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Template:Atheism2 State atheism has been defined as the official "promotion of atheism" by a government, typically by active suppression of religious freedom and practice.[1]

State promotion of atheism as a public norm was first practised during a brief period in Revolutionary France. Only communist states and socialist states have done so since. State atheism may include active opposition to religion, and persecution of religious institutions, leaders and believers. However, whether such persecution was truly motivated by atheism is disputed by others.[2][3] The Soviet Union had a long history of state atheism,[4] in which social success largely required individuals to profess atheism and stay away from churches; this attitude was especially militant under Joseph Stalin.[5][6][7] The Soviet Union attempted to suppress religion over wide areas of its influence, including places like central Asia.[8] The Socialist People's Republic of Albania under Enver Hoxha went so far as to officially ban the practice of every religion.[9]

French Revolution

File:Cruikshank - The Radical's Arms.png

1819 Caricature by English caricaturist George Cruikshank. Titled "The Radical's Arms", it depicts the infamous guillotine. "No God! No Religion! No King! No Constitution!" is written in the republican banner.

During the French Revolution, for the first time in history, a society delved into the prospect of an atheist state.[10] After the Revolution, Jacques Hébert, a radical revolutionary journalist, and Anacharsis Cloots, a politician, both anticlerical and atheist, had successfully campaigned for the proclamation of the atheistic [11] Cult of Reason, which was adopted by the French Republic on November 10, 1793, though abandoned May 7, 1794 in favor of its deistic replacement as the state religion, the Cult of the Supreme Being.[12] Cloots maintained that "Reason" and "Truth" were "supremely intolerant" and that the daylight of atheism would make the lesser lights of religious night disappear.[12] The state then further pushed its campaign of dechristianization,[13] which included removal and destruction of religious objects from places of worship and the transformation of churches into "Temples of the Goddess of Reason", culminating in a celebration of Reason in Notre Dame Cathedral.[14][15][16]

Counterrevolution against the persecution rooted in the anticlerical aspects of the Revolution led to a war in the Vendée region where republicans suppressed the Catholic and royalist uprising in what some call the first modern genocide.[10][17]

Unlike later establishments of anti-theism by "communist" regimes, the French Revolutionary experiment was short (7 months), incomplete and inconsistent.[13] Although brief, the French experiment was particularly notable for the influence upon atheists Ludwig Feuerbach (who called religion an opiate before Marx[18]), Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx.[10] Using the ideas of Feuerbach, Marx and Freud, "communist" regimes later treated religious believers as subversives or abnormal, often relegated to psychiatric hospitals and reeducation.[10]

Religion in Communist countries

By 1970 all 22 nations of central and eastern Europe which were behind the Iron Curtain were de jure atheistic, promoting it, ideologically linked to it and opposed on principle to all religion.[19] Communist regimes elsewhere took similar approaches.

Karl Marx saw religion as the "opium of the people" in the sense that it gives illusory happiness; real happiness for Marx comes only when a worker controls the fruits of his own labor, which he says is achieved only in a communist society.[20] Critics[who?] argue this has motivated certain communist regimes to curtail religious freedom or seek to suppress religion because they considered it a suppressive, subversive set of guidelines, and thereby attached the charge of sedition to certain religions. Allen D. Hertzke further asserts that, while many intellectuals in the West mistakenly believed religion would lose strength as a result of adopting modern technology and rational forms of social organization, communism attempted to "accelerate the secularization process by force."[21]

However, the evolutionary biologist and outspoken advocate of atheism, Richard Dawkins argues that Stalin and Mao's atrocities were influenced not by atheism but by their dogmatic Marxism, saying that while Stalin and Mao were atheists and antitheists, they did not do their deeds in the name of atheism.[3][2] In response to this, Christian Evangelical author and noted critic of atheism Dinesh D'Souza argued that communism was an explicitly atheist ideology.[22] Sam Harris argued that such atrocities are not examples of what happens when humans reject religious dogma, rather they are what happens when political dogma run amok.[23]

Enver Hoxha's regime in Albania set out to abolish all religion with the intention of making the country officially atheistic: Article 37 of the Albanian constitution of 1976 stated that "The State recognizes no religion, and supports atheistic propaganda in order to implant a scientific materialistic world outlook in people."[24]

Socialist People's Republic of Albania


State atheism in Albania was taken to an extreme during the totalitarian regime installed after World War II, when religions, identified as imports foreign to Albanian culture, were banned altogether.[25]

The Agrarian Reform Law of August 1945 nationalized most property of religious institutions, including the estates of monasteries, orders, and dioceses. Many clergy and believers were tried, tortured, and executed. All foreign Roman Catholic priests, monks, and nuns were expelled in 1946.[26]

Religious communities or branches that had their headquarters outside the country, such as the Jesuit and Franciscan orders, were henceforth ordered to terminate their activities in Albania. Religious institutions were forbidden to have anything to do with the education of the young, because that had been made the exclusive province of the state. All religious communities were prohibited from owning real estate and from operating philanthropic and welfare institutions and hospitals. Although there were tactical variations in Hoxha's approach to each of the major denominations, his overarching objective was the eventual destruction of all organized religion in Albania. Between 1945 and 1953, the number of priests was reduced drastically and the number of Roman Catholic churches was decreased from 253 to 100, and all Catholics were stigmatized as fascists.[26]

The campaign against religion peaked in the 1960s. Beginning in 1967 the Albanian authorities began a violent campaign to try to eliminate religious life in Albania. Despite complaints, even by APL members, all churches, mosques, monasteries, and other religious institutions were either closed down or converted into warhouses, gymnasiums, or workshops by the end of 1967.[27] By May 1967, religious institutions had been forced to relinquish all 2,169 churches, mosques, cloisters, and shrines in Albania, many of which were converted into cultural centers for young people. As the literary monthly Nendori reported the event, the youth had thus "created the first atheist nation in the world."[26]

The clergy were publicly vilified and humiliated, their vestments taken and desecrated. More than 200 clerics of various faiths were imprisoned, others were forced to seek work in either industry or agriculture, and some were executed or starved to death. The cloister of the Franciscan order in Shkodër was set on fire, which resulted in the death of four elderly monks.[26]

Article 37 of the Albanian Constitution of 1976 stipulated, "The State recognizes no religion, and supports atheistic propaganda in order to implant a scientific materialistic world outlook in people.",[28] and the penal code of 1977 imposed prison sentences of three to ten years for "religious propaganda and the production, distribution, or storage of religious literature." A new decree that in effect targeted Albanians with Christian names stipulated that citizens whose names did not conform to "the political, ideological, or moral standards of the state" were to change them. It was also decreed that towns and villages with religious names must be renamed. Hoxha's brutal antireligious campaign succeeded in eradicating formal worship, but some Albanians continued to practice their faith clandestinely, risking severe punishment. Individuals caught with Bibles, icons, or other religious objects faced long prison sentences. Religious weddings were prohibited.[29] Parents were afraid to pass on their faith, for fear that their children would tell others. Officials tried to entrap practicing Christians and Muslims during religious fasts, such as Lent and Ramadan, by distributing dairy products and other forbidden foods in school and at work, and then publicly denouncing those who refused the food, and clergy who conducted secret services were incarcerated.[26] Catholic priest Shtjefen Kurti, had been executed for secretly baptizing a child in Shkodër in 1972.[30]

The article was interpreted by Danes as violating The United Nations Charter (chapter 9, article 55) which declares that religious freedom is an inalienable human right. The first time that the question came before the United Nations' Commission on Human Rights at Geneva was as late as 7 March 1983. A delegation from Denmark got its protest over Albania's violation of religious liberty placed on the agenda of the thirty-ninth meeting of the commission, item 25, reading, "Implementation of the Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination based on Religion or Belief.", and on 20 July 1984 a member of the Danish Parliament inserted an article in one of Denmark's major newspapers protesting the violation of religious freedom in Albania.

The Soviet Union

File:1922 Bezbozhnik magazine cover.jpg

USSR. 1922 issue of the Bezbozhnik (The Godless) magazine. By 1934, 28% of Christian Orthodox churches, 42% of Muslim mosques and 52% of Jewish synagogues were shut down in the USSR.[31]

State atheism in the Soviet Union was known as "gosateizm,[32] and was based on the ideology of Marxism-Leninism. As the founder of the Soviet state V. I. Lenin put it:

Religion is the opium of the people: this saying of Marx is the cornerstone of the entire ideology of Marxism about religion. All modern religions and churches, all and of every kind of religious organizations are always considered by Marxism as the organs of bourgeois reaction, used for the protection of the exploitation and the stupefaction of the working class.[33]

Marxism-Leninism has consistently advocated the control, suppression,and, ultimately, the elimination of religious beliefs. Within about a year of the revolution the state expropriated all church property, including the churches themselves, and in the period from 1922 to 1926, 28 Russian Orthodox bishops and more than 1,200 priests were killed (a much greater number was subjected to persecution).[34]

In the 1920s and 1930s, such organizations as the League of the Militant Godless ridiculed all religions and harassed believers. Atheism was propagated through schools, communist organizations (such as the Young Pioneer Organization), and the media. Though Lenin originally introduced the Gregorian calendar to the Soviets subsequent efforts to re-organise the week for the purposes of improving worker productivity with the introduction of the Soviet revolutionary calendar had a side-effect that a "holiday will seldom fall on Sunday" [35]

Although all religions were persecuted,[34] the regime's efforts to eradicate religion, however, varied over the years with respect to particular religions, and were affected by higher state interests. Official policies and practices not only varied with time but also in their application from one nationality and one religion to another. Although all Soviet leaders had the same long-range goal of developing a cohesive Soviet people, they pursued different policies to achieve it. For the Soviet regime, the questions of nationality and religion were always closely linked. Not surprisingly, therefore, the attitude toward religion also varied from a total ban on some religions to official support of others.

Most seminaries were closed, publication of religious writing was banned.[34] The Russian Orthodox Church, which had 54,000 parishes before World War I, was reduced to 500 by 1940.[34] Today, approximately 100 million citizens consider themselves Russian Orthodox Christians, amounting to 70% of population, although the Church claims a membership of 80 million[36][37] although according to the CIA Factbook, only 17 to 22 percent of the population is now Christian.[38]

The People's Republic of China

Template:Further The People's Republic of China was established in 1949 and since then the government has been officially atheist.[39][40] For much of its early history maintained a hostile attitude toward religion which was seen as emblematic of feudalism and foreign colonialism. Houses of worship, including temples, mosques, and churches, were converted into non-religious buildings for secular use.

In the early years of the People's Republic, religious belief or practice was often discouraged because it was regarded by the government as backward and superstitious and because some Communist leaders, ranging from Vladimir Lenin to Mao Zedong, had been critical of religious institutions. During the Cultural Revolution, religion was condemned as feudalistic and thousands of religious buildings were looted and destroyed.

This attitude, however, relaxed considerably in the late 1970s, with the end of the Cultural Revolution. The 1978 Constitution of the People's Republic of China guaranteed "freedom of religion" with a number of restrictions. Since the mid-1990s there has been a massive program to rebuild Buddhist and Taoist temples that were destroyed in the Cultural Revolution.

The Communist Party has said that religious belief and membership are incompatible. Party membership is a necessity for many high level careers and posts. That along with other official hostility makes statistical reporting on religious membership difficult. There are five recognized religions by the state: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholic Christianity, and Protestant Christianity.[41]

Most people report no organized religious affiliation; however, people with a belief in folk traditions and spiritual beliefs, such as ancestor veneration and feng shui, along with informal ties to local temples and unofficial house churches number in the hundreds of millions. The United States Department of State, in its annual report on International Religious Freedom,[42] gives possibly the most reliable statistics about organized religions. In 2007 it reported the following (citing the Government's 1997 report on Religious Freedom and 2005 White Paper on religion):[43]

  • Buddhists 8%. According to other sources at least 50% and possibly as high as 91%.[44][45]
  • Taoists, unknown as a percentage partly because it is fused along with Confucianism and Buddhism. According to some sources it's at least 30%.[46][47]
  • Muslims, 1.5%, with more than 45,000 Imams. Other estimates state at least 2%.
  • Christians, Protestants at least 2%. Catholics, about 1.5%. Total Christians according to 2008 different polls: 4%.[citation needed]

Statistics relating to Buddhism and religious Taoism are to some degree incomparable with statistics for Islam and Christianity. This is due to the traditional Chinese belief system which blends Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism, so that a person who follows a traditional belief system would not necessarily identify him- or herself as exclusively Buddhist or Taoist, despite attending Buddhist or Taoist places of worship.

Mexico under Plutarco Elías Calles

The Mexican Constitution of 1917's Articles 3, 5, 24, 27, and 130 as originally enacted were anticlerical and "enomously" restricted religious freedoms.[48] At first the anticlerical provisions were only sporadically enforced, but when President Plutarco Calles took office, he enforced the provisions strictly.[48] Calles’ Mexico has been characterized as an atheist state[49][50] and his program as being one to eradicate religion in Mexico.[51]

All religions, had their properties appropriated and these became part of government wealth. Their was a forced expulsion of foreign clergy and the seizure of Church properties.[52] Article 27 prohibited any future acquisition of such property by the churches, and ordered the closing of all church-run primary schools (article 4). This second prohibition was sometimes interpreted to mean that the Church could not even give religious instruction to children within the churches on Sundays, effectively destroying the ability of Catholics to be educated in their own religion.[52]

The Constitution of 1917 also closed and forbade the existence of monastic orders (article 5), forbade any religious activity outside of church buildings (now owned by the government), and mandated that such religious activity would be overseen by the government (article 24).[52]


Cristeros hanged in Jalisco.

On June 14, 1926, President Calles enacted an anticlerical legislation known formally as The Law Reforming the Penal Code and unofficially as the Calles Law.[53] His anti-Catholic actions included outlawing religious orders, depriving the Church of property rights and depriving the clergy of civil liberties, including their right to trial by jury (in cases involving anti-clerical laws) and the right to vote.[53][54] Catholic antipathy towards Calles was enhanced because of his vocal atheism.[55] He was also a Freemason.[56] Regarding this period, recent President Vicente Fox stated, "After 1917, Mexico was led by anti-Catholic Freemasons who tried to evoke the anticlerical spirit of popular indigenous President Benito Juárez of the 1880s. But the military dictators of the 1920s were a more savage lot than Juarez." [57]

Due to the strict enforcement of anti-clerical laws, people in strongly Catholic areas, especially the states of Jalisco, Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Colima and Michoacán, began to oppose him, and this opposition led to the Cristero War from 1926 to 1929, which was characterized by brutal atrocities by both sides. Some Cristeros applied terrorist tactics, while the Mexican government persecuted the clergy, killing suspected Cristeros and supporters and often retaliating against innocent individuals.[58] On May 28, 1926, Calles was awarded a medal of merit from the head of Mexico's Scottish rite of Freemasonry for his actions against the Catholics.[59]

A truce was negotiated with the assistance of U.S. Ambassador Dwight Whitney Morrow.[60] Calles, however, did not abide by the terms of the truce – in violation of its terms, he had approximately 500 Cristero leaders and 5,000 other Cristeros shot, frequently in their homes in front of their spouses and children.[60] Particularly offensive to Catholics after the supposed truce was Calles' insistence on a complete state monopoly on education, suppressing all Catholic education and introducing "socialist" education in its place: "We must enter and take possession of the mind of childhood, the mind of youth.".[61] The persecution continued as Calles maintained control under his Maximato and did not relent until 1940, when President Manuel Ávila Camacho, a believing Catholic, took office.[61]

The effects of the war on the Church were profound. Between 1926 and 1934 at least 40 priests were killed.[61] Where there were 4,500 priests serving the people before the rebellion, in 1934 there were only 334 priests licensed by the government to serve fifteen million people, the rest having been eliminated by emigration, expulsion, and assassination.[61][62] By 1935, 17 states had no priest at all.[63]

Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge

Template:Further Though the constitution of Democratic Kampuchea guaranteed the right to worship according to any religion and the right not to worship according to any religion, it also provided that "Reactionary religions which are detrimental to Democratic Kampuchea and Kampuchean people are absolutely forbidden."[64] Religious people were killed in the killing fields, as the leader of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot, suppressed Cambodia's Buddhists: monks were defrocked; temples and artifacts, including statues of Buddha, were destroyed; and people praying or expressing other religious sentiments were often killed. The Christian and Muslim communities were among the most persecuted, as well. The Roman Catholic cathedral of Phnom Penh was completely razed. The Khmer Rouge forced Muslims to eat pork, which they regard as an abomination. Many of those who refused were killed. Christian clergy and Muslim imams were executed.[65][66] Forty-eight percent of Cambodia's Christians were killed because of their religion.[citation needed]

Mongolian People's Republic

In 1936, and especially after Japanese encroachments had given the Soviets enough reason to deploy Soviet troops in Mongolia in 1937, a whole-scale attack on the Buddhist faith began. At the same time, Soviet-style purges took place in the Communist Party and in the Mongolian army. Mongolia's leader at that time was Khorloogiin Choibalsan, a follower of Joseph Stalin who emulated many of the policies Stalin had implemented in the Soviet Union. The purges led to the almost complete eradiction of Lamaism in the country, and cost an estimated 30,000–35,000 lives.


Originally more tolerant of religion, after the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Cuba began arresting many believers and shutting down religious schools, its prisons since the 1960s being filled with clergy.[67] Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba has amended its statutes to declare itself a "secular state" rather than atheistic but, as a practical matter, continued from 2006–2009 to harshly repress believers.[67]

In 1961 The Cuban government confiscated the Catholic schools, including the Jesuit school Fidel Castro had attended. In 1965 it exiled two hundred priests.[68]

Pope John Paul II visited Cuba January 21–25, 1998, the first time a pope had visited Cuba and the first time since the Communist Revolution of 1959 that a papal visit was welcome.[69] The main reason for the visit was not to call the Communist government to task, but to carry out a pastoral visit to the Catholic community and to deliver a message of evangelization.[70] In his farewell statement to the pope at the airport Fidel Castro thanked the pope for visiting the "last bastion of Communism."[68]

In 2009, when welcoming Cuba's new ambassador to the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI said that the Catholic Church had been trying to help suffering Cubans and, thanks to a new government willingness to cooperate, it was able to take part in emergency relief and reconstruction efforts after hurricanes struck the island in 2008. The pope went on to say, "I hope concrete signs of openness to the exercise of religious freedom continue to multiply as they have in recent years,". In particular, he asked for "the opportunity to celebrate Holy Mass in some prisons, to conduct religious processions, for the repair and return of some churches and the construction of houses for religious, (and) the possibility that priests and religious could receive social security. In this way, the Catholic community could more freely exercise its specific pastoral task."[71]

North Korea

North Korea's government exercises virtual total control over society and imposes state sanctioned atheism, and the cult of personality of Kim Jung Il and Kim Il Sung have been described as a political religion.[72] Although the North Korean constitution states that freedom of religion is permitted,[73] free religious activities no longer exist in North Korea as the government sponsors religious groups only to create an illusion of religious freedom.[74][75] Cardinal Nicolas Cheong Jin-suk has said that, "There's no knowledge of priests surviving persecution that came in the late forties, when 166 priests and religious were killed or kidnapped." which includes the Roman Catholic bishop of Pyongyang, Francis Hong Yong-ho.[76]

Continuing state atheism

While much of Communism is now defunct, the remaining communist states of China, Vietnam, Laos, North Korea and Cuba, despite some economic liberalization, continue to persecute the religious.[67] In addition to overt persecution, these states also seek to control religion by forcing upon the people state sanctioned churches, essentially attempting to make the churches tools of the state.[67]

Religious legacy of state atheism

Author Niels Christian Nielsen has written that the post-Soviet population in areas which were formerly predominantly Orthodox are now "nearly illiterate regarding religion", almost completely lacking the intellectual or philosophical aspects of their faith and having almost no knowledge of other faiths.[77] Nonetheless, their knowledge of their faith and the faith of others notwithstanding, many post-Soviet populations have a large presence of religious followers. In Russia, the 2007 International Religious Freedom Report published by the US Department of State said that approximately 100 million citizens consider themselves Russian Orthodox Christians.[78] According to a poll by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center, 63% of respondents considered themselves Russian Orthodox, 6% of respondents considered themselves Muslim and less than 1% considered themselves either Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant or Jewish. Another 12% said they believe in God, but did not practice any religion, and 16% said they are non-believers.[79] In Ukraine, 96.1% of the Ukrainian population is Christian.[80] In Lithuania, a 2005 report stated that 79% of Lithuanians belonged to the Roman Catholic Church.[81] Most Poles—approximately 88.4% in 2007, are members of the Roman Catholic Church.[82] According to the CIA World Factbook and the U.S. Department of State, 60% of Mongolia's population are religious.[83][84] Likewise, despite the Soviet Union's attempts to eliminate religion,[85][86][87] other former USSR and anti-religious nations, such as Armenia,[88] Kazakhstan,[89] Uzbekistan,[90] Turkmenistan,[91] Kyrgyzstan,[92] Tajikistan,[93] Belarus,[94][95] Moldova,[96] Mexico,[97] Albania,[98] and Georgia[99] have high religious populations.[100]

See also

[[Image:Template:Portal/Images/Default |x28px]] Atheism portal


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  18. Luo, Zhufeng Religion under socialism in China, p. 151, M.E. Sharpe 1991
  19. Haynes, Jeff Routledge Handbook of Religion & Politics, p. 183, Taylor and Francis 2009
  20. Marx (1844).
  21. Hertzke (2006):12
  22. Vox Day (Theodore Bealeun), "Dinesh D'Souza Interview," Vox Populi, October 29, 2007
  24. C. Education, Science, Culture, the Albanian Constitution of 1976.
  25. Representations of Place: Albania, Derek R. Hall, The Geographical Journal, Vol. 165, No. 2, The Changing Meaning of Place in Post-Socialist Eastern Europe: Commodification, Perception and Environment (Jul., 1999), pp. 161–172, Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers)
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  54. Tuck, Jim THE CRISTERO REBELLION – PART 1 Mexico Connect 1996
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  72. Hertzke (2006):44
  77. Nielsen, Niels Christian, Jr., Christianity After Communism, p. 77-78, Westview Press 1998
  78. "Russia". Retrieved 2008-04-08.
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  86. Sabrina Petra Ramet, Ed., Religious Policy in the Soviet Union. Cambridge University Press (1993). P 4
  87. John Anderson, Religion, State and Politics in the Soviet Union and Successor States, Cambridge University Press, 1994, pp 3
  88. "The Armenian Apostolic Church (World Council of Churches)".
  89. International Religious Freedom Report 2009 – Kazakhstan U.S. Department of State. 2009-10-26. Retrieved on 2009-11-05.
  90. "Uzbekistan". 2009-10-16. Retrieved 2010-05-02.
  92. "Kyrgyzstan". Retrieved 2010-04-17.
  93. "Background Note: Tajikistan". Retrieved 2009-10-02.
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  98. CIA World Factbvook : Albania, reporting Muslim 70%, Albanian Orthodox 20%, Roman Catholic 10%, but noting, "percentages are estimates; there are no available current statistics on religious affiliation; all mosques and churches were closed in 1967 and religious observances prohibited; in November 1990, Albania began allowing private religious practice"
  100. Miller, Tracy, ed. (October 2009). "Mapping the Global Muslim Population: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Muslim Population" (PDF). Pew Research Center. Retrieved 8 October 2009.[dead link]


External links

Template:Relpolnav Template:Religious persecution Template:Atheism Template:Belief systems

es:Ateísmo de estado ko:국가 무신론주의 id:Negara ateis it:Ateismo di Stato he:אתאיזם מדיני no:Statsateisme pl:Ateizm państwowy pt:Estado ateu ro:Stat ateu ru:Атеистическое государство sh:Državni ateizam fi:Valtioateismi tr:Devlet ateizmi zh:国家无神论

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