'Iwo weeks ago a 49-year-old Russian woman was sentenced to three years in a labour camp after being found. guilty of "malicious hooliganism".
Her crime was allegedly to have slapped a security man who had tried to seize a note hook that she was holding. The incident took place at a meeting of the Christian Seminar on the Problems of Religious Rebirth, an Orthodox discussion group popular with many young Orthodox people.
The case of Tatyana Shchipkova is the latest indication of a new crackdown by the Soviet authorities against dissident groups and individuals. Many of those arrested over the past few months are committed Christians.
They include Fr Gleb Yakunin, the well known Orthodox priest and leader of the Committee for, the Defence of Believers' Rights. who was arrested in November; Lev Regelson, an Orthodox layman and former lecturer, detained in December; Bishop Nikolai Goretoi, a bishop of the Pentecostal church and a main force behind the campaign for Pentecostal emigration, detained in December; and Anatanas Terleckas, a Lithuanian human rights activist. arrested I& the fourth time at the beginning of November.
The actions masterminded behind closed doors in the Kremlin are notoriously difficult to analyse accurately. About the only certainty is that the official Soviet explanations are false. Beyond that it remains a matter of speculation.
Some of the problems and a possible explanation, were
indicated by two comments made in London in the space of five days last week by the exiled dissident, Alexander Ginzburg.
First he told reporters that the detention in November of Fr Yakunin was part of a sweep by the security forces designed to empty the city of "undersirable elements" before the Olympic Games, Then on Friday he told me that he had revised his opinion. Fr Yakunin, he said, had probably been picked up as part of the authorities' scheme to prevent any criticism of the invasion of Afghanistan from taking placewithin the Soviet Union itself.
Both explanations make sense. But the second is more convinc ing. Soviet leaders recall with some discomfort the attention given to the protest in Red Square in 1968 following the invasion of Czechoslovakia. Now according to Ginzburg they are determined to avoid such an embarrassing event from happening again since it is dissent at home which is far more dangerous than attacks abroad.
The "Afghan connection" in the arrests of religious dissidents is particularly plausible in Ginzburg's view because many of the best speakers and publicists the human rights movement ar church members. Regelson wa picked up on December 24, th day before the invasion too place.
In general Orthodox Christian have fared slightly better tha their brethren in the Baptis Pentecostal and Seventh Da Adventist churches, partl because it is harder for the latte to get their churches legal! registered by the State.
However, over the last thre months at least three members o the Christian Seminar apart fro Tatyana Shchipkova have bee detained. Two have received foci year prison sentences and anothe is awaiting trial.
In theslight of that it may seen strange that Fr Dmitri Dudk remains free. Fr Dudko is an out spoken defender of religion: rights who has attracted consider able attention in the West. On view is that his reputation in th West has dissuaded th authorities from arresting him.
But western opinion has no forestalled the arrests of othe prominent dissidents, which i why others, including Ginzburg argue that the regime is holdin hack because it is afraid to make martyr of a man with such stand ing within the Soviet Union itself "The Orthodox Church thrives o martyrs," says Ginzburg, a Orthodox layman, who ha himself spent nearly ten years i prisons and labour camps hecaus of his views, At the same time it is relativel easy for the authorities to isolat
l'r Dudko because he lives about. 100 kilometres outside Moscow. Thus, for example, when the Olympics come round it would be possible for them to restrict him to his home town and to prevent visitors from travelling more than 40 kilometres outside the city.
l'hc concern over religious dissidents shown by the regime would seen) to indicate the growing strength of the dissident movement. The popularity of the Christian 'Seminar among young people is particularly significant since it shows that the young are not taken in any longer by atheistic propaganda.
Indeed ollicial attempts to brainwash the young into the belief that there can be no God have been largely abandoned, while cynicism about Marxism. has grown steadily since the invasion of Czechoslovakia. The 'Afghan episode can only further that process of demythologising the state religion, This disenchantment with the official creed is spreading throughout Eastern Europe, despite the barriers which continue to be placed in the way of the professional advance of people who openly declare their beliefs.
Recent sociological surveys indicate that between a half and Iwo thirds of the populations of East European countries regard themselves as religious.
More than 60 years after the Russian revolution it seems that tanks and torture have still not achieved their aims.