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Russia emerges as Europe's most God-believing nation

Nearly 20 years after the collapse of the atheistic Soviet Union, a recent poll found that 82 percent of Russians classify themselves as religious believers. But far fewer subscribe to organized religion.

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Russian Orthodox Old Believers hold candles during an Easter service at a church in Moscow on April 23.

Mikhail Voskresensky/Reuters

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Two decades after the collapse of the USSR, history's most atheistic state, the vast majority of Russians attest to a belief in God – more than in any other European country – according to a new opinion poll.

The survey, carried out in April by the independent Public Opinion Fund (FOM), found that 82 percent of Russians say they are religious believers, while just 13 percent say they do not believe in any deity.

But the powerful Russian Orthodox Church will find nothing to celebrate in the survey's details.

The church claims 70 percent of Russians as its adherents and on the basis of that has successfully pressured the Kremlin to return most church property seized by the Bolsheviks almost a century ago, including vast tracts of land, churches, monasteries, and thousands of religious artifacts formerly held by state museums.

But according to the poll, just 50 percent of Russians say they are Orthodox, while 27 percent didn't associate themselves with any particular organized faith. Among young people between 18 and 24, the number of unaffiliated believers was 34 percent.

"It would be correct to describe Russia as a land of believers, but it cannot be called a country of religious people," says Mikhail Tarusin, head of sociology at the independent Institute of Public Projects in Moscow. "We were an officially atheist state for 74 years, and it may take some time to rebound from that. Right now I don't think we could put the proportion of truly religious, church-going people at more than 20 percent."

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