Politics and Religion in Central and Eastern Europe: Traditions and Transitions

By William H. Swatos Jr | Go to book overview
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responsibility to generate and spread a "lay counterculture" opposing the official political culture which, in their eyes, is overburdened with "clericalism." Such a development indicates that a new political polarization is taking place in Poland, opposing, with regard to the problem of the place and status of the religious and the church, the adherents to a definition of identity based on open criteria to those adhering to a definition of identity based on closed criteria.


It is naturally hazardous to anticipate which of the many intermediate forms of the spectrum, ranging from a clericalization of the political to a liquidation of the social influence of the religious, will constitute the relationship between the Catholic church and Polish society. The definition of these forms is inseparable from the current recomposition of the Polish sociopolitical scene. The redistribution of the roles of the church and the religious is very much a function of the parallel redistributions of the political.

The future of Catholicism in Poland depends on a considerable number of variables, of which only some can be directly influenced by the church. The fact remains that the church was obviously more at ease in organizing a confrontation aimed at the totality than in any action directed toward stemming its own breakdown. Yet today it is this very perspective that the church has to face, in a country that must, in a context of multiple crises, define the rules of a fundamentally new social game.

The weakness of the democratic tradition and the gravity of the socioeconomic crisis in Poland might produce a popular desire for a strong power, at the heart of which the church would be tempted to take its place. This would be to risk a return to the situation that existed between the two world wars, to a form of confusion between the religious and the nation-state, the latter feeding the former with legitimizing stereotypes.

In considering the magnitude of the problems confronting the societies of Central Europe, it is evident that the incantational references to Western democracy and to the market economy with which it is associated are far from being enough to assure that a difficult transition goes smoothly. Fundamentally, the collapse of the East-West polarization means a redefinition of identities, of their constitutional criteria and their indispensable points of reference. The privileged vector of this affirmation of identity, the religious, is permanently solicited to lend itself to this enterprise of redefinition which is involving (or will involve) the societies of both the East and the West, as well as those of the North and the South; that is, the transition passing through Central


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Politics and Religion in Central and Eastern Europe: Traditions and Transitions


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