While Soviet perestroika has advanced and receded in waves recently amid Baltic state crackdowns and growing Russian protests, new Soviet freedom of religion has continued to make baby steps forward.
That's according to press clips from Soviet newspapers and wire services provided to the Deseret News from the Soviet Embassy in Washington.That is of special interest in Utah, the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its worldwide missionary force.
Some freedom of religion was officially revived in September when the Supreme Soviet, or the Soviet legislature, voted 341-1 to allow organized religious instruction for the first time in the memory of most Soviets, and to end the policy of atheist education and state control of religious institutions.
Shortly afterward, the Russian Orthodox Church held the first mass in the Kremlin since the time of the czars.
Also on Sept. 19, the district of Leningrad became the first in the Soviet Union to officially recognize the LDS Church.
Beverly Campbell, with the LDS Church public communications office in Washington, has said that recognition coupled with the Supreme Soviet's action allows the church to function fully around Leningrad, including allowing missionary work.
Some of the press clips supplied by the Soviet embassy show how religion has made many steps forward, and occasionally a step backward, since the Supreme Soviet's action. Following are some examples. Headlines are the same as used by the Soviets. Dates were not provided:
Moscow Schools to Teach Theology. MOSCOW (Novosti press agency) - The Moscow City Council has authorized optional theology classes (for the Russian Orthodox Church) in Moscow's secondary schools. Teachers will be trained by the church at two- to three-month courses by the next school year.
Soviet TV Launches Religious Program. MOSCOW (Novosti) - The first Soviet religious program went on air Feb. 3 under the title, "Blagovest" (Ringing of church bells).
In an interview with Pravda (a newspaper), the producer of the program, Sergei Bogdanovsky, said that his mission was to inculcate Christian values in the minds of people, both believers and not, to organize charity actions and inform people of religious life.
Soviet Radio Station for Believers to Start Broadcasting. MOSCOW (Novosti) - An independent radio station of the Russian Orthodox public will soon start its broadcasting in Moscow.
The station was founded by Radonezh Society for Spiritual Enlightenment. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta (a newspaper), programs will be on the air from 10 to 12 p.m., four times a week.
USA-USSR Christian Unity. (Novosti from Kursk) - The parishioners of St. Spiridon (Seattle, Wash.) offered help to Kursk. They will conduct seminars to educate teachers of the ABCs of religion.
Uzbekistan Plans a Ban on Religious Parties. TASHKENT (Novosti) - The Uzbekistan Supreme Soviet went into session on Feb. 14. It will discuss draft legislation on civic organizations that seeks a ban on religious parties.
The Nezavisimaya Gazeta attributes the planned ban to the appearance in the Republic of an Islamic revival party, which held its semi-legal founding conference in Tashkent two weeks ago in defiance of government policy.
Orthodox Bookstore Opens in Moscow. (Novosti) - The first-of-its-kind orthodox bookstore was opened in Moscow on Nov. 30, 1990, on the initiative of the Radonezh Orthodox Enlightenment Society. The bookstore offers a large choice of books, periodicals, pictures, calendars, postcards, etc. on religious subjects.
Azerbaijan: First Muslim Paper Begins to Come Out. (Novosti) - The newspaper "Islam," issue No. 1 has come off the press in Baku, opening with the blessing of Sheikh Ul-Islam Allakhchukiur Pash-Zade, chairman of the Muslim Board for Transcaucasia.
Revival of Muslim Shrine. (Novosti) - A cooperation agreement was signed on Dec. 5 between Kazakhstan and the Turkish Republic on the restoration of the mausoleum of Ahmed Yasevi, a medieval poet and preacher. The mausoleum, considered an Islamic shrine, is situated in Turkestan, a town in the Kazakh Republic.
Revival of Buddhist Monastery in Buryatia. The Tamchinsky Buddhist Monastery near Ulan-Ude (the capital of the Buryatia Republic in eastern Siberia) is currently under restoration.
German Church Recreated in Latvia. (Novosti) - The German Evangelical Lutheran Church has resumed its activities in Latvia . . .. The church suspended its activities in Latvia in 1939.
Religion Makes a Comeback in Moldovia KISHINEV (Novosti) - In the past two years, 692 religious communities, including 614 orthodox, have been restored in Moldavia. The believers have received 500 churches back, and six monasteries have been opened. Ninety-seven churches and houses of worship are under construction in the Republic.
Reporting on the restored communities and churches, the Vecherny Kishinev newspaper says there are quite a few churches still being used as museums, libraries and storages for chemical fertilizers.