Group and community photographs feature heavily amongst the corpus of confiscated images in the secret police archives. Such images were often taken at pilgrimages, religious festivals and special gatherings and were a means for the community to materialise communal memory and present their values and beliefs in distinctive visual form. For the secret police they were an invaluable source of information and a convenient means of tracing networks and personal relationships in the religious underground. Arrested members of groups could be forced to name individuals with to whom they had been photographed. These archives, therefore, represent an important resource for understanding how religious groups chose to represent themselves and how the totalitarian system used images of religious groups in order to identify, trace and incriminate their members. Consequently, photographs of religious groups in the secret police archives have a dual character as both religious justification and incrimination.
The Church of the Turan Believers of One God was a radically nationalist, racist, anti-Christian and anti-western movement founded in the 1930’s. Its theoreticians wanted to return to a form of “true Hungarian religion” which built on the ancient, pre-Christian veneration of natural laws, but also fitted with the rationalistic thinking of contemporary society. They believed in the cultural and moral supremacy of the Turanian people and their resurgence to world leadership. For Hungarians to occupy a leading role among Turanian nations, they believed it necessary to “revert” people from Christianity to their “original” religion. Although the number of followers is estimated to be rather low (some hundred people), the interwar authorities categorised them as a sect and made efforts to control them due to their very vocal opposition to mainstream Christianity and the ruling regime.
The photographic practices of the police and secret police are remarkably similar across Central and Eastern Europe and are all based on models and principles devised and taught by KGB officers. The photographic materials in secret police files, just like the texts amongst which they sit, were placed there with the intention of producing knowledge about the groups represented in order to incriminate them and exercise power over them. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, with the rapid advancement of photographic technology making it cheaper and more accessible, photography was very quickly adopted as a means to provide evidence to substantiate and elaborate written observations and reports. Photography early on became a tool of the police and state security, with photographs becoming invested with the status of “proof.” It became also one of the most important means by which the secret police could track their targets and gather convincing evidence of the activities and networks of those under surveillance. Through their internal magazines and work manuals, the secret police trained their officers both in the necessary technical requirements of the photographic operation, such as the equipment to be used in surveillance operations, as well as in the legal framework within which photographic evidence could be used. Photographs produced by the secret police fall into a number of categories, one of which is the “crime scene photograph.”
Crime scene photographs recorded the environment, context and circumstances of the crime for use as data for investigations and as evidence in the courts. They were, however, not considered as a suitable replacement by the secret police to a written description but rather as a supplement. Crime scene photographs can be broken down into a number of subcategories: the Environment Photo presents the general scene and background in order to understand how the perpetrators might have moved around the scene; the Overview Photo shows the exact place where the crime took place demonstrating how different elements relate to one another; the Central Photo shows the key feature of the crime, and finally, the Detail Photo zooms in on small and important details including the incriminating object or vital clues.
On Hungarian secret police photography see:
Müller Rolf 2011 Titok képek nyolcvanos évek/The Secret Pictures of the Eighties. Budapest, L'Harmattan
Related digital collections of police photography:
The Archangelist movement grew out of the earlier Inochentist movement in 1920s Bessarabia (present day Republic of Moldova) under Romanian rule and is one of the main surviving branches of the movement. It represents a form of local vernacular Orthodoxy drawing heavily on the conservative monastic tradition. Formed around a family of brothers, most prominent of whom was Alexandru Culiac (b. 1891), the movement venerated its leaders as various heavenly or saintly persons returned to earth to battle Satan at the End of Days. Alexandru Culiac was venerated as the Archangel Michael on earth, which is how the name of the movement originates.
Achangelism was viewed by both the Romanian and Soviet regimes as a more extreme and more dangerous iteration of Inochentism. This was partly due to its rejection of civic duties and eschewal of public life, its intensely apocalyptic vision and its extremely secretive nature which included the widespread use of underground chapels and subterranean hiding places.
Inochentism is the name given to a religious movement that emerged in the border regions between Romania and Russia in the first decade of the twentieth century. The name of the movement derives from the name of its founder, the monk Inochentie (Innocent) who attracted a large following of pilgrims to the site of the relics of a nineteenth century holy man named Feodosie Levitsky. The Russian Orthodox Church and the Tsarist authorities became concerned about the mass movement that attracted mainly ethnic Moldovans (Romanian speakers from the Russian provinces of Bessarabia, Kherson and Podolia) and took measures to prevent Inochentie from preaching his fervent message of repentance and the impending End of Days. Inochentie was exiled to the Russian far north from 1913 to 1917 during which time his followers built a utopian underground community near the town of Balta (today in Ukraine). During the Russian revolution, Inochentie was released and returned to Balta but died soon after. In the years that followed, both the Soviet and Romania authorities took extreme repressive measures to eliminate the diverse communities that had formed due to Inochentie's legacy. Inochenism is often classed alongside other Orthodox dissent movements that emerged during the first decades of the twentieth century such as the Ionnites (followers of John of Kronstadt).
The rapid development of photographic technology in the 20th century resulted in new forms of visual expression in religious field. It made the production and reproduction iconographic images more accessible to communities, both large and small, urban and rural, and offered them more creative possibilities. Groups were able to experiment and innovate utilizing new techniques of photographic production which in turn gave birth to new forms of devotional image.
In Central and Eastern Europe, authoritarian regimes (sometimes in cooperation with majority or mainstream churches and denominations) attempted to regulate and control the production of non-sanctioned religious images of leaders who were not recognised by authorised religious institutions. In this context, the image of a religious leader could become a mark of creative resistance by religious groups.
Some groups developed icon-style photographic images of leaders persecuted by the regime reflecting their would-be saintly identity.
Such photographs, that could be mass produced and easily hidden became widespread in some contexts, especially amongst Orthodox dissenting movements.
The widespread use of images of religious leaders meant that they were often found on arrested believers. Such images were useful to the secret police as they could prove membership of illegal or banned groups and allegiance to unauthorised, underground leaders. Police officers could also try to identify the social networks through which the photographs were produced and spread. As a result, secret police investigation and case files contain numerous images of religious leaders found on arrested individuals that were used as evidence during the trials.
The term “religious underground”, so often used by both the secret police and dissident religious groups during communism, had both metaphorical and literal meanings. Clandestine and illegal religious groups sometimes opted to conduct their services and meetings or to hide their members and possessions in underground spaces. This was not a phenomenon solely of the communist era however; in the history of Christianity many groups, especially monastic communities have chosen to worship and live in subterranean spaces. In Orthodox Christianity there are many examples of sacred underground complexes, which could serve as a model for the creation of new underground spaces when circumstances required it. Many different groups used underground spaces during the course of the twentieth century and examples can be found in Ukraine, Romania, Moldova and Hungary amongst both Orthodox dissent movements and so-called sects of Protestant or Evangelical origin, such as Adventists or Jehovah's Witnesses.
Underground places of worship were often dug specifically for the purpose although existing cellars and caves were also sometimes used. These underground spaces varied in size, complexity and artistry, from small “priest-hole” type hiding places to vast underground complexes. They were dug in both rural and urban settings but were more easily realised and concealed in the countryside.
Religious gatherings conducted in subterranean spaces might demand certain changes such as the modification of the spatial and material aspects of ritual or the reduction in the number of those present a certain gatherings.
Typically, the images we find in the secret police archives were taken as crime scene photographs and as such they were concerned with showing means of concealment of entrances to underground spaces, the route of entry and actual hidden space. In some cases, the secret police also captured in photographs and film the enforced re-enactment of ritual in these spaces.
Women often played an important and visible role within Orthodox Christian dissent movements. Even though they were often portrayed as vulnerable and the main victims of religious leaders, some archival sources present them as key leaders, proselytisers (or propagandists in the language of the secret police), providers of religious items, such as icons and prayer books, as well as staunch defenders of their belief system. In some communities it was not unusual for women to take on the role of a priest, especially when male leaders were absent, and preside over religious services for the community. In challenging the gender norms of contemporary society (many groups also encouraged sexual abstinence and the rejection of marriage), women were often accused by the Orthodox Church, the state authorities and the press of being sexually promiscuous and of being the concubines of male charismatic leaders.
Many women suffered detention, imprisonment and deportation as well as sickness and extreme hardships under both rightwing and leftwing dictatorships.
The letters and postcards that were written to and from detention or prison were often intercepted by the secret police or prison authorities. Such letters represent valuable sources as they enable us to both reconstruct the conditions in the prisons and labour camps as lived by members of various religious groups and also to gain an insight into the intimate details of the personal lives of individuals. Letters sent by detainees and prisoners offer us a very different picture of their authors than the one portrayed of them in police reports, court documents or in the press or police reports. They sometimes reveal the deepest emotions, struggles and thoughts of prisoners. Secret police archival documents contain letters written by both men and women. The letters written by women are particularly valuable as their reflections on how they each understood their calling and reasons for their detention are rarely captured elsewhere.
Publications feature heavily among the religious materials found in secret police archives or itemized on lists of confiscated materials. Most religious communities in the twentieth century promoted their ideas through the publication of religious periodicals, pamphlets and booklets which could be cheaply produced and easily distributed. Many of these items were published cheaply in shorts runs by local presses. During periods of totalitarian rule, state authorities tried to regulate or ban the production of such materials. The secret police intercepted materials sent in the post, confiscated them in house searches or uncovered them at the border when individuals attempted to smuggle them. Due to their generally small size, however, booklets and leaflets could be easily concealed. They were generally distributed through underground religious networks, both nationally and internationally, or in some cases they were distributed and sold by colporteurs (salesmen of religious literature) on markets, on trains or at pilgrimages. Many of the religious booklets and pamphlets we find in the secret police archives, which had little value for mainstream libraries and archives, are extremely rare and can be found nowhere else in state collections. Some of these materials have immense value for religious communities that were divested of their sacred materials by the state.