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N.A.Nazarbayev
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Religion and State During Soviet Times

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Religion and State During Soviet Times
The periods of the relations between the state and religion in the Soviet Union as a whole and, in particular, in Kazakhstan was significantly different and worth an academic attention.

Thus, in this article, it is aimed to focus on the religious policy of the Soviet state, the forms and methods of the anti-religious struggle. There will be more details on the role of Islam in the everyday life of Soviet Kazakhstani people in the second half of the twentieth century provided. Finally it will be concluded that, despite the activation, in certain periods of the Soviet history of the anti-religious struggle, the proportion of believers and sympathizers of religion in various regions of Kazakhstan was very significant.

Throughout the vast country, relations between the state and religion were dichotomous. The party’s line regarding religion and the activities of religious organizations also remained ambiguous. The firm conviction of the communists that “religion, by its stupefying property, leads the working people away from urgent affairs,” has become a guide to action for Soviet leaders in relation to believers and religious organizations. However, depending on the political situation and the conjuncture of the moment, the policy towards religion sometimes changed in the most polar way.

The search, elaboration and construction of an appropriate model of state policy with respect to confessions have been a pressing problem throughout the entire history of the Soviet Union. The state’s religious policy as a whole was based on the statement that communism and religion are incompatible, and the government was working to oust religious organizations from the internal life of society, but there were certain stages of peaceful coexistence between government and religion.

The religious policy of the Soviet state had fundamental differences in the stages: some stages are characteristic of religious policies regarding Christian denominations, and others, for example, in areas dominated by Islam (in particular, Central Asia). When selecting stages, we laid a common trajectory, a vector of religious policy, taking into account, first of all, the relationship of power with the Christian Church and Islam. We offer the following variant in the periodization of religious policy in the USSR as a whole and, in particular, in Kazakhstan. The first measures aimed at the destruction and destruction of the foundations of Islam in the country that built communism were taken almost 10 years after the attack on Christian and other confessions.

In general, a period of relative freedom in the attitude of the Soviet leadership to Islam after the World War I.  In Russia, it was possible to single out the period of Bolshevik active extrusion of Christianity, when militant atheism takes the first steps in religious politics. Although in 1917, the “Declaration of the Rights of the Peoples of Russia” proclaimed “the abolition of all national and national-religious privileges and restrictions”, this stage was manifested by harsh processes of persecution and repression against Orthodox, Catholic and other believers and clergy, when the well-known Marxian definition religion, as "opium for the people," became pivotal in the policy of the Soviet state. In 1918, the special decree of the Council of People's Commissars separated the church from the state and the public school, deprived of the rights of a legal entity and property, religion was declared a private matter of citizens, but the influence of religion on society was very significant.

At this stage from 1918 to 1920, a campaign was launched to persecute the Orthodox religion: the opening of the relics of the saints of the Orthodox Russian Church, the massive seizure of values ​​and the looting of churches, the shooting of clergymen began. According to some information only in the period from 1917 to 1921. The total number of victims among the Christian clergy and believers was more than 25 thousand people. From 1923 to 1929 - time of relative "religious freedom". The anti-religious policy of the first years of Soviet power was not crowned with success, and a partial religious revival began. In 1923, Stalin issued a circular letter to all the provincial committees demanding that the closure of churches and religious arrests be prohibited. And, as a result, in the period 1923-1929. religious policy of the state has undergone some mitigation. A number of researchers, drawing parallels with the stages of Soviet history, call this period religious NEP.

As for the relations of the authorities with the Muslim religion, then, as noted by researchers, for strategic considerations after a period of civil war characterized by "cavalry raids" on religious institutions, the Moscow government adopted in relation to Islamic institutions a policy of relative tolerance and avoided direct confrontation with Islamic religious "institutions" for a decade.

The authors of this period, from 1918 to 1928, in their studies called “Muslim national communism” in the USSR, describing it as follows: a decade was not characterized by such harsh repressive measures against the Muslim confession (but this fact, in to a large extent can be attributed to other non-Christian religions), and 1918-1928. on the whole, remained a stage of relative “religious freedom”. In line with researchers, it is considered that it was necessary to indicate the reasons for a more loyal attitude of the government towards Islam and Muslims. In the period 1917-1918. in Soviet Russia, one after another, territorial autonomies were proclaimed in the national regions of the country; the Bolsheviks systematically destroy them one after another during the civil war, while trying to attract the national elite of these autonomies to cooperate, because without their support it is impossible to find supporters in the national outskirts. In such circumstances, the authorities did not exacerbate the religious issue in these regions. Therefore, there were no systematic, active actions of an anti-Islamic nature; it is not by chance that we are talking only about rare “cavalry attacks” against Islam. Accordingly, the leaders of the national and religious elites did not aggravate relations with Moscow until the mid-1920s.

In September 1920, the Central Spiritual Board of Muslims of European Russia, Siberia and Kazakhstan was created. In the 1920s. the intensification of religious life in Kazakh society is noted. The anti-religious commission of the Central Committee. Allowed the mullahs to work in Soviet schools and allowed the teaching of doctrine in mosques to children. Muslim institutions have launched their work throughout the region, the share of Kazakhs accounted for about 90% of believers and ministers of worship. By 1924, there were several dozen madrasahs in the republic, mosques were built, a Sharia court operated. Mosques received a certain financial independence as a result of a massive collection of donations (sadaqa and others) from the population.In 1929-1941, the tightening of the anti-religious struggle begins when the “religious NEP,” characterized by partial liberalization, was curtailed.

In the fight against religion, agitation and propaganda began to gradually recede into the background, giving way to a militant and open fight against religious organizations and repression against believers, and the period from 1932 to 1937. received in the history of the church the name "godless five-year plan."

In April 1929, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee and the Council of People's Commissars of the RSFSR issued a decree “On Religious Associations”, which became the main legal act from that time on the religious policy of the councils. It limited the activities of religious servants to the walls of churches, monasteries, houses of prayer, mosques and synagogues, as well as the residence of believers, and regulated religious life in the USSR in fact until the collapse of the Communist Party and the Union. The main methods of fighting religious organizations were the confiscation of buildings of temples, prayer houses, mosques, synagogues; the deprivation of religious communities and unions of state registration, the closure of educational institutions and religious publications, as well as the de facto ban on any activity outside the church walls.

While before 1930, the closure of any church required the consent of the Commission on Cults under the Presidium of the Russian Central Executive Committee, which somewhat hampered the massive liquidation of prayer buildings, then in 1929 - early 1930s. a number of regulations were adopted that seriously restricted the rights of religious organizations and clergy and gave the local authorities the right to close churches. After this, the campaign to close and demolish religious buildings became widespread. It is at this stage that the active persecution of Islam begins in the Soviet Union. By 1928 all Muslim religious primary and secondary educational institutions were closed. If in 1912 there were more than 26,000 mosques in Russia, in which there were nearly fifty thousand worshipers, by the beginning of nineteen fourty one, there were only about thousand left. In Kazakhstan in the period 1928-1933. 198 churches and mosques are closed.

The first repressions of representatives of the Muslim clergy and believers began in 1932. But despite pressure, repressive measures and the destruction of a significant part of the clergy, active atheistic propaganda activities, including the “Union of Militant Atheists”, religion continued to play a significant role in the spiritual life of the society: Orthodoxy retained its position in Russian village, especially among the middle and older generation, but among the urban population, religion was not exterminated. And only Komsomol youth perceived agitation as a reality. Herbert Marcuse in his work “One dimensional man” characterizes a man of “developed industrial society”, but many of his characteristics are typical of “homo soveticus”. Soviet propaganda manipulated the minds of young people, who as a result of social training  become atheists, but even this atheism is very superficial. Since the right to the final answer in the question, which needs are true and which are false, belongs to the individuals themselves, but only to the final ones, that is, in that case and when they are free enough to give their own answer. As long as they are deprived of autonomy, as long as their consciousness is the object of suggestion and manipulation, their answer cannot be considered as belonging to them.

In society, processes were controlled totally, and forms of public control were designed to such an extent that it became possible to influence individual protest already in the bud. The intellectual and emotional refusal to “follow along with everyone” became impossible. It seemed that militant atheism invades personal space and negates all religiosity, but it still remains, however, only in that personal space where a person has the opportunity to remain as it was. The Muslim population showed an indifferent and even hostile attitude when attempting to attack Islam. And the next stage confirms the steady position of religious spirituality in Soviet society.

Between 1941 and 1953, it was the time of the partial revival of religious life in the country and the “thaw” in a religious situation. The need to consolidate society during the war, to use all the reserves for its mobilization caused the reconsideration of the state-religious policy. During this period, a clear vertical of the organs of governing the religious life of the country is being built. In 1943, the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Central Asia and Kazakhstan  was founded, in general, the management of the spiritual affairs of Muslims of the Soviet Union was carried out by four independent friends from the center. When the Council of People's Commissars of the Soviet Union in September 1943, the Council on the Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church was founded, in May 1944 the Council on the Affairs of Religious Cults.

In 1946, there were about eleven thousand cathedrals, churches, and houses of worship in the Soviet Union, including in July 1946 in Kazakhstan there were twenty two Orthodox churches. The Commissioner of the Council on the Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1946 reports that, according to incomplete data, the performance of religious Orthodox rites was carried out quite widely. Thus, baptism was not only performed by infants, but also by adult children aged 5 to 15 years; there have been cases of the adoption of Orthodoxy by citizens of other faiths, etc. The attendance of churches and prayer houses by believers was constantly increasing, and especially on the days of church holidays.

The Muslim community of the republic was under the jurisdiction, whose administrative center was in Tashkent. The Office sent letters to the mullahs requesting the selection of a contingent of students in the madrasas opened in Tashkent and Bukhara. Thirty seven places were given to Kazakhstan, the age of listeners was to be elder people. However, in 1945, a weak set of students was noted, despite the fact that the age limit was increased from 18 to 40 years. In Kazakhstan, in general, unregistered Muslim communities and prayer buildings prevailed, believers arbitrarily engaged in the construction of mosques, organized mass worship services. The most common among Muslims are the so-called "roving" mullahs; the emergence of "vagrant" mullahs was due to the fact that the Soviet authorities denied them registration. Their activity was associated with the rites during the funeral, wedding, and prayer on religious days . About 400 and 500 people took part in religious holidays in townships and much more in cities: in the Alma-Ata mosque, for example. attendance on the days of Muslim holidays ranged from four to five thousands. 

As noted in the publications, during the war and the post-war Stalin, that is, until 1954, there was a relative easing of tension between the government and Islam in the country. The creation of several ecclesiastical administrations of Muslims helped Islamic institutions survive. In Kazakhstan, the opening of a separate spiritual administration was not followed, but the position of Islam in the republic grew. In our opinion, this thesis is confirmed by private facts from the everyday life of believers in Central Kazakhstan, for example, the city of Karaganda. The archives tracked worships in the Stalin district of Karaganda, and the absolute majority of them were carried out by the mullahs at home.  The life of other confessions became more active: after the decision of the Council of People's Commissars “On the order of opening prayer buildings of religious cults”. prayer buildings were opened in many cities of the Kazakh SSR. In general, the number of registered prayer houses was thirty.

The “warming” attitude toward religious organizations by the state with the beginning of the war did not mean that it abandoned its strategic goal of destroying religion, but due to the need to consolidate society for a while, they stopped “bulging” this problem. Anti-religious propaganda was transferred to the plane of propagation and expansion of propaganda of materialistic views, natural science and scientific and technical knowledge, which was announced in the resolution of the Central Committee in 1944 "On the organization of scientific and educational propaganda". Thus, the party managed to maintain a balance between political (use of the church) and ideological (the need to supplant religious ideas) interests.

The beginning of the consolidation of the anti-religious front took place in 1947 with the creation of the society, but its activity was gaining momentum. From November 1948 to March 1953, not a single church was opened in the USSR. The warming was declining, but so far no aggressive actions were taking place that polarized the general trend of relations between the institutions of the state and religion. In 1948-1953 There was a process of some stagnation, both in the religious life of Soviet society and in the church policy of the state. And although many modern Russian researchers speak of “tightening anti-religious policy” in the post-war Stalin period, in our opinion, the repressive mechanism of the Stalinist machine was mostly attacked not by the clergy and believers, but by the intelligentsia (creative, scientific, etc.). The state did not change the direction of the main vector of the religious policy of the war years in the Stalin postwar period, so the term “thaw” from Sovietologists' lexicon about the Khrushchev period in the “Soviet model of state church policy” is naturally used as the “Stalinist thaw”.

In general, in the post-war period, religious policy in the Soviet Union was carried out in the context of the general development of the country, influenced by the atmosphere of the Cold War, the position of party leaders and the struggle for leadership at the end of the 1940s and 1950s. The Moscow Patriarchate, and other religious institutions was regarded by the leadership of the Kremlin, primarily as a tool of state foreign policy at different periods more or less important. The Soviet Union used to achieve its foreign policy goals, including the church channels.

In 1954-1964 the tightening of anti-religious policies after the 20th Congress, the intensification of anti-religious struggle, the spread of "scientific atheism" continue. Destalinization in the “warming” religious policy of the 1941-1953s turned into Khrushchev time in a powerful anti-religious campaign.

After the death of Stalin was amended in the religious policy and law-making activities of state-party organs in the field of religion, two resolutions were adopted in 1954 with an interval of four months. Their adoption is evidence of a dichotomy in religious politics. On the one hand, the decree of the Central Committee "On major shortcomings in scientific and atheistic propaganda and measures to improve it", which, noting the activation of "the church and various religious sects", the growth in the number of citizens sending religious rites, demanded from party, Komsomol organizations and other Institutions to carry out anti-religious work "systematically, with all perseverance, by the method of persuasion, patient explanation and individual approach to believers." On the other hand, the resolution of the Central Committee "On mistakes in conducting scientific and atheistic propaganda among the population," condemned methods of slander, insults, administrative interference in the activities of religious organizations and also demanded "the deployment of systematic painstaking work on the promotion of natural science and the struggle against religion." Researchers note that the last document, for the first time since the 1920s. harshly and openly condemned “coercive methods” with regard to religion.

Religious policy of the Soviet state under Khrushchev was characterized by persecution of the Islamic faith and believers. Private examples confirm this: the number of people willing to make the pilgrimage (hajj) in Mecca had sharply reduced. The tightening was manifested in a secret decree of 1961 "On strengthening control over the implementation of the law on cults", which demanded the immediate restoration of the full force of the 1929 legislation, obliged local Soviet authorities to ensure strict control over its implementation, to take timely measures to eliminate violations of this legislation by the clergy and religious associations. All resolutions of the 1940s. recognized invalid.

The new criminal codes, introduced in 1961 in the Union republics, established three types of liability for violation of religious legislation: disciplinary, administrative, and criminal. The evasion of registration leaders by religious leaders and other violations of the law on worship was punished by an administrative fine. Criminal liability (up to 3 years imprisonment) was prescribed for encroachment on the person and the rights of citizens under the guise of performing religious rituals, compulsory collection ; the production and mass distribution of appeals, letters, leaflets calling for non-execution of the law on religious worship, etc.

From the first years of the Soviet power, the ideological machine actively introduced the “syndrome of sacrifice” into the mass consciousness, and people who sacrificed for the victory of communism, self-sacrificing work, years of life, material values, who adapted and survived totalitarian system, preserved spirituality, including religious. Despite prolonged atheistic pressure and repressive measures, Muslims of Kazakhstan, especially in rural areas, continued to perform Muslim rituals and celebrate religious holidays.

 

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