Vienna, October 12 – Twenty years ago this month, after more than 25 years of struggle, Russia’s Evangelical Christians secured permission from the Soviet government to emigrate, a victory that the Association of Former Prisoners in the USSR recalled yesterday at a conference in the American state of Washington where many of them now live.
In 1963, two Russian Evangelicals, Vasily Patrushev and Fedor Sidenko, launched a campaign to secure the right of their community to emigrate from the Soviet Union. Both were confined in KGB jails and camps for many years where they were subjected to tortures that left them invalids (prochurch.info/index.php/news/more/13302).
But by 1978, their willingness to say “no” to the atheist Soviet state prompted more than 10,000 Russian Pentecostals, Baptists and Seventh Day Adventists to sign an appeal to the U.S. Congress entitled “Let My People Go!” that prompted the Congress to publish a book the following year “On the Right to Emigrate for Religious Reasons.”
Finally, in 1988, in the third year of Mikhail Gorbachev’s reign as the last Soviet leader, Russia’s Evangelicals were able to make their case to the American government in person: On August 5th of that year, Boris Perchatkin testified before Congress and called for the United States to “open its doors” to those whose only “crime” was their religious faith.
Two months later, the exodus of Evangelicals began, and yesterday, at a conference at Green River Community College in Auburn, Washington, both those who took part in the struggle for the right to emigrate and those who benefitted from it gathered to mark the 45th anniversary of the struggle and the 20th anniversary of its victory.
In a letter to conference organizers, Rep. Alcee Hastings, chairman of the Helsinki Commission, welcomed “the 20th anniversary of the onset of large-scale emigration by Pentecostal Christians of the former Soviet Union to the United States,” a “milestone in the history of the struggle for religious liberty” (www.russianw.com/i/congratulations.pdf).
Speakers scheduled to speak included Boris Perchatkin, the head of the American-Russian Relief Center and one of those who played a key role in the movement, and Vasily Shilyuk, the former president of the Council of United Churches in the USSR, who now lives in London, Ontario, in Canada. (www.russianw.com/articles/article.php?ID=65).
Like Priobrzhensky, Yakunin has studied Soviet and Russian operations against the emigration, having gained access to KGB files in the 1990s (many of which are now again closed or closing) which documented the ties between some religious leaders and the security services.
NOTE: As more information becomes available about this conference and the reports its participants have delivered, references to the URLs will be posted as updates to this Window on Eurasia at www.windowoneurasia.blogspot.com.