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Creative Agency and Religious Minorities: ‘hidden galleries’ in the secret police archives in 20th Century Central and Eastern Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - Hidden Galleries (Creative Agency and Religious Minorities: ‘hidden galleries’ in the secret police archives in 20th Century Central and Eastern Europe)

Okres sprawozdawczy: 2019-09-01 do 2021-03-31

This Hidden Galleries project concerns the role of religious minorities in the transformation of Central and Eastern Europe societies in the 20th century seen through the prism of the secret police archives in the region. The project re-examines and re-contextualises the holdings of secret police archives in three countries; Romania, the Republic of Moldova and Hungary, with the aim drawing scholarly and public attention to alternative uses and meanings of the archives in relation to the study of minority religions. The secret police archives in addition to containing millions of files on individuals and organisations monitored by the state, also constitute a hidden repository of religious art, publications, photographs and the ephemera of religious life confiscated by the secret police. The aim of the project to retrieve examples of this visual and literary material from the archives and reintroduce them to diverse audiences of academics, the religious communities themselves and the public. Through this re-encounter in the form of publications, public exhibitions and an online Database, the project aims shed fresh light on the role that local and minority religious groups played in challenging the hegemonic order through their creative artistic and cultural production. This project constitutes the first comparative research on the archives from the perspective of the history and anthropology of religion in the region and it draws attention to the heretofore unexplored creative agency of religious movements under fascism and communism.
The Hidden Galleries Project has three main phases, the first of which involves charting, cataloguing and digitally copying examples of visual, cultural and literary religious materials confiscated by the secret police and identifying examples of the secret police visual and photographic representations of religious networks, materials and spaces. Currently, these materials are not easily searchable within the archives and access is restricted to accredited researchers. The project team has worked in three institutions primarily: Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security (ÁBTL), National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives (CNSAS) and National Archives of the Republic of Moldova (which holds declassified personal files previously held by Archive of the Information and Security Service of the Republic of Moldova, the ex-KGB (ASIRM-KGB), accessing over 350 personal and documentary files. The key achievement of this phase of the project has been the construction of a Digital Database, which presents diverse examples of visual, literary and material religious items found within the secret police archives, with the aim of giving access to both researchers and members of religious communities. The Digital Database, which is still under development, is accessible via the project website ( Currently the English language version is available but by the end of the project the Database will be in four languages: English, Romanian, Hungarian and Russian. There are currently 22 live entries with 80 entries planned for completion by the end of Phase 1 of the project in May 2019. Although the public and researchers can gain access to the secret police archives, the collections are generally not easily searchable for the kind of materials that the project focuses on such as confiscated photographs, surveillance photographs, brochures, icons, drawings, letters, hymns and diaries. The Database is already proving an invaluable tool for researchers and to help reconnect communities with items of lost cultural and religious patrimony.

As part of this first phase, the project also ran an academic workshop hosted by the Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security (ÁBTL), in Budapest on 11th September 2017 entitled Materialisng Religion in the Secret Police Archives: Methodological, Ethical and Legal approaches to the Study of Religions in Secret Police Archives. In addition to the project team, there were a number of additional invited speakers from Ukraine, Lithuania, Hungary, Serbia and Romania as well as members of the Research Department of ÁBTL. Full programme can be found on the project website: An Edited Volume based on papers presented at the workshop which addresses the complex history of the relationship between the secret police and minority religious communities in Central and Eastern Europe as well as exploring the methodological, ethical and legal perspectives that shape scholarly use of the archives today is currently in preparation. In addition, the first Single-authored article by the Principal Investigator, Dr James Kapaló, exploring the methodology of the project has been peer-reviewed and accepted by the journal Material Religion and will appear in Volume 15 (2019) of the journal.
Following on from the archival work, ethnographic fieldwork with individuals and communities represented in the archives began in October 2017 in Hungary and June 2018 in Romania and Moldova. Making contact with, interviewing, reintroducing confiscated materials and negotiating participation in the project with religious groups constitutes the most challenging, sensitive and potentially impactful aspect of the project. The research team has so far succeeded in securing the cooperation or participation of six communities (two in Hungary, three in Romania and one in Moldova). Several members of these communities have indicated their intention to participate in events associated with them and to contribute to the public exhibitions which will be staged in the final year of the project. A number of others have been interviewed and are happy for their voices to form part of the public aspects of the project outputs. Having secured this vital cooperation and participation, the public exhibitions will include the narratives, performances and visual creative practices of the various groups.
The project team has presented the methodology of the project, case studies and findings at six international conferences in Hungary, Romania, UK, Belgium and Italy. In addition the project Principal Investigator, Dr James Kapaló, has given guest lectures in Edinburgh, Amsterdam and Budapest.
It has been possible to extend the geographical coverage of the project to include materials from Ukraine through a collaboration with Dr Tatiana Vagramenko, who successfully applied for Irish Research Council funding to work with the Dr James Kapaló on a project that complements the Hidden Galleries Project. This postdoctoral two-year project entitled “Religious Minorities in Ukraine from the Soviet Underground to the Euromaidan: Pathways to Religious Freedom and Pluralism in Enlarging Europe” commenced in November 2017. Since the start of this project, Dr Vagramenko has contributed to Hidden Galleries events and panals and has made an significant contribution to the Digital Database, adding a number of entries based on materials in the recently opened State Archive Branch of the Security Services of Ukraine.
The project events have also included scholars in Serbia and Lithuania and there are planned collaborations with Croatia and Slovenia. These additional collaborations will enable the project to expand its geographical reach and comparative potential.
Inochentist women 1938 (© National Archives of the Republic of Moldova TMC3A 738-1-6864, p. 11)