“Bolsheviks don’t close churches.” For anyone familiar with Bolshevism, or Soviet history for that matter, this phrase sounds strange—jarring even. Isn’t closing churches precisely what Bolsheviks ought to be doing? Yet, in a report from Konstantin Litvin, head of Agitation and Propaganda for Soviet Ukraine, the fact that a group of locals in newly Soviet Lviv were overheard saying “Bolsheviks don’t close churches” in March of 1946 was deemed evidence of Soviet success. It turns out that in the oblasts of the former Galicia region, the notion that Bolsheviks don’t close churches was a mark of fruitful agitation and successful Sovietization. These seemingly paradoxical conclusions begin to make sense, however, if we understand them as part of a strategy of Soviet governance unique to West Ukraine—the use of Orthodoxy to promote Sovietization, drawing on the ideas and tactics of early Soviet nationalities policy.
Kathryn David is a PhD candidate in History at New York University. She is working on a dissertation project on the role of the Russian Orthodox Church in Soviet governance of West Ukraine during and after World War II. At the Summer Research Laboratory, she is conducting research on the role of religious institutions during the Prague Spring.