Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Jehova's Witnesses in Post-Communist Romania: The Relationship between the Religious Minority and the State (1989-2010)

Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Jehova's Witnesses in Post-Communist Romania: The Relationship between the Religious Minority and the State (1989-2010)

Article excerpt

Abstract: This study aims at chronicling current aspects and transformations in the relationship between the Jehovah's Witnesses religious minority and the Romanian state (1989-2010), focusing on this religious group's changing official status. Considering both previous contributions and debates on the relations between state and religion, and the distinction between the concepts of denomination versus sect, the present work analyzes the key issues of the long-lasting conflict between the state and this particular religious minority, as well as the factors influencing these relations in Post-Communist Romania. It will be argued that the latest improvements concerning the recognition of religious freedom (Jehovah's Witnesses were officially recognized as a religious denomination in 2003) owes less to internal factors than to an external influence, namely the pressure exerted by the international community at the time of Romania's accession to both NATO and the EU. Furthermore, the study concludes that the evolution of the relation between the state and the Jehovah's Witnesses has influenced the background on which this relation has evolved, as well as the internal evolution of the religious minority.

Key Words: Jehovah's Witnesses, Post-Communism, Religious minority, Romania, Romanian Orthodox Church, state.

Introduction

As a religious minority, Romanian Jehovah's Witnesses have had a traumatic history during the 20th century, marked by the repression exerted by the dictatorial regimes between 1938-1944 and 1947-1989.1 This repression has left deep marks on the Romanian Jehovah's Witnesses community, influencing its further evolution. Also, despite the fact that repression ended after 1989, the relations between this religious minority and the Romanian state and society have been beset by difficulties. The Romanian Jehovah's Witnesses community was only recognized as an official religious denomination as recently as 2003. The period between the legal recognition of this religious organization in 1990 (officially known as Organizatia Religioasa "Martorii lui Iehova" din România/ Jehovah's Witnesses Association of Romania) and its recognition as an official denomination in 2003 was characterized by a series of conflicts with central or local authorities, disputes that frequently resulted in trials.

The relevance of the relations between state and Romanian Jehovah's Witnesses during the Post-Communist period resides in various aspects. The conflict between the Romanian Jehovah's Witnesses community and the state was, due to its intensity and effects, one of the most significant among the conflicts involving the state and the different religious communities in Post-Communist Romania. In the case of the Romanian Jehovah's Witnesses, the conflict has brought to light key issues concerning religion in Post- Communist Romania such as the development of the connections between the state and the Romanian Orthodox Church (henceforth ROC), the procedures for gaining the official denomination status, the issue of religion as taught in schools and, in general, the evolution of religious freedom in Romania.

This article aims at analyzing the relationship between the Romanian Jehovah's Witnesses minority and the Romanian state in 1989-2010, placing emphasis on this religious group's changing official status. Our analysis will be based on the information provided by APADOR (Asociatia Pentru Apararea Drepturilor Omului din Romania - Comitetul Helsinki/ Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Romania - The Helsinki Committee) and Amnesty International reports, legal documents issued by the Romanian state institutions, informational materials published by the religious group itself after 1989, as well as press articles regarding the issue.

In order to analyze the general context as well as the factors that underpinned the evolution of this relationship, a series of concepts shall be used focusing on two aspects of the problem debated here: (1) the definition of the state-church relations in Europe in general and Eastern Europe in particular; and (2) the definition of the specificity of the Romanian Jehovah's Witnesses religious minority vis-à-vis the society within which it functions. …

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