DISSENT AND RELIGION IN THE USSR

Created: 1/1/1984

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Dissent and Religion In the USSR

Dissidents are individuals who publicly protest regime actions or express ideas that the regime finds contrary to its interests. They do not constitute an organized opposition seeking political power. Intellectual dissidents involved in the human rights movement challenge the regime in the realm of ideas but not in the realm of politics, at least not so far. Other forms ofemigration movement,represent attempts to escape authority rather than to change the system. Intellectual Dissent

Intellectual dissent began in the, when Khrushchev's move toward destalinization gave rise to false expectationsider internal liberalization. Khrushchev's ouster4 represented the victory of conservative reaction within the Soviet leadership; repression of dissent increased, especially intensifying after8 invasion of Czechoslovakia. Human rights dissent revivedmaller scale in the, when detente and the signing of the CSCE Accords once again stimulated hopes that strictures on basic human rights would be relaxed. Instead, the Kremlin moved forcefully against the small groups that were attempting to publicize regime violations of the CSCE human rights provisions. Tcday the human rights movement isow ebb and Sakharov, its most prominent and articulate representative, is isolated in the provincial city of Gorky.

Although these human rights dissidents are well known in the wast, they command little support in the USSR itself. Many people see themelf-interested, unpatriotic lot that serve the purposes of Western intelligence services. The regime has had considerable success in exploiting popular anti-

Semitic feelingseapon against the dissidents.

groups such as the CSCE monitoring group are commonly viewed as little more than devices for Jews wanting to leave tne country. Sakharov is something of an exception. In some intellectual circles his confinement in

More influential than the human rights dissidentsroup of intellectual writers whotrongly nationalist orientation. While taking care to avoid criticizing the regime directly, they calloral regeneration of Russia on the basis of traditional values and Russianas Solzhenitsyn does. These nationalist writers reportedly have become cultural heroes who articulate the discontent of large numbers of people with the Soviet systemhole.

Also influential are the growing number of cultural figures who haveas the prominent writer Vladimov, who leftnd the avant garde theater director Liubimov, who departed Many intellectuals remaining in the USSR have become "inner emigres" who follow the affairs and writings of therm unity with great interest through the medium of Western radio broadcasting. This has in effect created an alternative Russian cultural center that many Soviet intellectuals find more vigorous and appealing than the stultifying official Soviet culture. The renewal of jamming of Radio Liberty has reduced the access of Soviet intellectuals to news frcro the emigre cxmmunity, but some broadcasting still gets through.

Soviet leaders appear keenly concerned that the ideas of the small group of active dissidents could have resonance within the intelligentsia as a

whole. The it public statements suggest they are worried about theof the intelligentsia,that

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the popularity of the nationalist writers could turn Russian national feeling into anti-regime channels. Above all, the leadership probably fears that conservative Russian nationalian appeals even to manyespecially within theare concerned that the party has become too effete and corrupt to rule the country effectively.

leaders tear that popular grievancesconditions could converge with the protests of intellectualhuman rights abuses. As earlyor example,eriodfood supplies,leaders were "acutely

aware" of countrywide criticism of food shortages, and | he leadership feared easing restrictions on dissidents couldrend of criticism in the country and create an "explosive" climate. Since the late Brezhnev years,

concern within the elite that unrest could become widespread. Events in Poland probably increased leadership

sensitivities about the possibility of coordination between

intellectual dissidents and workersince theave made several attempts to organize unofficial trade unions. There has in fact boon little such cooperation to data. Religion

By far the most dramatic development in Soviet dissent in recent years has been the extraordinary burgeoning of religion. The most important reason for this phenomenon seems to be simply that many citizens are seeking spiritual refuge from what they see as the drabness and moral emptiness of contanporary Soviet life. Ihe growth of religion is of concern to Soviet authorities for several reasons:

In many areas religion reinforces anti-Russian nationalism. In Lithuania and the western part of Ukraine, whereajority of the population is Catholic, the church has historically been associated with strivings for independence from Russia. Similarly, in Soviet Central Asia the Islamic religion hasallying point for those resisting Russianfor example, during the Basmachi revolt of, which took many years for the regime to suppress.

Unlike intellectual dissent, religionass base even in Russian areas. Protestant fundamentalism is growing in newly industrialized areas of the Russian republic, and Russian Orthodoxy is attracting adherents in the older cities of the Russian heartland.

Increasingly, religion cuts across class and generational lines. Religion is growing among blue collar workers as well as among the educated classes. And, for the first timeeligion is

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large numbers of Russian youth.

Hmany Soviet young

ay of expressing dissent.

Religion opens the door to external influences. The electionlavic Pope servedtimulus to religious activity in the Western borderlands of the USSR, where the Catholic clergy has long maintained clandestine ties with the church hierarchy in Poland. The resurgence of Islamic Fundamentalism in the Middle Bast, and the war in

Afghanistan, have raised Muslim consciousness in Soviet Central Asia, leading to several incidents of unrest there.

Most religious believers in the USSR are members ofor "official" churches who abide by the regime's strictures on religiousas the ban on proselytizing and on religious instruction forexchange for being allowed to worship in peace. Clergy for these churches must be approved by the regime and some of them serve as propagandists for regimetheir sermons to preach the party line regarding foreign policy, for example. The regime attempts to use these official churches to keep the activities of religious believers under close surveillance and supervision. It especially uses the official Russian Orthodox Church as an instrument of imperialism, by giving it special privileges (more Bibles, more church buildings) to enable it to lure believers away from churches associated with anti-Russian nationalise.

Similarly, the regime exploits the visits of well-intentioned foreign religious leaders such as Billy Graham. Such visits assist the regime in publicizing the existence of "religious freedom" in the USSR. And, by allowing visiting ministers to preach at official churches but not to outlawed congregations, the regime enlists their tacit sanction for the official churches as the "legitimate" ones, respite the fact that the regime attempts to use the official churches for its own purposes, however, the growing numbers worshipping in these churches testifies to the failure of Marxist ideology in competing with old-fashioned religion for the "hearts and minds" Of the Soviet population.

More significantly, the number of unofficial congregations of all faiths appears to be increasing. Many of these groups have developed clandestine

ccmounications networks that enable them to collect thousands of signaturesountry-wide basis for petitions, and regularly to publish illegal literature (sami2dat).

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Inemi-secret Catholic church organization reportedly has priests conducting services illegally. Since the summeren issuesew samizdat "Chronicle of the Ukrainian Catholic Church" have appeared.

inatholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights has been active in petitioning for an end to repressive legislation against religion. The "Chronicle of the Lithuanian Catholichich first appearedemains one of the most vigorous samizdat journals in the country.

The unregistered Protestantthe Baptists and

attracting large numbers of rural, factory and white collar workers throughout the country. Many of these groups are zealous to the point of being fanatic in protesting such regime measures as "accidental" burnings of churches and forcible removals of children from parents' homes to prevent theireligious upbringing. They respond to repression by engaging in mass civil

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f8 disobedienceas burning internal passports and resisting

induction into the military. Onevillage is

virtually at war with the regime. It has engaged in continuing protests for several years, including | onrnunity hunger strikes. Thousands of Pentecostals continue to apply for emigration visas

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the regime's absolute refusal to grant them. With the assistancesome registered Baptist congregations, the unofficial Baptists publish | jiuzdut journals, one of which is printedhousand copies monthly.

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in Muslim areas of Centralully developed underground religiousseminaries educating

mullahs who teach Islam to children in unofficial mosques. |

Soviet Central Asians are demanding more power for the Muslim clergy at the expense of the party. Regime Repression

Duringhe regime has resorted to harsher repression of dissent than it has employed since Stalin's day. 9atershed year. With the invasion of Afghanistan, Soviet leaders became less concerned to avoid antagonizing Western leaders and public opinion. With the outbreak of unrest in Poland, they became more concerned to crack down on dissent inside the USSR itself.

2 the regime tightened the screws even more. The intensification of repression coincided with the political ascendancy of Andropov, and there has been no let-up under Gorbachev. The crackdown on dissent is consistent with his overall effort to shore up discipline, reassert party control in

various areas of life, increase ideological purity, and heighten vigilance

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against "alien" ideas. The current head of the KGB,

reportedly an ally of Gorbachev, has been in the forefront of thoseard line against dissent. Chebrikov

9 several new tactics have been employed: the arrest of dissidents on various false criminal rather than political charges; planting drugs and other incriminating evidence in the residences of dissidents to provide the basis for such charges; the resentencing on trumped-up charges of dissidents already serving terms to prevent their release on schedule; increased confinement in psychiatric hospitals; increased harassment of foreign contacts of dissidents and other actions designed to curtail dissident catmunication with foreigners, such as changing the legal code to broaden the definition of whatstatehich would make it easier to bring treason charges against dissidents who talk to foreigners; inducting dissidents into the military; increased use of violence both against political prisoners and against dissidents still "at large."

Regime brutality has intimidated many dissidentsomplete cessation of activity, but others have merely been driven underground. Sate ofno prospect for change within the system, having no dreams for the future, and disillusioned about the effectiveness of Western support-are advocating more radical tactics of protest, such as the formation of opposition groups with political action programs. Last year several dissidents were arrested for settingocial Democratic Party that calledulti-party democracy. Other dissidentskamikaze" attitude among some embitteredendency to glorify personal sacrifices made for the sake of the cause. pirit of despaireadiness to become martyrs is even more pronounced in some Christianthe persecuted Pentecostals, Baptists and Ukrainian Catholics, who seem to take

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the view that they have "nothing to lose but their chains." At the same time,

with the door to emigration all but closed for Soviet Jews, many of them have

also become bolder and more active in pressing for cultural freedoms for .Jews

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inside the

Over the past several years there haveew| incidents in the USSR, available on the black market I

of harsh repression, the possibility cannot be discounted that opposition to the regime might assume more violentin areas such as Ukraine that have traditions of armed resistance to Russian rule.

Thus, the Gorbachev leadershipissident community that is small (except for the religious believers) and demoralized. ew breed of dissident may be developing that is more hardened, more inclined to engage in extreme forms of protest, and in this sense perhaps moreroblem for the regime. At the Summit

Soviet leaders probably really do believe that what they do inside their own country is none of our business. They certainly believe that the adversary's internal problems are fair game for propagandists, but probably take the view that injecting criticism of internal policy into high diplomacy is nothing moreheap political maneuver.

It is true thatime in, the Soviets were responsive to US overtures on behalf of dissidents, especially with regard to Jewish emigration. But the internal repercussions of detente policies have given many Soviet leaders second thoughts,olitical climate that is not conducive to internal liberalization. Jewish emigration stirred up other

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disaffected minorities who wanted to leave. The departure of prominentto the West servedagnet for those left behind. in the view of many Soviet officials, the increase inSoviet citizens and foreigners inegative effectattitudes and behavior of the population.in

or example, that middle and senior level party officials believed that the economic benefits of detente had been boughtangerous political price and that the USSR must now protect itself from being "swamped" by Western ideas by cutting back on social, cultural and political contact with the West.

The us sanctions following the invasion of Afghanistan and the declaration of martial law in Polard also had an effect on the psychology of Soviet officials. Gorbachev himself has seemed especially concerned to avoid becoming vulnerable to us pressure of any sort.

With these practical and psychological factors at work, Gorbachev will probably be extremely unreceptive to appeals on behalf of dissidents. The incentives would have to be powerful for him to consider "concessions" in this area, in any event, anyecision to allow sakharov to return toprobably require consultation with other Politburo members.

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