Eastern Europe is often slighted as “Other Europe” almost as an afterthought. It includes 20 countries and a total population of around 180 million. From Estonia in the north, at the Baltic Sea, to Bulgaria in the south, at the Black Sea, it traverses an enormous range of ethnicities, religions and languages. This area is the home to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Belarus, Slovenia, Hungary, Ukraine, Moldova, Croatia, Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria. It is always in the news, Poland during Second World War to Ukraine in our own time. Very interesting but painful lessons of history can be learnt from studying the history of this region. Winston Churchill once joked that the Balkans produce more history than they can consume locally.
In the summer of 1241, Ogedei Khan sent Mongol armies to occupy Eastern Europe. The Europeans put their differences aside for the time being, and the Christian knights from Poland and Germany joined hands and confronted Mongols at Liegnitz and were defeated. Next day, another Mongol army pounced on Hungary. The Mongols headed westward, but Europe was saved at that moment due to the sudden death of Ogedei Khan. The Tartars left Europe to elect a new leader. Had Mongols won the day, we would not have seen Renaissance, Enlightenment, Reformation or Industrial Revolution that transformed Europe into what it is today.
In 2015, I was traveling to Turkey to visit Hagia Sophia, girl who sat in my adjacent seat told me that she was headed to Sofia, Bulgaria after landing in Istanbul, Turkey. I realized how all these countries in this region were abutted and once ruled by Ottoman Empire. Islamic armies from the days of Muhammad started to attack Byzantine Empire. They moved westward, gaining more land with each passing century, converting the Christian and pagan masses on the route into Islam. Even before the final Fall of the Constantinople, they colonized the Balkans and entrenched this area as far as Vienna. The Ottoman Empire besieged Vienna in 1683 but could not conquer it. The fierce ethnic and religious strife we see today in the Balkans could be traced to the discord that originated in the days of Ottoman Empire that ruled this region for over 500 years. This area was led into complete stagnation by the ‘sick man of Europe’. In the shadow of Jihad, millions of Christians in this area stayed faithful to the teachings of the Bible.
Hitler was born in a Roman Catholic home but he stopped attending mass after he left home. He organized his own government in the hierarchical model of Catholic Church. Publicly, Hitler appealed to Christianity to impress the German people. He promoted an Aryan Jesus Christ who fought against the Jews. But privately, he disparaged Christianity as a religion appropriate only to slaves. Once he won the war, Hitler wanted to exterminate Christianity throughout Europe.
Hitler admired militant Islam and opined that had Germans converted to Islam in the Middle Ages, they could have conquered the entire world. He also experimented and embraced the occult and Eastern mysticism. In 1931, he extolled the Shinto religion.
Hitler was a strict vegetarian and depended on a constant supply of fruits and vegetables from his greenhouse in Berghof. While building concentration camps for the slaughter of fellow human beings on one hand, Hitler used to describe in graphic detail, how much he abhor the butchering of animals, to persuade the people around his lunch table to adopt vegetarianism.
Hitler made animal rights one of his missions, and in 1933 the Nazi party passed laws regulating animal slaughter, animal vivisection, animal protection acts.
Last year when I visited Poland, I spend a whole day at Auschwitz Concentration Camp. It was a very poignant moment for me, as I walked through the halls of this Camp, where more than 1.1 million people were slaughtered on the altars of Nazi ideology. Walking in the rain over the rail tracks that brought hordes of innocent victims to this place, I remembered Viktor Frankl, author of one of my favorite books: Man’s Search for Meaning. Eastern Europe can be guide to every thinking person who wants to look into the past, study the interaction of different ideologies and how their consequences affected millions of people. The tales of heroism also emerged in the midst of Nazi degeneracy. One afternoon in Krakow, I took time to visit the building where Hollywood director Steven Spielberg shot his famous movie Schindler’s List. Oskar Schindler, a Sudeten German industrialist took enormous risk and saved over 1200 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his enamelware and ammunitions factories. Similarly a Swedish diplomat and businessman, Raoul Wallenberg (1912-1945) saved over 100,000 Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary during the Holocaust. He handed out Swedish protective passports to Jews as Adolf Eichmann’s men rounding up the Jews.
Events happened in Eastern Europe impacted the world in different ways. Also, external forces meddled in the affairs of this region, mostly negatively, but sometimes positively. Hitler and Stalin despised each other, but cooperated to divide Eastern Europe. In the wake of Second World War, Russia and Germany partitioned Poland like a birthday cake.In 2010, one cold evening, I visited Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. Later I learnt that Day Accords to bring peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina took place here in November 1995. Upton Sinclair published a story in 1906 about a Lithuanian worker that transformed American Government. Polish pilots volunteered to fight on the side of Allied forces during Second World War, the new state of Czechoslovakia was declared in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Vaclav Havel’s views influenced Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of US House of Representatives.
Mother Teresa did so much charitable work in my home country India, that she became synonymous with any philanthropic work done in the subcontinent. In 2002, in a survey carried out by a leading English-language magazine, Outlook, she was voted ‘greatest Indian’ since India got Independence in 1947. That poll, which did not include Gandhi, “to keep the father of the nation above a voting process”, showed that Indians esteem Mother Teresa higher than Jawaharlal Nehru. On 26 August 1910, she was born in Uskup (modern Skopje, Macedonia), when it was under the rule of Ottoman Empire. Like it did in many other parts of the world, Islam wreaked havoc on Eastern Europe. Anna Walentynowicz (1929 – 2010) laid the foundational framework for the independence of Poland. Only 4 feet 11 inches tall, she was a towering figure of strength to millions of people. Her leadership at workers strike at the Lenin Shipward in Gdansk, Poland finally transformed into Solidarity, the first trade union in a Warsaw Pact country that was not controlled by a communist party. While Mother Teresa led millions of people on the path of benevolence in the name of Christ, Anna Walentynowicz directed countless individuals to the way of liberty.
There is a Christian background to Solidarity strike. After Stalin’s death in 1953, Poland became anxious for freedom and strikes and protests were organized in many cities. In 1956, strikes in Poznan were crushed by tanks. People were enraged by these brutality of Communism, and flocked to Jasna Gora Monastery, in Czestochowa, Poland to remember their spiritual heritage. In 1966, Poles celebrated the 1000th anniversary of the arrival of Christianity in their land. Atheist leaders in the government tried to cripple the celebrations by stealing the religious icons. Strikes became more intense and government tried to suppress them with savagery force. Agriculture faltered, there was scarcity of food everywhere, inflation skyrocketed. Economy etiolated, people responded with sarcasm and disdain, ‘we pretend to be working, they pretend to be paying’. lIn 1978, a Polish archbishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II, the first time in over 400 years that the pope was not Italian. Pope visited Poland in June 1979 and huge crowds gathered to listen to his message: ‘Be Not Afraid’. On May 13, 1981, Mehmet Ali Agca tried to assassinate the Pope in St.Peter’s Square at Vatican City. The Pope survived the plot after suffering severe blood loss. Following the shooting, the Pope asked people to ‘pray for my brother (Ağca)…whom I have sincerely forgiven’. He met Ağca in prison. That same year Pope returned to Poland, and 10 million Poles came out to see him. The Poles were moved by the compassionate forgiveness of the Pope in contrast to the unforgiving brutality of their atheistic government leaders. In Katowice, Poland’s industrial heartland in the south, he addressed a congregation of over two million people. His words, ‘This right is not given to us by the state. It is a right given by the Creator’ reinvigorated millions of people against the tyranny of the atheists.
To Kill A Priest: Jerzy Popiełuszko (1947-1984) was a Polish Roman Catholic priest who became associated with the Solidarity trade union. His sermons were broadcast by Radio Free Europe and inspired to people against Communism. During Martial Law period, the Catholic Church was the only force that could criticize the government openly and Sunday Mass gave opportunity for public gatherings in churches. On 19 October 1984, he was beaten to death by three Security Police officers. His funeral was attended by over 250,000 people, he was recognized a martyr, his grave became a holy site and a call to look Christian liberty in the face of atheistic despotism.
The Slavs are the largest language family in Europe. Interestly, the English word slave comes from the ethnic name Slav. The slavs were assaulted and sold in the slave markets of the Mediterranean world. In 863 the Byzantine emperors in Constantinople sent Christian missionaries to the Slavs. Saint Cyril and Methodius (826-869, 815-885) were called ‘Apostles to the Slavs’. These two brothers created Glagolitic and Cyrillic alphabets, the oldest Slavic alphabets, to translate the Bible into the Slavic languages.
Pope John Paul II also met Lech Walesa, the founder and leader of Solidarity, Poland’s independent trade union movement. In their meeting in the Tatra Mountains in the south of the country, Pope encouraged Walesa to stay firm in his faith and convictions.
Even though I am a lifelong Christian, the religious practices I witnessed in Eastern Europe looked strange to me. The clash between Latin West and Orthodox East can be traced to the Great Schism of 1054. Christianity brought a culture of education to this region. In the medieval period, the literate administrators of Christian churches improved literacy of the masses that led to increased political organization. Poland accepted Catholicism in 966 and remained it’s loyal devotee, being proud of itself when Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II (1978-2005). His inspiration to people (‘Do not be afraid’) helped to end Communist rule in his native Poland and finally all of Europe.
In Prague, Czech Republic, Jan Hus Memorial was unveiled in 1915 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Jan Hus’ martyrdom. Jan Hus (1369-1415) was born in Bohemia and a forerunner to the Protestantism. In 1415 he was burned at the stake for heresy against the doctrines of the Catholic Church. Pope was able to burn him alive, but could not extinguish the flames of rebellion he lit against the tyranny of Catholic Church. In Hussite Wars, His followers known as Hussites revolted against Roman Catholic rulers and defeated five consecutive papal crusades between 1420 and 1431. In 1419, Hussites threw Prague city officials out of window, which was immortalized in history as the first defenestration of Prague. When Czechoslovakia was under Communist rule, sitting at the feet of the Jan Hus Memorial was a non-violent form of protest against atheistic rulers of Communist regime.
Karl Marx (1818-1883) published two famous books, The Communist Manifesto (1848) and Das Kapital (1867-1894). He depicted human history as a class struggle between ownership class that controls production and the working class that provides labor for production. Marx and Engels expected their revolution to explode in the industrialized West. But it was in Eastern Europe, that Communism actually became a legal force that controlled the lives of millions of people. It was in Latvia, where Communists imposed atheism, not in London, where Marx spent most of his adult life. The iron fist of Communism crushed the whole Eastern Europe, which became synonymous with the Communist bloc. When Lenin and his Bolshevik comrades took control of Russia, it seemed Marxism came to an unlikely place, because the theories of Marx and Engels came from Western Europe and proposed change in the Western Europe. Marx and Engels deplored the ‘idiocy of rural life’ and loathed many Slavic and Eastern European peoples, and predicted that these people would be finally sucked up into more progressive nations. Such denigration by Marx and Engels did not matter to the intellectuals of Eastern Europe who bowed to the promise of secular salvation offered by socialism.
Holodomor in Ukraine needs special remembrance. It was a man-made famine in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1932 and 1933. This Great Famine or Terror Famine had a death toll of up to 7.5 million Ukrainians. Lenin’s successor, Joseph Stalin inaugurated a violent campaign against independent farmers, who were arrested and deported to Siberia and Kazakhstan. Stalin crushed any peasant resistance. Communist activities went into the villages and confiscated all hidden supplies of food. Hunger reigned across Ukraine, leading to cannibalism, as Soviet troops went around and seized all grain on one hand, and posted posters on the walls on the other hand, declaring ‘to eat your own children is a barbarian act’.
Stalin dreaded Ukrainian nationalism and suspected Polish conspiracy behind it. Over a million ethnic Poles were living in the Soviet Union at that time. His forces seized about half a million Poles from their homes and sent them into slave camps.
In December 1933, American communists attacked demonstrations of Ukrainians against Holodomor in Chicago. Walter Duranty (1884-1957) won Pulitzer Prize for his reports about the Soviet Union. He worked as head of the Moscow bureau of The New York Times and dismissed the reality of the family caused by Soviet atheists. The New York Times later acknowledged that Duranty’s work constituted, “some of the worst reporting to appear in this newspaper”.
Since 2006, Holodomor has been acknowledged as a genocide of the Ukrainian people by the Soviet Union.
Worldviews of Hitler and Stalin collided over Eastern Europe. Hitler wanted to get rid of Jews and Slavs and fill Eastern Europe with Germanic master race. He called it Lebensraum (or living space). The Nazis viewed Soviet Union as part of a global conspiracy by Jews to dominate the world. Communists under Stalin were convinced that Nazi Germany was the true form of Capitalism in its death throes. Both Nazis and Communists detested Christianity. They both embarked on a journey to destroy Christianity and Jews, who gave this faith to our world. Being acquainted with Nazi anti-semitism, Polish Jews tried to move into Soviet zone, but on reaching it they realized the equally nefarious anti-semitism of Soviets, and returned to the German zone.
In June 1940, Soviet forces seized the Baltic states. Atheism was enforced on the masses as government policy. The Communists apprehended independent newspapers and published lists of banned books. Elections were held under the strict observation of Soviet forces. Election results were falsified by the Soviets. Their empty rhetoric of fair elections was exposed when one Lithuanian district reported 122 percent voter participation.
These areas were repeatedly invaded and attacked, and Yale historian Timothy Snyder called this region, ‘Bloodlands’. During World War 2, an estimated 26 million people die on the Eastern Front. We often ignore the suffering of the Eastern Europe when we contemplate the horrors of the Second World War. These startling statistics speak of the agony and torment this region experienced: 4 million people remain missing in action to this day; three-quarters of German casualties and nine-tenths of combat deaths were on the Eastern Front; the Soviets suffered casualties 20 times larger than the British and Americans. Hitler issued the Commissar Order, a black check for a war of extermination. His High Command was instructed to show no mercy as this would not be a normal military operation and the international law would not apply. Eastern Europe also supplied slave labor. Germans coerced more than 7 million people for their war effort.
From 1941, the Nazis legislated Final Solution, a methodical program to destroy the entire Jewish populations of Europe. Eastern Europe became the site for most of the Holocaust, which devoured more than six million Jews. What is most sorrowful about this massacre is neighbors turned on neighbors. As Polish-born Princeton historian, Jan T. Gross described in his book, Neighbors: “one day, in July 1941, half of the population of a small East European town murdered the other half”. He recounted how the residents of Jedwabne in Eastern Poland unleashed horror on their Jewish neighbors. Of the six extermination camps built by the Nazis, four were meant entirely for the annihilation of humans: Chelmno, Belzec, Treblinka, and Sobibor. At Auschwitz and Majdanek, concentration camps were built adjacent to extermination facilities.
=Winston Churchill saw the Nazi atrocities as wiping off Christian Civilization. After the Fall of France in May 1940, Churchill sensed the great danger and on June 18, he delivered a speech to the House of Commons.
“….The Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands”
Hitler detested Christian values like equality of all races, especially the Biblical truth that God created all human beings in His own image. He espoused Darwinism inspired pseudo-scientific racial theories such as one espoused by Houston Stewart Chamberlain. In 1899, Chamberlain authored a racist book titled, “Foundations of the Nineteenth Century”, in which he argued that ‘Aryans’ were superior to the Jews. When Hitler met Chamberlain he was impressed by the latter’s racist theories. Houston declared Hitler ‘sent by God’. In a letter he wrote to Hitler, Chamberlain compared Hitler and himself to Christ and John the Baptist respectively.
“At one stroke you have transformed the state of my soul. That in the hour of her deepest need Germany gives birth to a Hitler proves her vitality….May God protect you!”
On September 25, 1925, the Voelkischer Beobachter described Chamberlain’s “Foundations of the Nineteenth Century” as the “gospel of the Nazi movement”.
Hitler published Mein Kampf in 1925 and 9473 copies were sold in that year. The sales grew with each passing year, reaching 90,351 in 1932. After Hitler became Chancellor, the book sold in the millions, becoming Germany’s best-selling book, second only to the Bible. Hitler’s references to God were only for rhetorical purposes to incite German people accustomed to a Christian culture. Hitler’s references to God or Lord in no way reflect the character of God we encounter in the Bible, a God who loved the Jews and made them a ‘Chosen People’.
In his biography of Stalin, British historian Paul Johnson noted that in 1878, when Joseph Stalin was born, Dostoyevsky was writing his book The Brothers Karamazov. Stalin’s mother Ekaterina Georgievna was a devout Christian woman and wanted her son to be a priest. Stalin attended the Gori church school and learnt Russian, Greek, Latin, math, geography and history.
Joseph Djugashvili entered the seminary in September 1894. His reading list in the theological seminary included, Darwin’s Descent of Man, Charles Lyell’s Antiquity of Man, Victor Hugo’s Toilers of the Sea and Ninety-three, Mendeleyev’s Chemistry, and Ludwig Feuerbach’s Essence of Christianity.
-Stalin was born in Georgia, When Byzantium became the capital of the Roman Empire, George came under the influence of Christianity. King Mirian III declared Christianity as it’s state religion in 337 AD. It formed its own church with its own patriarchs. It was invaded by Sassanian Persians in the sixth century, the Arabs in the seventh, the Seljuk Turks in the eleventh, but Christianity gave unity to this country besieged by these conquerors.
Then he joined the church seminary in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. Stalin converted from Christianity to Marxism during his years at the seminary, and was expelled. Stalin became anti-Semitic in his own way and considered Jews as treacherous, menacing and fraudulent. In his writings, Stalin always referred to Jews in malicious terms. Paul Johnson described the conversion of Stalin, “Stalin’s tenure as a revolutionary activist, which lasted eighteen years, completed the formation of his character. He engaged not merely in armed robberies involving murder, but in blackmailing colleagues, forgery, and constant intrigues. The Christianity he learned from his mother was totally expunged and replaced by a hardened and vicious secularism, which placed the advancement of “the cause” above any form of morality, and justified any crime in defence of “revolutionary principles”. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:5-8) Christianity is a faith that commands beleifs into ultimate charity. Stalin detested Christian charity his mother emulated.
Joachim von Ribbentrop (1893-1946) was convicted as a war criminal in the Nuremberg trials and hanged. As foreign minister 1938-45, he signed the nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union in 1939. Hitler sent Ribbentrop to Moscow with a signed copy of Mein Kampf. Stalin’s officials decorated Moscow airport with swastikas. The pact gave Central Europe and the Balkans to Hitler and Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and eastern Poland to Stalin.
Stalin’s official biographer Yaroslaysky recorded a story by Stalin’s schoolboy friend Glurdjidze. At the age of thirteen, Stalin was already declaring that there was no God.
Glurdjidze: I began to speak of God. Joseph heard me out, and after a moment’s silence he said: ‘You know, they are deceiving us. There is no God -’
I was astonished by these words. I had never heard anything like it before.
‘How can you say such things, Soso?’ I exclaimed.
‘I’ll lend you a book to read,’ he replied. ‘It will show you that the world and all living things are quite different from anything you can imagine, and all this talk about God is sheer nonsense.’
‘What book is it’ I asked.
‘Darwin’, he said. ‘You must read it’.
Election results were announced on July 26, 1945 in Britain. Churchill won the War, but lost the prime minister’s office. On March 5, 1946, at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, he gave his famous Iron Curtain speech and warned the people about the dangers posed by the Soviet Union and alerted the world to the dangers of Stalin’s Communist regime.
Christopher Hitchens used to emphasize the need to educate children in atheism. In her book Gulag: A History, Anne Applebaum recounted the tale of a Polish boy during the months of his deportation. This 13 year old boy gave the following account:
“There was nothing to eat. People ate nettle and swelled up from it and they left for the other world. They rushed us to the Russian school compulsively because they didn’t give bread when you didn’t go to school. They taught us not to pray to God that there is no God and when after the lesson was over we all got up and started praying, then the commander of the settlement locked me up in the tyurma (prison).”
-Stalin put a facade of pluralism over his meticulously crafted entrenchment into Eastern Europe to implement absolutist Communist rule. This Stalinization progressed in stages. Maytas Rakosi (1892-1971) was a Hungarian communist leader, who was described as “the most malevolent character I ever met in political life” by John Gunther (1901-1970), an American journalist. Rakosi orbited his politics around USSR and called Stalin’s maneuvers “salami slice tactics”, steps in isolation did not provoke panic, but cumulatively worked towards Stalinist objectives.
–Communist bloc started to confront Stalin’s monopoly, starting with Yugoslavia in 1948. When the Yugoslavian leader Tito openly challenged Stalin, the world noticed it. Stalin also ordered Tito to Moscow to give an explanation. Tito did not budge, and Stalin’s rage took murderous form with several assassination attempts on Tito, a series of purges and show trials. Hungarian cardinal Archbishop Jozsef Mindszenty (1892-1975) was subjected to one such show trial, that brought worldwide condemnation of atheistic tyranny of Communism. Mindszenty opposed government takeover of the schools run by the Catholic Church, and for five decades personified unrelenting opposition to communism and atheism in Hungary in support of religious liberty. He was put on a show trial, tortured and imprisoned for life. He was featured on Time Magazine cover for February 14,1949 edition. Hungarian Permier Matyas Rakosi accused Mindszenty of treason and subterfuge. But Mindszenty declared, “The Church asks for no secular protection; it seeks shelter under the protection of God alone”.
Guerilla movements were started in Baltic States against Communist leadership. In Lithuania, The Chronicle of the Lithuanian Catholic Church was published for 17 years, detailing the persecution of the believers by the state.
Polish poet, diplomat and 1980 Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004) described the deceptive entanglement of Stalinism in his nonfiction book, The Captive Mind (1953). In his youth, Milosz adopted “scientific, atheistic position mostly” but later became a Christian after witnessing the impact of atheism and communism on human mind. The Captive Mind explored the idea of “enslavement through consciousness” against the backdrop of Stalinism in Poland.
Like Hitler, Stalin developed his own murderous plots against the Jews. Stalin ordered Soviet authorities to accuse Jews of plotting to murder Communist leadership with poisoning (Doctors’ Plot). But Stalin unexpectedly died in 1953 before implementing the massacre of Jews. Even after the death of Stalin, things did not improve in Communist nations. In 1977, the Yugoslav police announced that they had discovered a big plot of Capitalism: an invasion of blue jeans from Italy!
Communists roared that everyone must embrace atheism and seized the Eastern Europe to implement their social experiment with absolute control from above. In the place of Judeo-Christian idea that man and woman were created in the image of God, Communist Party advocated a total revolutionary transformation of society and individuals for the creation of the new man and woman in the image of Marxism. Walter Ulbricht (1893-1973) controlled East Germany from 1950 to 1971 with his iron fist as the first secretary of the Socialist Unity Party. He wanted to emulate Soviet leadership in every thing, to the extent of modeling his beard on that of Lenin. Ulbricht once told his comrades, “Everything has to look democratic, but everything has to be controlled by us”.
Communist states destroyed religious houses of worship. Communists even created their own rituals as substitutes to Christian traditions. The state enacted the Jugendweihe, or ‘youth dedication’, a coming of age rite with the regime taking the place of God. Like Stalin, Mao manufactured his own Famine in China that resulted in the deaths of millions of people. Russians warned Mao not to repeat Stalin’s mistakes in China. Khrushchev instructed Mao that those who engineered the collectives in the 1920s had ‘a poor understanding of what Communism is and how it is to be built’. However, Mao thought of himself as a genius and by achieving in China what Stalin could not accomplish in Russia, he could show the world what real socialism would look like. Khrushchev once mocked, ‘Mao thought of himself as a man brought by God to do God’s bidding. In fact, Mao probably thought God did Mao’s own bidding’. The Red Guards did Mao’s bidding and worshiped as god. At the commencement of the Great Leap Forward, the People’s Daily declared that ‘Today, in the era of Mao Zedong, Heaven is here on earth’. Mao took great effort to eradicate every facet of religion. ‘Religion is deception’, told Mao to Dalai Lama and more than 6000 Buddhist monasteries were razed.
Communist leader Enver Hoxha (1908-1985) declared Albania as the world’s first atheist state, closed all 2169 churches and mosques in that nation. After dictating Albania in various forms, Hoxha died in 1985, having achieved the distinction of longest-ruling dictator in Eastern Europe. He set himself on making Albania the first pure socialist economy in the world and transformed that nation a fortress country with a bunker mentality. Under his bunkerization program, more than 700,000 concrete pillbox bunkers were built to protect people from their ‘enemies’.
Vaclav Havel was born in Prague in 1936. He spent many years in prison. After the collapse of communism, he became president of Czech?. In his 1965 play The Memorandum, he exposed the unconscious absurdity of bureaucracy. In 1978, he wrote an inspiring essay entitled, The Power of the Powerless: Citizens against the state in central-eastern Europe.
“Christianity does indeed know about the supreme principle of all being and has faith in its power to unite humanity, and has a name for it: it calls it agape. This is the very ‘substance’ of God, and thus of humanity too; it is not just an ‘ethical characteristic’. Christianity owes its greatness to it – as well as to its shame on those occasions when it has betrayed it. Although it may have been profaned on many an occasion, it is necessary to reiterate that word again and again. This is already happening, even outside Christian theology. But it is not so much the word, as the reality that counts! It is necessary to elevate this principle and highlight it once more, to dust it off and reinstate it to the place always known to, and still acknowledged by, the great thinkers who conceivably are familiar with every religion on earth. It must be made a foundation stone of the future world we are to create. It is our task to seek to enact it at every level of existence if we are not to build in vain.
Truth must be integrated with love; morality is not whole without it. Love is the greatest strength of the powerless. Unity founded on love will never be coercion; power guided by love will never be violence. Love is all-powerful and will even overcome hatred. And only love can do this! The people of the future will be homo dilectionis, ‘people of love’. Love has always been part of our make-up but, until now, we have never realized it. ‘My military commanders never understood the meaning of love’, said the ‘strategist’ of the modern spirit, Antoine de Saint-Exupery. The highest throne is destined not for ‘pure reason’ but ‘pure love’”
Vaclav Havel witnessed first hand the brutality of atheistic regimes. He went on to say,
“Is there a cure for this pathological hate? Seeing that scepticism and defeatism are no use at all, we have to find one! Violence is no solution to violence, since it merely breeds hate. The only real and lasting power is ‘the power of the powerless’. The powerless have no power, either because they have lost it or because their internal ‘make-up’ has never allowed them to serve it. Or there are those who have never striven for it, or never wanted it. But they are strong. Their strength has a different source than power, but it exists in the world. For Christians, this ‘make-up’ is the highest moral ‘qualification’ – Jesus’ beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount: ‘Happy are the poor in spirit’ (Matt: 5:3). It is they who have renounced immediate means, preferring a deeper teleology, a broader eschatology and more substantial goals. ‘Happy are the gentle, for they shall have the earth for their heritage’ (Matt: 5,5). The gentle will implement the most thoroughgoing, generalized and lasting revolution. They do not conquer the earth, nor dominate it, but instead shall transform it into a heritage for humanity, and shall answer for it to God and to the planet’s peoples.
Atheistic Communism imposed on the millions a vision of a society without God, where the State is the ultimate arbiter of all things pertaining to life. But Vaclav Havel called the people of his nation to draw inspiration from the Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and to go for ‘a deeper teleology, a broader eschatology and more substantial goals’. Havel persuaded people to ‘live in truth’ and stop ‘living a lie’
On December 27, 1991 I woke up in our home in Tenali, Andhra Pradesh,India and was shocked to read about the dissolution of the Soviet Union. I eerily remember the photos of tanks at Red Square under day’s headlines in Telugu Newspaper Eenadu. The collapse of Communist regimes in both Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union happened in just three years, 1989 to 1991. On November 17, 1989 Velvet Revolution started in Czechoslovakia. Communist leaders responded with tanks and bullets. Demonstrators jingled their keys at the soldiers to symbolize the unlocking of doors of freedom. At the end of the revolution, 41 years of Communist rule came to an end and on December 29, 1989 Vaclav Havel sworn in as the President of Czechoslovakia. Vaclav Havel believed in the Sermon on the Mount, and in the Velvet Revolution millions protested in non-violent way to bring transformation to their society. Vaclav Havel’s concept of ‘living in truth’ provided a great inspiration that springs from a simple example.
The Baltic nations also followed a nonviolent approach with their ‘Singing Revolution’ and brought their Communist regimes to an end. Guntis Smidchens described in The Power of Song how the people of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania confronted the military power of Soviet Union and achieved independence through singing and non-violence.
“Where then is my fatherland?
Now I want to name it:
Wherever sings the Estonian tongue,
Remaining true to God above!
Yes, that is it! (repeat four times)
My fatherland, and my happiness!
Yes, my happiness, yes, my happiness!
Here I live, an Estonian man,
In my Lutheran faith,
I do work and God I thank,
He does good to me each day,
And I feel joy (repeat four times)
That God’s truth and merciful love
Will not forsake me, though I am dust.
Lithuanians saw their dead children murdered by Communists as soldiers dying in a good cause and going to heaven. They sang their faith loudly proclaiming the justice of God.
In the graveyard of Vilnius the red setting sun
Shone over the gathering soldiers,
And they buried their brothers among the great ones,
And the Lord God embraced their souls.
So, don’t weep, dear mother, when your young son
Leaves home to defend his dear country!
When he falls, like an oak, to the forest ground,
To await the Last Day of Judgement.
Berlin Wall fell down in 1989. But the corrosive effect of this wall on the psyche of the German people to this day could be felt in the phrase, Mauer im Kopf, the ‘Wall inside one’s head’: the mental wall can persist even after the physical wall is gone. On December 8, 1991, Russia’s Yeltsin, Ukraine’s Leonid Kravchuk, Belarus’s Stanislav Shushkevich met in Belarus in a hunting lodge in the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park and agreed to end the Soviet Union and to make decisions on their own.
Croatian journalist Slavenka Drakulic, in her book How We Survived Communism & Even Laughed, described how even atheists longed for God in the midst of enforced atheism. She described the death of her friend Tanja in heart-rending words.
Later that day, I went to Tanja’s apartment…..Her books were neatly arranged on the shelf, her typewriter open. On the table there was a fresh bunch of daisies. It was as if by tidying her small apartment, she had tried to confront the chaos in her life. On the surface it looked as if she had found strength to go on. Inside, she just could not go on anymore.
There was only one detail that made me cry: a Bible on her bed. It was upside down. I turned it over and took a quick look at the underlined text. It was about life after death. She was not a religious person; in fact, she was an atheist. But in the last moments of her life, nothing else was left to her, and she turned to the Bible. For months afterwards all I could think of was the bunch of fresh daisies and the Bible.
Standing at her grace, I simply wish, for her sake, that there is another life after death. I imagine she is sitting there having a coffee with someone. There must be someone up there, because, as she said, you can’t drink your coffee alone.
Soviet Union lasted 69 years and Eastern Europe played a crucial role in its collapse. Today another anti-national, anti-Christian EU is trying to impose its godless will on countries like Poland and Czech Republic. In the olden days, Marxists from Moscow wanted to control people, now from Brussels.
May God save Europe!
- Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland.
- Hitler by Thomas Ferenczi
- Paul Johnson, Stalin: The Kremlin Mountaineer
- Robert Payne, The Rise and Fall of Stalin
- Jasper Backer, Hungry Ghosts: Mao’s Secret Famine
- Vaclav Havel, The Power of the Powerless: Citizens against the state in central-eastern Europe
- Guntis Smidchens, The Power of Song: Nonviolent National Culture in the Baltic Singing Revolution