Convergence or Replacement? Attitudes towards Political and Religious Institutions in Contemporary Romania

By Vlas, Natalia; Gherghina, Sergiu | Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Convergence or Replacement? Attitudes towards Political and Religious Institutions in Contemporary Romania


Vlas, Natalia, Gherghina, Sergiu, Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies


Unlike other Post-Communist countries, Romania displays three clear individual-level trends related to political and religious institutions. The Romanians are the most supportive for the EU and Church, and the most critical towards national political institutions in the region. By conducting an empirical longitudinal study on the Romanian population, we aim to understand the linkages between these two trends and to identify what can explain the high level of trust vested by the Romanian citizens in the Orthodox Church in the post-Communist period. In doing so, we test two alternative explanations and we employ bivariate and multivariate statistics. The results indicate that there is weak evidence for the relationship between trust in political and religious institutions, with a stronger emphasis on the EU aspect. Whenever the attitudes are linked, they are consistent: positive attitudes towards the national government and Parliament trigger positive attitudes towards the Church.

Key Words:

Romanian Orthodox Church, European Union, trust, national political institutions

Introduction

The breakdown of Communism and the sudden disintegration of USSR transformed the former "Iron Curtain" countries into seekers of systems to replace the old regime - both in economic and political terms. Using Huntington's conceptual language about the third wave of democratization, the political transition from autocracy to democracy rests on a premise that a regression to the political status quo ante is unlikely1. As examples from the regions show up, this paradigmatic shift does not imply successful democratization. One can identify four distinct categories of the former Communist states according to their level of democratization: (1) states that democratized (the EU joiners), (2) states that returned to the former regime (Belarus), (3) states that chose a different type of an authoritarian regime than before (Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan), and (4) states that did not clearly define their course (Russia).

Out of the new democratic countries that became EU members in less then two decades from the regime change, Romania displays three contrasting features in the European surveys2. First of all, until recently all the candidate countries shared a common feature: their citizens displayed high levels of support for the EU, some 10% above the old member states support average3. In this cluster of optimism, Romania is the most supportive country with an average support around 75%. Second, the level of trust in national institutions is considerably lower compared to international institutions and among the smallest in the region. Between a quarter and one third of Romanians declare confidence in the institutions that should represent and govern them. The slow institutional development, the lack of political reforms, and extended corruption scandals that characterize the post-Communist political environment may explain these reluctant attitudes. Moreover, there are considerably more transition losers than winners4 and the negative attitudes may be associated with thoughts of punishment. Third, Romania is the champion of confidence in the Church, with levels comparable to those displayed by Western Catholic Countries and by far the most supportive among the Orthodox countries. At the same time, the Church is the most supported institution, with four out of five Romanians declaring constant support for the Church.

These clearly observable trends provide a blurry picture and a puzzling situation. Although at first sight it may appear that trust in national institutions is lowered at the expense of trust in international institutions, a recent study finds no relationship between the two: Romanians are supportive towards the EU irrespective of their trust in national institutions.5 If the absence of this relationship is clear, what happens with the other two possible connections? On the one hand, it is unclear if the trust in Church grows at the expense of political institutions, the former being seen as an alternative to the corrupt and unappealing political class. …

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