Under the doctrine of state atheism in the Soviet Union, there was a government sponsored program encouraging the conversion to atheism. Religion, believed to conflict with the ideology, would prevent citizens from fully supporting the state. Though conversion did not continue, religion was still ultimately discouraged throughout the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc. However, this discouragement of religion would ultimately prove to be difficult in areas where religion had strong roots and authority. Poland was one of these areas, where “The authority of the Catholic Church in Poland, already very strong, was reinforced when the archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, became Pope John Paul II in 1978″ (Roberts & Ash). With religion having such strongholds, it was never brushed away as much as the Soviet Union and Communist leaders may have hoped for.
Additionally, religious groups (especially the Catholic Church) are often thought to be leaders of conservativism rather than of opposition or as champions of human rights. However, throughout the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc we see that religious groups often played integral roles in these human rights oppositions. From the involvement of Jewish people in groups in the Moscow Helsinki Group to the involvement of the Catholic Church to spur change within Poland, religion seems to have played a critical role in uniting people for human rights and in opposition against the state. Was Poland unique in its strong religious tradition within the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, or do we see religion play a strong role elsewhere in the Cold War? In what ways did this strong religious (or specifically Catholic) tradition impact the direction of the opposition movements in Poland?