After the collapse of the atheistic Soviet Union and Communist party-dominated countries in Central and Eastern Europe, many analysts predicted that as new governments ushered in laws guaranteeing religious freedom, a new religious pluralism would result. Public opinion surveys conducted during the first years of post-socialism confirmed that throughout Eastern Europe and the Soviet successor states, there was a resurgence in belief in God and life after death, as well as reports of increased levels of church attendance, particularly among the younger generations.1 Two decades after the collapse, however, post-communist countries have not become bastions of religious diversity or practice, and religious relations mirror those of a century past, when traditional ethnic churches dominated the landscape.2 How can we explain what appears to be religious reestablishment across the post-communist countries? What developments have contributed to stalled progress in the realm of religious freedom?

When the communist parties that controlled the Eastern bloc countries fell along with the Soviet Union and new “democratic” movements embarked on the mission of writing new constitutions and establishing representative institutions, many countries adopted legislation that significantly liberalized the field of religious freedom. Initially, this liberalization allowed for traditional churches to revitalize and missionaries to enter the countries and start attracting converts. Within the space of a few years, however, many of these same countries began to re-regulate religion. Led by demands from traditional majority churches, governments adopted legislation that reestablished churches and imposed restrictions on missionary activity, international funding for religious groups, and proselytizing. In exchange for legal concessions in the field of religious liberty, churches have offered nationalist legitimacy and stability to regimes. Lacking serious competition from other religious traditions, churches—in particular those in the majority Orthodox countries—have solidified their bases of support and thus contributed to restrictions on religious freedom in the post-communist arena. As a result, levels of religiosity remain low in the countries under consideration. The relatively low level of religious diversity in the post-communist countries is also a symptom of this reestablishment by the traditional majority churches.

Religious establishment is not always harmful to societies, as many established democracies have a tradition of state churches and other formalized systems of favoring one or a few religious denominations. England, Denmark, Finland, Greece, and Norway are all examples of democracies that have an official state church, while the Netherlands and Germany have systems in place that allocate state-collected funds to selected religious denominations.3 The difference between these countries and those in the present study is that in the post-communist context, the benefits allotted to formally and informally established churches are often accompanied by legislation that attempts to curb minority religious rights. Moreover, minority religious groups often suffer from campaigns intended to instill fear in local populations, and are perceived as a threat to “traditional” religions and national culture.

This essay examines religious relations in the predominantly Catholic and Orthodox Christian countries of post-communist Eastern and Central Europe and Eurasia from the beginning of transition to the present. I focus on majority Christian countries because these share historical experiences and influences not experienced by the majority Islamic republics in Central Asia. Moreover, unlike in Central Asia, where borders and nationalities were often artificially constructed by Soviet authorities, most of the predominantly Christian republics had a clear national identity—one that was often tied to the society's majority church—before coming under communist rule. This fact is important in understanding how traditional groups have succeeded in reestablishing themselves as national churches and in convincing states to adopt laws that restrict religious freedom.

The essay first discusses current trends in the literature on religion–state relations to identify a theoretical model that can be used to examine the countries under consideration. Focusing on a set of arguments referred to as religious economy theory, I examine the motivations of religious and political actors as they negotiate the post-communist religious marketplace. I discuss changes in religious regulations from the communist to the post-communist period using both quantitative indexes and close study of specific regulations within selected countries. I also present data on trends in religious affiliation across the region to suggest that religious regulation may be having an effect on levels of diversity. The findings of this essay have implications for the future of democratic consolidation in the post-communist countries, as they question whether all religious groups can be considered to be independent actors belonging to the realm of civil society, or whether it is more appropriate to consider them to be potential allies of the state. In the latter situation, we cannot expect religious groups to check state power, and instead must consider how their influence can be constrained in order to prevent the deterioration of religious liberty in the region.

Religion, Politics, and a “New Paradigm” for Studying Their Relations

With the onset of the “third wave” of democratization, scholars began to pay attention to the ways in which different cultural contexts might affect the onset and success and democratization.4 Research into the role of religion in politics has expanded to include a greater variety of traditions and new methodologies that allow social scientists to consider religion as a form of organization that can be studied alongside other social movements. There are now several studies that attempt to systematically examine the effects of different religious movements on democracy.5 Moreover, there are several bodies of literature that debate the relationship between particular religious traditions and politics. One of the most developed areas of the literature discusses the involvement of the Roman Catholic Church in politics in both the developed and developing world, tracing changes in the church's approach to politics over the last century.

Two major perspectives frame explanations for why many consider the Catholic Church to have moved from propping up Western European monarchies and other types of authoritarian regimes to becoming a proponent of democracy beginning in the 1960s. The first looks to ideational sources for the changes in the Church's relationship to politics by examining the shift in policies brought on by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. Mainwaring and Wilde explain that Vatican II and the creation of the Latin American Bishops' Conference (CELAM) were indicative of shift to a “progressive Church” in Latin America, and thus can help us understand why the Church denounced authoritarianism in places such as Brazil, El Salvador, and Nicaragua.6 Philpott explains that Vatican II exerted strong influence on the Church in countries such as Spain and the Philippines, causing the Churches there to lead movements for democratization.7 Casanova also notes the influence of Vatican II on the Church in Spain, arguing that the Church helped coordinate the democratic opposition into a unified civil society movement, thus playing an active role in the country's transition.8

Gill and others have argued that the ideational perspective is lacking in explanatory rigor because of the varying relationship of the Catholic Church to authoritarian regimes and democratization movements.9 For instance, while the Church did play an active role in the democratization of Brazil and Chile, actively opposing military rule, in Argentina and Bolivia, the Church remained allied with the regime. Gill attributes this difference to varying degrees of competition from religious rivals—in particular, evangelical Protestants—thus relying on arguments based on economic and rational choice reasoning. Kalyvas and Warner diverge from the religious economies perspective by focusing more on the institutions of the Catholic Church as important actors in European transitions.10 Nevertheless, all three authors emphasize that ideology cannot be the main motivator of the Church's political activities and look instead to material and institutional explanations.

Differences in interpretation of the motivation for the Catholic Church's political activities reflect debates occurring in the religion and politics literature over the utility of different theoretical perspectives for explaining church-state relationships and outcomes in the field of religious freedom. Recently, scholars have been testing a set of propositions referred to as “religious economies” or “religious markets” theory. Stark and Finke define a religious economy as consisting of “all of the religious activity going on in any society: a ‘market’ of current and potential adherents, a set of one or more organizations seeking to attract or maintain adherents, and the religious culture offered by the organization(s).”11 The theory explains religious activity by considering the goals of religious actors and groups, the cost–benefit calculations of their leaders, and the arena or “marketplace” within which the groups are located. It is based upon the assumption of individual rationality in religious choices.12 Thus, it argues that given a set of preferences constraints, people will try to achieve their goals in the least costly manner possible. Proponents argue that such an approach is useful because it allows for explanations of behavior in the event of changing constraints (e.g., a change in regime).13 Because it leaves aside previous ideologically based explanations for religious behavior, it has been referred to as a “new paradigm” in the study of religion and politics.14

Economic and institutional analysis has applications with regard to religious individuals, organizations, and societies. In the case of individuals, the approach has been used to explain differing rates of religious service attendance as well as the reasons that individuals choose to become members of churches, sects, and other types of religious organizations.15 It has also been presented as a counter-argument to secularization theory, claiming that the latter has largely failed to predict the role of religion in modern life.16 Religious organizational behavior is understood by weighing the preferences of leaders and members in the context of the particular marketplace within which organizations must function.17 Finally, the religious economies approach has been applied at the societal level, to explain the impact of state regulations on religious organizations as well as the conditions that allow for deregulation of the religious marketplace.

There are two aspects of this approach that may be used in understanding religious and political relations in the post-communist countries. First, examining the nature and level of religious competition may help to explain why traditional churches have been able to regain their monopoly status since the collapse of communism and why this set of countries has experienced reestablishment of religion after a long period of state-enforced secularization. Second, examining the interests of both politicians and religious groups might allow us to understand why some national churches have not been particularly active in democracy promotion and why autocratic politicians have sought out church backing to retain power. Both aspects require reviewing predictions regarding the impact of deregulation and competition in the religious marketplace on political outcomes.

The religious economies approach explains that religious regulation increases the chances for monopoly by a single religious firm while deregulation of the religious marketplace increases pluralism.18 The interests of politicians regarding regulation vary based on the level of religious competition in society as well as the security of their own political tenure. Politicians often make decisions on religious regulations based on their own interests (i.e., retaining political power). Deregulation can occur because of shocks such as revolution or military coups, or as a conscious policy platform. Moreover, politicians will court the support of religious groups as long as it helps them to gain or retain office. However, once their political tenure becomes more secure, they will be less likely to enforce regulations that are backed by monopolistic religions.19 Once a more pluralistic religious environment exists, therefore, it is less likely that politicians will support regulation that restricts the rights of minority religions.

Religious organizations are “social enterprises whose primary purpose is to create, maintain, and supply religion to some set of individuals and to support and supervise their exchanges with a god or gods.”20 There is nothing in this definition that implies the necessity of political involvement. However, the competition created by deregulation increases the religious options available to individuals and thus forces churches and other religious groups to adjust their strategies to appeal to new adherents and retain current members. Therefore, religious organizations may be motivated to engage in political action if they are faced with threats from philosophical competitors. In recent times, these competitors have included anti-religious movements such as liberalism, secularism, and Marxism, as well as new religious movements.21 Since it is more likely that individuals will choose to re-affiliate (switch to a religious organization within the same religious family) than to convert to a completely different religion, new religious movements are particularly threatening to more traditional Christian denominations such as Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity, and Lutheranism. Because monopoly religious organizations have an interest in retaining their dominant position, they will support regulation that allows them to maintain their status. Moreover, when monopoly conditions exist, it is more likely that they will be continued through the efforts of the monopolistic group. Incumbent religious organizations will attempt to influence government regulation in their favor, investing more time and money into lobbying the government for long-term benefits than newer sects or religious organizations. Thus monopoly religions will be more likely to support restrictive legislation that limits the degree of religious diversity in society. In some instances, monopoly religions may even find that supporting secularist policies is in their interest, as long as such policies limit the opportunities for new religious movements to grow.

Religious Regulation in the Communist and Post-Communist Periods

Church-state relations during the Soviet years can be characterized by periods of harsh repression followed by slight openings. However, in most cases, by the time communist regimes collapsed, the national churches had experienced significant losses of clergy, adherents, and influence. The 1929 Law on Religious Associations set the terms under which religious groups could practice in the USSR. This law remained in effect until 1990. The 1929 law allowed religious services to be held only in registered buildings with almost all other religious activity declared illegal, including evangelization, providing religious education, and producing and distributing religious literature.

During the 1920s and 1930s, religious groups in the Soviet Union experienced severe repression and the worst period of religious persecution in Soviet history. Anti-religious propaganda, administered by the League of Militant Atheists, was intended to destroy religion.22 Religious groups in addition to the Russian Orthodox Church had their property seized and destroyed, and their clergy arrested or killed. By 1939, the Russian Orthodox Church had almost ceased to exist, with only 200 of the pre-revolutionary 46,000 churches open, and most of its clergy dead or in labor camps.23 Such actions were taking place throughout the USSR, with Christian, Muslim, and other religious groups experiencing similar repression at the hands of the state. For example, during the 1929–1939 period, the number of evangelical Christians dropped to one-fifth of previous numbers.24

World War II and the 1950s brought a shift in religious policy, as Stalin allowed for some churches and mosques to reopen and religious groups to have greater liberties. Dickinson argues that Stalin's reason for reinstating the patriarchate and giving more freedom to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1943 was because of his calculation that coopting trustworthy elements of the Church could control believers and therefore eliminate a potential source of threat from religious communities.25 Similarly, Stalin courted other religious groups throughout the USSR as allies to help foster support for the war. Stalin's death and Khrushchev's ascendance to power brought renewed religious persecution throughout the USSR. Khrushchev launched an intense anti-religious campaign of propaganda, closing churches and monasteries, and reducing the number of clergy. Walters suggests that this may have been a reaction to an increase of religiosity as a result of Khrushchev's release of Stalinist prisoners.26 This lasted until the mid-1960s, when Brezhnev adopted a more moderate attitude toward religion, attempting to control it through the Council for Religious Affairs (established in 1965) rather than eradicating it. During this time, many religious groups were able to operate without registering with the state, even though they were technically illegal.27 However, the period before Mikheil Gorbachev assumed power saw another intensification of action against religion. From 1979 to 1984, many church leaders were imprisoned or incarcerated in psychiatric hospitals.28

Gorbachev's liberalization of religious policy began in 1987–1988, and by 1990, the USSR had adopted a Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations that set the new legal status of religious organizations and guaranteed freedom of conscience. Gorbachev's reforms led to the first religious candidates being elected to the Congress of People's Deputies and parliaments within the republics. This also prompted the beginnings of nationalist movements tied to religion in republics such as Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine, and Tajikistan. For example, the Latvian “Rebirth and Renewal” movement, comprised of theologians from the Evangelical Lutheran Church, was able to mobilize people to resist communist policies and led to the creation of the Popular Front of Latvia, which pushed for the republic's independence.29 At the same time in Eastern Europe, gradual liberalization led to increased agitation by the Catholic Church in Poland and the Lutheran Church in East Germany toward ending communist rule and establishing a democratic government.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and fall of communist parties in the Eastern Bloc in the late 1980s and early 1990s led to further liberalization of religious regulations under new regimes and attempts to codify religious freedom protections in new, democratic constitutions. In the former Soviet republics, laws guaranteed freedom of worship and religious assembly, and measures were taken to restore property seized from religious organizations. This initial liberalization allowed for both domestic and international religious organizations to establish themselves and contributed to the somewhat exaggerated perception that new religious movements were overtaking the traditional religions in attracting adherents due to foreign funding and unfair methods of proselytization.30 By the mid-1990s, many of the republics had adopted legislation that restricted religious freedom for foreign organizations, gave state support to “traditional” religious groups, and in many cases, banned proselytizing by nontraditional religious organizations. I discuss specific regulations below. First, however, I will attempt to paint a broader picture of the status of religious freedom in the post-communist countries using a variety of measures compiled by scholars in the field.

Measuring Religious Regulation

While a country-by-country analysis of regulations may paint a more complete picture of the institutional structure of a religious “marketplace,” summary measures can help give a broader comparative description of the status of religious regulations across a set of countries. There have been some attempts to quantify different aspects of religion–state relations in recent years, though no one measure captures all aspects of religious regulation. Chaves and Cann constructed a religious market regulation index for eighteen developed Western countries that measured whether countries have official state churches, offer preferential access to public funds or subsidies to some denominations but not others, or have state involvement in clerical appointments and other kinds of church administration.31 Grim and Finke use information from the U.S. State Department's International Religious Freedom Reports to construct indexes on government regulation, government favoritism, and social regulation of religion for 196 countries for three years.32 The Government Regulation Index (GRI) includes any laws, policies, or administrative actions that impinge on the practice, profession, or selection of religion, including limits against proselytizing, preaching, missionary work, and worship.

Covering 175 countries on a yearly basis from 1992 to 2002, Fox's Government Involvement in Religion (GIR) index measures the degree of government regulation of religion (including official support for and hostility toward religion, support of one religion over others, discrimination against minority, majority, or all religions, and legislation of religion into law).33 A component of the GIR index, the level of religious discrimination against minority religions, examines sixteen types of restrictions against minorities, including restrictions on access to places of worship, arrest or harassment of religious figures, and restrictions on conversions and proselytizing. The index captures the degree to which minorities are prohibited from exercising their religious rights—as opposed to government restrictions against religion in general. Table 1 reports the values for the Fox and Grim and Finke religion indexes.34

Table 1

Religious regulation in majority Christian post-communist countries

 Grim and Finke government regulation GRI 2001 Grim and Finke government regulation GRI 2005 Fox government involvement GIR 1992 Fox government involvement GIR 2002 Fox minority discrimination 1992 Fox minority discrimination 2002 
Majority Orthodox 
Armenia 8.6 7.2 38.7 40.4 12 13 
Belarus 8.6 9.2 34.4 35.7 15 18 
Bulgaria 7.8 8.6 31.7 36.7 10 19 
Georgia 7.8 6.4 27.2 32.8 20 
Macedonia 6.4 4.7 25.5 27.2 
Moldova 4.7 5.6 32.3 32.3 10 10 
Romania 6.4 7.8 29.1 24.5 
Russia 7.8 6.9 14.7 30.5 10  
Serbia 6.1 1.4 15.1 16.8 
Ukraine 3.1 4.7 15.2 20.0 
Average 6.7 6.3 26.4 29.7 7.6 12 
Majority Catholic 
Croatia 2.2 1.4 20.8 22.4 
Czech Rep. 0.0 0.6 17.2 18.2 
Hungary 1.4 1.4 22.6 22.8 
Lithuania 6.4 3.1 17.0 17.6 
Slovakia 0.0 2.2 17.2 19.9 
Slovenia 0.0 1.4 10.7 12.0 
Average 2.6 2.2 18.1 19.3 1.9 
Majority Protestant 
Estonia 0.8 0.0 1.9 3.5 
Latvia 3.1 4.7 17.6 17.6 
Average 2.0 2.4 9.8 10.6 1.0 1.5 
 Grim and Finke government regulation GRI 2001 Grim and Finke government regulation GRI 2005 Fox government involvement GIR 1992 Fox government involvement GIR 2002 Fox minority discrimination 1992 Fox minority discrimination 2002 
Majority Orthodox 
Armenia 8.6 7.2 38.7 40.4 12 13 
Belarus 8.6 9.2 34.4 35.7 15 18 
Bulgaria 7.8 8.6 31.7 36.7 10 19 
Georgia 7.8 6.4 27.2 32.8 20 
Macedonia 6.4 4.7 25.5 27.2 
Moldova 4.7 5.6 32.3 32.3 10 10 
Romania 6.4 7.8 29.1 24.5 
Russia 7.8 6.9 14.7 30.5 10  
Serbia 6.1 1.4 15.1 16.8 
Ukraine 3.1 4.7 15.2 20.0 
Average 6.7 6.3 26.4 29.7 7.6 12 
Majority Catholic 
Croatia 2.2 1.4 20.8 22.4 
Czech Rep. 0.0 0.6 17.2 18.2 
Hungary 1.4 1.4 22.6 22.8 
Lithuania 6.4 3.1 17.0 17.6 
Slovakia 0.0 2.2 17.2 19.9 
Slovenia 0.0 1.4 10.7 12.0 
Average 2.6 2.2 18.1 19.3 1.9 
Majority Protestant 
Estonia 0.8 0.0 1.9 3.5 
Latvia 3.1 4.7 17.6 17.6 
Average 2.0 2.4 9.8 10.6 1.0 1.5 

Sources: The government regulation data were downloaded from the Association of Religion Data Archives, www.TheARDA.com, and were collected by Grim and Finke. The Fox data were downloaded from the Religion and State Dataset website, www.religionandstate.org.

Notes: GRI measures the degree of government regulation of the practice, profession, or selection of religion on a 0–10 scale, 10 indicating the highest degree of regulation. GIR is a composite measure of government involvement in religion on a 0–100 scale, higher numbers indicating more regulation. Minority discrimination is a 0–48 scale measuring the degree of government restriction on minorities.

Table 1 lists values of the various regulations indexes for the majority Christian post-communist countries. They are grouped by traditional majority religion; thus there are ten traditionally Orthodox, seven Catholic, and two Protestant countries included in the post-communist region. There are several patterns that can be gleaned from the figures in table 1. First, the average level of government regulation of and involvement in religion is higher in the majority Orthodox countries compared to the Catholic and Protestant post-communist countries, according to both the Grim and Finke GRI and Fox GIR indexes. There is an even bigger difference among the countries in level of discrimination against minorities.

I include figures for multiple years from both sets of data to examine whether restrictions have changed between the immediate post-communist period and later years. The figures show some discrepancies in patterns of regulatory change between the two sets of data. According to Grim and Finke, the average degree of government regulation of religion decreased slightly between 2001 and 2005 for the Orthodox and Catholic countries, although in several countries, the GRI increased. According to Fox, however, the average degree of government involvement in religion and minority discrimination in almost all of the countries increased slightly between 1992 and 2002. These differences may be accounted for by the fact that the authors are measuring different time periods, and because they use different metrics for determining government regulation. Nevertheless, both sets of authors agree that regulations have consistently been higher in the majority Orthodox countries. In general, regulations also appear to be stricter in the post-Soviet republics than in the Eastern bloc countries and former Yugoslavian republics.

In many of the Orthodox countries, there was some increase in government regulation or involvement in religion. However, the greater increases occurred in discrimination against minorities. The biggest increases occurred in Bulgaria, Georgia, and Russia between 1992 and 2002. Changes were more modest in the Catholic countries, with most experiencing slight increases in both indexes. Slovakia was the notable Catholic exception in terms of discrimination against minorities, showing a larger increase. Because the minority discrimination scale is a component of the GIR index, the two measures are correlated. However, in certain countries, the degree of increase in minority discrimination does not mirror the increase in government involvement in religion overall, suggesting that minorities are being targeted for restrictions in these countries. This appears to be the case in Belarus, Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia, Serbia, and Slovakia. In Romania, minority discrimination increased slightly between 1992 and 2002, while overall government involvement in religion decreased.

The traditionally Protestant countries lack a significant degree of government regulation of religion, and analysts agree that Estonia and Latvia have both made greater progress in guaranteeing religious freedom to both traditional and new religious groups than other post-Soviet republics.35 A reason often cited for this development is that the Lutheran church in both Estonia and Latvia lacked the national association that the Catholic and Orthodox churches held in the other post-communist societies.36 Viewed as a German church, it did not play the same role in the construction of national identity that, for instance, the Catholic Church did in neighboring Lithuania. Moreover, because both countries were already quite religiously diverse before and during the communist period, pluralism preceded de-regulation.37 Therefore, Estonia and Latvia are unique in the post-communist religious experience, and fall outside the scope of the present analysis.

Increasing discrimination against religious minorities could suggest that governments are targeting smaller and foreign-based religious denominations in their regulations. Rather than restricting religious expression for all groups, these countries may be giving privileges to majority religious groups while making the regulatory environment more difficult for smaller or newer groups. To determine whether minorities are being singled out in government regulations, I first examine the level of religious diversity in the countries under question. Next, I look more closely at regulations in several of the countries to explore whether such laws are being targeted at certain groups, or whether increasing religious regulation signals an attempt by governments to exert greater control over the entire religious sector.

Religious Diversity in Post-Communist Europe and Eurasia

Besides the limitation of religious freedom that often occurs with greater regulation of the religious arena, does regulation affect the level of diversity of religious groups in society? While almost every post-communist country contains a single majority church, a few countries do display some degree of religious diversity, which is often a result of historical circumstances rather than contemporary emigrations or conversions. Measuring religious diversity is not a simple task, however. First, obtaining accurate figures of religious adherence are difficult given the fact that “adherence” itself is a contested term. Are religious adherents merely those people who claim to belong to a religious denomination? Or does adherence require some measure of religious practice, such as regular church attendance or performance of religious rituals, such as daily prayer? Second, the reliability of data used to measure adherence is questionable, as researchers often must cull together a variety of sources—such as official government and church statistics and data from public opinion surveys—to construct adherence figures. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that statistics collected during the Soviet period were subject to massive distortion due to the great degree of government repression of religion. Finally, there is the question of whether adherence captures the concept of religious diversity, since some religious denominations may be more similar in theology, practice, and demographic composition of adherents than others.

Tables 2 and 3 report the percentage of adherents in each of the major religious groups in the predominantly Catholic and Orthodox countries of post-communist Europe and Eurasia in 1970, 1990, and 2005 (annual data are not available). These years capture levels of adherence to each religious grouping during the communist period, at the onset of regime change, and after a period of independence. Data on religious affiliation come primarily from the World Christian Encyclopedia and an online update, the World Christian Database (WCD).38 These are widely acknowledged to be among the most comprehensive sources of data on Christian denominations around the world. As the publications are targeted toward Christian missionary organizations, the data are particularly well-suited for this study, for they pay close attention to the level of evangelization of populations with information on missionary presence, the founding of religious groups in a country, and other relevant information on religious change. The Encyclopedia and Database are less useful as sources for data on non-Christian religions, however.

Table 2

Religious adherence in majority Orthodox post-communist countries (percentages)

 Religion 1970 1990 2005 % change 1990–2005 
Armenia Orthodox 33.9 64.3 73.6 9.3 
 Christians not in majority 0.2 3.4 9.8 6.4 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 61.3 28.0 14.1 −13.9 
 Other 4.6 4.2 2.5 −1.8 
Belarus Orthodox 49.8 46.3 52.0 5.8 
 Christians not in majority 10.1 21.0 18.1 −2.9 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 40.0 31.9 29.3 −2.6 
 Other 0.1 0.8 0.5 −0.2 
Bulgaria Orthodox 65.2 74.6 72.5 −2.1 
 Christians not in majority 1.6 2.7 11.3 8.6 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 22.1 11.0 4.1 −7.0 
 Other 11.1 11.7 12.2 0.4 
Georgia Orthodox 34.1 54.0 81.0 27.0 
 Christians not in majority 0.9 4.9 2.9 −2.0 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 52.7 21.5 5.6 −15.9 
 Other 12.2 19.6 10.5 −9.1 
Macedonia Orthodox 79.1 65.0 61.6 −3.4 
 Christians not in majority 2.7 3.7 2.4 −1.3 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 6.9 8.9 7.0 −1.9 
 Other 11.3 22.4 29.0 6.6 
Moldova Orthodox 43.0 41.2 45.9 4.7 
 Christians not in majority 3.3 21.2 25.6 4.4 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 52.0 31.1 21.9 −9.2 
 Other 1.7 6.4 6.6 0.2 
Romania Orthodox 60.6 59.7 78.1 18.4 
 Christians not in majority 22.6 26.3 17.7 −8.7 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 15.1 12.7 3.4 −9.3 
 Other 1.7 1.3 0.8 −0.5 
Russia Orthodox 27.8 48.0 60.6 12.5 
 Christians not in majority 10.6 7.2 5.7 −1.5 

 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 51.5 34.9 22.1 −12.8 
 Other 10.2 9.9 11.6 1.7 
Serbia Orthodox 50.2 57.6 56.5 −1.1 
 Christians not in majority 9.8 10.9 10.2 −0.6 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 28.5 21.3 13.6 −7.7 
 Other 11.4 16.6 19.7 3.1 
Ukraine Orthodox 48.6 51.6 50.1 −1.5 
 Christians not in majority 11.5 28.9 29.8 0.9 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 38.2 17.3 17.5 0.2 
 Other 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 
 Religion 1970 1990 2005 % change 1990–2005 
Armenia Orthodox 33.9 64.3 73.6 9.3 
 Christians not in majority 0.2 3.4 9.8 6.4 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 61.3 28.0 14.1 −13.9 
 Other 4.6 4.2 2.5 −1.8 
Belarus Orthodox 49.8 46.3 52.0 5.8 
 Christians not in majority 10.1 21.0 18.1 −2.9 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 40.0 31.9 29.3 −2.6 
 Other 0.1 0.8 0.5 −0.2 
Bulgaria Orthodox 65.2 74.6 72.5 −2.1 
 Christians not in majority 1.6 2.7 11.3 8.6 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 22.1 11.0 4.1 −7.0 
 Other 11.1 11.7 12.2 0.4 
Georgia Orthodox 34.1 54.0 81.0 27.0 
 Christians not in majority 0.9 4.9 2.9 −2.0 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 52.7 21.5 5.6 −15.9 
 Other 12.2 19.6 10.5 −9.1 
Macedonia Orthodox 79.1 65.0 61.6 −3.4 
 Christians not in majority 2.7 3.7 2.4 −1.3 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 6.9 8.9 7.0 −1.9 
 Other 11.3 22.4 29.0 6.6 
Moldova Orthodox 43.0 41.2 45.9 4.7 
 Christians not in majority 3.3 21.2 25.6 4.4 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 52.0 31.1 21.9 −9.2 
 Other 1.7 6.4 6.6 0.2 
Romania Orthodox 60.6 59.7 78.1 18.4 
 Christians not in majority 22.6 26.3 17.7 −8.7 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 15.1 12.7 3.4 −9.3 
 Other 1.7 1.3 0.8 −0.5 
Russia Orthodox 27.8 48.0 60.6 12.5 
 Christians not in majority 10.6 7.2 5.7 −1.5 

 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 51.5 34.9 22.1 −12.8 
 Other 10.2 9.9 11.6 1.7 
Serbia Orthodox 50.2 57.6 56.5 −1.1 
 Christians not in majority 9.8 10.9 10.2 −0.6 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 28.5 21.3 13.6 −7.7 
 Other 11.4 16.6 19.7 3.1 
Ukraine Orthodox 48.6 51.6 50.1 −1.5 
 Christians not in majority 11.5 28.9 29.8 0.9 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 38.2 17.3 17.5 0.2 
 Other 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 

Sources: World Christian Encyclopedia (Barrett et al. 2001) and World Christian Database (www.worldchristiandatabase.org).

Notes: Figures are percentage of population. Other includes Jews, Muslims, and adherents of other non-Christian religious groups. In Moldova, members of the schismatic Metropolitan Church of Bessarabia are included in the "Christians not in majority" category for 1990 and 2005.

Table 3

Religious adherence in majority Catholic post-communist countries (percentages)

 Religion 1970 1990 2005 % change 1990–2005 
Croatia Catholic 84.8 85.2 79.3 −5.9 
 Christians not in majority 10.2 8.7 12.1 3.3 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 3.3 3.1 6.3 3.2 
 Other 1.7 2.9 2.3 −0.6 
Czech Republic Catholic 58.6 40.1 40.9 0.8 
 Christians not in majority 22.3 20.6 23.3 2.7 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 19.0 39.3 35.6 −3.7 
 Other 0.1 0.1 0.2 0.1 
Hungary Catholic 59.3 59.1 59.7 0.7 
 Christians not in majority 25.7 27.4 27.8 0.4 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 14.1 12.6 11.2 −1.4 
 Other 0.9 1.1 1.3 0.2 
Lithuania Catholic 65.6 80.1 77.1 −3.0 
 Christians not in majority 5.0 5.0 10.8 5.8 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 29.0 14.5 11.6 −2.9 
 Other 0.5 0.4 0.4 0.0 
Poland Catholic 88.1 91.8 90.6 −1.3 
 Christians not in majority 2.6 5.0 5.4 0.4 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 9.2 3.1 4.0 0.9 
 Other 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.0 
Slovakia Catholic 60.6 68.9 72.3 3.4 
 Christians not in majority 25.1 14.8 12.4 −2.4 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 14.2 16.2 15.2 −1.0 
 Other 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.0 
Slovenia Catholic 88.4 83.3 80.4 −2.9 
 Christians not in majority 4.4 7.7 9.8 2.1 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 7.1 8.9 8.0 −0.9 
 Other 0.1 0.1 1.8 1.8 
 Religion 1970 1990 2005 % change 1990–2005 
Croatia Catholic 84.8 85.2 79.3 −5.9 
 Christians not in majority 10.2 8.7 12.1 3.3 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 3.3 3.1 6.3 3.2 
 Other 1.7 2.9 2.3 −0.6 
Czech Republic Catholic 58.6 40.1 40.9 0.8 
 Christians not in majority 22.3 20.6 23.3 2.7 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 19.0 39.3 35.6 −3.7 
 Other 0.1 0.1 0.2 0.1 
Hungary Catholic 59.3 59.1 59.7 0.7 
 Christians not in majority 25.7 27.4 27.8 0.4 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 14.1 12.6 11.2 −1.4 
 Other 0.9 1.1 1.3 0.2 
Lithuania Catholic 65.6 80.1 77.1 −3.0 
 Christians not in majority 5.0 5.0 10.8 5.8 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 29.0 14.5 11.6 −2.9 
 Other 0.5 0.4 0.4 0.0 
Poland Catholic 88.1 91.8 90.6 −1.3 
 Christians not in majority 2.6 5.0 5.4 0.4 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 9.2 3.1 4.0 0.9 
 Other 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.0 
Slovakia Catholic 60.6 68.9 72.3 3.4 
 Christians not in majority 25.1 14.8 12.4 −2.4 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 14.2 16.2 15.2 −1.0 
 Other 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.0 
Slovenia Catholic 88.4 83.3 80.4 −2.9 
 Christians not in majority 4.4 7.7 9.8 2.1 
 Atheist and Nonreligious 7.1 8.9 8.0 −0.9 
 Other 0.1 0.1 1.8 1.8 

Sources: World Christian Encyclopedia (Barrett et al. 2001) and World Christian Database (www.worldchristiandatabase.org).

Notes: Figures are percentage of population. Other includes Jews, Muslims, and adherents of smaller non-Christian religious groups.

Some scholars have questioned the accuracy of the WCD measures, especially for the former Communist countries. Most argue that churches exaggerate their adherence figures. The authors have responded that the figures are based on self-reporting by churches of baptized persons appearing on church affiliation rolls.39 An empirical study of the reliability of the data found that estimates were highly correlated with four other commonly cited data sources and that the WCD was particularly good at estimating percentages of nonreligious, though it did overestimate percentages of Christians in some countries.40 Others claim that adherence figures fail to capture the level of actual belief in a society. The WCD data do appear to be sufficient for the purposes of this study, as it is concerned with changes in group size, and the WCD provides the best available indication of figures at different time periods. Moreover, the present study is also concerned with how religious leaders use religious justifications to extract concessions from governments. For a movement to have political influence, its leaders must demonstrate support from a significant portion of the population. Such support may come in the form of active engagement with the religious movement, or might simply mean tacit acceptance of policies endorsed by the movement's leaders. While some religious traditions require those who identify to be active and frequently profess their faith, this is not always true for all denominations. For instance, identification as Orthodox is more often a cultural characteristic rather than a religious one.41 Therefore, Orthodox religious leaders can rely on evidence of increasing or decreasing adherence to argue for regulations that favor their religious group and protect the cultural heritage of their societies.

To measure religious pluralism or diversity, other scholars have relied on an index based on economics research on market concentration of firms. The Herfindahl index is the sum of the squared shares of religious groups in a given area. To calculate the pluralism index, researchers subtract the value of the Herfindahl index from one, resulting in a number between zero (a single religious group) to a little less than one (many denominations of equal size). Thus, larger values of the pluralism index equate to greater religious diversity. While this measure has been shown to produce biased results when it is used to explain levels of religiosity, it is still often used in studies of the effects of regulations on diversity.42 I calculate an index of religious pluralism using data from Grim and Finke from 2001 and 2005 (table 4). As they only report the percentages of adherents from the five largest religious groups, the index may underestimate the level of diversity in some countries. Moreover, because the data are only available for a short time period, they do not reflect the changes that have occurred over the entire post-communist period.

Table 4

Index of religious pluralism in post-communist countries

 2001 2005 
Majority Orthodox   
Armenia 0.18 0.19 
Belarus 0.61 0.84 
Bulgaria 0.25 0.26 
Georgia 0.45 0.35 
Macedonia 0.47 0.47 
Moldova 0.19 0.19 
Romania 0.22 0.24 
Russia 0.75 0.73 
Serbia* 0.46 0.39 
Ukraine 0.54 0.77 
Majority Catholic   
Croatia 0.27 0.27 
Czech Rep. 0.73 n/a 
Hungary 0.49 0.67 
Lithuania n/a 0.37 
Poland 0.08 0.08 
Slovakia 0.63 0.52 
Slovenia 0.44 0.66 
 2001 2005 
Majority Orthodox   
Armenia 0.18 0.19 
Belarus 0.61 0.84 
Bulgaria 0.25 0.26 
Georgia 0.45 0.35 
Macedonia 0.47 0.47 
Moldova 0.19 0.19 
Romania 0.22 0.24 
Russia 0.75 0.73 
Serbia* 0.46 0.39 
Ukraine 0.54 0.77 
Majority Catholic   
Croatia 0.27 0.27 
Czech Rep. 0.73 n/a 
Hungary 0.49 0.67 
Lithuania n/a 0.37 
Poland 0.08 0.08 
Slovakia 0.63 0.52 
Slovenia 0.44 0.66 

Source: Figures are calculated from data downloaded from the Association of Religion Data Archives, www.TheARDA.com, and were collected by Grim and Finke.

*2001 data are from Yugoslavia. Larger values indicate greater diversity.

The religious economy literature predicts that deregulation of the religious marketplace will increase diversity and as a result, individual and group religious activity will increase. Therefore, we might expect increased religious adherence as communist governments collapsed and new democratic constitutions were adopted across Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia. During the communist years, official repression of religion not only led to decreased reported rates of religious adherence, but also massive church closures and repression of priests. As the communist regimes collapsed, churches were reopened, properties restored, and restrictions relaxed. Tables 2 and 3 lend support to the expectation of increased religious adherence. At the same time that the percentage of Atheists and Nonreligious declined in almost every country, almost all of the majority Orthodox countries experienced growth in Orthodox adherents during the fifteen-year time period between 1990 and 2005 (table 2). The only Orthodox country that experienced a decline in Orthodox adherence was Macedonia, as the Muslim population grew at a higher rate during this time period.

The data also show that those countries that were once part of the Soviet Union saw a larger rate of religious resurgence than the communist bloc countries of Central and Eastern Europe. This can be explained by the fact that the two sets of countries experienced different degrees of religious repression. In the Soviet Union, the republics were forced to comply with Communist Party seizure of religious buildings, restrictions on religious organizations, and a countrywide campaign to promote atheism.43 In the Eastern European countries (where most of the majority Catholic states are located), on the other hand, repression was often not as severe. Therefore, most of the Catholic countries did not see as large of a growth in adherents in the time period under consideration, for they had not experienced the same level of decline under communism.

Figures for non-majority Christian adherence also display some interesting patterns. For this category, it is useful to look at the change in adherence rates between 1990 and 2005, the available dates that most closely correspond to beginning and endpoints of post-communist transition. First, countries vary in size and direction of changes to non-majority Christian populations. In Belarus, Georgia, Macedonia, Romania, Russia, and Serbia, non-majority Christian populations declined between 1990 and 2005, while in Armenia, Bulgaria, Moldova, and Ukraine, these populations increased. In all of the Catholic countries except Slovakia, non-majority Christian populations experienced small increases between 1990 and 2005.

Correlation coefficients between percentage change figures and the various regulation indexes are not statistically significant, and thus we cannot assert that there is a strong causal relationship between increased government regulation of religion/discrimination of minorities and decreases in non-majority adherents. However, this may be due to the small number of cases and the insufficiency of data points at appropriate time periods rather than the lack of a relationship. Nevertheless, low levels of religious diversity may be a result of intentional efforts by religious groups and political actors to restrict the religious arena and make it difficult for new denominations to flourish. In the following section, I examine specific pieces of legislation and debates surrounding their passage to question whether there have been deliberate attempts by individuals and groups to oppress religious minorities.

Church-State Cooperation and Conflict

Are religion–state relations in post-communist societies unique to their specific context, or can they be explained by looking at institutional factors that would apply to a variety of settings? In the previous section, I examined numerical data and indexes of religious regulation to attempt to find relationships between levels of regulation and changes in religious adherence. That analysis was limited by data availability. In this section, I look more closely at the experiences of particular countries to explain how traditional churches have been instrumental in instituting religious re-regulation since the collapse of communism. I argue that it is in the interests of both insecure regimes and insecure religious groups to pursue religious establishment. For the insecure regime, the support of a hegemonic religious organization can give it popular legitimacy. For a religious organization, establishment brings both benefits from the state, and access that allows it to cement its monopoly status and limit religious competition. Especially in the majority Orthodox countries, the actions of both church leaders and politicians display recognition of these interests and the actions needed to guarantee survival in rapidly changing societies.

Looking back at the history of the Orthodox Churches, it is not difficult to find examples of church-state cooperation. Orthodox lands were traditionally under the rule of empires (Byzantine, Ottoman, and Russian), with church leaders cooperating with emperors as partners in governing Christian lands under a system referred to as “caesaro-papism” or as representatives of Christian minorities under the Ottoman millet system.44 The idea that church leaders represented the nation in these multi-ethnic empires carried over through the communist period, when Soviet rule was perceived as a form of colonial domination, thus reviving nationalist sentiment.45 While students of Orthodoxy will admit that such relations have been used to further the goals of nationalistic movements, they also point to the unifying character of the national church phenomenon.46

One result of the close association between Orthodoxy and national identity is that non-Orthodox religions find it difficult to shake their foreign status in an environment that includes one church with a monopoly on the concept of being “native” to the territory. This phenomenon may be an alternate explanation to the religious economies one for why non-majority Christian denominations have not had large growth rates in most Orthodox countries. I would also argue that it has allowed Orthodox churches in former communist countries to successfully lobby for greater religious restrictions that have facilitated the recapture of the monopolistic position they held in those countries before the advent of communist rule.

Throughout the former Soviet Union, there was a pattern of deregulation of religion at the start of transition with later re-regulation either reinstating communist-era regulatory bodies or passing new laws imposing restrictions on religious practice. For example, until the former Soviet republics adopted constitutions, most continued to follow the 1990 Soviet Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations, which allowed existing groups to resume public religious practice. Religious property was restored, and those religious buildings that remained standing began to be renovated across the region. Moreover, the lifting of border restrictions resulted in an influx of missionaries from all over the world. As new religious groups worked to evangelize the presumably atheist former Soviet masses, traditional religious groups that had managed to survive under Soviet repression began to fear the loss of souls they considered to be their own.47 As political institutions were established in these newly independent countries, the laws reflected these fears. Many countries established registration requirements, rules against “proselytization,” and restrictions on foreign funding of religious organizations. The freedom that religious organizations enjoyed in the initial post-transition period was replaced by imposing increased restrictions that continue to this day.

These developments give support to some of Gill's propositions regarding the origins of religious liberty.48 At the initial collapse of communist governments, we observe a liberalization of religious restrictions, as outlined in the third proposition related to Gill's theory of religious liberty: “when restrictions on religious liberty have a high opportunity cost as measured in terms of political survival, government revenue, and/or economic growth, deregulation of the religious market results. Concomitantly, restrictions on religious freedom will increase if it served the aforementioned political and economic interests of policy makers.”49 At the onset of regime change, deregulation of the religious marketplace was required to legitimate the “democratic” parties that were winning founding elections in the newly independent republics. Aiming to set themselves apart from the repressive communist parties that had ruled for decades, new parties proposed relaxation of restrictions on religious practice and opened up public space for religious groups. Once traditional churches—which were not accustomed to religious competition—realized that a free marketplace threatened their dominance of society, they began to put pressure on governments to institute new restrictions on religious practice.

In his fourth set of propositions, Gill suggests that religious organizations will have the most power when they are in the majority and when they are linked to the political faction in government, losing power when their allies are voted out of office. What Gill does not anticipate, however, is the case of hegemonic religious organizations that link themselves to the state, regardless of which political faction is in power. The Orthodox churches have a history of supporting the powers that be, and this does not seem to have changed in contemporary times. While Orthodox churches have tended to ally more closely with nationalist parties during elections, they have voiced little opposition to parties that hold political power. This helps to guarantee that the churches will be able to use their bargaining power as the majority religion to influence regulatory policy in favor of the dominant church.

Looking to specific examples, we observe that the majority Orthodox post-communist governments of Armenia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Georgia, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Serbia, and Ukraine have adopted similar religious policies. The laws in these countries reflect the nationalistic or ethnocentric political bent of the majority religions. They identify the titular Orthodox Church as the traditional or historical religion of the nation, and establish requirements for new groups to be recognized by the state. Sometimes, those requirements entail meeting certain definitions of what it means to be a valid religion, and in many cases establish a tiered system of registration that in effect grants greater legitimacy to some groups over others.

While most of the above countries do not have a state religion, government policies favor the Orthodox Church, and in some cases, the role of the Church as a “national” institution is written into the country's constitution. For example, Belarus has no state church, but a 2002 Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations acknowledges religious organizations based on their historical presence in the country and recognizes the “defining role of the Orthodox Church in the historical formation and development of spiritual, cultural and state traditions of the Belarusian people” (Article 1). The Church leadership endorsed the law and has received state support for church construction and religious education.50 In Armenia, the Apostolic Church is granted official status as the national church and other groups wishing to register as religions are required to subscribe to doctrines based on “historically recognized holy scriptures.”51 The Constitution of Russia recognizes Russian Orthodoxy, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism as “traditional” religions in the country and also notes the “special contribution of Orthodoxy to the history of Russia and to the establishment and development of Russia's spirituality and culture.”52

Another unique feature of the post-communist Orthodox countries is the trend toward restrictions against Orthodox groups not affiliated with the state-sanctioned church. In Belarus, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad was denied registration and ordered to pay massive fines for holding unauthorized religious services.53 In Macedonia, the religion law recognizes five faiths (including the majority Macedonian Orthodox Church) and only allows one denomination of any faith to get legal status.54 The competing Serbian Orthodox Church is not recognized, and its head has been imprisoned on several occasions. In Bulgaria, where Eastern Orthodox Christianity is recognized as the country's traditional faith in the Constitution, the schismatic Alternate Orthodox Synod has been subject to mass church seizures by state police and priests have been faced with financial pressures to rejoin the Bulgarian Orthodox Patriarchate.55 Similar issues exist in Russia, Serbia, and Ukraine. In southwestern Ukraine, a village priest from the Russian Orthodox Church, accused of orchestrating violence against a Romanian Orthodox priest (Bessarabian Metropolitanate), responded that the other priest represented a “diabolical” community and that, “Freedom of religion is a secular law, but we follow God's law. Democracy means that people just do what they want—it comes from the devil. We're not for democracy—we're Orthodox.”56

Majority Orthodox post-communist countries also have laws that grant exclusive authority over religious education to the Orthodox Church, policies to help rebuild and restore Church properties confiscated by the communist state, and numerous other benefits that are only available to the titular church. These laws are not always enforced, but they do receive backing from Orthodox hierarchies. In Russia, lack of enforcement of religious restrictions has led the Moscow Patriarchate to pursue other methods, including entering into agreements with state institutions that give them a privileged position over other religious groups.57 In Moldova, the majority Russian Orthodox Church protested that a 2007 law on religion did not restrict freedom of religion enough.58 In Serbia, the Serbian Orthodox Church has been backed by the government in trying to impose its monopoly over Orthodoxy in the country, excluding or restricting other Orthodox communities in the country (including Romanian, Macedonian, Montenegrin, and Old Calendrist churches).59 Also in Serbia, sources reported that the government delayed completing the text of a controversial religion law in 2005 because it was waiting to get the Serbian Orthodox Church's comments on it.60 In Georgia, despite the end of violent mob attacks of religious minorities led by a “fundamentalist” Orthodox priest, religious minorities continue to face problems constructing new religious buildings, and those who do succeed maintain a low profile to avoid confrontations.61

The Russian Orthodox Church since the dissolution of the Soviet Union has seen the growth of a strong right-wing faction variously referred to as “xenophobic,” “fascist,” and “extreme nationalist.”62 With support from the late patriarch, Aleksii II, individual clergy as well as organizations affiliated with the patriarchate opposed ecumenism by the Church, and have supported an anti-Semitic and anti-Western agenda. Oftentimes this support has been more tacit than overt, with the Patriarch tolerating extremist elements within the Church due to their strength within the organization, fear of schism, and popular support for nationalistic ideology.63 While some have commented on the success of Protestant movements in Russia, their growth has been relatively modest.64

Nationalistic rhetoric is present throughout the post-communist world, expressed not only by religious leaders but political ones as well. In Armenia, the chairman of the office of Religious Affairs stated about religious freedom in the country: “The Armenian Church is the father of the Armenian people. This father was imprisoned and stripped of his children for seventy years. Now that the father is free, others have come to adopt his orphaned children. What we need to do is give the father a chance to reclaim his children.”65 Thus, the Orthodox Church should be given priority in winning back adherents before other groups are allowed to enter the marketplace. In a speech at the opening of a new cathedral in the capital city of Tbilisi, the president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, praised the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church for his service to the Georgian nation acknowledging his role as the country's “Spiritual Father” who “managed to wake up the national spirit.”66 The patriarch is identified as a nation-builder and partner leading the Georgian people. National identity in these and other post-communist countries is equated with Orthodoxy, therefore portraying other religious groups—in particular Christian ones—as foreign and dangerous for the survival of the nation.

The Catholic Church also faced problems in the communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe, though in most countries it has not had as close relations with governments as the Orthodox churches. In Poland, the country most often used as an example of the Church's activism, it allied with the Solidarity political movement and participated in the 1989 Roundtable negotiations that ushered in free elections.67 Unlike in other communist countries, the Vatican was still able to provide financial and personnel support to Poland, therefore keeping it tied to external sources of power.68 An important reason for the Church's oppositional capability lies in its connection to a transnational organization that had a large amount of resources that could be used toward political mobilization. The hierarchical structure of the Church allowed it to speak as a united voice both nationally and internationally. Moreover, the Church was able to install leaders who helped to mobilize indigenous populations to support change—as was the case for Pope John Paul II with Poland. In Czechoslovakia, the Catholic Church inspired the first mass movement of opposition in 1985, leading to momentum in religious-inspired civil activity.69 In Hungary, on the other hand, the Church had little to do with democratic transition, and was relegated mostly to the private sphere.70 This is partly due to the inability of the church to remain completely autonomous from the state during the communist period and the relegation of religion to the private sphere, which took away much of its societal influence. Moreover, Hungary was more religiously plural than some of the other communist bloc states, thus taking away the benefit of monopoly that the Catholic Church was able to use to its advantage in other countries.

Since the overthrow of communism, the Catholic Church has been involved in the politics of countries in Central and Eastern Europe. In democratic Poland, the Church has tried to influence public policy, especially in the fields of education and abortion. It has also worked to establish its place as the majority religion in the country, signing a Concordat with the Polish government in 1998 regulating relations between the church and the state. Anti-cult movements connected with the Roman Catholic Church distribute publications that describe new religious movements as “psychopathological” and “criminal,” contributing to societal intolerance of minority religious groups, or “sects.”71 While the Church's advocacy of Solidarity candidates was accepted by citizens in the first free elections of 1989, Church efforts to be involved in elections since then have not been met favorably, with some arguing that these efforts have weakened the Church's moral authority in the country.72 Nevertheless, as the representative of the majority religious group, the Church has mostly stayed away from advocating restriction of religious liberty for non-Catholics in Poland and has been more concerned with advancing its moral policies.

Straying from its image as a reformist institution, the Catholic Church in Croatia has been regarded as an anti-democratic force, supporting the radical nationalist regime of Franjo Tudjman in the 1990s. However, Bellamy argues that the Church was in fact split between nationalist clergy in rural areas who supported Tudjman and the Croatian Democratic Union (Hrvatska demokratska zajednica, HDZ) and the church hierarchy in Zagreb, which opposed the nationalist conception of Catholicism in Croatia.73 He claims that the Church was forced into a nationalist position due to Serbian Orthodox aggression during the Balkan wars (including bombing of Catholic churches) and that once Tudjman died in 1999, the Church was instrumental in overthrowing HDZ and installing liberal democracy in the country.

From these examples, we see that the Catholic Church has played various roles in both authoritarian and democratic regimes. Particularly in the later half of the twentieth century, the Church was active in resisting authoritarianism and advocating democracy. Even under Communist rule, the Church was able to maintain a presence in several countries, and in some cases serve as an independent social force. The record of the Church in new democracies is more mixed, with it shifting from a position of repressed institution to that of a mainstream actor in society. Forced to play by the rules of democratic society, the Church has had to separate itself from the state and figure out how to influence politics while remaining an independent association within civil society.

Conclusion

What are the implications of church-state cooperation on prospects for democratic consolidation in the post-communist countries, especially the former Soviet republics? By seeking out preferential treatment from political leaders, majority churches may be helping to uphold the status quo, which in many countries has been described as a situation of stalled transition.74 If church and state actors work together to restrict religious liberty, this hinders democratic development in two possible ways. First, unelected officials are influencing laws, which challenges one of Dahl's requirements for democracy.75 In a well-functioning democracy, laws must be drafted and passed by elected representatives of the people, not traditional institutions like churches, which are not held accountable to their constituents through periodic elections. Second, when churches succeed in enforcing religious restrictions, individual freedom is not protected, thus violating the civil and human rights central to democratic societies.

There is also a third possible way that democracy can be hindered by church-state cooperation. As a hegemonic church works with the state to restrict the liberty of religious minorities, fewer groups are able to compete in the religious marketplace, which has the effect of reducing religious diversity. Putting aside the question of whether greater diversity does increase religious participation, restricting the rights of associations to exist and practice freely prevents civil society from acting as a force that can check government abuses of power and provide alternative sources of information to the public. This can have negative implications for democracy, regardless of the dominant religious tradition of the society.

1
Paul Froese, “Hungary for Religion: A Supply-Side Interpretation of the Hungarian Religious Revival,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 40, no. 2 (2001): 251–68; Andrew Greeley, “A Religious Revival in Russia?” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 33, no. 3 (1994): 253–72.
2
Aleš Črnič, “New Religions in ‘New Europe’,” Journal of Church and State 49, no. 3 (2007): 517–51.
3
Stephen V. Monsma and J. Christopher Soper, The Challenge of Pluralism: Church and State in Five Democracies (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997); Alfred Stepan, “Religion, Democracy, and the ‘Twin Tolerations’,” Journal of Democracy 11, no. 4 (2000): 37–57.
4
Samuel P. Huntington, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991).
5
Jose Casanova, Public Religions in the Modern World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994); Monsma and Soper, The Challenge of Pluralism; Alfred Stepan, Arguing Comparative Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).
6
Scott Mainwaring and Alexander Wilde, “The Progressive Church in Latin America: An Interpretation,” in The Progressive Church in Latin America, ed. Mainwaring and Wilde (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989).
7
Daniel Philpott, “The Catholic Wave,” Journal of Democracy 15, no. 2 (2004): 32–46.
8
Casanova, Public Religions in the Modern World, 86–7.
9
Anthony Gill, Rendering unto Caesar: The Catholic Church and the State in Latin America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).
10
Stathis N. Kalyvas, The Rise of Christian Democracy in Europe (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996); Carolyn M. Warner, Confessions of an Interest Group: The Catholic Church and Political Parties in Europe (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000).
11
Rodney Stark and Roger Finke, Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2000), 193.
12
Laurence Iannaccone, “Voodoo Economics? Reviewing the Rational Choice Approach to Religion,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 34, no. 1 (1995): 76–89; Stark and Finke, Acts of Faith.
13
Gill, Rendering unto Caesar.
14
Warner, Confessions of an Interest Group. For critiques of the approach, see Steve Bruce, Choice and Religion: A Critique of Rational Choice Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); Mark Chaves, “On the Rational Choice Approach to Religion,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 34, no. 1 (1995): 98–104; N. J. Demerath, “Rational Paradigms, A-Rational Religion, and the Debate Over Secularization,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 34, no. 1 (1995): 105–12; Joshua Mitchell, “Religion Is Not a Preference,” Journal of Politics 69, no. 2 (2007): 351–62.
15
Roger Finke, “Religious Deregulation: Origins and Consequences,” Journal of Church and State 32, no. 3 (1990): 609–26; Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, The Churching of America: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy (Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1992); Laurence Iannaccone, “Religious Practice: A Human Capital Approach,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 29, no. 3 (1990): 297–314; Laurence R. Iannaccone, “Why Strict Churches Are Strong,” American Journal of Sociology 99, no. 5 (1994): 1180–211.
16
Rodney Stark, “Secularization, R.I.P.,” Sociology of Religion 60, no. 3 (1999): 249–73; Rodney Stark and Laurence Iannaccone, “A Supply-Side Reinterpretation of the ‘Secularization’ of Europe,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 33, no. 3 (1994): 230–52.
17
Kent D. Miller, “Competitive Strategies of Religious Organization,” Strategic Management Journal 23, no. 5 (2002): 435–56.
18
Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976); Stark and Finke, Acts of Faith.
19
Anthony Gill and Arang Keshavarzian, “State Building and Religious Resources: An Institutional Theory of Church-State Relations in Iran and Mexico,” Politics and Society 27, no. 3 (1999): 431–65.
20
Stark and Finke, Acts of Faith, 103.
21
Anne Motley Hallum, “Looking for Hope in Central America: The Pentecostal Movement,” in Religion and Politics in Comparative Perspective: the One, the Few, and the Many, ed. Ted Jelen and Clyde Wilcox (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 225–39.
22
Philip Walters, “A Survey of Soviet Religious Policy,” in Religious Policy in the Soviet Union, ed. Sabrina Ramet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 3–30.
23
Philip Walters, “The Russian Orthodox Church,” in Eastern Christianity and Politics in the Twentieth Century, ed. Pedro Ramet (Durham: Duke University Press, 1988), 61–91.
24
Walter Sawatsky, “Protestantism in the USSR,” in Religious Policy in the Soviet Union, ed. Sabrina Ramet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 319–49.
25
Anna Dickinson, “Quantifying Religious Oppression: Russian Orthodox Church Closures and Repression of Priests 1917–41,” Religion, State & Society 28, no. 4 (2000): 327–35.
26
Walters, “The Russian Orthodox Church,” 61–91.
27
This included evangelical Protestants who refused to join the All-Union Council of Evangelical Christian-Baptists, claiming it was pro-regime, dissident wings of the Seventh-day Adventists and Pentecostals, as well as the Jehovah's Witnesses.
28
Sawatsky, “Protestantism in the USSR,” 319–49.
29
Ibid., 182.
30
John Anderson, Religious Liberty in Transitional Societies: The Politics of Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).
31
Mark Chaves and David E. Cann, “Regulation, Pluralism, and Religious Market Structure: Explaining Religion's Vitality,” Rationality and Society 4, no. 3 (1992): 272–90.
32
Brian J. Grim and Roger Finke, “International Religion Indexes: Government Regulation, Government Favoritism, and Social Regulation of Religion,” Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion 2, no. 1 (2006): 1–40.
33
Jonathan Fox, The Religion and State Project. Dataset and Codebook can be downloaded from http://www.religionandstate.org. Fox uses data from the State Department's International Religious Freedom reports, as well as from other sources.
34
The Fox data are reported for 1992 and 2002, the earliest and latest available dates.
35
Steve Bruce, “The Supply-Side Model of Religion: The Nordic and Baltic States,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 39, no. 1 (2000): 32–46; Ringo Ringvee, “State, Religion, and the Legal Framework in Estonia,” Religion, State & Society 36, no. 2 (2008): 181–96.
36
Frans Hoppenbrouwers, “Romancing Freedom: Church and Society in the Baltic States since the End of Communism,” Religion, State & Society 27, no. 2 (1999): 161–93.
37
Bruce, “The Supply-Side Model of Religion,” 34.
39
Barrett et al., World Christian Encyclopedia, 850.
40
Becky Hsu, Amy Reynolds, Conrad Hackett, and James Gibbon, “Estimating the Religious Composition of All Nations: An Empirical Assessment of the World Christian Database,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 47, no. 4 (2008): 678–93.
41
Christopher Marsh, “Russian Orthodox Christians and Their Orientation toward Church and State,” Journal of Church and State 47, no. 3 (2005): 545–61.
42
David Voas, Alasdair Crockett, and Daniel V. A. Olson, “Religious Pluralism and Participation: Why Previous Research Is Wrong,” American Sociological Review 67, no. 2 (2002): 212–30.
43
Walters, “A Survey of Soviet Religious Policy.”
44
Nikolas K. Gvosdev, An Examination of Church-State Relations in the Byzantine and Russian Empires with an Emphasis on Ideology and Models of Interaction (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 2001); John Meyendorff, The Orthodox Church: Its Past and Its Role in the World Today, trans. J. Chapin (New York: Pantheon, 1960); Aristeides Papadakis, “The Historical Tradition of Church-State Relations Under Orthodoxy,” in Eastern Christianity and Politics in the Twentieth Century, ed. Pedro Ramet (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1988), 37–58.
45
Ronald Grigor Suny, The Revenge of the Past: Nationalism, Revolution, and the Collapse of the Soviet Union (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993).
46
Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (London: Penguin, 1963).
47
Hratch Tchilingirian, “Church and State in Armenia,” Window Quarterly 2, no. 3 (1991).
48
Anthony Gill, The Political Origins of Religious Liberty (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008).
49
Ibid., 52.
50
Geraldine Fagan, “Belarus: Religious Freedom Survey,” Forum 18 News Service, December 14, 2006, http://www.forum18.org (accessed February 11, 2008).
51
U.S. Department of State, “Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, 1999,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, http://www.state.gov/www/global/human_rights/irf/irf_rpt/index.html (accessed December 2, 2002).
52
U.S. Department of State, “International Religious Freedom Report, 2004,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2004/35480.htm (accessed January 3, 2006).
53
Geraldine Fagan, “Belarus: Orthodox Parish Banned from Worshipping,” Forum 18 News Service, November 9, 2005, http://www.forum18.org (accessed February 21, 2008).
54
Drasko Djenovic, “Macedonia: Will Draft New Religion Law End Discrimination?” Forum 18 News Service, February 2, 2007, http://www.forum18.org (accessed February 11, 2008).
55
Felix Corley, “Bulgaria: Religious Freedom Survey,” Forum 18 News Service, March 17, 2006, http://www.forum18.org (accessed February 11, 2008).
56
Felix Corley, “Ukraine: ‘Uncanonical and Diabolical Schismatics Shouldn't Exist’,” Forum 18 News Service, April 25, 2006, http://www.forum18.org (accessed February 14, 2006).
57
Christopher Marsh and Paul Froese, “The State of Freedom in Russia: A Regional Analysis of Freedom of Religion, Media, and Markets,” Religion, State & Society 32, no. 2 (2004): 137–49.
58
Felix Corley, “Moldova: Controversial Religion Law Suddenly Rushed Through Parliament,” Forum 18 News Service, May 16, 2007, http://www.forum18.org (accessed February 12, 2008).
59
Drasko Djenovic, “Serbia: Romanian Priest to Pay for Official Destruction of his Church,” Forum 18 News Service, September 19, 2005, http://www.forum18.org (accessed February 14, 2008).
60
Branko Bjelajac, “Serbia: Orthodox Veto on New Religion Law,” Forum 18 News Service, May 16, 2005, http://www.forum18.org (accessed February 14, 2008).
61
Felix Corley, “Georgia: “Orchestrated Reaction' Against Religious Minorities' Buildings,” Forum 18 News Service, October 25, 2006, http://www.forum18.org (accessed February 14, 2008).
62
Leslie L. McGann, “The Russian Orthodox Church under Patriarch Aleksii II and the Russian State: An Unholy Alliance?” Demokratizatsiya 7, no. 1 (1999): 12–27.
63
Zoe Knox, “Russian Orthodoxy, Russian Nationalism, and Patriarch Aleksii II,” Nationalities Papers 33, no. 4 (2005): 533–45.
64
Sergei Filatov, “Protestantism in Postsoviet Russia: An Unacknowledged Triumph,” Religion, State & Society 28, no. 1 (2000): 93–103; Alexey D. Krindatch, “Patterns of Religious Change in Postsoviet Russia: Major Trends from 1998 to 2003,” Religion, State & Society 32, no. 2 (2004): 115–36.
65
Tchilingirian, “Church and State in Armenia.”
66
Kakha Jibladze, “Defending the Faith? Religion and Politics in Georgia,” Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst 5, no. 23 (2004): 12–13.
67
Donald E. Bain, “Miter Against Missiles: The Papal Challenge to Soviet Regimes in Eastern Europe,” in The Religious Challenge to the State, ed. Matthew Moen and Lowell Gustafson (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992): 131–42; Mirella W. Eberts, “The Roman Catholic Church and Democracy in Poland,” Europe-Asia Studies 50, no. 5 (1998): 817.
68
Timothy A. Byrnes, “The Challenge of Pluralism: The Catholic Church in Democratic Poland,” in Religion and Politics in Comparative Perspective: The One, the Few, and the Many, ed. Ted Jelen and Clyde Wilcox (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002): 27–44.
69
J. F. Brown, Surge to Freedom: The End of Communist Rule in Eastern Europe (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1991).
70
Mary L. Gautier, “Church Elites and the Restoration of Civil Society in the Communist Societies of Central Europe,” Journal of Church and State 40, no. 2 (1998): 289–317.
71
Črnič, “New Religions in ‘New Europe’,” 543.
72
Eberts, “The Roman Catholic Church and Democracy in Poland.”
73
Alex J. Bellamy, “The Catholic Church and Croatia's Two Transitions,” Religion, State & Society 30, no. 1 (2002): 45–61.
74
Thomas Carothers, “The End of the Transition Paradigm,” Journal of Democracy 13, no. 1 (2002): 5–21.
75
Robert A. Dahl, Polyarchy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971).

Author notes

ANI SARKISSIAN (BA, University of California, Berkeley; MA, PhD, University of California, Los Angeles) is an assistant professor of political science, Michigan State University. She has published an article in Religion, State, and Society. Special interests include religion and politics, democratization, and political behavior.