Interview 6th of April with Pekka Rautio (University of Helsinki)

A Religious practices and church activity were closely regulated in communist states during the Cold War period. Even in their restricted position, they had a significant role as proponents of change, says a German visiting researcher. Katharina Kunter, a researcher visiting the Department of Church History at the Faculty of Theology is currently giving a series of lectures to students on the topic Christianity and Communism in Europe. She says that the incompatibility between the Christian and communist views of humanity created a fundamental tension between these two world views. “Communism viewed Christianity as one of the most central forms of oppression and exploitation. Communism does not recognise a god, and Marxism sees the individual as the creator of their own environment. In Christianity, God is the creator,” says Kunter. On the other hand, communism and Christianity do have some things in common. “For example, in the 1960s, there was a strong desire among certain Christians to work for a better and fairer world on Earth. This liberation theology movement engaged in Christian-Marxist dialogue,” Kunter points out. Chris­tian­ity was a force for so­cial change dur­ing the Cold War Kunter has studied relations between Christianity and communism in Europe before, during and after the Cold War. Was it possible for people to practice their religion under the communist systems? And what was the position of the churches in communist states? “In theory, the constitutions of communist countries included freedom of religion, but in practice, there were restrictions on religious expression. The intention was to erase the church as an institution and the public dimension of religion. In many cases this was successful,” says Kunter. According to Kunter, the remaining churches in Eastern Europe served as important providers of refuge and hope for Christians during the Cold War, while encouraging dissident thought. “Around 1989-1992, opposition to totalitarian communism became visible through mass demonstrations. In addition, the spiritual and pastoral duties of the churches received more attention, as did the theologians and priests who worked for social change.” Even though every country in Eastern Europe had its own special characteristics in the political context of the Cold War, the ecumenical contacts between Christian churches helped them reimagine Christianity as a multinational movement. “This generated a very important sense of solidarity under communist rule and during the Cold War,” says Kunter. The German church historian believes that communist governments underestimated the flexibility and significance of Christianity. “Christianity has proven itself to be a dynamic religion with the ability to adapt to new practices,” Kunter states.

Foto: Mikka Federley

Foto: Mikka Federley 2018