Secularism in Republic of Moldova-Politics of Religion or Religious Politics: Where Do We Draw the Boundaries?

By Panainte, Sergiu | Romanian Journal of Political Science, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Secularism in Republic of Moldova-Politics of Religion or Religious Politics: Where Do We Draw the Boundaries?


Panainte, Sergiu, Romanian Journal of Political Science


Abstract

This paper focuses on the relationship between church and state in the Republic of Moldova, and particularly on the increasingly-blurred boundaries between the two. Given the fact that the ruling party is Communist, it seems even more inconceivable that a "union" between state and church could even be possible. The research presented here answers what is behind this sudden alliance of state and church, and which party benefits from relationship. In answering this, this paper draws on secularism theory, particularly the reasons this theory offers for why we still have modern or modernizing states where the institutions of church and state are intermixed. The findings show that the alliance between state and church in Moldova was possible after the government lost the case at the European Court of Human Rights concerning the issue of recognizing and registering the Bessarabian Orthodox Church, which was in conflict with Moldovan Orthodox Church (MOC). This event fostered an alliance between MOC and the ruling Communist party, and as a result the MOC became another tool in the political arsenal of the governing party used to win the support of the electorate by any possible means.

Key words: church-state relations, secularism, Bessarabian Metropolitanate, transition.

Introduction

In his famous quotation Marx called religion " the opiate for the masses". One could argue that religion in Republic of Moldova is falling under such a categorization, since the Christian Orthodox Church, of which 90% of the population belongs to (1), has overwhelming authority over the religious life in the country. This comes as a consequence of the rich Christian tradition in this part of the world, where in a patriarchal society religion is meant to exert and maintain control over the population. After the fall of Communism and the collapse of the Soviet Union, religion has retaken its role within the society, namely, to help organize the spiritual life of believers and ensure their need to be in touch with the supernatural. However, religion and the institutions dealing with this are officially confined to act within constitutional limits, making Moldova a de jure secular state. Given that the ruling party in Moldova is Communist, it seems even more inconceivable that a "union" between state and church could even be possible. Here it is important to mention that by church I mean the Moldovan Orthodox Church (MOC), since there are two Orthodox denominations: the above-mentioned MOC and the Bessarabian Orthodox Church (BOC). The former has, according to the State Service for Religions, 1,224 parishes while the BOC has 199 parishes (2).

The research presented here answers what is behind this sudden alliance of state and church, and which party benefits from this relationship. For this purpose, I intend to build my argument on Jose Casanova's "Public Religions in the Modern World" (3) and his analysis theory of secularization. Furthermore, I will use empirical information directly from Moldova to support my initial hypothesis that the alliance between state and church in Moldova was possible after the government lost the case at the European Court of Human Rights on the issue of recognizing the BOC. Since recognition of the BOC would provoke a "schism" within the Orthodox community in Moldova, and the MOC asked for privileged relations with the government and an alliance between the MOC and the Communist party was born. In return for the government's support, the MOC became another tool in the political arsenal of the ruling party used to win the support of the electorate.

Secularism and theory of secularization: where should religion find its place within society?

Secularism as a concept has its roots in the Christian tradition, specifically in the Latin word saeculum, which means century, age or world (4). Casanova argues that in using the term secularization one often makes a distinction between two worlds when there are in fact three: "Spatially, there was "the other world" (heaven) and "this world" (earth), but "this world" was itself divided between the religious world (the church) and the secular world proper (saeculum)" (5). …

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