The Word of God Comes into the Voting Booth. Church Attendance and Political Involvement in East Central Europe during the Early 1990s

By Radu, Bogdan Mihai | Polish Sociological Review, October 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

The Word of God Comes into the Voting Booth. Church Attendance and Political Involvement in East Central Europe during the Early 1990s


Radu, Bogdan Mihai, Polish Sociological Review


Abstract: In this research I explore the effect of religious denomination and belonging on political participation in former communist countries of East Central Europe after the fall of communism. In the early 1990s, mostly as a response to forced secularization during communism, authors heralded a massive religious revival in the countries formerly belonging to the Eastern Bloc. In this paper I show that the re-discovery of God and church was not equally popular in all countries. Moreover, I explore the links between religious participation and political participation and I find no uniform transnational effect of denomination. Rather, the Eurobarometer survey data from the early 1990s suggests that the ways in which religious believing and belonging influence political participation at the beginning of democratization is context driven. Indeed, one of the strengths of this paper resides in my attempt to capture the religious context in post-communist Europe shortly after its collapse. I thus contribute to a better understanding of how religious and political involvement are intertwined during early transition in East Central Europe. In the conclusion, I advocate the need for adequately taking context into consideration, especially given its dynamic and multi-faceted nature.

Keywords: religious participation, political participation, East Central Europe, democratization

According to the English version of the Pravda newspaper, the Russian Orthodox Church is the largest importer of spirits and cigarettes countrywide. Due to its tax-free status, granted by successive post-Soviet governments, the Orthodox Church became a lucrative "corporation," facilitating the sale of "non-Orthodox" goods. The same newspaper appreciates that the future may also bring a monopoly over wine imports. Across the ocean, American political scientists research the significant potential of churches in creating democratic behavior and civic skills. They report that Christian congregations in the United States are veritable creators of democratic attitudes and civic skills. In this paper, I address the following question: "How can vodka be reconciled with voting? The focus of my research is the effect of church participation on political participation in Central and East Europe.

Central and Eastern Europe has been under scholars' lenses for more than a decade now, but the focus tends to fall on either of two preferred sub regions: Central Europe (comprising Poland, the Czech and Slovak republics, Hungary and Slovenia) or Russia and its former republics. Cross-sub-regions studies are harder to come about, and Romania, Bulgaria and Albania are under-represented (Tucker 2002). My research compares religious determinants of political participation across 10 countries: former Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Russia, Bulgaria, Albania, Romania and the three Baltic republics, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Indeed, Central Europe, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics seem to share more differences than similarities. Language patterns, ethnicities, forms of government and social and political pasts differ. History reports a wide range of political entities from Imperial Russia, to independent Romanian pre-state organizations, to Ottoman dominated Bulgaria and to the Austrian Hungarian monarchy. As difficult as comparisons across Central and Eastern Europe may be, at least three commonalities justify the effort. First, all the countries in the region have a communist past. Second, all the countries were part of imperial powers. Third, democratization is undertaken in each and every country. Pre-communist and communist pasts are relevant factors in explaining democratic outcomes (Ekiert 1991).

According to the majority of "international assessors of democracy," Central Europe consists of consolidated market economies and democracies, while Eastern Europe, Russia and the former Soviet Republics are still in transition (Freedom House, USAID). …

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