Emigration for Religious Reasons: Soviet Pentecostals in Search of “a Better Life”

Vera Kliueva

Abstract


The author considers religious emigration in the late USSR with reference to Pentecostals (Christians of Evangelical Faith), focusing on the external and internal motives of emigration, measures taken by the authorities, and the attitude towards emigrants in the Protestant community. The author refers to public documents (analytical notes and reports of the Council for Religious Affairs), the ego-documents of believers (memoirs, letters, and statements), and documents of human rights organisations. The author describes the eschatological foundations of the theology of Pentecostals which underlay emigrational sentiments. She also singles out common reasons for emigration (violation of believers’ rights, the incompatibility of a religious worldview and communist ideology, economic and everyday difficulties), as well as ones typical of Pentecostals (the absence of a legitimate union and the prophecy about Exodus). The Pentecostal emigrants followed the same pattern of action as other refuseniks, and their belief was kept up by religious rhetoric and support from foreign adherents of the same faith. As regards the Soviet religious community, its attitude to emigrants varied from support (petitions to protect them, donations) to disciplinary measures (exclusion from the community, penitence). The authorities resorted to a variety of measures to combat emigrantion (provocations, support of certain individuals, and pressure on family members). Their attitude to emigrants was an indicator of loyalty among registered communities or those seeking authorisation. The author concludes that the Pentecostal emigration movement did not succeed, becoming a mass one as late as the 1980s, after the socio-political situation in the country had changed. During the Cold War years, the Soviet government only allowed individual families to leave the country, using potential emigrants as proof of the fact that it respected civil rights and international treaties.


Keywords


religious dissidents; dissent; Pentecostals; emigration; Cold War; USSR

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15826/qr.2018.2.305

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