Armenian Apostolic Church is an independent Oriental Orthodox church. In the 1980s it had about 4 million adherents – almost the entire population of Armenia. It was permitted 6 bishops, between 50 and 100 priests, and between 20 and 30 churches, and it had one theological seminary and six monasteries.


Catholics formed a substantial and active religious constituency in the Soviet Union. Their number increased dramatically with the annexation of territories of the Second Polish Republic in 1939 and the Baltic republics in 1940. Catholics in the Soviet Union were divided between those belonging to the Roman Catholic Church, which was recognized by the government, and those remaining loyal to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, banned since 1946.

Roman Catholic Church

The majority of the 5.5 million Roman Catholics in the Soviet Union lived in the Lithuanian, Belarusian, and Latvian republics, with a sprinkling in the Moldavian, Ukrainian, and Russian republics. Since World War II, the most active Roman Catholic Church in the Soviet Union was in the Lithuanian Republic, where the majority of people are Catholics. The Roman Catholic Church there has been viewed as an institution that both fosters and defends Lithuanian national interests and values. Since 1972 a Catholic underground publication, The Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, supported not only Lithuanians' religious rights but also their national rights.

Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church

Western Ukraine, which included largely the historic region of Galicia, became part of the Soviet Union in 1939. Although Ukrainian, its population was never part of the Russian Empire, but was Eastern Rite Catholic. After the Second World War, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church identified closely with the nationalist aspirations of the region, arousing the hostility of the Soviet government, which was in combat with Ukrainian Insurgency. In 1945, Soviet authorities arrested the church's Metropolitan Josyf Slipyj, nine bishops and hundreds of clergy and leading lay activists, and deported them to forced labor camps in Siberia and elsewhere. The nine bishops and many of the clergy died in prisons, concentration camps, internal exile, or soon after their release during the post-Stalin thaw,[8] but after 18 years of imprisonment and persecution, Metropolitan Slipyj was released when Pope John XXIII intervened on his behalf. Slipyj went to Rome, where he received the title of Major Archbishop of Lviv, and became a cardinal in 1965.[8]

In 1946 a synod was called in Lviv, where, despite being uncanonical in both Catholic and Orthodox understanding, the Union of Brest was annulled, and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was officially annexed to the Russian Orthodox Church. St. George's Cathedral in Lviv became the throne of Russian Orthodox Archbishop Makariy.[8]

For the clergy that joined the Russian Orthodox Church, the Soviet authorities refrained from the large-scale persecution seen elsewhere. In Lviv only one church was closed. In fact, the western dioceses of Lviv-Ternopil and Ivano-Frankivsk were the largest in the USSR. Canon law was also relaxed, allowing the clergy to shave their beards (a practice uncommon in Orthodoxy) and to conduct services in Ukrainian instead of Slavonic.

In 1989 the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was officially re-established after a catacomb period of more than 40 years.[8] There followed conflicts between Orthodox and Catholic Christians regarding the ownership of church buildings, conflicts which continued into the 1990s, after the Independence of Ukraine.


By 1950 it was estimated that there were 2 million Baptists in the Soviet Union, with the largest number in Ukraine.[9]

Many Protestants were apprehended under Communist rule of law, including imprisonment and execution. Vladimir Shelkov (1895–1980), the leader of the unregistered Seventh-day Adventist movement in the Soviet Union, spent almost all his life from 1931 on in prison; he died in Yakutia camp. Large numbers of Pentecostals were imprisoned, and many died there, including Ivan Voronaev, one of their leaders.[10]

In the period after the Second World War, Protestants in the USSR (Baptists, Pentecostals, Adventists and others) were sent to mental hospitals or tried and imprisoned, often for refusal to enter military service. Some were deprived of their parental rights.[10]

The Lutheran Church in different regions of the country was persecuted during the Soviet era, and church property was confiscated.[11] Many of its members and pastors were oppressed, and some were forced to emigrate.[12]

According to western sources, various Protestant religious groups collectively had as many as 5 million followers in the 1980s. Evangelical Christian Baptists constituted the largest Protestant group. Spread throughout the Soviet Union, some congregations were registered with the government and functioned with official approval. Many other unregistered congregations carried on religious activity without such approval.

Lutherans, the second largest Protestant group, lived for the most part in the Latvian and Estonian republics. In the 1980s, Lutheran churches in these republics identified to some extent with nationality issues[clarification needed] in the two republics. The regime's attitude toward Lutherans was generally benign.

Other Christian groups

The March 1961 instruction on religious cults explained for the first time, that "sects, the teaching and character of activities of which has anti-state and savagely extremist [изуверский] character: Jehovah's Witnesses, Pentecostalists, Adventists-reformists“ are not to be registered[13] and were thus banned.

A number of congregations of Russian Mennonites, Jehovah's Witnesses, and other Christian groups existed in the Soviet Union. Nearly 9,000 Jehovah's Witnesses were deported to Siberia in 1951 (numbers of those missed[clarification needed] in deportation unknown). The number of Jehovah's Witnesses increased greatly over this period, with a KGB estimate of around 20,000 in 1968. Russian Mennonites began to emigrate from the Soviet Union in the face of increasing violence and persecution, state restrictions on freedom of religion, and biased allotments of communal farmland. They emigrated to Germany, Britain, the United States, parts of South America, and other regions.


File:Soviet Union Muslim Population 1979.jpg
Map showing the distribution of Muslims within the Soviet Union in 1979 as a percentage of the population by administrative division.

In the late 1980s, Islam had the second largest following in the Soviet Union: between 45 and 50 million people identified themselves as Muslims. But the Soviet Union had only about 500 working mosques, a fraction of the number in prerevolutionary Russia, and Soviet law forbade Islamic religious activity outside working mosques and Islamic schools.

All working mosques, religious schools, and Islamic publications were supervised by four "spiritual directorates" established by Soviet authorities to provide government control. The Spiritual Directorate for Central Asia and Kazakhstan, the Spiritual Directorate for the European Soviet Union and Siberia, and the Spiritual Directorate for the Northern Caucasus and Dagestan oversaw the religious life of Sunni Muslims. The Spiritual Directorate for Transcaucasia dealt with both Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims. The overwhelming majority of the Muslims were Sunnis.

Soviet Muslims differed linguistically and culturally from each other, speaking about fifteen Turkic languages, ten Iranian languages, and thirty Caucasian languages. Hence, communication between different Muslim groups was difficult. Although in 1989 Russian often served as a lingua franca among some educated Muslims, few were fluent in Russian.

Culturally, some Muslim groups had highly developed urban traditions, whereas others were recently nomadic. Some lived in industrialized environments, others in isolated mountainous regions. In sum, Muslims were not a homogeneous group with a common national identity and heritage, although they shared the same religion and the same country.

In the late 1980s, unofficial Muslim congregations, meeting in tea houses and private homes with their own mullahs, greatly outnumbered those in the officially sanctioned mosques. The unofficial mullahs were either self-taught or informally trained by other mullahs. In the late 1980s, unofficial Islam appeared to split into fundamentalist congregations and groups that emphasized Sufism.

Policy toward religions in practice

Soviet policy toward religion was based on the ideology of Marxism-Leninism, which made atheism the official doctrine of the Communist Party. However, "the Soviet law and administrative practice through most of the 1920s extended some tolerance to religion and forbade the arbitrary closing or destruction of some functioning churches",[14] and each successive Soviet constitution granted freedom of belief. As the founder of the Soviet state, Lenin, put it:

Religion is the opium of the people: this saying of Marx is the cornerstone of the entire ideology of Marxism about religion. All modern religions and churches, all and of every kind of religious organizations are always considered by Marxism as the organs of bourgeois reaction, used for the protection of the exploitation and the stupefaction of the working class.[6]

Marxism-Leninism advocates the suppression and ultimately the disappearance of religious beliefs, considering them to be "unscientific" and "superstitious". In the 1920s and 1930s, such organizations as the League of the Militant Godless were active in anti-religious propaganda. Atheism was the norm in schools, communist organizations (such as the Young Pioneer Organization), and the media.

The regime's efforts to eradicate religion in the Soviet Union, however, varied over the years with respect to particular religions and were affected by higher state interests. In 1923, a New York Times correspondent saw Christians observing Easter peacefully in Moscow despite violent anti-religious actions in previous years.[15] Official policies and practices not only varied with time, but also differed in their application from one nationality to another and from one religion to another.

In 1929, with the onset of the Cultural Revolution in the Soviet Union and an upsurge of radical militancy in the Party and Komsomol, a powerful "hard line" in favor of mass closing of churches and arrests of priests became dominant and evidently won Stalin's approval. Secret "hard line" instructions were issued to local party organizations, but not published. When the anti-religious drive inflamed the anger of the rural population, not to mention that of the Pope and other Western church spokesmen, the regime was able to back off from a policy that it had never publicly endorsed anyway.[16][17]

Although all Soviet leaders had the same long-range goal of developing a cohesive Soviet people, they pursued different policies to achieve it. For the Soviet regime, questions of nationality and religion were always closely linked. Therefore, their attitude toward religion also varied from a total ban on some religions to official support of others.

Policy towards nationalities and religion

In theory, the Soviet Constitution described the regime's position regarding nationalities and religions. It stated that every Soviet citizen also had a particular nationality, and every Soviet passport carried these two entries. The constitution granted a large degree of local autonomy, but this autonomy was subordinated to central authority. In addition, because local and central administrative structures were often not clearly divided, local autonomy was further weakened. Although under the Constitution all nationalities were equal, in practice they were not treated so. Only fifteen nationalities had union republic status, which granted them, in principle, many rights, including the right to secede from the union.

Twenty-two nationalities lived in autonomous republics with a degree of local self-government and representation in the Council of Nationalities in the Supreme Soviet. Eighteen more nationalities had territorial enclaves (autonomous oblasts and autonomous okrugs) but had very few powers of self-government. The remaining nationalities had no right of self-government at all. Joseph Stalin's 1913 definition of a nation as "a historically constituted and stable community of people formed on the basis of common language, territory, economic life, and psychological makeup revealed in a common culture" was retained by Soviet authorities throughout the 1980s.[citation needed] However, in granting nationalities union republic status, three additional factors were considered: a population of at least 1 million, territorial compactness, and location on the borders of the Soviet Union.

Although Lenin believed that eventually all nationalities would merge into one, he insisted that the Soviet Union be established as a federation of formally equal nations. In the 1920s, genuine cultural concessions were granted to the nationalities. Communist elites of various nationalities were permitted to flourish and to have considerable self-government. National cultures, religions, and languages were not merely tolerated but, in areas with Muslim populations, encouraged.

Demographic changes in the 1960s and 1970s whittled down the overall Russian majority, but they also caused two nationalities (the Kazakhs and Kirgiz) to become minorities in their own republics at the time of the 1979 census, and considerably reduced the majority of the titular nationalities in other republics. This situation led Leonid Brezhnev to declare at the 24th Communist Party Congress in 1971 that the process of creating a unified Soviet people had been completed, and proposals were made to abolish the federative system and replace it with a single state. In the 1970s, however, a broad movement of national dissent began to spread throughout the Soviet Union. It manifestated itself in many ways: Jews insisted on their right to emigrate to Israel; Crimean Tatars demanded to be allowed to return to Crimea; Lithuanians called for the restoration of the rights of the Catholic Church; and Helsinki Watch groups were established in the Georgian, Lithuanian, and Ukrainian republics. Petitions, literature, and occasional public demonstrations voiced public demands for the human rights of all nationalities. By the end of the 1970s, however, massive and concerted efforts by the KGB had largely suppressed the national dissent movement. Nevertheless, Brezhnev had learned his lesson. Proposals to dismantle the federative system were abandoned in favour of a policy of drawing the nationalities together more gradually.

Soviet officials identified religion closely with nationality. The implementation of policy toward a particular religion, therefore, depended on the regime's perception of the bond between that religion and the nationality practicing it, the size of the religious community, the extent to which the religion accepted outside authority, and the nationality's willingness to subordinate itself to political authority. Thus the smaller the religious community and the more closely it identified with a particular nationality, the more restrictive were the regime's policies, especially if the religion also recognized a foreign authority such as the pope.

Policy towards Orthodoxy

The Russian Orthodox Cathedral, once the most dominant landmark in Baku, was demolished in the 1930s under Stalin.

As for the Russian Orthodox Church, Soviet authorities sought to control it and, in times of national crisis, to exploit it for the regime's own purposes; but their ultimate goal was to eliminate it. During the first five years of Soviet power, the Bolsheviks executed 28 Russian Orthodox bishops and over 1,200 Russian Orthodox priests. Many others were imprisoned or exiled. Believers were harassed and persecuted. Most seminaries were closed, and the publication of most religious material was prohibited. By 1941 only 500 churches remained open out of about 54,000 in existence prior to World War I.

Such crackdowns related to many people's dissatisfaction with the church in pre-revolutionary Russia. The close ties between the church and the state led to the perception of the church as corrupt and greedy by many members of the intelligentsia. Many peasants, while highly religious, also viewed the church unfavorably. Respect for religion did not extend to the local priests. The church owned a significant portion of Russia's land, and this was a bone of contention – land ownership was a big factor in the Russian Revolution of 1917.

The Nazi attack on the Soviet Union in 1941 induced Stalin to enlist the Russian Orthodox Church as an ally to arouse Russian patriotism against foreign aggression. Russian Orthodox religious life experienced a revival: thousands of churches were reopened; there were 22,000 by the time Nikita Khrushchev came to power. The regime permitted religious publications, and church membership grew.

Khrushchev reversed the regime's policy of cooperation with the Russian Orthodox Church. Although it remained officially sanctioned, in 1959 Khrushchev launched an antireligious campaign that was continued in a less stringent manner by his successor, Brezhnev. By 1975 the number of active Russian Orthodox churches was reduced to 7,000. Some of the most prominent members of the Russian Orthodox hierarchy and some activists were jailed or forced to leave the church. Their place was taken by docile clergy who were obedient to the state and who were sometimes infiltrated by KGB agents, making the Russian Orthodox Church useful to the regime. It espoused and propagated Soviet foreign policy and furthered the russification of non-Russian Christians, such as Orthodox Ukrainians and Belarusians.

The regime applied a different policy toward the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church and the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. Viewed by the government as very nationalistic, both were suppressed, first at the end of the 1920s and again in 1944 after they had renewed themselves under German occupation. The leadership of both churches was decimated; large numbers of priests were shot or sent to labor camps, and members of their congregations were harassed and persecuted.

The Georgian Orthodox Church was subject to a somewhat different policy and fared far worse than the Russian Orthodox Church. During World War II, however, it was allowed greater autonomy in running its affairs in return for calling its members to support the war effort, although it did not achieve the kind of accommodation with the authorities that the Russian Orthodox Church had. The government reimposed tight control over it after the war. Out of some 2,100 churches in 1917, only 200 were still open in the 1980s, and it was forbidden to serve its adherents outside the Georgian Republic. In many cases, the regime forced the Georgian Orthodox Church to conduct services in Old Church Slavonic instead of in the Georgian language.

Policy towards Catholicism and Protestantism

The Soviet government's policies toward the Catholic Church were strongly influenced by Soviet Catholics' recognition of an outside authority as head of their church. As a result of World War II, millions of Catholics (including Greco-Catholics) became Soviet citizens and were subjected to new repression. Also, in the three republics where most of the Catholics lived, the Lithuanian SSR, the Byelorussian SSR and the Ukrainian SSR, Catholicism and nationalism were closely linked. Although the Roman Catholic Church was tolerated in Lithuania, large numbers of the clergy were imprisoned, many seminaries were closed, and police agents infiltrated the remainder. The anti-Catholic campaign in Lithuania abated after Stalin's death, but harsh measures against the church were resumed in 1957 and continued through the Brezhnev era.[citation needed]

Soviet policy was particularly harsh toward the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. Ukrainian Greek-Catholics came under Soviet rule in 1939, when western Ukraine was incorporated into the Soviet Union as part of the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact. Although the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was permitted to function, it was almost immediately subjected to intense harassment.[citation needed] Retreating before the German army in 1941, Soviet authorities arrested large numbers of Ukrainian Greek Catholic priests, who were either killed or deported to Siberia.[8] After the Red Army reoccupied western Ukraine in 1944, the Soviet regime liquidated the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church by arresting its metropolitan, all of its bishops, hundreds of clergy, and the more active church members, killing some and sending the rest to labor camps. At the same time, Soviet authorities forced the remaining clergy to abrogate the union with Rome and subordinate themselves to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Before World War II, there were fewer Protestants in the Soviet Union than adherents of other faiths, but they showed remarkable growth since then. In 1944 the Soviet government established the All-Union Council of Evangelical Christian Baptists (now the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of Russia) to gain some control over the various Protestant sects. Many congregations refused to join this body, however, and others that initially joined it subsequently left. All found that the state, through the council, was interfering in church life.

Policy toward other Christian groups

A number of congregations of Russian Mennonites, Jehovah's Witnesses, and other Christian groups faced varying levels of persecution under Soviet rule.

Jehovah's Witnesses were banned from practicing their religion. Under Operation North, the personal property of over eight-thousand members was confiscated, and they (along with underage children) were exiled to Siberia from 1951 until repeal in 1965. All were asked to sign a declaration of resignation as a Jehovah's Witness in order to not be deported. There is no existing record of any having signed this declaration. While in Siberia, some men, women, and children were forced to work as lumberjacks for a fixed wage. Victims reported living conditions to be very poor. From 1951 to 1991, Jehovah's Witnesses within and outside Siberia were incarcerated – and then rearrested after serving their terms. Some were forced to work in concentration camps, others forcibly enrolled in Marxist reeducation programs. KGB officials infiltrated the Jehovah's Witnesses organization in the Soviet Union, mostly to seek out hidden caches of theological literature. Soviet propaganda films depicted Jehovah's Witnesses as a cult, extremist, and engaging in mind control. Jehovah's Witnesses were legalized in the Soviet Union in 1991; victims were given social benefits equivalent to those of war veterans.

Early in the Bolshevik period, predominantly before the end of the Russian Civil War and the emergence of the Soviet Union, Russian Mennonite communities were harassed; several Mennonites were killed or imprisoned, and women were raped. Anarcho-Communist Nestor Makhno was responsible for most of the bloodshed, which caused the normally pacifist Mennonites to take up arms in defensive militia units. This marked the beginning of a mass exodus of Mennonites to Germany, the United States, and elsewhere. Mennonites were branded as kulaks by the Soviets. Their colonies' farms were collectivized under the Soviet Union's communal farming policy. Being predominantly German settlers, the Russian Mennonites in World War II saw the German forces invading Russia as liberators. Many were allowed passage to Germany as Volksdeutsche. Soviet officials began exiling Mennonite settlers in the eastern part of Russia to Siberia. After the war, the remaining Russian Mennonites were branded as Nazi conspirators and exiled to Kazakhstan and Siberia, sometimes being imprisoned or forced to work in concentration camps. In the 1990s the Russian government gave the Mennonites in Kazakhstan and Siberia the opportunity to emigrate.

Policy towards Islam

Soviet policy toward Islam was affected, on the one hand by the large Muslim population, its close ties to national cultures, and its tendency to accept Soviet authority, and on the other hand by its susceptibility to foreign influence. Although actively encouraging atheism, Soviet authorities permitted some limited religious activity in all the Muslim republics, under the auspices of the regional branches of the Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of the USSR. Mosques functioned in most large cities of the Central Asian republics and the Azerbaijan Republic, but their number decreased from 25,000 in 1917 to 500 in the 1970s. Under Stalinist rule, Soviet authorities cracked down on Muslim clergy, closing many mosques or turning them into warehouses.[18] In 1989, as part of the general relaxation of restrictions on religions, some additional Muslim religious associations were registered, and some of the mosques that had been closed by the government were returned to Muslim communities. The government also announced plans to permit the training of limited numbers of Muslim religious leaders in two- and five-year courses in Ufa and Baku, respectively.

Policy towards Judaism

Although Lenin found ethnic anti-Semitism abhorrent, the regime was hostile toward Judaism from the beginning. In 1919 the Soviet authorities abolished Jewish community councils, which were traditionally responsible for maintaining synagogues. They created a special Jewish section of the party, whose tasks included propaganda against Jewish clergy and religion. To offset Jewish national and religious aspirations, and to reflect the Zionist heritage within the Jewish intelligentsia of the Russian Empire (for example, Trotsky was first a member of the Jewish Bund, not the Social Democratic Labour Party), an alternative to the Land of Israel was established in 1934.

The Jewish Autonomous Oblast, created in 1928 by Stalin, with Birobidzhan in the Russian Far East as its administrative center, was to become a "Soviet Zion". Yiddish, rather than "reactionary" Hebrew, would be the national language, and proletarian socialist literature and arts would replace Judaism as the quintessence of its culture. Despite a massive domestic and international state propaganda campaign, the Jewish population there never reached 30% (as of 2003 it was only about 1.2%). The experiment ended in the mid-1930s, during Stalin's first campaign of purges. Jewish leaders were arrested and executed, and Yiddish schools were shut down. Further persecutions and purges followed.

The training of rabbis became impossible, and until the late 1980s only one Yiddish periodical was published. Because of its identification with Zionism, Hebrew was taught only in schools for diplomats. Most of the 5,000 synagogues functioning prior to the Bolshevik Revolution were closed under Stalin, and others were closed under Khrushchev. The practice of Judaism became very difficult, intensifying the desire of Jews to leave the Soviet Union.

See also



  1. Arto Luukkanen (1994), The Party of Unbelief, Helsinki: Studia Historica 48, ISBN 951-710-008-6, OCLC 832629341<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 Kowalewski, David (October 1980). "Protest for Religious Rights in the USSR: Characteristics and Consequences". Russian Review. 39 (4): 426–441. doi:10.2307/128810. JSTOR 128810 – via JSTOR. Unknown parameter |registration= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Ramet, Sabrina Petra. (Ed) (1993). Religious Policy in the Soviet Union. Cambridge University Press. p. 4.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Anderson, John (1994). Religion, State and Politics in the Soviet Union and Successor States. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p. 3. ISBN 0-521-46784-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Anti-religious Campaigns". Retrieved 2011-09-19.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 Lenin, V. I. "About the attitude of the working party toward the religion". Collected works, v. 17, p.41. Retrieved 2006-09-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Country Studies: Russia-The Russian Orthodox Church U.S. Library of Congress, Accessed 2008-04-03
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 "The Ukrainian Greek Catholics: A Historical Survey". Religious Information Service of Ukraine.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Baptist Union in Russia, by Christian History Institute[full citation needed]
  10. 10.0 10.1 Alexeyeva, Lyudmilla. "Chapter 13: ПЯТИДЕСЯТНИКИ". История инакомыслия в СССР. (in Russian). Memorial. Retrieved 2011-11-04.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Lutheran Churches. Religious Information Service of Ukraine.[full citation needed]
  12. Keston Institute and the Defence of Persecuted Christians in the USSR.[full citation needed]
  13. ГАРФ. Ф. 6991. Оп. 2. Д. 306. Л. 11-12.
  14. Fitzpatrick, S. Everyday Stalinism. Oxford University Press. New York, 1999. page 27. ISBN 0-19-505001-0
  15. "Moscow Keeps Easter; No Riots Expected; A Faithful Few Still Go to Church and Are Unmolested", The New York Times. April 6, 1923. Page 4. Retrieved 2011-03-14.
  16. Fitzpatrick, S. On the drive against religion in 1929-30. Stalin's Peasants. New-York, 1994. pages 59-63.
  17. Fitzpatrick, S. Everyday Stalinism. New-York, 1999. p.27
  18. Helene Carrere d'Encausse, The National Republics Lose Their Independence, in Edward A. Allworth, (edit), Central Asia: One Hundred Thirty Years of Russian Dominance, A Historical Overview. Duke University Press, 1994.