Religious Liberty in Transitional Societies: The Politics of Religion

By John Anderson | Go to book overview
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Southern Europe: Spain and Greece

Democratisation’s ‘third wave’ started to roll in Southern Europe during the mid-1970s, in Portugal, Greece and Spain. Though this was a region with many differences, for outside commentators there was still a feeling that these countries were somehow separate from ‘normal’ Europe.1 In particular these were ‘late’ modernisers, countries steeped in clientelistic politics and a social conservatism often, though not entirely accurately, seen to be rooted in the superstitious piety of the largely rural masses. Indeed in Spain at least it was arguably the bourgeoisie that provided the traditionalist bedrock of the system. In all three a dominant religious tradition claimed a monopoly of influence, and one that was broadly accepted by the state. Historically only in Spain had anti-clericalism become a serious political issue, though in all three many intellectuals despised religious institutions and the growing industrial sector of the workforce was increasingly alienated from organised religion. By the early 1970s each of these countries faced incipient crisis as ageing dictators or politically inept officers struggled to come to terms with a Europe unsympathetic to their particular political visions. And in the two countries examined in this study Spain and Greece political transition was hastened by the death of a dictator in the former and an inept military adventure in the latter. In response to these developments sections within the political elite seized control of the process of change and ensured that what followed was essentially ‘democratisation from above’, especially in Greece where the old conservative establishment largely oversaw the process of change. In Spain the process drew in most political forces and was rooted in a political and civil society that had been increasingly influential from the early 1960s onwards. This elite manipulation of change ensured a degree of stability that served to see the two countries through the transition process and permit the eventual peaceful turnover of power to others during the 1980s. At the same time the transition phase raised new problems for traditionally dominant religious institutions both in regard to their public role and their relationship to the social and religious pluralism that ensued.

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