Religion has regained ground strongly in Central and Eastern Europe since fall of the USSR – survey

Bulgaria is among countries where religion has strongly regained ground since the collapse of the Soviet Union, a major new survey by the Pew Research Center on religious belief and national belonging in Central and Eastern Europe has found.

The results of the survey, released on May 10, show that in Russia, Ukraine and Bulgaria, far more people said they were religiously unaffiliated in 1991 than describe themselves that way in the new survey.

In all three countries, the share of the population that identifies with Orthodox Christianity is up significantly since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Pew Research Center said.

“Roughly a quarter of a century after the fall of the Iron Curtain and subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union…religion has reasserted itself as an important part of individual and national identity in many of the Central and Eastern European countries where communist regimes once repressed religious worship and promoted atheism,” a statement on the survey said.

In Bulgaria, about 75 per cent of the population declares itself to be Orthodox Christian. Fifteen per cent of Bulgarians are Muslims, four per cent declare themselves to be religiously unaffiliated and one per cent are Roman Catholics.

The Bulgarian Orthodox church of Saints Petar and Pavel, Plovdiv. Photo: (c) Clive Leviev-Sawyer

The survey noted that Roman Catholicism in Central and Eastern Europe, meanwhile, has not experienced the same upsurge as Orthodox Christianity. “In part, this may be because much of the population in countries such as Poland and Hungary retained a Catholic identity during the communist era, leaving less of a religious vacuum to be filled when the USSR fell”.

Despite declining shares in some countries, Roman Catholics in Central and Eastern Europe generally are more religiously observant than Orthodox Christians in the region, at least by conventional measures.

In Bulgaria, only about five per cent of Orthodox Christians attend church weekly.

Seventy-seven per cent of Bulgarians say that they believe in God. Fifteen per cent pray daily.

The Bulgarian Orthodox church of St Nikolai the Miracle Worker, village of Bliznatsi. Photo: (c) Clive Leviev-Sawyer

The 2015 survey figure of 75 per cent of Bulgarians describing themselves as Orthodox Christians was a significant increase from the 1991 figure of 59 per cent.

The survey found a pattern, in which Orthodox countries are more socially conservative even though they may be less religious, seen throughout the region.

Fifty-eight per cent of Bulgarians saw homosexuality as morally wrong. As to approval of gay marriage, the percentage was 26 among Bulgarians aged 18 to 34, dropping to 35 per cent among over-35s.

Bulgarian Orthodox church, Trigrad. Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer

People in Orthodox-majority countries tend to see Russia as an important buffer against the West, with most in these nations (with the notable exception of Ukraine) saying that “a strong Russia is necessary to balance the influence of the West.” In Bulgaria, 56 per cent agreed that a “strong Russia is necessary to balance the influence of the West” while 48 per cent said that it was “in our country’s interest to work closely with the US and other Western powers”.

People in Orthodox-majority countries are more inclined than those elsewhere in the region to say their governments should support the spread of religious values and beliefs in the country and that governments should provide funding for their dominant, national churches, the Pew Research Center survey found. In Bulgaria, 53 per cent said that the government should fund the church.

The Orthodox cathedral in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Varna. Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer

The survey asked Orthodox Christians and Catholics whether they would be willing to accept each other as fellow citizens of their country, as neighbours or as family members. In most countries, the vast majority of both groups say they would accept each other as citizens and as neighbours.  In Bulgaria, 66 per cent of Orthodox Christians said that they would accept Catholics as family members.

Alexander Nevsky cathedral, Sofia. Photo: (c) Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Roma (also known as Romani or Gypsies, a term some consider pejorative) face the lowest overall levels of acceptance.

Across all 18 countries surveyed, a median of 57% of respondents say they would be willing to accept Roma as fellow citizens.

Even lower shares say they would be willing to accept Roma as neighbours (a median of 37 per cent) or family members (median of 19 per cent). There is little or no difference between Catholics and Orthodox Christians when it comes to views of Roma.

On balance, acceptance of Jews is higher than of Muslims. But there are some differences in the attitudes of the major Christian groups toward these minorities. Overall, Catholics appear more willing than Orthodox Christians to accept Jews as family members.

On the other hand, Orthodox Christians are generally more inclined than Catholics across the region to accept Muslims as fellow citizens and neighbours, the poll found.

(Main photo: (c) Clive Leviev-Sawyer)




The Sofia Globe staff

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