Pub. Date:
Duke University Press Books
Religion and Nationalism in Soviet and East European Politics / Edition 2

Religion and Nationalism in Soviet and East European Politics / Edition 2

by Sabrina P. Ramet
Current price is , Original price is $33.95. You

Temporarily Out of Stock Online

Please check back later for updated availability.


Religious organizations in many countries of the communist world have served as agents for the preservation, defense, and reinforcement of nationalist feelings, and in playing this role have frequently been a source of frustration to the Communist Party elites. Although the relationship between governments and religious groups varies according to the particular country and group in question, the mosaic of these relationships constitutes a revealing picture of the political reform shaping the lives of Soviet and East European citizens.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822308911
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 11/10/1988
Series: Duke Press Policy Studies Series
Edition description: Revised
Pages: 560
Product dimensions: 6.05(w) x 9.24(h) x 1.29(d)

Read an Excerpt

Religion and Nationalism in Soviet and East European Politics

By Pedro Ramet

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1989 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-7799-3


The Interplay of Religious Policy and Nationalities Policy in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe

Pedro Ramet

Religion is not merely a set of beliefs about a "world beyond" but also, and perhaps more importantly, a set of beliefs about how the present world—its law, its authority, its hierarchical relations—should be organized. Liturgy and ritual, valued by participants for the feelings of rapture and spirituality they impart, serve another function, clearly more important from the organizational point of view, viz., that of communal reaffirmation of the authority of ecclesiastical leaders. The breadth of that authority may be narrow, limited essentially to social behavior (morality), or it may extend to prescriptions about attire, culture (as in the proscription of certain kinds of music), civil codes, and political behavior. Religion, as Talcott Parsons recognized, "is the point of articulation between the cultural system and the social system, where values from the former are embodied in the latter."

The claims of the great monotheistic religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism) were traditionally absolute, not relative; the appearance in recent decades of "nondenominational churches" is one sign of an attenuation of this absoluteness, but even now, the moral injunctions of most, if not all, religions are certainly intended to have absolute and universal validity, and they are backed by the authority of a putative being said to be omnipotent and omnibenevolent. More generally, no religion has ever allowed that its doctrines might be only relatively true—not even the polytheist Olympian religion of ancient Greece and Rome. Moreover, the relative toleration found in many modern societies probably has more to do with compromise born in the mix of religions rather than with the content of any one religion, and with the diminishing ability of many religions to compel conformity among their own members (as seen in the widespread acceptance of contraceptives among American Catholics). At the same time religion has always looked back to its sources and read into those sources a particular meaning: that meaning constitutes itself as a claim upon the loyalty of a community as a community—Irish and Poles are expected to be Catholic, Russians and Bulgarians are expected to be Orthodox, Arabs and Turks are expected to be Muslim. The Orthodox Pole, the Baptist Russian, and the Protestant Turk are all, in a very real sense, viewed as nationally disloyal.

Theocracy was one of the earliest forms of government, and perhaps the first form of government to become institutionally developed. The papal states, the caliphate, and the Orthodox churches under the Ottoman millet system all exemplify this principle in different forms. Regardless of what religious organizations may profess to be today, their incunabula were quintessentially political, and churches may, accordingly, be regarded as vestigial political organizations par excellence. Shorn of their governing function and, in recent centuries, increasingly shorn of their monopoly in spheres of socialization (education, historiography, literature, music, and the arts), the churches have retained their political character by adopting a new countenance as the guardians of discrete interests, even as interest groups. When we say, then, that religion's claims are absolute, we perceive that religion has always played a powerful role in cementing the loyalty of citizens toward their national collectivities.

This is only half the picture, however. To describe religion merely as an epiphenomenon of political development would obscure the organic nexus between religion and nation (Volk in German, narod in Russian). Religion was, in its origin, tribal and then national, and its gods were the gods of the tribe and nation. Wars waged between ancient peoples were assumed to have a supernatural dimension as the divine protectors of warring peoples were presumed to contest among themselves. And even when, in Greece, a polytheist universe became generally accepted, the individual city-states retained their favorites (Athena for Athens, for example). Religion, thus, was national before it was universal.

An early attempt by the Egyptian pharoah Ikhnaton (Amenhotep III) to establish universalist ethics based on a monotheist creed fell through for lack of support; when one of his followers, Moses, organized the escape of Jewish captives and brought the universalist creed to them, it soon became, in their hands, a national religion, and Adonai (Jehovah) reverted to the traditional role of protector of his "chosen people."

Christianity was the first religion to make the transition from being a national religion to being a universal religion to which national borders are meaningless. But even for Christianity, the transition was incomplete. There are two chief reasons for this. The first is that in the eastern Mediterranean basin, where Christianity first established its roots, it evolved a network of national patriarchs who, as spiritual leaders of their nations, were inevitably cast also in the roles of national leaders or potential national leaders. Second, in the West, where the bishop of Rome established unchallenged primacy even before the demise of the West Roman Empire, the fragmentation produced by the Protestant Reformation allowed religion to once more become a source and exacerbant of international discord. The principle of cuius regio eius religio codified a principle which only increased the likelihood that Spaniards should think of themselves as Catholics, Genevans as Calvinists, Dutchmen as Protestant-Reformed, and so on.

This identification of sundry religious affiliations with various ethnic and national identities has, however, made the self-appointed task of the communist authorities everywhere more difficult. On the one hand, religious organizations can less easily be tamed, suppressed, or destroyed outright insofar as they are widely viewed as national institutions. And on the other hand, among those regimes which either deny ethnic heterogeneity (Bulgaria) or seek to assimilate and denationalize the ethnic minorities (the Soviet Union and Romania), the religious element infuses national survival with spiritual values, making assimilation—perhaps especially where Muslims are concerned—a threat to the religious community itself. Even in countries which have abandoned earlier assimilation programs (Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia), the churches (in these cases, the Catholic church chiefly) are identified in the popular memory with truncated national states and are viewed by some as hotbeds of ethnic secessionism.

Military conquerors and separatists alike have recognized the political potency of national churches and their utility in weaning populations from earlier allegiances. Thus, the Germans allowed believers in occupied Belorussia to organize a Belorussian Autocephalous Orthodox church in 1941, with Metropolitan Panteleimon at its head, and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox church, revived the following year, was to play an active role in fomenting anti-Russian Ukrainian nationalism in German-occupied Ukraine during World War II. Similarly, Ante Pavelic, poglavnik of the wartime Independent State of Croatia, established an autocephalous Croatian Orthodox church in April 1942, placing the old Russian bishop, Germogen, at its head, in hopes of convincing some Orthodox believers that they were Croats.

If the endeavor to break a people's link with its own past can take the form of the establishment of new and "autocephalous" churches, it can also manifest itself in the suppression of native liturgies. The Russian tsars wanted to sap Polish and Lithuanian nationalism and thus demanded that the Catholic church in Polish and Lithuanian districts substitute Russian for Latin as the official church language and language of the liturgy: a Russianized Catholic church was supposed to serve as the vehicle of the Russification of these non-Russian lands. The Austrian emperor Franz Josef adopted the opposite tactic for the same end, persuading the pope to withhold approval for the introduction of Slavic-language liturgy in Croatia, in the belief that the Latin rite was one of the most effective obstacles to Croatian-Serbian rapprochement. Contemporary Bulgaria affords a more radical example of the same tendency; instead of merely suppressing a liturgy, however, the regime set out to efface cultural heterogeneity at a blow. Muslims in Bulgaria were ordered to adopt Christian names and to "adapt" to Bulgarian culture. In 1980 Turkish sources claimed that tens of thousands of recalcitrant Bulgarian Muslims, including many of Turkish ethnicity, had been drugged and tortured at mental institutions for resisting Bulgarianization. The Bulgarian ruling party, like most communist parties, places a premium on homogenization: it views religious culture within this context.

Thus, if "national" churches can tangibly buttress the position of a government, they can also undermine its stability where they advocate the rights of ethnic minorities in multiethnic states. The examples of the Catholic church in Slovakia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Croatia, and Romania, of the Lutheran church in Estonia, and of the Orthodox churches of Serbia and Georgia all illustrate oppositionist politics in defense of national minorities. By contrast, the Orthodox churches of Russia, Bulgaria, and Romania and the Catholic church of Hungary have all managed to accommodate themselves to the political status quo, and church-state relations in these four instances are uniformly described by the authorities as good. It is worth noting that three of these countries—Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary—are ethnically essentially homogeneous, with no large national minorities.

This chapter will outline the differences in the policies of European communist regimes toward the Orthodox churches, the Greek Catholic (Uniate) churches, the Roman Catholic church, and the Muslim community, and it will argue that these differences are, at least in part, explicable in terms of considerations of nationalism. The chapter will also highlight the interplay of religious policy and nationalities policy in multiethnic states and will suggest some ways in which nationalities policy, conversely, is affected by considerations of religious policy.


Religion may be understood as an interrelated set of assumptions about the nature and meaning of human existence, which are thought to have absolute validity and which are actively propagated by an institution or organized sect. Accordingly, the defense of national culture by religious organizations implies some superordinate value or right enjoyed by the nation. And because the validity of religious assumptions is usually taken as a given—beyond scrutiny—religion, like national culture, contains within itself the possibility of intolerance. At least until recently, those holding other assumptions have been generally viewed as errant and mistaken at best, as cursed and reprehensible at worst. Following Dimitry Pospielovsky, nationalism is defined here as collective affectivity focused on the cultural-linguistic group, manifested in the attribution of central importance to the national culture—including its religion—and in the aspiration to promote the national culture. Thus, when a religious organization becomes involved in nationalism, there is a strong tendency to "spiritualize" the concept of national destiny and to infuse the preservation of ethnic culture with intrinsic value. At its most extreme this tendency is manifested in the neotribal revival—consciously or unconsciously—of the primeval myth of the "chosen people," a myth inextricably bound up with the concept of a historical task entrusted to the "chosen people." Sarajevo archbishop Ivan Šaric, for instance, told Croatian nationalists and Ustaše sympathizers in 1936 that "God sides with the Croats," later adding in defense of the Ustaše program that it was "stupid and unworthy of Christ's disciples to think that the struggle against evil could be waged in a noble way and with gloves on." More recently, in a widely advertised book published by the Serbian Orthodox church in the early 1970s, Orthodox priest Dr. Lazar Milin claimed this special place for the Serbs, associating it, however, with prolonged suffering. "The Serbian people is Christ's people," wrote Milin, adding that "the Serbian people as a whole has suffered more for the faith of Christ than many, many other peoples." Among the Poles, Stanislaw Staszic (1775–1826), a Catholic priest, claimed for Poland a special civilizing mission and argued for the unification of Europe in a federation under Russian political leadership and Polish cultural guidance. Similarly, the sixteenth-century Russian monk Filofei (Philotheus) linked the fate of Christianity to the fate of Russia, which he called the Third, and last, Rome. This conviction of Russia's unique religiosity and special destiny would later inspire the nineteenth-century Russian Slavophiles, for whom the purity of Russian Orthodoxy constituted evidence of Russian chosenness. And finally, the pattern repeated itself in fifteenth-century (Hussite) Czechoslovakia, where, as Joseph Zacek has noted, "Catholic Europe's characterization of the Czechs as 'a nation of heretics' provoked a feeling of defensive solidarity permeated with a national religious messianism, a mystical conviction that the Czech nation was the most Christian of all and had been elected by God to revive the fallen Church."

National-religious messianism, which links religious "orthodoxy" to a God-given national mission, appears to arise in contexts of confrontation with external foes of rival religious affiliation. The consequences of national-religious messianism are the reinforcement of the linkage between national identity and a particular religion and the compulsion of state authorities to deal with certain religious organizations as ethnic spokesmen.


Communist religious policy is adjusted to specific churches, and hence within any given communist country one can expect to find differences in policy, depending on which religious group is being examined. Since there are some uniformities discrete to specific confessional groups, it also becomes possible to identify patterns in communist religious policy, across the region. Accordingly, I shall organize my discussion by religious group, rather than on a country-by-country basis.

Communist religious policy is determined by at least six important factors: (1) the size of the religious organization in question, (2) the organization's disposition to subordinate itself to political authority and its amenability to infiltration and control by the secret police, (3) the question of allegiance to a foreign authority, (4) the loyalty or disloyalty of the particular body during World War II, (5) the ethnic configuration of the respective country, and (6) the dominant political culture of the country.

What is clear from this listing is that although it will be argued here that there are general patterns differentiating communist policies toward Orthodoxy from those toward Uniates, toward Roman Catholicism, and again toward Islam, there will be some variation from country to country, as determined chiefly by factors 1, 4, 5, and 6. The Catholic church in Poland, thus, with more than 30 million adherents, is understandably less vulnerable than the Catholic church proved to be in Bulgaria, where it numbers only sixty thousand believers (less than 1 percent of the population). Again, while the Catholic church in Slovakia and the Uniate (Greek Catholic) church in Ukraine are susceptible to the charge of collaboration with the Nazis in World War II, the Catholic church in Poland was active in anti-Nazi resistance, as were many churches in Germany. Again, where the ethnic heterogeneity of the USSR and Yugoslavia, and to a lesser extent of Czechoslovakia and Romania as well, increase the likelihood that ethnically based confessional groups will prove to be destabilizing factors, the relative ethnic homogeneity of Poland and Bulgaria permits the Catholic church in Poland and the Bulgarian Orthodox church to play integrative roles—even if the former has been associated with opposition to the regime, while the latter has been co-opted into a kind of "partnership." And finally, where the political culture is both more quiescent and more anticlerical (as in the Czech lands), the church will be more vulnerable than in countries with a culture of defiance and religiosity (e.g., Poland).


Excerpted from Religion and Nationalism in Soviet and East European Politics by Pedro Ramet. Copyright © 1989 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface to the Second Edition ix

Preface to the First Edition xi

Part I. Comparative Analysis

1. The Interplay of Religious Policy and Nationalities Policy in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe / Pedro Ramet 3

2. The Historical Role of Religious Institutions in Eastern Europe and Their Place in the Communist Party-State / Peter F. Sugar 42

3. Jewish Nationality and Religion in the USSR and Eastern Europe / Zvi Gitelman 59

Part II. The Soviet Union

4. The "Russian Orientation" and the Orthodox Church: From the Early Slavophiles to the "Neo-Slavophiles" in the USSR / Dimitry Pospielovsky 81

5. Catholicism and Nationalism in Lithuania / Kęstutis K. Girnius 109

6. Religion and Nationalism in Ukraine / Vasyl Markus 138

7. Religion and Nationalism in Soviet Georgia and Armenia / S. F. Jones 171

8. Islam and Nationalism in Soviet Central Asia / James Critchlow 196

Part III. Eastern Europe

9. The Luther Revival: Aspects of National Abgrenzung and Confessional Gemeinschaft in the Germanic Democratic Republic / Dan Beck 223

10. Church and Nationality in Postwar Poland / Vincent C. Chrypinski 241

11. Christianity and National Heritage among the Czechs and Slovaks / Pedro Ramet 264

12. Religion and Nationalism in Hungary / Leslie László 286

13. Religion and Nationalism in Yugoslavia / Pedro Ramet 299

14. Religion and Nationalism in Romania / Trond Gilberg 328

15. Nationalism and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church / Spas T. Raikin 352

16. The Fate of Islam in the Balkans: A Comparison of Four State Policies / Zachary T. Irwin 378

Part IV. Conclusion

17. Conclusion / Pedro Ramet 411

Notes 425

About the Contributors 499

Index 503

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews