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Trends in Eastern Europe Raise Concerns About Religious Freedom

Government-lead repression of Evangelical Christians is on the rise in Eastern Europe, says outreach ministry
( [email protected] ) Aug 06, 2004 05:09 AM EDT

The governments of several Eastern European countries are making it more difficult for Evangelical Christians to share their faith, according to a European outreach ministry

Government-led repression of Evangelical Christians is on the rise in Eastern Europe, reported a California-based outreach ministry on August 5—especially across the former Soviet Union. According to the Eastern European Outreach (EEO), a crackdown on Christians by security forces which allegedly included burning down evangelical churches as well as beating pastors and individual believers has hampered outreach efforts.

Under Communism, religious belief was repressed. Karl Marx taught that religion was the “opiate of the people,” and the Soviet Union was a secular state that outlawed religious faith.

"When Communism failed in 1989, there was great rejoicing around the world,” EEO reported on Thursday.

“Christians rejoiced because they knew that Russia would be open to the Gospel [and] there would be no longer a need to smuggle Bibles behind the Iron Curtain."

Now, 15 years later, EEO reports that there seems to be a shift away from the “glory days of religious freedom” that followed the fall of the Soviet Union.

“This time repression does not come as a result of government edit, but as a result of a kind of bureaucratic cronyism,” the EEO stated. “Political expediency is smother the flames of religious freedom.

According to EEO, this means that Russian politicians are doing what they can to solidify their power base by making deals with the Russian Orthodox Church. “And the Russia Orthodox Church doesn’t want competition from Bible-believing groups,” the EEO claimed.

EEO accused Vladmir Putin, Russia’s President, of currying favor with the Russian Orthodox Church and other traditional culture groups such as war veterans and other nationalistic groups. “He has even revived the old Soviet national anthem, with new words, to give the people a sense of history and unity,” EEO added.

Meanwhile, new institutions are downplayed, including the roles of Evangelical believers in Russian society. The Association of Christian Churches in Russia highlighted some examples at their most recent gathering:

- On May 25, 2003, the Word of Life Christian Evangelical Church in Nizhnevartovsk was set on fire.

- On August 10, 2003, in Tutayevo City, the tent belonging to the Tutayevo Church was burend up, and two church leaders were beaten with metal sticks.

- On August 29, 2003, in the city of Voronezhskaya, local police forcibly broke up the Spiritual Revival Center, also beating up the pastor.

EEO claims that there are hundreds of other examples of such persecution from other parts of Russia.

EEO did report, however, that the situation in Ukraine more favorable. “There is a more orderly government there, and they have made a commitment to religious freedom,” EEO stated. “The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is powerful, but at this time not so politically active.”

The situation in Kosovo is favorable also as Boris Tadic recently won his bid for Prime Minister of the nation. “He was the liberal candidate, and his election is positive for good relations with Kosovo. He beat the conservative candidate, Vojislav Kostunica, who was very nationalistic and likely to create problems for Kosovo,” EEO stated.

EEO said that Serbia must work hard to make the most of the election in its efforts to end its international isolation. According to the London Financial Times, the priority in Belgrade (Serbia’s capitol city), is to create a stable government with the west on controversial issues headed by the war crimes tribunal.

In the meantime, EEO is continuing to support pastors in Russia, children sponsorship programs in Russia, Ukraine, and Kosovo.

Jeff Thompson, EEO Executive Director, said, “Remember, EEO started working in Eastern Europe in the dark days of Communism. So, even though we are seeing some repression now, it's nothing like it used to be. We need to monitor trends, but I am convinced our ministry is properly focused now and for the future."

The EEO ministry in Kosovo currently assists with church planting, providing food parcels and medical assistance to 62 families on a monthly basis. Outreaches to local schools and ongoing education assistance are effective as well for evangelizing Muslims in this war torn area of former Yugoslavia.