Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Religion in South-East Europe

At the January meeting of Stockport Humanists Pavle Mocilac gave a talk on Religion and Humanism in the Balkans (or preferably, "South-East Europe") with the help of some very impressive maps. 

Religion is a major factor in determining politics in South East Europe. Ethnic boundaries did not match the boundaries of the Republics and ethnic characteristics are very complicated so Religion became the basis of the various countries. Thus if a person leaves his/her religion and become an atheist the effect is to deny their national identity. This is treasonous in tribal society. 

When Yugoslavia was ruled by Tito, there was massive secularisation of state and society. There was freedom to practice religion but it was discouraged.  Church properties were nationalised and education was provided by the state. There was a feminist agenda with female voting rights, legalised abortion, 
contraception, healthcare and the right to work. Burqa, Niqabs and Hijabs were discouraged. No churches or mosques were destroyed but interference by the churches in politics was banned and this was strictly enforced. As a consequence there was an increase in non-believers and religion was wiped from politics. 

After the death of Tito and the fall of communism there was liberalisation, democratisation and a return to religion. Many people professed to religious belief to prove they were not communists. There was an economic crisis in 1980-91 and a massive rise in nationalism 1986-90. 

Following the Balkan wars of the 1990s, new states emerged. Constitutionally all the countries are secular but in reality religion plays a big part in them all. 

In 1997-8 Croatia made agreements with the Roman Catholic Church known as The Vatican Contracts, resulting in confessional religious education being introduced in the state public education system. State funding of £30million per year is paid to the church and Clergy and RE teachers are paid by the state.The church can also raise its own funds without paying tax. Politicians are afraid to challenge this because the Vatican contracts have the status of international treaties. 

In Serbia the Government introduced confessional RE into public schools by decree. State funding goes to seven traditional churches but the majority goes to the Serbian Orthodox church. Nationalised properties have been returned, and postal stamps finance the Orthodox Temple. Serbs cannot be atheist or unbaptised so Serbia is being turned into an ‘Orthodox Iran’. The clergy support clerco-fascist and extreme right wing organisations, gay pride is not allowed and women’s rights are under threat. 

Bosnia and Herzegovina has turned into a triple Theocracy with Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim factions. The Wahhabi/Salafi movement is a major threat. At least 150 have gone to fight for ISIS and the radical media openly supports ISIS. 
In spite of all this atheists exist in the former Yugoslavia and belong to such organisations as Atheist and Agnostics of Croatia, Centre for Civil Courage and Movement for Secular Croatia.  

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