Being Baptist and Being Czech: A Specific Identity in Romania

Article excerpt

Abstract: In Romania, the Baptist denomination includes, according to the 2002 census, about 130,000 believers, subsequent to the Pentecostal denomination. Areas having a large number of followers are Banat and some parts of Transylvania; besides these, there can be added large urban areas such as Bucharest, Timisoara, Constanta, Cluj-Napoca, Oradea, and Arad. In terms of ethnicity, Romanians represent the majority, followed by the Hungarians (Hungarian Baptist Convention). One of the smallest minorities in Romania, that is the Czechs, also provides a number of believers, in the village of SfÎnta Elena (Coronini Township, Caras-Severin County) being the only Czech Baptist community in our country. Here, besides Catholics, a Baptist community is to be found, twice as small and of fairly recent origin. In the following, we intend to outline its image, based on field observations and interviews carried out between 2005-2010 (All of these have been materialised in our book, Istorie si memorie În comunitatile cehilor din Clisura Dunarii). We paid a particular interest in the neo-Protestant group, in order to identify means of building the image of another group with a different faith, considering the double minority, ethnic and religious status. Also, we tried to capture the ratio of forces between two different faith groups that were facing the same economic and social problems, problems that have caused the depopulation of villages, by massive migration of people to the Czech Republic.

Key Words: Baptist, Evangelical, Czechs, Banat, religion, identity, Catholic

Introduction

In Romania, the Baptist denomination includes, according to the 2002 census, about 130,000 believers1, subsequent to the Pentecostal denomination. One of the smallest minorities in Romania, that is the Czechs, also provides a number of believers, in the village of SfÎnta Elena (Coronini Township, Caras-Severin County) being the only Czech Baptist community in our country. Most representatives of the Czech minority live in Banat; for the most part, they are descendants of settlers brought in by the Habsburg Empire (they arrived in a few waves, since 1823). Nowadays, from the colonies founded in the South-Western part of the province at the first half of the 19th century, there are only six of them (SfÎnta Elena, GÎrnic, Bigar, Ravenska, Sumita, Eibenthal) where the Czech population is homogeneous, an ethnic group different not only as for origin and language, but also in beliefs. Excepting the first colony, in the other settlements lives a population of Roman Catholic beliefs.

At the beginning of our documentation process, we started off with the prerequisites that religious identity represents an important dimension in defining the group, regardless of their members' options. The research process revealed that the double status, of Czech and Catholic/neo-Protestant, made survival possible in a hostile environment among strangers, those known as Pemi2. The interview guide applied included questions related to the establishment of the place, socialeconomic and cultural aspects; in the case of religious dimension, our intention was granting as much as possible freedom to the interlocutor. Thus, the tellers emphasized upon the points considered important by them3, and which, form their perspective, particularises Baptism, especially in relation to Catholicism. To the researcher, the material collected through discussions and participative observation (direct and indirect4) outlined the specific nature of the Baptist Czechs' community, explained through - from our perspective - a specific ethnic identity, developed within an enclave, following strictly certain moral and behavioural rules5. In addition to this, there are amiable social relations with the Catholic group with which they coexist and one moderate discourse, in the name of tolerance, in which the other is sensed only as different, not as enemy.

Since 1989, the Romanian scientific world's interest for the neo- Protestants communities remains fairly low, even though it has become obvious a certain tendency to rediscover divinity (at least among some excommunist states), along the release of the national churches (and many more) from the restrictions of the political regime6. …