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20th Aug 2022

Orthodox believers form pro-Russia bloc in Europe

  • Kirill (l) with Putin in Moscow last March (Photo: kremlin.ru)

Orthodox Christian societies in Europe are more likely to endorse Vladimir Putin’s revanchist vision of Russia than Catholic ones, according to a new survey.

Most people in the majority-Orthodox bloc, which includes EU and Nato states Bulgaria, Romania, and Greece, as well as EU-aspirant states such as Georgia, Moldova, and Serbia believe Russia should act as a “buffer” against the West and should “protect” them if need be.

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  • Orthodox priests defended pro-Western protesters in Kiev in Maidan uprising (Photo: Jordi Bernabeu)

Orthodox societies also voiced more nationalist, homophobic, and sexist views, the survey, which was published by US pollster Pew on Wednesday (10 May) said.

By contrast, people in majority Roman Catholic countries, such as Croatia, Poland, Lithuania, and Hungary, looked to the West for leadership.

Orthodox affiliation was also rising sharply in central and eastern Europe, while Catholicism was on the wane, with the Czech Republic emerging as the most godless state of all, the pollster said.

The view of Russia as an anti-Western fortress and the idea that it has the right to protect ethnic Russians or Orthodox believers abroad mirrored the main themes in Kremlin propaganda following its invasion of Ukraine in 2014.

The Russian regime’s fake news that Russian speakers were or would be the victims of pogroms in Ukraine was used by Russian leader Vladimir Putin to justify the annexation of Crimea and to champion his covert insurgency in east Ukraine.

Disinformation about persecution of ethnic Russian minorities in the EU and Nato-member Baltic states has also been used to stir tension.

Meanwhile, the Orthodox social mores mirror the Kremlin’s support of a new “Eurasian” ideology, marked by recent homophobic and misogynistic legislation, which stands in contrast to liberal Western values.

Seventy percent of Greeks and more than 50 percent of Bulgarians and Romanians agreed with the statement that: “A strong Russia is necessary to balance the influence of the West”.

The figure was 80 percent in Serbia, which is an EU candidate. It was 61 percent in Moldova and 52 percent in Georgia, which also want to join the EU and which host Russia-occupied breakaway territories.

The figure was just 22 percent in Ukraine, where pro-Russia feelings nosedived after the invasion.

Sixty nine percent of Greeks, 65 percent of Romanians, and 56 percent of Bulgarians also endorsed the idea that Russia was “obliged to protect” Orthodox believers abroad.

Ideology

Meanwhile, large majorities of people in Orthodox societies, rising to 89 percent in Greece, said their “culture was superior to others”, compared to 55 percent in Poland - the most nationalist state in the Catholic bloc.

Homosexuality was seen as “morally wrong” by more than 90 percent of Georgians and Moldovans and 82 percent of Romanians, compared to 48 percent of Poles.

The Pew survey also noted an “upsurge” in religious beliefs in the Orthodox bloc, compared to “secularisation” in majority-Catholic states.

Seventy one percent of Russians said they were Orthodox Christians today, for instance, compared to 37 percent in 1991.

But the number of Catholics fell from 96 percent to 87 percent in Poland and from 44 percent to just 21 percent in the Czech Republic in the same time period.

“The Czech Republic is one of the most secular countries in Europe, with nearly three-quarters of adults (72%) describing their religion as atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular”,” Pew said.

Kirill, Stalin

In other findings, Pew noted that most Orthodox believers (except those in Greece) looked to the Russian patriarch, Kirill, who is a close Putin ally, as their spiritual leader.

It found that just two countries in the region - Greece (77%) and Lithuania (64%) - voiced strong endorsement of the idea that democracy was “preferable to any other form of government”.

The figures in Poland (47%) and Hungary (48%), which both have illiberal parties in power despite their EU membership, fell below the half-way mark.

It found that 58 percent of Russians had a positive view of Stalin, the Soviet-era dictator who killed tens of millions of people.

Amid a heated EU debate on migrant relocations, Pew also found that “On balance, acceptance of [was] Jews higher among Catholics [and] acceptance of Muslims higher among Orthodox” believers.

Nato sceptics

It also found there was “widespread scepticism” that the US would honour its Nato obligation to defend allies in the event of a “serious conflict” with Russia.

Estonia and Romania were the only Nato states in the region where most people believed the US would come to their aid.

But the figures were just 31 percent in Poland and 25 percent or less in Estonia and Latvia.

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