Religious Persecutions under Communism in Eastern Europe

Religious Persecutions under Communism in Eastern Europe

March 2, 2022 0 By Anton

“Oh God, come God, and see what’s left of your people”

Valeriu Sterian, Nights (1989)

The Soviet Union was formed in 1922, following the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and the subsequent civil war between the Reds (socialists) and the Whites (Tsarist forces) which lasted for about four years. The USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) over the course of the twentieth century expanded its borders to include another 15 countries, such as Armenia, Moldova, Latvia, Lithuania, Georgia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

In the aftermath of World War II, following the defeat of the Axis Powers, the USSR expanded its influence even further through the establishment of the “Eastern bloc”, a group of countries under communist regimes which were linked to the Kremlin. The region included places like Romania, Hungary, Poland and Bulgaria, among others. Albania split from the Soviets during the 1960s, following the “Secret Speech” and the de-Stalinization efforts of Nikita Khrushchev. Finally, in 1991, the USSR dissolved after a wave of revolutions throughout 1988 and 1989 managed to push the giant totalitarian state into extinction.

Source: The Economist

This short report looks at the religious persecution that took place under communist regimes in Eastern Europe. Before we begin our analysis, we have to establish the position towards religion of the international socialist system which, as we all know, drew its core doctrine from Marxism.

Marxism and Religion, A Short History of Ideas

The communists’ anti-religious attitude can be traced back to the writings of Ludwig Feuerbach, a German anthropologist and philosopher who heavily influenced Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Of such great influence were the German anthropologist’s writings that Engels regarded Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity (a criticism of Christianity which aimed, among other things, to show that God is a creation of man and not the other way around) “to symbolically mark the end of the period of classical German philosophy that had begun sixty years earlier with the appearance of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason”, as the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy states.

Like Engels, Marx too was heavily influenced by Feuerbach. In the Economic & Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Marx stated that “it is only with Feuerbach that positive, humanistic and naturalistic criticism begins”. Criticism, that is, of religion. As Louis Dupré explained in a 1968 essay for Commonweal, entitled Marx & Religion, Feuerbach, using Hegel’s dialectical approach, attacked the Christian faith by arguing that “God is the alienation of man”. In the1844 Manuscripts, Marx built on Feuerbach’s attack on religion: “If I know religion as alienated human self-consciousness, what I know in it as religion is not my self-consciousness but my alienated self-consciousness confirmed in it. Thus my own self, and the self-consciousness which is its essence, is not confirmed in religion but in the abolition and supersession of religion.”

Feuerbach’s “achievement” was a consequence of Hegel’s philosophy of religion which, as the German Marxist August Thalheimer wrote in Introduction to Dialectical Materialism, “Hegelian philosophy undermines religion from within. […] The revolutionary character of Hegel’s philosophy stands out in sharper relief in some of his students than it does in Hegel himself. These students directly attacked Christianity, which was then the state religion. Attack on the Christian religion was thus a political attack on the existing state. The most important and the most radical of these students of Hegel was Ludwig Feuerbach. […] Feuerbach accomplished the open break with religion which Hegel had not achieved, and it is precisely in this respect that his book, The Essence of Christianity, was epoch-making.”

That epoch, which followed the ideas of nineteen century Europe, produced the greatest catacombs in human history under fascism, national socialism and international socialism. However, attacking religion was not a new idea that came from the German schools of thought. As Edmund Burke noted in Reflections on the French Revolution, part of the process to “liberate” the French people was to destroy the clergy. The church was a primary target of the revolutionists.

Further developing his thoughts on matters of theology, Marx reasoned that religion was just another tool used by the bourgeoisie to oppress the working class. This was accurately captured by Lenin in The Attitude of the Workers’ Party to Religion: “Marxism has always regarded all modern religions and churches, and each and every religious organisation, as instruments of bourgeois reaction that serve to defend exploitation and to befuddle the working class.”

Nobody can dispute that the Church was still a powerful force in society in the nineteenth century, although much weaker in Europe than in Russia as a result of the ideas produced by the Renaissance and then by the Enlightenment. Neither can anyone dispute that there were abuses of power conducted by the Church or with the Church’s help. However, the view that religion was everywhere and to everyone an oppressive force was (and remains) a profoundly narrow view for there were (and still are) many men and women devoted to God, inside and outside the institution of religion, who were (and are) not guilty of any wrongs that the institution itself committed. Nevertheless, these nuances did not matter to Marx: radical thoughts do not allow for the diverse nature of reality to express itself.

As such, in Introduction to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, where Marx also wrote the well-known slogan “religion is the opium of the people”, the German thinker observed: “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of men, is a demand for their real happiness. The call to abandon their illusions about their condition is the call to abandon a condition which requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”

The quotation above illustrates that Marx saw the elimination of religion only part of what was required to “liberate” man – the complete reconfiguration of human nature and human society was needed for the socialist utopia to become reality. It is this dynamic that Marx referred to when writing that “communism begins where atheism begins”, highlighting that to bring about the revolution that would precede communism, the starting point was to tear down religion.

However, it is when Marx’s views on religion are coupled with his perspective on philosophy that we reach the culmination point of anti-religious activity in communism regimes. For Marx it is important to take action, not simply to think, (this is the core of the notion of praxis): “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” Purely theoretical atheism is useless – the atheistic view needs to be applied in practice.

Throughout the twentieth century, the anti-religious sentiment had been further radicalised to the point of developing in the followers of Marxist dogma an almost pathological hatred of religion. Lenin wrote that “religion is one of the forms of spiritual oppression which everywhere weighs down heavily upon the masses of the people […]”. Stalin led a uniquely brutal campaign against religion and religious people, transforming places of worship into “museums of atheism”.

This attitude can be aptly seen in the foundation of the League of Militant Godless (or Atheists) which was formed in the Soviet Union in the mid-1920s and operated until late-1940s. The aim of the League was beyond to further enforce the will of the communist Party; it was “spiritual warfare” as Helen Lamm described in a lecture for the Institute of World Politics.

In this League we clearly see the essence of “practical atheism” – atheism put into practice, not simply as an idea. In 1932 the League issued the “Five Year Plan of Atheism” which stated: “not a single house of prayer shall remain in the territory of the USSR, and the very concept of God must be banished from the Soviet Union as a survival of the Middle Ages and an instrument for the oppression of the working masses.”

Writing about the anti-religious efforts of the Soviets, Paul Froese in Forced Secularisation in Soviet Russia: Why an Atheistic Monopoly Failed observed that “atheists waged a 70-year war on religious belief in the Soviet Union. The Communist Party destroyed churches, mosques, and temples; it executed religious leaders; it flooded the schools and media with anti-religious propaganda; and it introduced a belief system called “scientific atheism”, complete with atheist rituals, proselytizers, and a promise of worldly salvation.”

Of course, Eastern Europe under the USSR was not the only place where the communists’ attempts to destroy religion out of society happened. In China, for example, under Mao Zedong (as well as under the current leadership of Xi Jinping) religious persecution was mundane as the Chairman desired to build his own cult of personality. Remember what Carl Jung observed in The Undiscovered Self: “The State takes the place of God […] the socialist dictatorships are religions and the State slavery is a form of worship”

With this short background in mind, let us look in more detail at the crimes committed by the communists against people of faith under the Soviet Union, focusing on Eastern Europe. Consequently, this report hopes to shed light on the fact that Marxist ideologies – be it Leninist, Stalinist, Maoist, Identarian, mixed with Critical Theory and so on – because of their position on religion and God, always carry the risk of large scale torture, deportation and murder because it is only through this process of re-education through physical and psychological pain that the old man can die, including his religious believes, and the “new man”, the “socialist man”, about which Marx spoke, become a reality.

The Oppression of Religion under Communism in Europe

No faith was secure under the militant atheistic gaze of the communist regime. Wherever the red boot stomped, it brought with it orgies of torture, terror and destruction. We will look at the persecution by religious groups: Christians, Jews and Muslims, providing as much data and examples as we can do in this short report.

The Persecution of Christians

I start with those belonging to the Christian faith – Orthodox, Catholic, Greek-Catholic as well as other Christian denominations – because of their predominance in the Eastern Bloc. Their fate was accurately captured by Blainey Geoffrey in his book, A Short History of Christianity: “In Poland, Hungary, Lithuania and other Eastern European countries, Catholic leaders who were unwilling to be silent were denounced, publicly humiliated or imprisoned by the Communists. Leaders of the national Orthodox Churches in Romania and Bulgaria had to be cautious and submissive.”

Of course, the leaders of the Christian faith were not the only ones to be persecuted. Thousands of believers were imprisoned and killed. The exact figure is impossible to calculate (there are still bodies being discovered in the Eastern Bloc from the time of communist regimes). As a report by the UK Parliament in 1950, entitled Communist Persecution of Religion, described: “[…] it becomes quite plain that in various countries like Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Roumania and Czechoslovakia there is now being carried on a deliberate policy of organised persecution.”

In Psychology, Religion, and Spirituality, James Nelson estimates that in the USSR alone there were about 12 million Christians who died as a result of their religious believes. This is almost half of the “Christians who died from secular antireligious violence worldwide” in the twentieth century, a figure that Susan Bergman in Twentieth Century Martyrs estimates to be about 25 million.

In Russia, due to brutal religious persecution and state propaganda, the Orthodox Church was turned into an organ of the Party (as Alexandru Ratiu related in The Stolen Church) and its spiritual role declined throughout the last century, as seen in the chart below.

It is interesting to note that in 1919, Lenin issued a stern order: to kill anyone who dared to observe Christmas. The Soviet leader demanded that “[…] the entire Cheka must be on alert to see to it that those who do not show up for work because of [the religious holiday] are shot,” wrote Paul Kengor in his book, A Pope and a President. Therefore, facing such hostility from the communists, it is perhaps not surprising that church attendance fell so drastically from the 1920s onwards.

Some useful resources to study the persecution of Christians under the Soviets in Russia are the websites called “History of persecution True Orthodox (Catacomb) Church” and “History of the persecution of Catholics in the USSR”, linked by the Keston Institute, which was founded in 1969 under the title of Centre for the Study of Religion and Communism. However, the websites are in Russian and therefore, they requires a bit of effort on the part of the researcher to translate the links and the documents. Nevertheless, this is not an insurmountable barrier for those truly interested in finding out the truth about Marxism, communism, and religion.

Let’s turn our focus to other countries now. In Bulgaria, a report from the Hannah Arendt Center in Sofia shows that as soon as the communists took power in 1944, through a coup, priests alongside with teachers, civil servants, journalists, civil leaders and writers were labelled as “enemies of the people” or as “fascists” and hunted down by the Bulgarian Communist Party. By the end of 1945, approximately 10,000 people were sent to concentration camps under such charges.

Moreover, writing for the Rhetoric and Communication Journal in 2017, Ralena Nikolaeva Gerasimova from Sofia University stated that “the communist regime in Bulgaria followed the Soviet line of proclaiming atheism and suppression of religion and its churches – including abuse, confiscation of property, prohibition of religious books, materials, ceremonies, celebrations […] murder of religious persons and so on. Christianity became a thing to be practiced privately at home only and a general inconvenience for a fulfilling social and professional life, with much of its essence being taken away.”

In Poland, the Catholic Church, which was (as it is today) directly answerable to the Holy See and which represented a strong bastion of tradition and national identity that had the support of 90% of the population, was a thorn in the side of the communist regime which attacked it viciously. Liturgies were banned, religious activities supressed, and the priests were targeted for arrests and imprisonments. Indeed, as the Black Book of Communism states:

“Poland was one of the nations that suffered the most under Soviet rule. This was the case even though Feliks Dzerzhinsky, the man who masterminded the early Soviet terror, was himself Polish […]. The Poles, regardless of whether they were Soviet citizens, suffered every aspect of Stalinist terror: the hunt for spies, dekulakization, anticlericalism, national and ethnic “cleansing”, the Great Purge, the purges of border regions and the Red Army itself, […], forced labor, the execution of prisoners of war, and mass deportations of groups of people labelled as “socially dangerous elements”. […] The Poles account for some 10 percent of the total number of victims of the Great Purge […]. These figures are, if anything, understated, since thousands of Poles were deported from Ukraine and Belorussia […].”

However, the people rallied behind the Church. Therefore, because of how strong the Catholic Church was – not just in what it represented spiritually but also politically (the opposition to the totalitarian system) – in 1956, the communist state established an informal truce with the Episcopate: “the open assault on Christianity would end if the clergy would stay out of politics and recognize the legitimacy of Communist rule. Henceforth, the Church in Poland enjoyed freedoms that were unprecedented in the Soviet Bloc.”

It was from Poland where Karol Wojtyła was born, the man who became Pope John Paul II and who helped to create the Solidarity union, that the spark which led to the collapse of the Soviet empire originated in late 1980s.

Meanwhile, in Romania the Christian Churches – Catholic, Greek-Catholic and Orthodox as well as other Christian denominations – were under severe pressure from the communist regime to reform or cease to exist all together. After the communists took power through fraudulent elections in 1947, the campaign of terror against “enemies of the people” began in the earnest.

The Black Book of Communism, which was published in 1999 estimates that in Eastern Europe 1,000,000 people died under communism. However, this figure may be too conservative. Recent reports from Romania (such as Final Report conducted in 2007 by the Presidential Commission for the Analysis of Communist Dictatorship in Romania), estimate that in Romania alone there were close to 2,000,000 people who were killed, imprisoned or disappeared during the communist rule and almost half of these were killed. As such, the figure in Eastern Europe is bound to be much bigger.

Nevertheless, of these hundreds of thousands who were arrested and killed in Romania, many were men and women of the clergy. Here are a few accounts: The Stolen Church (by Alexandru Ratiu on the destruction of Greek-Catholics), The Journal of Happiness (Jurnalul Fericirii by Nicolae Steinhardt on the fate of Christians in communist prisons), In God’s Underground (by Richard Wurmbrand on the dark torture to which Christians were subjected in communist prisons) and Anti-Humans (Neoamenii by Dumitru Bacu about the re-education process in the communist prison of Pitesti).

Nicolae Steinhardt

Of particular relevance to our analysis, is the practice of re-education which the communists designed and applied at the prisoners at the Pitesti penitentiary. What happened there won’t be related here in detail, because it is beyond the scope of this short report. However, what must be highlighted is that the process of re-education, which was the destruction of the individual through physical and psychological torture (as related by Bacu in Anti-Humans), involved a deeply anti-religious component. Quote from Pitesti Phenomenon:

[…] the students of theology were forced by Ţurcanu to hold black masses, especially during the Easter period and the Resurrection night. […] Ţurcanu’s liturgy text was pornography, paraphrasing, in a demonic way, the original text. Holy Marry was called “the great harlot”, Jesus was referred to as “the idiot who died on the cross”.

Ţurcanu was the head torturer of the “Pitesti Phenomenon”. Thus, one can understand from this example alone the brutality of the communists regarding religion.

In Hungary, the situation related above simply repeated itself. A 2011 article in the Christian Century recalled the fate of Christians during those times: “Wandering in Hungary today, you will casually see signs with names like Recsk and Kistarcsa, with no warning that in the 1950s these were the sites of lethal concentration camps in which Christian clergy and laity were murdered in the thousands.”

For example, in June of 1950 raids were made on “convents and monasteries, and their inmates were taken away in sealed vans.” This is similar to what happened to the Greek-Catholics in Romania, as described by Alexandru Ratiu. Furthermore, the raids in Hungary resulted in the execution of 538 priests and the life imprisonment of the Cardinal-Archbishop.

Despite these efforts, which for a while reduced the number of Christians, especially of Catholic faith, Christianity in Hungary recovered towards the end of the 1980s, as the end of the communist system was approaching.

These are some examples of Christian persecution under the communist regimes in Eastern Europe. Similar things have happened in Czechoslovakia and in non-European countries where communism imposed the Marxist doctrine of “practical atheism” in various forms.

Persecution of Jews

Whether the antisemitism of the communist regimes was a by-product of their obsession with “practical atheism” or it was driven by other nuance of hate remains up for debate. The undisputable fact however is that Jews were persecuted for religious reasons as well. Writing for The Spectator, Rod Liddle in 2021 reminded us of this fact:

“Lenin’s strictures against the Jews (they must be ‘taken by hedgehog skin gauntlets’) and Stalin’s relentless persecution of them in a campaign waged against, euphemistically, ‘rootless cosmopolitans’, in which thousands of Jews were murdered.”

Mark Avis in a recent essay brings multiple sources to highlight the Jewish persecution under the Soviets. Quoting from Robert S. Wistrich’s 2003 article, The Old-New Anti-Semitism, Avis stresses that although Stalin denounced antisemitism in the early 1930s as “zoological”, by the late 1940s, the Soviet dictator’s rhetoric and actions changed completely:

“By 1949, however, Stalin was beginning to sound like Adolf Hitler when it came to “the Jewish question.” He adopted the classic Nazi mythology of “rootless cosmopolitanism” and applied it to Soviet Jews. Stalinist accusations which developed out of this slogan followed the pattern of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This had an obvious propaganda value in Soviet Russia, as it did in all of the East European satellite countries that fell under communist control in the late 1940s, where anti-Semitism already enjoyed great popularity. The fictitious “world conspiracy” invented by the Stalinists offered a suitable backdrop for totalitarian claims to world rule alongside the crusade against Wall Street, capitalism and imperialism.”

Stalin’s antisemitic sentiments were amply captured by Nikolai Tolstoy in Stalin’s Secret War. Perhaps one of the most visible examples of the Soviet dictator’s changing views towards the Jews was the pact between Hitler and Stalin known as the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact which was signed in August of 1939. Prior to this, in May of 1939, the USSR’s foreign minister, Maxim Litvinov, who was of Jewish origin, was dismissed because his anti-Nazis speeches were “a thorn in the Germans’ side”. Following this event, in preparation for the Pact, the Soviet media stopped criticising Hitler and, as Mordechai Altshuler wrote in 2008 for Yad Vashem Studies, “refrained from mentioning the situation of the Jews in Germany”.

The first cases specifically targeting Jews, according to KGB documents analysed by Arkady Vaksberg in his 1994 book, Stalin against the Jews, began to surface following the 1939 pact. At first, there were nuances, changes in tones of how the school books referred to the Russians as a people. Then, Jews began to disappear from political life. Later on, Molotov admitted that the removal of Maxim Litvinov was the signal that things will change for the Jews in the Soviet Union: “In 1939, when Litvinov was fired and I took his place, Stalin told me, ‘Get the Jews out of the commissariat’ […].”

Although it was only after World War II ended that the communist aggressions against the Jews were revealed. It was by no means as vicious as what Hitler did, thankfully. Nevertheless, their religious beliefs played a role in their persecution. For example, in 1954, a report to the US House of Representatives, which was published in the Lithuanian journal Lituanus, revealed that across the communist regimes in Eastern Europe religious persecution of Jews was common because they were “suspected of attachment to the religious tenets of Judaism and to the humanitarian values of Jewish culture and history, as well as of ties of cultural and emotional solidarity reaching behind the borders of the Communist empire […].

The Jewish religion was and is persecuted by the Communists, like all other religions. Most synagogues have been closed, most rabbis arrested, and the religious education of the youth is forbidden. Religious observance has been made impossible and the few surviving religious communities have been taken over by Communist agents and forced to serve Communist propaganda purposes. The synagogues still open in a few places accessible to foreign observers are maintained only to facilitate the police supervision of the believers, and to deceive gullible visitors from abroad by asemblance of “religious freedom.”

A similar story as with the Christians of Catholic and Greek-Catholic denominations – their allegiance to the Holy See made the communists more uncomfortable than the Orthodox Christians because they had, above their believe in God (and not in the Party as the ultimate authority), a strong loyalty to spiritual and cultural elements outside the totalitarian regimes.

Stalin’s paranoid campaign against the “cosmopolitan” Jews lasted until his death, in 1953. There is evidence to suggest that a key factor in the Soviet dictator’s change of heart towards the Jewish population was the fact that Israel (the formation of which Stalin supported) turned out to be pro-Western, rather than an ally of the USSR in the Middle East.

We see here that both the national socialists and the international socialists had an element of hatred towards the Jews, although rooted in different ideological sources: the former was identarian by focusing on race (biology) while the latter was identarian by focusing on class (the Jews became enemies as soon as they were labelled “anti-proletariat”).

Before moving on to the final religious group that was persecuted under communism – Muslims – an interesting fact to note is that Stalin prepared the “Holodomor with the very same methods which Hitler prepared the Holocaust”. The Holodomor was the man-made famine imposed by the Soviets to break the Ukrainian people. The statement above comes from Liudmyla Hrynevych, director of the Holodomor Ukrainian Research Center and editor of the Holodomor Studies journal, and highlights the genocidal similarities between the two regimes: the international socialist (Communist) regime had the same heart as the national socialist (Nazi) regime.

Persecution of Muslims

As Daniel Kalder argued in an article published by UnHerd Magazine in 2019, evaluating Roland Elliott Brown’s book, Godless Utopia: Soviet Anti-Religious Propaganda, the communists’ violence against all religions was breath-taking: alongside the killings, places of worship – churches, synagogues and mosques – were demolished or turned into state run “museums of atheism”.

“God, Buddha, a cyclopean Jehovah and Allah were all fair game, as were corpulent priests, bearded Mullahs and ignorant peasants (although interestingly artists tended to avoid drawing Mohammed)”, explained Kalder.

Across the Eastern Bloc, Muslim populations were predominantly found in Bulgaria and Albania. Ralena Nikolaeva Gerasimova in the article quoted previously, recalls that the suppression of Muslims in Bulgaria reached its peak during the “Revival process”, a period that lasted for about ten years (from 1970s all through the 1980s). The goal of this campaign was to assimilate the Islamic population (mostly Turks and Arabs) into the broader Bulgarian population. Throughout this period circa 850,000 Muslims were forced to change their names and over 1,000 were put in prisons.

The communists’ pressure on Muslims in Bulgaria resulted in violent clashes between pro-Turkish guerrillas and the regime’s forces. The result was a mass exodus out of Bulgaria and into Turkey of about 360,000 Muslims, eventually forcing the Turkish government to close its borders.

Turks fleeing Bulgaria during the “Revival process”

In Albania, the communist secret police was a force to be feared. As Blerina Gjoka wrote in a 2021 report on the topic, “families with an influence in their communities were kept under surveillance and regularly prosecuted because they were seen as a threat to Enver Hoxha’s repressive regime.” One of those persecuted was the Muslim scholar with a strong reputation for patriotism, Hafiz Ibrahim Dalliu. Perhaps what is more upsetting is that even now, more than three decades after the collapse of the Soviet empire, examinations over the number of people persecuted under communists in Albania are still wishful thinking.

“Although more than 30 years have passed since the collapse of the Communist regime, it remains a difficult topic in Albania, and the history of what the country went through in those 45 years is still little investigated or discussed,” explained Gjoka.

Of course, there were other parts of the USSR where Muslims were persecuted, but they are not part of the Eastern Bloc. Nevertheless, here is a summary of what happened beyond the Black Sea, into Central Asia. The quotes below come from the Origins of Soviet Ethnic Cleansing by Terry Martin published in the Journal of Modern History at Harvard.

“Between 1935 and 1938, at least nine Soviet nationalities—Poles, Germans, Finns, Estonians, Latvians, Koreans, Chinese, Kurds, Iranians—were all subjected to ethnic cleansing. […] After the retreat of the German army in 1943–44, the Soviet state deported its entire Crimean Tatar, Kalmyk, Chechen, Ingush, Balkar, Karachai, and Mesk-hetian Turk populations to Central Asia on the charge of collective treason. In addition, from 1944 through 1953, a number of peoples—Kurds, Khemshils (Moslem Armenians), Greeks, Bulgarians, Armenians from the Black Sea re-gion, Iranians—were deported away from the Soviet border regions in Crimea and the Transcaucasus.”

As Martin points out in his study, the ethnic cleansing in the USSR was not rooted in the desire to make national borders coincide with ethnic borders (like the national socialists tried to do). This is because the Soviets were international socialists – of course. However, what is puzzling to Martin is that there seemed to be a contradiction between the Soviet’s attitude of not building a nation-state and the ethnic cleansings that went on. “Indeed, the simultaneous pursuit of nation building and nation destroying in the Stalinist period remains a paradox in need of explanation.”

Perhaps the explanation comes from Hegel’s dialectical method: to create the new, the old must be destroyed while also retaining the essence of the old.

However, it has to be mentioned that in the Balkan region, even before Soviet occupation and communist influence, there were fierce conflicts that resulted in massacres of rival minorities. This is detailed in the 1996 book, Death and Exile: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ottoman Muslims, 1821 – 1922. Nevertheless, the events highlighted above demonstrate that no religion was safe from the militant atheism of the communists.


This essay aimed to provide a brief account of the religious oppression under communism in Eastern Europe. It anchored the discussion in a summarised but important context about the philosophical origins of the anti-religious ideas, sentiments and campaigns that the communist implement against all faiths, albeit to different extent.

The article then presented short accounts of the persecution of Christians, Jews and Muslims across the Eastern Bloc. As I wrote in Western civilisation and religion in a secular age, “Despite the lessons from history, today, the trend is still away from God, as the polls suggest. […] Although there is scepticism as to how long secularism can prevail […], and some may be eager to point at other alternatives […], the difference between manmade religions and the Divine will endure and, for as long as we remain with our faces turned away from the Divine, no alternative will suffice for nothing can replace God’s realm […].”

“Why don’t you stop this terrible war?

Why do you think only of yourselves?

And you don’t care about the mother who cries

Her murdered child laying in pools of blood

And you don’t care about those who no longer are

Of those who accuse you from their graves

Valeriu Sterian, Nights (1989)