First of all, if you keep on with this website, you will know that I have argued how sociologists should rather ‘report’ the reality rather than recycle the old books without bringing the new, the actual times we live in to surface. (click HERE for post) Therefore, I am leaving here an essay I have written with loads of passion since it concerns my home country, Romania. I hope I did bring that level of reality in it and that I made myself clear in the arguments!
Religion has always been a major player on societies stages and thus scholars have always taken great interest in it. Taking for granted Bruce’s definition of religion that it is “beliefs, actions and institutions that assume the existence of supernatural entities with powers of judgement and action… [and] the more philosophical forms of Buddhism and Hinduism” (2003: 10) and glancing through history to each territory, it is obvious that humanity has almost always been religiously involved. Beliefs have always been the strongest argument for oneself and the stronger those are, the more real they become in the group that shares them. The quote “if something is done wrong enough times it becomes right” is my standpoint towards religious implications and motivations for war throughout history, regardless of the exact type of religion or cause of war. Having an aim to fight for implies the absolute conviction of being right and that is settled in the minds through the belief that one is entitled to be right, has the background and reasons to be absolute right, that has always been ‘God’s will’, ‘God chose us’, ‘With the help of God’, etc. Although science may sometimes have been a suppressing factor, religion has often been used as a motivator. Conquering territories and enslaving locals have never had anything to do with rationality, but greed and belief of empowerment by a supernatural force. Regardless whether a leader has been deeply religious, officers and people involved within the wars had to either be paid to, promised reimbursement, forced, or to be extreme nationalists and religious so that they would go through the battles.
The most effective example to sustain the fact that religion has been a major player in political actions is nationalism. But that is, as well, the most effective example to show that religion is also a preserving method, identifier, and relief. As any existent factor within societies at any given time, religion also has both positive and negative consequences/outcomes. One positive is, obviously deduced, keeping national identity through the war. Even if the war itself had the negative implication of religious empowerment. Looking over Polish history, it is clearly seen how religion shaped and preserved Polish identity while circled by Lutheran Protestants and Orthodox. While under the communist government, the Polish Catholic Church has been the only oasis for national preservation and regardless of actual belief, individuals were identifying as Catholic. The same course of action stands behind Irish nationality. But while independence was slowly achieved, so were religious practices declining, as preservation was no longer needed.
The two sides (conquered, conquerors) ‘used’ religion for the suitable reason and that makes the overall topic of religion from a sociological perspective extremely complex and usually left without a straight-forward, one-line conclusion. European religious history is much less complex than any other, including the U.S.A situation, to which if we look at mostly today is highly ambiguous in the sense that is an amalgam of everything around the world and a creation of new beliefs that makes it hard to pinpoint and complex to discuss. But to draw an overall summary, religion has a major play part through history, nationalism is most of the times its manufacture, and although declining in personal importance i.e. secularisation, religion still plays an important role in international politics. But does it play just as an important role internally? Since, as seen, religion preserved Polish/Irish nationality and did that for other too, does it influence nationality today? And considering the massive territory that Catholicism of any type occupies, what is the status of Orthodox Christianity in Europe today? This essay will look at a brief history of the Romanian Orthodox Church and its influences and meanings in politics, and then will try to assess the contemporary religious-political situation within the said territory. First and foremost, Romania has always been an Orthodox nation. Being formed on the Gets-Dacians territory conquered by Romans (Traian/Trojan), St. Andrew is said to have preached orthodoxy since the very beginning. While the Gets-Dacians were polytheists, what followed to be Romania has been influenced by the Greek Orthodox Church and thus adopting Orthodox Christianity.
Romania, the Monarchy: before 1947
Before the Communist era, Romania has been a highly religious populous, valuing the dogma and behaving conservatively. Following the Bible, Romanians were celebrating all the Saint-Days, caring for Sundays as a rest-day, keeping the morale to ‘the word of God’, etc. Politically, I will start with Romania as a monarchy, after its independence in 1881, with king Ferdinant I. This is because I find it most important what happens at the end of Romania as a monarchy, the Communist era and the so-called Recovery, while the religious situation sees massive changes mostly through these times.
When Ferdinand I took the throne, influenced by his English Wife, Marie, he declared participation in war in 1916 along with France, England, and Russia willing the reunion with Transylvania. Having won, he and his wife become King and Queen of Greater Romania in 1922. 1927 brings a new king for Romania, but his background is highly important for the years to come. Carol II had to be pressured by his parents to marry the Greek princess Elena, so then in 1921, Mihai is born. Even so, Carol II begins an affair with Elena Lupescu and he moves to Paris in 1925. He had a regime of economic development but seen at his lifestyle as well, his political atmosphere was unstable. He becomes a personality cult, but he also laid the path for extreme politics by establishing an authoritarian monarchy in 1938. It is said that he ruled against his country’s best interests and his prestige and Greater Romania dramatically fall in the 1940s. Carol II is exiled in Portugal in 1953 and Romania sees Mihai The King. Seen as still young, he signs full power over to General Antonescu, constructing the second step on the path to the Communist regime. The end of Romanian monarchy is when Mihai was obliged to include Petru Groza as prime minister in March 1945 and so the path was walked to the door waiting to be opened. Romania was drawn into the Russian sphere of influence and regardless of Mihai’s struggles, he abdicates from the throne in 1947 when the Romanian Communist era begins.
Through these changes in the monarchy, Romanians remain orthodox, conservatives and ‘people with the fear of God’, following the Bible, attending services, etc. Churches were built as signs of winning through history (e.g. conquering or getting back a territory), thus people have always seen the churches as a Romanian symbol which gave hope and a sense of unity. Overall, until 1947, Romanians saw religion as a given to them, unquestionable truth, relief. I can argue, religion in Romania did not influence monarchical powers, as a sense of unity throughout has always existed. Even through war years, Romania itself has never weaponised its beliefs in God. It struggled between more powerful decision-making entities and has been always keen on not losing or taking back its territories. Being a quite small country, Romania would not afford to start a battle in any sense, so then religion was serving as hope and an escaping gate, rather than a motive to stir issues. On the other hand, religion has been a political aspect in Romania all the time, having the Patriarch as a Prime Minister and a member of the royal regency in the inter-war period, but this will only affect what I will discuss within the third chapter, that of contemporary situations.
Romania: The Communist Era, 1947-1989
“The Romanian Communists abolished other churches, but preserved a special attitude towards the Orthodox Church… As long as the church hierarchy supported the regime and the church remained engaged in propaganda the communists did not oppose it” (Leustean, 2007: 304). Although the quote is sincere, the events that took place are taking a turn and resulting in strengthening religious behaviour in Romania. It is related that in 1948 that “the law abolished the role that the Church once played in the State education, but preserves the control which the state has always exercised over the church” (Meyendorff, 1981: 149), that means that the church does not have power over the communist regime, but the regime over it. Relating, the Romanian Orthodox Church is said to have had 18 monasteries and around 12 million faithful while also retaining some of its properties while the communist regime took properties from everyone who owned.
Called now the Socialist Republic of Romania, its history has been altered in favour of communism and although under Russian maintenance the Orthodox Church did not suffer, except having to preach the URSS. But under the regime of Gheorghiu-Dej, the Romanian communism tries to weaken the churches power by controlling its hierarchy and denying its right to pursue educational and charitable activities (Stan and Turcescu, 2007). Then between 1965 and 1977, the church-state relations were softened, and the monasteries stopped being closed. The Orthodox Church has seen a light when Ceausescu used it to part Romania from Moscow and to integrate within the West as he needed financial support for his industrialisation projects. As soon as this has been achieved, religious prosecution has been a daily issue.
It is now to be seen a slight mirror of the Polish situation. Being forbidden to practice any religious rituals or even speak in religious terms, Romanians have lost their hope, the relief, the oasis of peace that religion used to mean. Thus between 1947 – 1989, they seem to strongly keep their beliefs. A tale that I have always been told is the struggle to teach children to never say Santa Claus, but Father Winter – this issue functioned in the following way: families wanted to preserve their Orthodoxy, thus hid their religious practices. Religious prosecution was reinforced and thus children were forbidden to use the terms that they would have heard in the family. The risk was high, but the will of preserving Orthodoxy was much higher. While Ceausescu was ordering the demolition/movement of churches the foreign minister Grigore Prioteasa was using his Orthodox knowledge to advance bilateral relations with the UK (September 1955). Similar incidents happened, and the regime became aware that religion could be used to benefit their position. Therefore, the Romanian Orthodox Church slowly gained its own way of contributing to promoting ethnologies and historical continuity.
The issue that is not emphasised as much as it should be is that, although the Orthodox Church was playing communist propaganda, Ceausescu ruled against it. Considering that my focus is rather sociological than historical, my argument for the discrepancy is that Ceausescu has been an eccentric nationalist who was willing to step over anything for its own proclamation, while narcissism and lack of social skills are also part of his description. Therefore, him banning religious practices is a way of gaining more attention, positive or negative. By the time he realised that he could take advantage of the Orthodox Church for its international relations, he immediately proceeded to let it operate under clear instructions. For his own benefit, as well, in 1972, his father had an official Orthodox funeral, his mother was a convinced religious individual, and communist officials could be baptised, religiously married and buried (Stan and Turcescu, 2007: 48/9).
Romania in the Communist Era saw a separation of church and state, but that being by force, did not only not last, but strengthened people’s will to religious behaviour. The connection between religion and politics is roughly unchanged. Under monarchical powers, religion and state had a strong harmonic connection, but in the communist times, the connection was even stronger because of the higher level of identification of Romanians with the Orthodox Church. On the other hand, the religions that have been abolished (see the first quote) barely resurrected after 1989. Romania is ranking the highest when asked if it believes in God, 92% in 2015, with 85% of the populous being declared Orthodox Christian in the same year (indexmundi).
Romania, the recovery period to present
I will briefly mention that the Church has been extremely important right after 1989. Attendance has slightly grown (after the restoration of the buildings and reinforcement of clergy) and religious practices were made public and actioned with pride. But on the other hand, Romanian economy was falling and monetary issues started to be the biggest problem. Throughout, Religion has been separated from the state and secularisation took place in Romania as well. Today, we are facing a government that cannot use religious motives to be voted or to explain their actions. Politics today see an alienation from God and democracy has set roots in the country. But looking closely at the situation, the Church is by far separated from the state. Again, religion is, the church is not. Romania has vast urban areas, schools and very good universities. But, it has many more rural areas with far away schools, almost no hospitals, etc. Rural areas in Romania are dull and some lack basic needs such as bathrooms and current water. 45% of Romanians live in rural areas (World Bank collection of development indicators, 2016). And the most important aspect is that, no matter how small the village is (the smallest that I have travelled to had 25 houses), there is a church.
On the other hand, the political system is highly corrupted, and the economy falls lower and lower with decreasing salaries (increasing taxes and prices, steady pay or slight increase but less than the sum of taxes and living expenses). Overall, as of 2018, Romania sees a decline in young professionals, decline in education quality and attendance, decline in trust in political decision-making, democracy itself (the lesser of two evils principle: you can vote, but what are you voting?). The implication of the Church is rather unfortunate. The institution does not pay taxes but it receives state befits i.e. receives payment from individuals’ taxes, no opt-out option, opt-in is automatic. More and more Churches are being built and, as a political merge, Romania sees the construction of a Mosque as well (the reason is too complex for this essay and would not affect the logic of conclusion). These are constructed from taxpayers’ money. Therefore, the Church lacks its meaning of hope and relief and stopped conducting social help. More and more social movements claim ‘I believe in the separation of the church from the state’. More frustrating for Romanians is that, by law, the Church has no political implications. Even so, the religious activities are used for political propaganda in the sense that mass-media still feels the need to announce who joined what religious practice, making the reputation of pious leaders or such.
The Economists writes that “The National Agency Against Corruption revealed a phone conversation between Patriarch Daniel, the head of the Romanian Orthodox Church, and Viorel Hrebenciuc, a well-known Social Democrat MP. According to the transcript, the politician told the Church leader that he can help him get a loan for the construction of the cathedral from Banco Espirito Santo, the “Holy Spirit” Bank, in Portugal. The case is under investigation” (July 2012). In the same article, the economist states that “The Church claims to have around 18m followers in Romania, which accounts for over 80% of the total population. The Orthodox Church has refused to offer The Economist‘s correspondent in Bucharest an explanation. Clerics avoid talking about the Church’s sources of finance and about its fortune. Yet judging by the luxurious cars the Church leaders were seen in at some public events, one might conclude that their finances are not too bad at all”. I am choosing to leave the whole quote as I find it the perfect summary of what I meant through the implication of Church in politics, but not religion. And one shall not think that The Economist is the only one writing these lines. More and more news channels relate the same stories in different situations and myself, having lived and regularly visiting, can firmly affirm that the relationship between church and the state is indeed strong, while religion itself is seen as a completely different story.
To summarise the ideas from the last three chapters, Romania is a country of believers. They have always relied on religion, used religion as a peaceful oasis, and always trusted their God. Romania has never seen a decline in religious practices per se because even during the communist era, people were still privately practising. Their belief never motivated wars or instigated hate towards them, but the Church today seems to have separated from religion, having the institution highly connected to political life. In the past, religion was highly and rightfully implicated in politics. Building monasteries as monuments, religion was giving a moral to judge by and politicians were quite attentive to it to be approved by the population. But with secularisation, morale and daily life are dictated by rational thinking, and religion is not influencing Romanian politics, nor do politics influence Romanian religion.
- Bruce, S. (2003). ‘Religion’, p. 1-14, Politics & Religion. Polity Press, UK.
- ERASMUS blog on The Economist, 2017 ‘Eastern Europe’s patriotic faith’. https://www.economist.com/blogs/erasmus/2017/05/religion-after-communism
- IndexMundi, Jan 2018, ‘Romania Demographics Profile 2018’. https://www.indexmundi.com/romania/demographics_profile.html
- Irimie, R. C. (2014). ‘Religion and Political Identification in Communist Romania’, POLIS Revista de Stiinte Politice [POLIS Journal of Political Sciences]. II.2(4): 47-66.
- C. The Economist Bucharest, 2012. ‘The Mystery of God’s way in Romanian Politics’. http://www.economist.com/http%3A/%252Fwww.economist.com/node/21556502
- Lupisor, A., 2018, ‘A short History of the Romanian Monarchy’. https://www.historia.ro/sectiune/general/articol/a-short-history-of-the-romanian-monarchy
- Mircea, No date, ‘History of the Romanian Orthodox Church’. http://www.atlantaserbs.com/learnmore/history/romanian-church.htm
- Trending Economics, 2018, ‘Romania – Rural population’. https://tradingeconomics.com/romania/rural-population-percent-of-total-population-wb-data.html