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Oral History

Youth, Music, and Evangelisation

Throughout the Soviet period, the state paid particular attention to its youth and placed great hope on each new generation: first to build socialism, then to construct communism. With economic and social progress, religion was meant to die out; any evidence that youth was still attracted to faith was concerning. Official reports often focused on this issue. One 1947 memo, written by the chairman of the Ukrainian branch of the Council of the Affairs of Religious Cults (CARC), explained: ‘The methods used to attract young people into congregations include youth circles, services, rallies (slety), and special evenings.’ The author described one large celebration (prazdnik) held in a village in the Khotin district of Chernivtsi oblast, the preceding year, which attracted up to 500 people, including schoolchildren, from different areas of Ukraine. There was a concert, with a choir, orchestra, soloists and reciters (deklamatory) performing, following by a meal. 1 In the view of Soviet officialdom, youth choirs were particularly undesirable. 2 As we shall see, oral history interviews support the authorities’ perception that music was a very important activity for young Soviet believers.

Official anxieties about Protestant youth – teens and young adults – became more acute in the early 1960s, particularly as a result of the split within the church and the creation of the orgkomitet (for more information on the orgkomitet and ‘The Council of Churches’, click here.) It was noted that young believers were particularly numerous amongst those who had separated from the registered congregations. Officials were concerned about their influence within registered congregations, as the short extract from 1964 presented here indicates. In it, a CARC official from the region of Chernivtsi (Ukraine) describes how young members of registered congregations were meeting independently, playing musical instruments, singing, and reciting verse, without the knowledge of their pastors who would prohibit such gatherings.

Youth groups certainly became a key feature within registered congregations in the final decades of the USSR. Extracts from the first oral history interview included here describe how, in the late 1960s, Moscow young believers met on Sundays after service, and practised singing and preaching. In the second extract, the same interviewee describes their trips to the countryside and the way their music attracted youth from the village. Our second interviewee describes visits made by young people to outlying areas in the 1970s and 1980s. Both men talk about such activities in terms of missionary work or evangelization (evangelizatsiia).

The third interview takes us far from Moscow, back to the city of Chernivtsi in Ukraine. The interviewee does not describe youth activities in detail, but the extract gives insight in to how such groups were created. Whilst in Moscow it seems as if the groups formed in a slightly more organised fashion, with members inviting other young believers to join, in Chernivtsi they arose out of the childhood friendships forged in Sunday school activities years earlier. The final interview takes us to another corner of the USSR: to Latvia. Again the interview stresses the importance of activities organised for children, such as a Sunday schools and camps. At the end of the extract he also talks about the rise of Christian rock groups which were a new feature of the very late Soviet period and helped to contribute to the religious renaissance of the perestroika and post-perestroika years. 3 It seems the Soviet authorities were right to attribute such importance to music as it was evidently an integral part of young people’s worship.