Ava otsing
« Tuna 2 / 2024

„Meie oleme tänulikud Nõukogude valitsusele usuvabaduse eest, kuid meile ei anta seda vabadust kasutada.“ Vaimuliku kirjanduse üllitamine Eesti NSV-s religioonialase tsensuuri tingimustes (lk 69– 92)


‘We are thankful to the Soviet government for freedom of religion, but we are not allowed to use that freedom.’ Publication of religious literature in the Estonian SSR under conditions of religious censorship

This article provides the first comprehensive overview of the possibilities for religious associations to publish Christian literature in the censorship conditions in the Estonian SSR in the 1970s and 1980s, and of measures that various confessions used for that purpose. At the same time, the author strives to arrive at an answer to a question that generates arguments in academic circles to this day, namely, was Christian literature officially banned in the Estonian SSR or not?

The main source for the article is interviews conducted with individuals connected with the publication and distribution of Christian literature in the period of Soviet rule. In terms of confessional distribution, these people belonged to the Lutheran, Seventh-Day Adventist, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostal, Baptist, and Methodist faiths.

The results of this research affirm that Christian literature was never banned by law in the Estonian SSR. Religious propaganda and ‘propagandistic’, ‘reactionary’, ‘religious fanatic’, and other such literature were banned. At the same time, the evaluation of publications and their categorisation based on the above-mentioned criteria was a subjective process based on the gut feelings of the officials who carried out this task. In the situation where officials were guided in their work primarily by the Communist Party’s antireligious ideology, all spiritual literature was essentially categorised as being ideologically unsuitable. Hence, it was not prohibited literature, but rather literature that was disapproved of and was considered ideologically unsuitable. Its publication would have contradicted the antireligious orientation of the ruling party. Since it was almost impossible to officially publish spiritual literature and especially bibles due to this contradiction, the understanding took shape over time that such literature was prohibited by law.

At the same time, interviews conducted and materials researched for the article indicate that regardless of the official antireligious stance of representatives of the authorities, Christian literature was continuously duplicated and distributed underground, so to speak, and this sometimes took place even with the tacit knowledge of representatives of the authorities. Thus it appears that the authorities were relatively more accommodating regarding spiritual literature, provided that it did not include any kind of political agenda.

Not one of the interviewed informants said that they were afraid that they would be imprisoned for duplicating underground Christian literature. Yet at the same time, they were fully aware that this was a nebulous field of activity, and that operating in that sphere could unexpectedly prove to be illegal in a totalitarian state that openly fought against religion. For this reason, spiritual literature was generally disseminated (semi) covertly in accord with gut feelings that had taken shape. The emergence of a new generation in the 1970s, which was not afraid to use more daring methods of publication, brought a more significant change.

This research paper has demonstrated that the self-published duplication of Christian literature was a more extensive phenomenon than has hitherto been believed and many people from outside church circles were also associated with it.