"Religious Cults", Particularly Lutheranism, in the Soviet Union in 1944-1949

By Altnurme, Riho | Trames, March 2002 | Go to article overview

"Religious Cults", Particularly Lutheranism, in the Soviet Union in 1944-1949


Altnurme, Riho, Trames


In 1943, there was a certain shift towards tolerance in Stalin's policy on religion; the plans of direct annihilation of religion and churches were scrapped. This was one of the preconditions set by the Allies for the provision of aid in World War II. Due to these foreign policy considerations, the state maintained outward correctness in its relations with churches during and after the war. The Russian Orthodox Church, which voluntarily promulgated patriotic exhortations right from the beginning of the war, enjoyed greater rights than the others. Apparently, this was partly due to Stalin's newly acquired affection for everything pertaining to Great Russia, as well as his plan to take advantage of the Orthodox Church in binding the soon-to-be-conquered East-European territories to the Soviet Union. The subject of this article is the attitude of the state towards other confessions and religions immediately following the change. The author focuses on the most important church from the Estonian perspective--the Lutheran Church.

The establishment and structure of the Council for the Affairs of Religious Cults at the Council of People's Commissars/Ministers (1)

Two new organs were created at the then Council of the People's Commissars (CPC) of the USSR for dealing with issues of religion: the Council for the Affairs of Russian Orthodox Church (CAROC) in 1943 and the Council for the Affairs of Religious Cults (CARC) in 1944 (the latter was founded on the basis of Decree No. 572 of the CPC on May 19, 1944,). These organs were merged into the Council for Religious Affairs in 1965 (or 1966 at the latest) (GARF R-6991-312:13, Anderson 1992:399, Paul 1996:500, Walters 1993:17). The CARC was to take care of all the Christian confessions except the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as of relations between non-Christian religions and the Soviet state. The generic title given to these was "religious cults". The membership of the above mentioned Council was made up of representatives to all Soviet republics, regions [oblasts] and districts [krais], (except for those where only the Russian Orthodox Church operated). A formal exception was the Armenian SSR, where the institution of the representative was named the Council for the Affairs of Armenian-Gregorian Church at the CPC of the Armenian SSR, chaired by Oganesjan (GARF R-6991-3-3:59).

Although the CARC has played an important role in shaping relations between the state and the churches--mainly mediating the government's viewpoints yet in simpler cases taking the initiative itself--it is difficult to find materials of scientific research on the CARC. In their treatments of the Soviet Union, both local and foreign researchers have focused on the affairs of the Orthodox Church, largely ignoring the other confessions and religions. The articles dealing with the topic (Anderson 1991, Luchterhandt 1993) make a passing mention of the establishment of the two different councils in the 1940s and then proceed with investigating the Council for the Affairs of Russian Orthodox Church. More attention has been paid to the activity of the two councils after their merger at a later time, particularly in connection with the so-called Furov's reports (a set of documents written by V. G. Furov, the chairman of the Council for Religious Affairs that were smuggled to the West in 1979), which has been one of the few sources for western researchers (before access to archives was granted) to follow the activity of the Council for Religious Affairs from within (Oppenheim 1991). The scientists studying the Lutheran Church have therefore been ignorant of the fact, assuming that only one council was established (Lotman 1995:124, Salo 1997:56) or that separate councils had been established in each Soviet republic (Talonen 1997:24, Viise 1995:123).

I. V. Poljanski was appointed chairman of the CARC. He held this position until 1957 (Fondy 1997). Second to Poljanski in the Council was his substitute J. …

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