Ever since the beginnings of the USSR, religion there has stood on shaky ground. Communist ideology says religion can be either used or abused, depending on which will best meet the state’s ends. With this ambivalence increasing the complexity of church-state relations in the USSR, what really is the situation today?

The relationship that exists today between the Soviet government and the religious groups within its territories, despite some recent appearances of concord surrounding the millennium celebrations, is actually one still characterized by constant uncertainties, frequent hostilities, mutual distrust and much “bad blood.” The observance of the millennium has brought an apparent calm on the surface of the water, but according to several sources, it has really done little to ensure any regularity in the unpredictable currents beneath.

Nonetheless, religion is obviously still an important part of the lives of millions of Soviet citizens. According to recent estimates from the Soviet Council of Religious Affairs (the state organization that monitors all religious activities in the USSR), religious believers make up between 10 and 20 percent of the population. With a population of more than 283 million, this would put the total number of religious believers at between 28 and 56 million.

Well, It Depends

The predominant religious affiliations of Soviet citizens vary by republic. Orthodoxy is the prevalent religion in Russia, Armenia, Byelorussia, Georgia, Moldavia and Ukraine; believers in the Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia are predominantly Lutheran; Lithuania is strongly Catholic; and the Middle Eastern republics of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Tadzhikistan, Turkmen and Uzbekistan are almost completely Muslim. ...

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