Christianity and Other Religions in Post-Communist Countries
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09-11-2011, 04:12 PM
Christianity and Other Religions in Post-Communist Countries
Zatamon's recent post about his young years in Hungary, as well as the debate about Communism as a religion inspired me to post a summary of my observation on the rise of religions in the post-Communist countries.

I am not an expert on the subject, and I was only 5 years old when the USSR stopped existing. So please forgive me if I misrepresent some facts, or if my thoughts are too immature.

I am a Latvian of Russian ancestry. As I said, my experience of living in a Communist country is limited to my early childhood. But a culture does not just disappear in a second; I grew up reading Soviet books and magazines, watching Soviet movies, attending a school established in Soviet times, listening to teachers educated in Soviet times. So I consider myself rather a Soviet child and not really unfamiliar to the Soviet culture.

In the USSR, religion as such was never actually banned, but has always been oppressed a lot. Since Marx famously stated in 1843 that religion is "the heart of a heartless world" and "the opium of the people", the war between the Communists and religion was officially claimed. In the post-Revolutionary times, many priests were arrested, icons and other relics destroyed, churches turned into stables. The "progressive" Soviet writers were eager in bashing religion. "God" could only be written in lowercase. Religion was derided and made fun of in the literature and media; religious people were mostly pictured as funny, miserable losers, if not evil and soulless criminals.

Religion, diligently and zealously propagated before, was now one of the scapegoats of the "old times", so fun and easy to beat up.

No wonder a reaction was soon to follow the demolition of the Berlin Wall.

As our newly appeared wild markets filled with cheap cigarettes, flashy clothes and shiny toys, and our vocabularies - with new words such as "voucher", "advertisement", or "yoghurt", our streets became crowded with good-looking people in black jackets with golden badges which read something like "Jesus Christ blah blah blah society", and our mailboxes became filled with brochures written by people who claimed to have witnessed some guy called Jehovah. Someone remembered that the Planetarium of Riga used to be called the Cathedral before, and the astronomy was shown the door by the priests. And references to God and Church (the words suddenly to be capitalized again) became fashionable in books and magazines.

My grandmother, a child of the very Stalinist times, purchased a cross and a bunch of icons and books on the Eastern Orthodox Church. Now every time talking to her you could hear about another religious celebration she attended. My granddad, a former First Secretary of the local Central Committee, started saying something that "it is not actually that bad when the church is together with the state". Their daughter - my mom - meanwhile silently baptized, together with my teenage-year sister. I remember my other grandma, who proudly proclaimed herself a "militant atheist" before, crossing me as she said goodbye to me and my parents leaving for a week to Israel. (And, as you can guess, our trip to Israel was not just to have fun sitting on the surface of the Dead Sea.)

Having lost the idealism of the Communist times, people now seemed desperate in trying to find something other to believe in.

But grown up atheistic, they lacked real knowledge about religion as much as did I, a little boy from a professor's family. In pretty much the same way as I just perceived religion as something dark and boring and ridiculed in the books I liked, people around me just clung to it as to something "new" and "cool". If not "new", then "from the old good times" and thus even more "cool".

This point of view was strongly supported by mass culture. Popular Russian pop/rock bands such as "Машина времени" or "DDT" soon found their frontmen turned to Orthodox Christianity, writing religious songs or even organizing live shows with priests participating. A belletrist called B.Akunin wrote a series of mystery books set in the 19th century with two Orthodox monks as protagonists. Movies such as "The Island" ("Остров") about the Orthodox ideology and beliefs appeared, to much commercial and critical success.

Meantime, Christian political parties emerged in every post-Soviet country. In Russia, the Moscow Patriarch became a frequent visitor to Kremlin, religious education gained its strong supporters, and the Church and the State became friends again after a 75-year-long quarrel. Our little agnostic Latvia still does not let the preachers rule the country, but changes can be clearly seen here as well. At least three new churches were built in my neighbourhood, a silent and green place before. One church even has a restaurant inside. Don't forget to pray before your lunch, and don't forget to pay your bill.

The Communists tried to ban religions. They also tried to restrict many other things, like freedom of speech or buying things from abroad. The history proved that such a "fortress" can't exist forever and the people locked inside would eventually find a way out. The problem is, just like the Revolutionaries wanted to "destroy all the old world to build our new one", they tried to embrace all the Western stuff at once - freedom of speech mixed together with imported goods. Christianity was just one of these goods.

Most of our society is still yet to realize what a Trojan horse this "merchandise" actually is.
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09-11-2011, 04:40 PM
 
RE: Christianity and Other Religions in Post-Communist Countries
(09-11-2011 04:12 PM)evilflower Wrote:  The Communists tried to ban religions. They also tried to restrict many other things, like freedom of speech or buying things from abroad. The history proved that such a "fortress" can't exist forever and the people locked inside would eventually find a way out. The problem is, just like the Revolutionaries wanted to "destroy all the old world to build our new one", they tried to embrace all the Western stuff at once - freedom of speech mixed together with imported goods. Christianity was just one of these goods.

Most of our society is still yet to realize what a Trojan horse this "merchandise" actually is.

Beautiful account, evilflower, thank you so much for the evocative summary. Smile

I know exactly what you are talking about because I still have ties to old friends in Hungary and they tell me things.

One sad and amusing story I was told concerns a friend in Hungary who grew up as a vegetarian with her parents. After the regime change in 1989, official records kept on employees were made available to them and my friend's record, among other things, stated: "Her religion: vegetarianism -- she is not trying to hide it, even worse, she is bragging about it".

On comments like that lives, careers, reputations could be ruined.

After the change, everybody went nuts with religion. The pendulum swung in the opposite direction and sane, scientifically educated people suddenly started spouting dogma and total nonsense. It is still going on, without showing any sign of slowing down.

Very sad!
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10-11-2011, 05:36 AM (This post was last modified: 10-11-2011 05:59 AM by Filox.)
RE: Christianity and Other Religions in Post-Communist Countries
Well in Yugoslavia you could go to church and be religious, it was not completely banned, but you could not be a "true member of the communist party" and go to church. Those who were baptized and went to church were labeled as Christians, Croats and that meant you were a patriot of your Croatian country, thus being a nationalist, so you were not a true Yugoslav, meaning you were not a true comrade, communist and Party member. So you had trouble getting a job, being promoted, Secret service would keep an eye on you, so if you get too loud about your religion or nationalism, you would go to jail to cool down for a few days, weeks or months, depended on the loudness and theme of your "preaching" and if someone reported you. There were always people who wanted to be seen as the best Party members, so they reported those who they did not like and sometimes that was enough.

Now that we are independent and democratic country, we are number one Christian nation in the world. Poland and Croatia are the most Roman-Catholic counties, followed by Ireland. Most of the biggest Christians in Croatia today are old communist fucks who just flipped sides when needed. Most of them are in church today just because they want to "show" how great and anti-communist they are, it all just a big farce. Today in Croatia, to love your country you need to be a Croatian-Catholic, if you are a Croatian, you can not be a true patriot, you can not love your country or want to improve it, if you are not a Croat-Catholic, you are a communist and a Serb-lover. If you are an atheist, you can never be a true Croat, you just don't know what you are and where you are...

But even with all that, religion does not matter when you are trying to get a job, promotion, it does not interfere with your everyday business, it's just how people see you and talk about you, so I really don't care. At the moment I'm wearing my "Regions of the world" T-shirt and I don't care about it. My boss (who goes to church every weekend) loves the shirt and laughs every time he sees me in it.
http://www.wickedvintagetees.com/Ethnici..._the_world

About the Church as an institution, they have gained HUGE amounts of everything. Fist all the churches were privatized and returned to them, then all the land that the communists have taken away, now they are taking the land that was in their possession in any part of history. So for the last 300 years a bunch of peasants are using some land, now comes the Church with the claim that there was once a small chapel there, and all that is Church property all of a sudden, peasants are thrown off the land and Church is now richer. Funny thing about those small chapels is that they were build by peasants on their (peasant) land so that the God would bless their crops and fields, not because it was Church land. And new churches are being build everywhere, with church bells terrorizing people living near by, but this is a whole new topic I am preparing for you all, just need to film a few things and measure the noise levels, then we will have a whole new problem to address here. Please don't start the subject yet.

All and all, we are a country in need, near bankrupt, still struggling to recover from war and bad privatization, but we have more than enough money to build churches, pastoral centers, donate land to Church, take the land away from people, close both eyes when Church is breaking the laws, fit laws to suit the Church, but not the people, protect the Church above all other, just so that we can show everyone how far away from communism we have moved and how great we are. WTF?!?

ALL the people in the Parliament are people who were in Yugoslavian Parliament and most of them were in Communistic Party, now they want to show us so much how they are not like that, but like this? Such a BS. If they all died in some accident, I wouldn't feel any single emotion for them all together.

P.S.
Just been reading an article in local newspapers about a village in Croatia that has no running water (!!) and no TV signal, but they are 100% for the ruling party. We have elections soon, so everything is about this now. Can you imagine that, this ruling party is the one responsible that they don't have running water or TV signal, but they are still 100% for them, because the other strong party is left wing, and they are labeled as "reds", "communists", "atheists"... Guess what wing is the ruling party?

Smile

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I have a theory that the truth is never told during the nine-to-five hours.
-Hunter S. Thompson
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