A. Pet
Russian, early 20th century
The Tsar, the Priest, and the Kulak. 1918
Lithograph printed in two colors on paper
Purchased with the Elizabeth Halsey Dock, class of 1933, Fund
Photograph by Stephen Petegorsky

The earliest antireligious posters needed to be instantly legible to a wide audience. Often, they paired an image of the Tsar with a religious figure and stereotypical “rich man” (a kulak is a rich person of the peasant class), recognizable by his girth and a black top hat or bowler. By allying religious figures with Tsarist and class oppression, the Communists sought to convince the peasantry that religious leaders were actively working against the well-being of the common man.

Among those peasants who could read, the printed word was generally accepted to be “true.” Often the only people who could read in a village were the clergy, and the only books were religious, so peasants developed a sense that the written word was some how “holy.” The Communists exploited this connection by translating posters such as this (which is in Estonian) into many languages to appeal directly to the wide range of ethnicities represented in the lands they sought to control. The religious figure, here a Catholic priest, and the kulak were also customized according to regional stereotypes. This poster was also issued in Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Polish, Tatar, Hebrew, Chuvash, Latvian, Lithuanian, Moldovan, and Mari.

Estonia had been a part of the Russian empire since 1721, but was declared an independent republic in 1920. The country was placed under Russian influence as part of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939, and the territory was reabsorbed by the Soviet Union following World War II. Estonia officially regained independence in 1991.