(Moscow), 25 years after the collapse of communism and 23 years after the end of the Soviet Union, the number of Russians who profess to be Christians, quadrupled. The critical situation of religious freedom remains in some countries of the former Soviet power.
In 1989 it was known that not more than 17 percent of Russians professed Orthodox Christianity. Since then, it has grown as much as four times. Today, 68 percent of Russians refer to themselves as Russian Orthodox.The most recent ones were released by the independent Levada Center on the 15-18th November of the previous year conducted a survey in 130 cities.
Until a few months before the dissolution of the Soviet Union atheism was regarded as the official state ideology. 75 percent of the population of Russia at that time described themselves as atheists. As early as 1991, that number had fallen to 53 percent. According to the results of the Levada poll today, not even 19 percent confess as atheists. In third place are professing Muslims, whose number has increased from six percent in 1991 climbing to seven percent in 2013.
Despite the impressive return of Orthodox Christianity, 70 years of state atheism has left strong traces, as the Historian and Political Scientist Andrei Zubov emphasized: "70 years of state atheism can not be overcome in one day." The number of Christians actually practicing is still low. The commitment to Orthodox Christianity is above all cultural and historic in nature. It is part of Russiandom. The Levada poll found that only four percent of Orthodox Christians attend the Divine Liturgy every Sunday. 17 percent attend the Divine Liturgy only at the high festivals. 35 percent of respondents said that they had never set foot in a church in their lives. Since 1991 83 percent of all respondents said they have never received the Holy Communion, but they are now considerably fewer, but still 62 percent.
The Russian Orthodox Church has been building years many new churches and have tried to rechristianize those cites which became "atheist" during the Soviet era. "We are not able to build as many churches as we would like and would need", says the "State Department" of the Moscow Patriarchate.
Religious freedom at risk
While Russia's commitment to Orthodox Christianity is experiencing a renaissance, the free exercise of religion in several Soviet Republics, which are sovereign independent States today, remains underdeveloped. In the name of "national security", Kazakhstan restricted freedom of religion in 2011. An infringement can be severely punished. Religious publications are subject to government censorship. The construction of churches is strictly regulated. Bibles and other religious books are confiscated, as well as icons and religious representations. They are what the state classifies as "extremist materials".
The situation in Uzbekistan is even more critical. The population is mainly Muslim, Christians are a minority. Their religious life is subject to a number of limitations. In 2013 Christians complained that reading the Bible is forbidden even in prison. The situation is similar in Turkmenistan.
Text: Giuseppe Nardi