Religion and Politics in Neighboring Belarus and Poland: Gender Dimensions

By Titarenko, Larissa | Demokratizatsiya, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

Religion and Politics in Neighboring Belarus and Poland: Gender Dimensions


Titarenko, Larissa, Demokratizatsiya


During the years of postcommunist transition, the major developments in neighbors Belarus and Poland were quite different. Poland became a liberal democratic state belonging to Europe politically and economically. Belarus maintained its communist heritage, which influences the population's values and everyday life.

However, some similar value changes took place in Belarus and Poland as well. One important change relates to religion. In Soviet times, Belarusians were officially nonreligious; however, after the collapse of the USSR many Belarusians expressed their religious attitudes and beliefs. In Belarus, as in many other post-Soviet republics, the population experienced a religious renaissance. Although the level of religiosity is still much lower than in Poland, religious beliefs are on the rise in Belarus.

The second important change in major values relates to politics: unlike in Soviet days in Belarus, the level of political interest is now very low, and in Poland, the sphere of politics is even less attractive for most of the population. Both dimensions, religion and politics, have gender specifics in each country. In this article, I examine those features based on the results of the last European Values surveys (of 1999 for Poland and of 2000 for Belarus). (1) I explore national differences in the religious values in Belarus and Poland and describe the political shifts with a strong focus on gender dimensions.

Belarus and Poland: Similarities and Differences

Poland and Belarus are in the center of Europe. Until recently, for several decades they belonged to the socialist world. Before the period of socialism, Poland and Belarus were parts of tsarist Russia for more than a century. Even earlier, during the Middle Ages, the territory of contemporary Belarus was part of Poland, so that both Poles and Belarusians lived together, experiencing the same legal rules, civic habits, cultural traditions, and so on. Even their languages have much in common, so that Belarusians easily understand Poles and vice versa.

Having such an interrelated history, the two Slavic nations have many common features in their cultures. For the same historical and cultural reasons, they also have many differences in their pasts that influence their present situation.

First, Poland was an independent state for most of its history. Even when it was part of the socialist world, with the political center in Moscow, Poland kept its independence and enjoyed fundamental privileges among socialist countries, such as the prevalence of private property in agriculture and the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church in spiritual life. Belarus, on the contrary, practically appeared on the map of Europe in 1991 after the collapse of the USSR. Since 1919, Belarus had been a part of the multinational Soviet state and totally followed the Soviet political principles emanating from Moscow. After World War II, Belarus was represented in the United Nations, but like other Soviet republics it did not enjoy real political independence. The previous national culture of Belarus was suppressed, and a new "socialist culture" was cultivated during Soviet days.

Second, the Polish nobility were famous in Europe for their liberal rules and liberal freedoms (such as liberum veto) at the time when many other European countries were authoritarian monarchies. Poland had a parliament and some democratic practices for centuries before partition of the country at the end of the eighteenth century. Belarus has been ruled by foreigners (Lithuanians, Poles, Russians) for most of its history.

Third, Poland recently has joined NATO and is preparing to enter the European Union, indications of its clear pro-western political orientation. Belarus has stayed under Russian political influence even ten years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. For more than seven decades, the people of Belarus shared so-called Soviet values, socialist traditions, norms, and the like.

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