About the project
By the end of the communist era in 1991, a religious boom was in full swing across the Soviet bloc. The revival of the Russian Orthodox Church was one of the most striking aspects of the late 1980s and 1990s, but other religious groups also acquired new members in dizzying numbers. Our focus here is on Protestant communities: Evangelical Christians-Baptists and Pentecostals. The historic roots of these groups date back to the Russian empire as described in our introductory essay. They survived Stalinist terror and even grew in the post-war era. The aim of this project, begun in 2012, was to delve further into their history and to ask: how did these minority faith groups survive Soviet persecution? And what was it like to belong to a Protestant community in the USSR?
For answers we turned to archival holdings and read page upon page of official reports composed by bureaucrats working for the Council for the Affairs of Religious Cults. We also unearthed court cases involved Protestants, and inside them appeals, petitions, and poems written by ordinary believers. But to capture the personal dimension, we also needed the experience of members of these Christian communities themselves. Between 2012 and 2014, 37 interviews were conducted and recorded in the cities or Moscow, St Petersburg, Tambov, Kiev, Chernivtsi (Ukraine), and Riga. Extracts from these interviews, alongside relevant archival documents, are presented here.
The project was funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC). Grant number AHRC AH/I025883/1
About the authors
Miriam Dobson studied Russian and French at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, before moving to the School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies, University College London, where she gained an M.A. in History and later her PhD. She has been a Lecturer, then Senior Lecturer, at the University of Sheffield since 2004. Her first monograph Khrushchev's Cold Summer: Gulag Returnees, Crime, and the Fate of Reform After Stalin was published in 2009; a Russian translation came out in 2014 with ROSSPEN. She has since been working on the history of evangelical communities in the post-war Soviet Union and has published a number of articles.
Nadezhda Beliakova holds an MA and a PhD from the Faculty of History, Moscow State Lomonosov University. Since 2010 she has worked at the Centre for Religion and Church Studies at the Institute of World History (Russian Academy of Science) as a Scientific Researcher, then Senior Scientific Researcher. She is interested in the everyday life of religious communities in the late USSR and the role of religion during the Cold War. In 2011 she co-authored a book (together with E. V. Beliakova and E. B. Emchenko), Zhenshchina v pravoslavii: Tserkovnoe pravo i rossiiskaia praktika (Woman in Orthodoxy: Church Law and Russian Practice). With Thomas Bremer and Katharina Kunter she has since published, "Es gibt keinen Gott!" Kirchen und Kommunismus. Eine Konfliktgeschichte (Herder Verlag, 2016).
Together Miriam and Nadezhda edited and wrote: Zhenshchina v evangel’skikh obshchinakh poslevoennogo SSSR. 1940-1980-е gg. Issledovaniia i istochniki [Women in the Evangelical Communities of the Post-War USSR (1940s–1980s). Documents and Analysis]. Moscow: Indrik, 2015.
In addition to our gratitude to the Arts and Humanities Research Council for financial support there are many individuals who have helped this project along the way. Above all else, we must thank everyone who so generously agreed to spend time sharing their life experiences. Thank you. We are grateful to Aleksei Sinichkin, Svetlana Tsopa, and Vladimir Popov for all their assistance, particularly for introducing us to our interviewees. At Memorial we thank Boris Belenkin and Aleksei Makarov for their help. The translation of the interviews was carried out expertly by David Gillespie, and Anna Tishkova transcribed several of them – many thanks to both.
Key archives cited on this website
Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv Rossiiskii Federatsii (GARF) / State Archive of the Russian Federation
Tsentral'nyi gosudarstvennyi arkhiv g. Moskvy (TsGAM) / Central State Archive of Moscow City
The History of Dissent in the USSR Archive of the “Memorial” International Organization
Центральный государственный архив общественных объединений Украины (ЦГАОО) / Центральний державний архів громадських об’єднань України (ЦДАГО України) / Central State Archive of Public Organizations of Ukraine