Middle Tennessee scholar researches religious persecution in the former Soviet Union

Jun 6, 2017

A button calling for the release of the “Siberian Seven,” a group of Russian Pentecostals who wanted to emigrate to the West to escape religious persecution during the Cold War.
Credit MTSU

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WMOT)  --  A mid-state scholar is heading to Russia this weekend to dig deeper into one of the strangest incidents of the Cold War.

In June 1978, eight Soviet citizens made a wild dash for the American Embassy in Moscow in a desperate bid to escape religious persecution. The eight were members of two Pentecostal Christian families from Siberia.

One of the eight was captured by Soviet guards, but the other seven made it into the embassy. Soviet officials refused to allow the seven to immigrate, so they ended up living in the basement of the American embassy for the next five years.

Middle Tennessee State researcher Emily Baran will leave for Russia Saturday to see what more she can learn about the group, who eventually would be dubbed the “Siberian Seven.” 

Dr. Emily Baran
Credit MTSU

Dr. Baran says the embassy standoff threw a spotlight on the persecution of people of faith in the communist nation.

“You couldn’t hold religious services in public . They had to be in a designated house of prayer. You couldn’t perform charity work. You couldn’t proselytize. You couldn’t hold special youth group or children’s activities.”

The USSR finally allowed the Soviet Seven to emigrate to the U.S. in 1983. Baran says that while she’s interested in the way the incident speaks to larger issues of human rights and religious freedom, she doesn’t want to lose sight of the seven people who lived the experience.

“I think their story is just so compelling on a human level that I want to be able to tell it in a way that doesn’t lose that, that retains a very personal dimension.”

To learn more about Baran and her research, look for her story on the MTSU news website: mtsunews.com.