Skip to main content

Transatlantic Blog

2017: From Bolshevism to 'polite persecution'?

For many, the new year probably does not mark any special occasion or evoke any particular historical memory. 2017 is just another odd year on the way to a more potentially significant round number, like 2020, to ring in a new decade of change and progress. But for those who have carefully observed political, religious, and economic history unfold in the last century, this year is indeed rich in memory and meaning.

The year 2017 is the centennial of an uprising that changed the face of Eastern Europe and set a passionate tone for politics throughout much of the twentieth century.

One hundred years ago, Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik army successfully plotted against Nicholas II’s Tsarist autocracy. Momentum built for what would be known as the Russian Revolution in February and October (in the Julian calendar) of 1917.

The revolts that erupted in the imperial capital of Petrograd (St. Petersburg) spread to other Russian regions and ensured a Marxist coup d’état – the first ever in human history. Soon, governing councils –or soviets – would band together throughout Russia, rename the emperor’s city Leningrad, and create a super state with a new capital in Moscow: the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

Consequentially, religious influence eroded in large swaths of Eastern European culture as secular forces of coercion spread at breakneck speed. A complicit state-run media, in collusion with hand-picked intelligentsia, would seduce the general populace into Marxist atheism in just one generation. Those who didn’t swear allegiance to the Lenin’s manifesto were forced into the Russian diaspora. The tens of millions who remained were routinely turned in by networks of informants to secret police for expressing traditional Judeo-Christian views against the atheist state. They paid the heavy price of torture, imprisonment and, in many cases, martyrdom.

As Marxism was installed in other nations, virtually all of Eastern Europe remained in the dark of untruth behind the Iron Curtain. Like a contagion, Lenin’s movement infected most of the Orient, Latin America, Africa, and the Caribbean. Across the globe, the Almighty State actively crowded out an Almighty God, and ratcheted up official persecution: an estimated 100,000,000 dissenters were tortured or put death under various communist dictatorships.

Across the globe, the Almighty State actively crowded out an Almighty God, and ratcheted up official persecution.

It was not until three-quarters of a century later – on December 26, 1991 – that an economically and morally deteriorated Soviet Union was dissolved. Other collectivist societies fell in domino-effect fashion, even though a few still hang on today in China, North Korea, and Cuba.

A mini-Golden Age of Judeo-Christian Liberty had begun, with victories to follow for freer global markets, religious tolerance and human rights advancement. But how long would it last?

A serious reversal of trends

Many would say that this mini-Golden Age of Liberty has already ended.

A good date to point to would be September 11, 2001, when a band of Islamic radicals who hated the principles of Judeo-Christian free society and its economic flourishing, attacked two of its landmarks in New York City. The wave of anti-freedom terrorism that has arisen since then has escalated in an unprecedented manner across the globe.

Some religious leaders have declared that a Third World War is well underway.

To their grave concern, the pope and others like him underscore the troubling trend of “ideological colonization” much more than terrorism. The former is much less visible and but far more dangerous in the long term.

In a way the two are allies against Judeo-Christian culture, but employ different means. Terrorism, even if secretive, is about force – about open bloody attacks and constantly seeks public attention. Ideological colonization is a more subtle form of persecution. It is a polite manner of persecution, using reason, attractive ideas, and good feeling, as Pope Francis likes to say.

Ideological colonization acts via a slow, gentle impregnation of culture. Its vehicles are the media, schools, celebrity culture, and friendly NGOs promoting aid in exchange for public policy considerations. If successful, ideological colonization shifts mindsets away from Christian beliefs on topics such as gender, sexuality, marriage, abortion, and the very meanings of freedom, love, and religion. Those who resist the ideas are marginalized and shamed into conformity.

This is exactly what a group of bishops from the Ukraine signed their names to in an encyclical released last December 4, connecting the dots between the once-successful Marxist reeducation measures and present day ideological colonization in their ex-Soviet nation:

In the twentieth century, the people of Ukraine suffered from a godless Soviet regime that attempted to forcefully tear people from the roots of faith and impose an atheistic worldview. Presented as the only “scientific” one, this worldview denied human persons’ freedom of conscience and deprived them of the right to freely profess their religious beliefs. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the world stands before similar challenges, which, however, are not accompanied by open and bloody persecution, but rather are served by hidden ideological means of destroying Christian faith and morality, as well as universal human values. 

Ideological colonization, therefore, is smarter and more covert than terrorism. Bullets do not have to be fired. No one loses their head, at least not literally, but figuratively through acceptance of seductively packaged but empty ideas.

European decline

Indeed, such persecution goes unchecked and becomes ubiquitous when terrorism appears to be the real tangible enemy. And with as many as 81 countries that now have anti-Christian policies and education in place, the potential victims are in the billions. Much more than the 100 million estimated during the peak of communist dictatorships.

Many would say that this mini-Golden Age of Liberty has already ended.

In Europe, there are so many new anti-Christian laws and government programs that the Hungarian government has established a new office for the persecution of Christians within its Ministry for Human Resources, while a special envoy for religious freedom was recently established within the European Union.

The problem is most noteworthy in Belgium, where religion classes in primary and secondary schools of its French-speaking regions have been eliminated as of last October. What have they been replaced with? A weekly class on citizenship. It does not seem like a total loss, especially if religion can be taught at parishes and inside homes. But these citizenship classes, to a large extent, advocate euthanasia, alternative gender theory, same-sex attraction, and address other social issues that directly oppose Christian moral teachings. What is more, the classes cannot be taught by teachers who are considered “non-neutral.” This, in effect, means that if a teacher has earned a degree from a Catholic or a religious university, he is automatically barred from instruction.

In nearby France, a bill adopted last December 2 has extended laws making "interference" with abortion to cover digital media. It is now a crime to publish pro-life websites, with violators facing two-year jail terms and €30,000 in fines. The Christian faithful are enraged and rallying behind the staunchly pro-life Les Républicains candidate, Francois Fillon, during this year’s presidential elections.

In the United Kingdom, parliament has granted the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills wide-ranging legal power to investigate any didactic setting in Britain that provides instruction to children for more than six to eight hours a week. Under this new law, even Sunday schools, Church youth groups, Bible clubs, and parochial schools may be monitored for compliance to proper "educational values" – as defined by the Office’s secular norms.

Ideological colonization has gained traction all throughout Europe, not just because of clever propaganda, media and educational policy, but because the timing is right. Christians are being literally locked out as part of "managed decline" over the past 40 years. As of 2015, the Church of England has been closing chapels at a rate of 20 a year. The German Catholic Bishops Conference has shut down a total of 515 churches over the past few decades. This crisis has reached its peak in the Netherlands, where an estimated two-thirds of the nation’s 1,600 churches will be shut down by 2027.

A glimmer of hope?

All said, there may be some glimmer of hope from recent popular movements and referenda that have defended religious freedom, the nuclear family, the sanctity of life, and marriage in countries once dominated by atheist regimes, such as in Romania, Slovenia, and Poland. Unfortunately, their successes have not created momentum in neighboring ex-Eastern Bloc countries, as testified by the Ukrainian bishops’ open letter.

Their courageous fight is overshadowed, not just by the currently successful “polite” ideological colonization programs highlighted above, but now by overt hate movements led by Femen and the EU’s bully pulpit calling for removals of all “religious bias,” such as crucifixes in courthouses and Christian public holidays.

Sadly, we are witnessing the basic ingredients that made for such an easy cultural coup by Marxist leaders in Europe one hundred years ago. The way for concerned Christians to counter is a bold, missionary faith and fervent prayer. The time for “lukewarm” witness is over.


Michael Severance earned his B.A. in philosophy and humane letters from the University of San Francisco, where he also studied at the university's St. Ignatius Institute, a great books program. He then pursued his linguistic studies in Salamanca, Spain where he obtained his Advanced Diploma in Spanish from Spain's Ministry of Education before obtaining his M.A. in Philosophy and Modern Languages from the University of Oxford.


Andrea Gagliarducci is an Italian-based freelance writer for covers the Vatican for Italian press. He is also the author of three books: La Musica dell’altro (Pazzini Editore), Propaganda Fide R.E. (IlSaggiatore), and Giovanni Paolo II. Storia di un annuncio (Libreria Editrice Vaticana).