Is country more important or religion

Eastern and Western Europeans differ in their views on the importance of religion, attitudes towards minorities and their opinions on important social issues

WASHINGTON, D.C. (October 24, 2018) - The Iron Curtain that once divided Europe may long be a thing of the past, but the continent is now divided by great differences in public attitudes towards religion, minorities and social issues such as same-sex marriage and legal abortion. Fewer Central and Eastern Europeans, compared to Western Europeans, would welcome Muslims or Jews into their families or neighborhoods, extend the right to marry to gay or lesbian couples, or extend the definition of national identity to those born outside their country.

These differences emerge from a series of surveys the Pew Research Center conducted between 2015 and 2017 of nearly 56,000 adults (18 years and older) in 34 western, central and eastern European countries, and they more than divide the continent Decade after the European Union began to expand far beyond its Western European roots to include, among other Central European countries, Poland and Hungary and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

This continental divide in attitudes and values ​​can in some cases be extreme. For example say in almost all Central and Eastern European countries Less than half of adults that they would be willing to accept Muslims as family members; say in almost every Western European country surveyed more than half that they would accept a Muslim as a family member. A similar gap emerges between Central / Eastern Europe and Western Europe with regard to the acceptance of Jews into their own families.

In a separate question, Western Europeans are far more likely than their Central and Eastern European neighbors to say that they would accept Muslims in their neighborhood. For example, 83% of Finns say they would be willing to accept Muslims as neighbors, compared to 55% of Ukrainians. And while the gap is less pronounced, Western Europeans are also more inclined to accept Jews in their neighborhoods.

Attitudes towards religious minorities in Europe go hand in hand with different understandings of national identity. When they were under the influence of the Soviet Union, many Central and Eastern European countries officially pushed religion out of the public eye. But today for most people living in the former Eastern Bloc, being a Christian (whether Catholic or Orthodox) is an important part of their national identity.

In Western Europe, on the other hand, most people do not feel that religion is an integral part of their national identity. In France and the UK, for example, most say that being a Christian is not important to be a true French or a true British.

Of course, not every country in Europe clearly falls into this pattern. The Czech Republic, for example, was part of the Eastern Bloc and has remained a very non-denominational country. Few Czechs today say that Christianity is an important part of their national identity. But most Czechs say they are unwilling to accept Muslims as family members, and only about half are willing to accept Jews. It is similar in the Baltic states of Latvia and Estonia, where the vast majority of people say that being Christian (especially Lutheran) is not important to their national identity. Yet relatively few Latvians and Estonians are willing to accept Muslims as family members or neighbors.

A general east-west pattern is also evident in relation to at least one other aspect of nationalism: cultural chauvinism. In the surveys, respondents across the continent were asked if they agree with the statement: "Our people are not perfect, but our culture is superior to others". Although there are exceptions, Central and Eastern Europeans are more inclined to say that their culture is superior. In fact, the eight countries where this attitude prevails are all geographically to the east: Greece, Georgia, Armenia, Bulgaria, Russia, Bosnia, Romania, and Serbia.

These and other questions about national identity, religious minorities, and cultural superiority, taken together, seem to illustrate a European split, with a high level of religious nationalism in the East and more openness to multiculturalism in the West. Other questions asked in the survey point to another “value gap” between East and West on important social issues such as same-sex marriage and legal abortion.

In every Western European country surveyed, majorities are in favor of same-sex marriage and almost all of these countries have legally recognized it. In Central and Eastern Europe, public opinion is completely different; in almost all of the countries surveyed, majorities oppose gays and lesbians being legally allowed to marry. None of the Central and Eastern European countries surveyed allow same-sex marriages.

In some cases, these views are held almost universally. Around nine out of ten Russians are against legal same-sex marriage, while similarly one-sided majorities in the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden are in favor of gay and lesbian couples marrying legally.

Although abortion is generally legal in both Central / Eastern and Western Europe, there are regional differences in views on this issue as well. In every Western European nation surveyed - including heavily Catholic countries Ireland, Italy and Portugal - six in ten or more adults say that abortion should be legal in all or most of the cases.

But in the east the views are more diverse. Some Central and Eastern European countries, such as the Czech Republic, Estonia and Bulgaria, advocate legal abortions. But in a few other countries, including Poland, Russia, and Ukraine, opinion is slipping the other way, with respondents more likely to say that abortion should be largely or entirely illegal.

The survey results suggest that the regional division of Europe with regard to same-sex marriage may continue in the future: in most countries in Central and Eastern Europe, young adults are only slightly less opposed to recognizing same-sex marriage than older people.

For example, 61% of younger Estonians (18 to 34 years old) are against recognition of same-sex marriage in their country, compared with 75% of those over 35. In this regard, young Estonian adults are six times more likely to reject same-sex marriages than older adults in Denmark (10%). This pattern applies to the entire region; young adults in almost every Central and Eastern European country are much more conservative on this issue than younger and older Western Europeans.

When it comes to attitudes towards Muslims and Jews, young adults in most Central and Eastern European countries are also no more tolerant than their older fellow citizens.

As a result, this younger generation in Central and Eastern Europe is much less likely than their contemporaries in Western Europe to express openly to Muslims or Jews as family members. For example, 36% of Polish adults under 35 say they would be willing to accept Muslims in their families, far below two-thirds of young French adults who say they would be willing to accept Muslims as family members.

These are some of the results of the Pew Research Center's surveys carried out in Central and Eastern Europe in 2015-2016 and in Western Europe in 2017. The Center has already published extensive research reports on both types of surveys: "Religious Belief and National Belonging in Central and Eastern Europe" and "Being Christian in Western Europe". Many of the same questions were asked in both regions which enable comparisons in this report.

This summary has been translated from English into German.