2017, Latvia

Religion in the Baltic States: Past and Present Challenges – Latvia

Religion in the Baltic States: Past and Present Challenges


Eliza Zikmane

Thank you for inviting me to speak today on religion in a country on the other edge of Europe. I will focus on the Lutheran Church, but will start with a historic overview of Christianity in Latvia.

The origins of Christianity in Latvia

Lands on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea were among the last in Europe to be Christianised. Seen from the British perspective, these lands may seem to be a sluggish backwater of Europe, but in fact for millennia trading routes were active here, connecting East and West, North and South, through busy ports. The first sparse written records on the Baltic tribes can be found in Greek and Roman sources; later Vikings sailed up the rivers and established a trading route to Constantinople. Throughout subsequent centuries several powerful nations of Europe attempted to conquer or control these lands in order to gain full control of the Baltic Sea.

Living in a buffer-zone between big and powerful states and empires has shaped the mentality of the Baltic peoples, and has an impact on their attitude to religion and organised religion in particular.

The first sporadic influences of Christianity came to Latvia through short-lived Viking settlements in western Latvia and through Russian merchants travelling from the East along the river Daugava. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries Germans organised mission and conquest in order to Christianise the tribes in Latvia; this was part of the Northern or Baltic Crusades, a military campaign carried out largely by the Teutonic Knights. Local tribes were defeated; the local people were forced to get baptised, and the land ended up in the hands of Germans. The indigenous population were eventually forced into servitude.

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2017, Estonia

Religion in the Baltic States: Past and Present Challenges – Estonia

Religion in the Baltic States: Past and Present Challenges


Tiit Pädam


In 2016 the Parliament of Estonia elected a new President for the Republic, Kersti Kaljulaid. She was inaugurated on 10 October. The occasion gave rise to heated debate: not because for the first time in Estonian history a woman had become President, but because she broke with the tradition of her predecessors and did not take part in the celebratory thanksgiving service in the Lutheran cathedral in Tallinn.

She explained that she had never been a churchgoer, although she respected all religions and people of different confessions. As an example she described how as a member of the European Court of Auditors in Luxembourg she had been on a delegation to the Vatican where she had been received by the Pope and participated in all the religious services in connection with the visit. She also said that her decision not to attend the service had been motivated by the fact that according to the Constitution of Estonia there is no state church. She has written that ‘A self-confident Estonian is free in their choices’ (quoted on the main page of her official website, https://www.president.ee/en/president/biography/index.html”).

Her decision provoked an extraordinary number of reactions and a heated debate broke out. Many felt insulted; others welcomed her decision. The leadership of the Lutheran Church tried to keep a good face, but they were mostly disappointed and critical. Arguments were pitted against arguments and there were emotional discussions.

Why I have begun my introduction to religion in Estonia with this incident? There are three reasons. First, the debate clearly expresses the controversial attitude to religion in Estonia. Second, it highlights the rather strange position of the Lutheran Church in Estonian society. Third, it sheds light on the position of all the churches in Estonia towards the secular state and church-state relations. In Estonia there is great confusion in religious matters; this is a confusion that characterises Estonian reality generally.

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Faith in Europe’s response to the document “What Future for Europe? An Open Letter of CEC to Churches and Partner Organisations”

The Response of ‘Faith in Europe’ to the Document “What Future for Europe? An Open Letter of CEC to Churches and Partner Organisations”

Sent 9 November 2016

The Conference of European Churches (CEC) open letter was issued only days before the referendum which, by a relatively narrow majority, approved the United Kingdom’s (UK) exit from the European Union (EU). This response from ‘Faith in Europe’ emerges against that background. The response obviously represents a distinctively British viewpoint, albeit one that raises issues of wider European concern.

‘Faith in Europe’

‘Faith in Europe’ is a national organization that is principally though not exclusively Christian (Islam and Judaism are represented within it). It is concerned for Europe’s well-being and the role of faith communities in shaping its future. Its members and constituent bodies (which include most ‘main-line’ Churches) are generally though not uncritically supportive of moves toward greater European integration. Its core members were greatly dismayed though not wholly surprised by the referendum’s outcome. Nevertheless, we recognize that this bitter experience provides an opportunity for reflection and the learning of lessons having Europe-wide relevance. We trust that CEC will contribute much to such a learning process.

The UK’s referendum

CEC’s recent document obviously identifies the EU’s major achievements as well as significant obstacles impeding the realization of its potential. This response does not cover the same ground. Britain’s referendum, however, offers much specific evidence, of EU-wide relevance, concerning present and possibly future difficulties.

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Christianity as the Soul of Europe

Christianity as the Soul of Europe

The Rt Revd Dr Robert Innes
Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe
14 July 2016

Note: This is the written text of an illustrated presentation


Europe is constantly at the forefront of the news. There are many within Europe, including the UK, who feel deeply negatively towards what they see as an attempted super-state run by faceless bureaucrats – caricatured as a centralised set of institutions intent on banning lead in organ pipes and making us buy straight bananas. But for many who live outside Europe it appears to be a promised land. For thousands of refugees, Europe seems a paradise, a stronghold of peace, prosperity and civilisation. Those who have lived a long time in Europe seem weary of it. But those who aren’t able to share the alleged European comforts, want to get here at any price to join us. ‘What is it that some have yet no longer want, and for which others yearn so deeply?’

What is Europe? Is it merely a certain geographical land mass and the diverse peoples who happen to live within it? Or is it also a certain project that aims to help those peoples to live together harmoniously and prosperously with a set of shared values? And if we want to be ‘out’ of Europe, is that a statement about our feeling disconnected from the continent or is it saying that we don’t want to participate in certain shared political institutions? And how is Christianity mixed into our history, our identity, our soul? This presentation explores some of the contradictions and challenges of Europe. It begins with a brief tour of the historical sources and origins of modern Europe and reviews the place of Christianity amongst those sources. We consider the triumphs and tragedies of twentieth-century Europe, which provide the immediate context for the modern European Union. And then we look at where Christianity – and particularly I suppose you will expect me to say something about the Anglican Diocese in Europe – stands within Europe today and how Christians might think about Europe as we live with the reality of a vote to ‘leave’ Europe. The presentation focusses to a degree on the East German city of Leipzig, because its built architecture conveniently highlights some of the key historical and Christian themes of our continent.

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Thinking Creatively about Europe

Thinking Creatively about Europe

Faith in Europe AGM, 9 July 2015

The Rt Revd and Rt Hon Dr Rowan Williams

former Archbishop of Canterbury and now Master of Magdalene College Cambridge

Text compiled from notes by Philip Walters and approved by Rowan Williams

I would like to focus on a number of aspects of European identity. Two obviously important constituents are the Classical heritages of Greece, to which we owe the idea of democracy, and of Rome, which has mainly meant organised militarism. However, it not enough to think of European identity just in terms of these two legacies. There is also the Christian legacy, and other legacies.

There were no weekends in Ancient Rome. This is not a frivolous point: weekends are markers for the passage of time in a religious context. With weekends we mark the reliving of the human story of the life of Jesus weekly and yearly; and this is tied in with the evolution of the European individual. Boris Pasternak said that Christ is a human life printed on the world. Nobody is exempted from this image: slaves, the poor, women. Yes, this legacy lies under the debris of patriarchy; but as Thomas Aquinas said, there are some areas of human life that are ineradicable.

Europe also has its Muslim and Jewish legacies. Christianity, Islam and Judaism are a family quarrel rather than a clash of civilisations. We need to remember that Medieval Catholic theology was crucially informed by influx from the Muslim and Jewish peripheries.

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2015, Ukraine

A Christian European State: Religion in Modern Ukraine

A Christian European State: Religion in Modern Ukraine

Faith in Europe AGM, 16 April 2015

Robert Brinkley
British Ambassador to Ukraine 2002-2006


Over the last year and a bit the Ukrainian people have suffered greatly, not for the first time in the past century. Part of their state has been forcibly annexed. Some of the Donbas – the eastern coal and steel region – has fallen prey to separatist criminals, sponsored, armed and supported by Russia. The Ukrainian currency has lost 80% of its value, a steeper drop than any other currency, inflation has risen and the economy contracted by 5% last year. This is a man-made disaster. Over 6000 people have lost their lives. Many more have been injured. Some one and a half million have had to flee their homes.

These numbers hide individual faces and names. A few examples:

  • Last September in L’viv (Western Ukraine) I met the young widow of a Donets’k social activist, with her teenage daughter. In April, at the start of the uprising, he had been abducted by separatists and killed. Their house had been destroyed. The widow and her daughter were now being cared for in Kyiv.
  • In Crimea the Tatar community is again under threat, having returned to their homeland only in the late 1980s following their expulsion to Central Asia by Stalin. Some of their leaders have been barred from Crimea. Some Tatars have been abducted and killed. Their media outlets have been closed. Thousands of them have left for mainland Ukraine; I met some of them in L’viv in September at a festival of Crimean Tatar culture. Other communities in Crimea – Orthodox parishes of the Kyiv Patriarchate, Catholic and Jewish – have also faced menace and obstruction.
  • In the territory controlled by the separatists in Eastern Ukraine, three Catholic priests were kidnapped; the residence of the Greek Catholic Bishop in Donets’k was robbed and sealed; the Bishop and almost all his priests were forced to leave the Donets’k area; on 16 August the convent of the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate in Donets’k was seized by separatists while the sisters were away on summer retreat and children’s camps; the sisters cannot return to their home.
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2014, Europe (general)

Recent Developments and Overall Trends in the Relationship between Religion, Law and State in Europe

Recent Developments and Overall Trends
in the Relationship between Religion, Law and State in Europe

Ronan McCrea

23 January 2014


There are two main issues where European law affects religion: the relationship between religious freedom and antidiscrimination laws and the role of religious symbols in public life and what influence European norms are having in these areas. There is also an overall trend that I think is having a significant impact on approaches to those issues in Europe.

Anti-discrimination laws and exemptions

Religion has a particularly complicated relationship to non-discrimination as religious bodies and institutions make two very distinct and in some ways conflicting demands of the law in this area.

On the one hand, religious individuals claim legal protection from discrimination. That is why the law prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion in areas such as employment. For religious freedom to be properly protected, individuals should, for example, not be fired from their jobs because their employer disapproves of their religious choices.

On the other hand, religious institutions and individuals sometimes seek the right to discriminate, normally by refusing to employ someone in order to protect the ethos of a religiously-owned institution or by refusing to provide goods or services to a person, usually in order to avoid condoning or facilitating sinful conduct.

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The Legal, Research and Policy Work of the Equality and Human Rights Commission on Religion or Belief

The Legal, Research and Policy Work of the Equality and Human Rights Commission on Religion or Belief

David Perfect

23 January 2014 (updated March 2015)


This paper explores the legal, research and policy work on religion or belief that has been carried out by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) since its establishment in 2007.

EHRC structure and responsibilities

The EHRC is a non-departmental public body which was established in October 2007. Its sponsor body is the Government Equalities Office. It has a statutory role for seven equality strands (age, disability, ethnicity/race, gender, religion or belief, sexual orientation and transgender) and two other protected characteristics (pregnancy and maternity; and marriage and civil partnership) and has been a National Human Rights Institution since 2011. The EHRC, which replaced three previous bodies, the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Commission for Racial Equality and the Disability Rights Commission, is a GB-wide body with offices in Glasgow and Cardiff. Its current Chair is Baroness Onora O’Neill and there are currently eleven other Commissioners; its core functions include legal, policy, research and communications work. A small number of policy, legal and research staff specialise on religion or belief issues.

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2013, Russia

Radicalism or Reconciliation in Russia? – focusing on Religion in the North Caucasus

Radicalism or Reconciliation in Russia?
Focusing on Religion in the North Caucasus

Neville Kyrke-Smith

Censorship, Imprisonment and Death

A friend of mine in Moscow, who will remain nameless, recently told me how his offices had just been raided and files taken away – his Christian ecumenical work had come under suspicion, through contacts with foreign organisations and charities. Many other important NGOs have been closed down – human rights organisations in particular have been targeted, as have any liberal media outlets. How many journalists from Novaya gazeta have been killed in recent years? I think it is five. People may have heard of the heroic Anna Politkovskaya and read her journals, but I saw a figure of a total of 17 journalists and cameramen who have been killed – plus hundreds of disappearances – in Russia since 2000. Last year in June, you may recall, General Aleksandr Bastrykin, head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, personally threatened to kill Sergei Sokolov, the deputy editor of Novaya gazeta, because of his critical coverage of his agency.

Mysterious deaths and disappearances, or kidnappings, have not just been confined to writers, human rights workers and journalists. We know of the big businessman and others falling out with President Putin and with those who control the levers of power in the Kremlin – from Mikhail Khodorkovsky to Sergei Magnitsky (murdered in prison in 2009) we have seen the cost of crossing a thin ‘red’ line. The unsolved (or untried) murder of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 was perhaps the most public revelation of the work of the Russian secret services (FSB) – even if he may have been a double or triple agent. Politically, it is said that one of the most dangerous jobs in Russia is that of being a mayor – Russakaya planeta recently reported that more than 100 mayors have been dismissed from their jobs or charged with crimes and imprisoned in the last five years – all of them had run and won against United Russia candidates. The popular mayor of Yaroslavl’, Yevgeny Urlashov, a human rights activist and lawyer, was warned and then arrested just over a week ago on trumped-up charges just after he had organised a protest of several thousand people against United Russia.

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2013, Russia

Karelia and Kamchatka

Karelia and Kamchatka

Xenia Dennen


Since the turn of the century I have been involved in the research behind what at Keston Institute we call the Encyclopaedia on Religious Life in Russia Today, which in seven volumes covers all Christian denominations and religions in all the administrative divisions of the Russian Federation. We are now working on a second edition which will be more analytical, focusing on the most important religious groups which are significant players in today’s Russia.

This year my field trips have included one to Petrozavodsk in Karelia, north of St Petersburg at the western end of Russia, and most recently one to the very opposite end of Russia, Kamchatka, which is even further east than Vladivostok. The Karelian Republic, covering 172,400 sq km, has a population more than twice the size of Kamchatka’s and Kamchatka is 1½ times larger than Karelia. Both areas were the focus of virulent antireligious activity during the communist period, so that few churches were left standing in Karelia and none whatsoever in Kamchatka.

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