Horizons of Research politics & culture
Since my studies in political science, Slavic Studies and Islamic Studies I am concerned with the relationship between politics and culture in Europe and neighboring countries. Therefore, I am aware that religions and languages won political importance not only at the beginning of the 21st century. Throughout the documented human history there were interdependencies between politics and culture. New is the extent to which political conflicts of interest are culturally justified or attributed to cultural patterns. Therefore, the conflicts often seem to be unsolvable.
The experience of my scientific policy advice since 1992 is a very different: Politics and culture are not necessarily in a symbiotic relationship of dependency. If we distinguish these two levels and keep them separate, they may complement each other and help to build bridges between people. Political interests reflect different worldviews and legally fixed values, whereas cultures are forming open systems, which constantly change and adapt to new circumstances. This site provides numerous examples and suggestions showing that ultimately all cultural conflicts are solvable.
Focal point: Religion & Politics
Multilingualism is Europe's cultural heritage. How do States deal with this linguistic potential? Do they support individual plurilingualism? Alternatively, do they promote cultural differences for particular interests?
»The future of Europe is often seen as a linear continuation of an on-going development, fueling as such hopes for better times - provided that political and economic decisions keep things on the “right” track. This perspective has been complemented by two assumptions in this book: firstly, that the outcome of such decisions depends on how the past is regarded and rated, and secondly, that the decisions themselves are necessarily influenced by non-European factors. The present investigation of the relationship between culture and politics is thus centered on three points of interest: one is historical, another Europe-focused and a third deals with foreign policy. This procedure is based on a further premise, i.e. that changes in society do not occur either automatically or necessarily. They usually take place as a result of the actions of those representing specific interests and values, who are at the same time exposed to various influencing factors. This does not mean, conversely, that all these social processes can be regulated by applying scientifically sound analysis. On the contrary, scientific methods and theories themselves are subject to constant change, making their application and advance in knowledge an on-going challenge.
The dynamics of the development of the states within Europe over the past 150 years is described in the chapter dealing with the historical aspects: from absolute to constitutional monarchies, from republics and dictatorships to the present-day democracies. Whatever the case, culture has always served the purpose of power politics, thus hovering at the crossroads of war and peace. This became very apparent at the beginning of the 20th century when the freshly founded democratic states allowed their citizens to determine for the first time their own cultural agenda. Indeed, the victory of the politically based consociational democracies who pledged to uphold cultural pluralism in the peace treaties of 1919/1920 was soon to be challenged by anti-democratic, nationalistic and national socialist movements. It was ultimately National Socialism with its racially motivated new order of Europe that, to this very day, has shaped our understanding of the nation as a culturally homogeneous community. The situation was particularly tenacious in Eastern Europe which came under Stalin’s sphere of influence and did not return to the democratic model of a nation of free political consensus. On the contrary, a cultural and national model was adopted and further developed, granting political participatory rights according to cultural affinity.
The second part of this book describes how after the Second World War an attempt was made at a new start for democracy in Western Europe, whereby efforts initially made towards European integration between the two world wars were renewed. But it was not only factors like the political division of the Continent into East and West, or a planned or free market economy that stood in the way. The borderline between dictatorships and democracies ran straight through Western Europe, between the members of the Council of Europe and the regimes in Portugal, Spain and Greece whose elites justified their claim to power on the basis of Christian and cultural values. There was also an initial resentment on the part of the colonial powers Great Britain and France who only gradually abandoned the cultural models of their one-time imperial greatness. The euphoria was all the greater when, with the end of the confrontation of the systems in 1990, the Eastern Europe countries willing to reform seized the opportunity for democratic self-determination. However, cultural models of the socialist era continued to have their influence or revived those used under National Socialism so that the threat of a renewed politicization of culture in Europe has been increasing ever since. This tendency is reflected in the popularity of nationalist parties in the elections to the European Parliament as well as in the independence referendums (2014) of Crimea, Catalonia or Scotland. Cultural values can sow the seeds of discord again and even throw the territorial integrity of a seasoned, consociationally organised country like Great Britain into disarray.
In the third part of this book we take a look at the extent to which the phenomenon of culturalization has already affected the foreign policies of some of the EU member states. Away from the eye of the European public, countries like Bulgaria, Rumania or Hungary are following a policy of dual nationality in order to compensate for their dwindling workforce. In so doing, they are not only turning millions outside of the EU into citizens of the EU without the other EU members having a say or right to object. They are, above all, destabilizing all the countries bordering the EU with a model of a cultural nation based on lineage and language, from the Baltic states of Belarus and Ukraine to the Republic of Moldavia and the Balkans. Whereas Russia was initially only a defensive player in the wings of these inter-ethnical lines of conflict, it has itself become part of the conflict since the Georgian War in 2008, or at least since the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis at the end of 2013. But there are other examples such as Turkey or the countries of the Arab Spring that show to what extent even the seasoned members of the EU are progressively moving away from their own values as consociational democracies and pressing for a culturization of the Muslim-oriented world. By doing so, however, they are promoting a gradual disintegration of the state along the lines of cultural and religious identities instead of supporting the politically motivated consociational democracies.
In the end, it is a question of what these developments mean and what alternatives there are. Do they reflect a temporary crisis of values among western democracies or do they indicate a cultural convergence with countries in which the ruling elites legitimize themselves with cultural or religious values, as was the case with the European monarchies and dictatorships? The intention of this book is to sensitize the reader to the fact that such a process of convergence could ultimately be beneficial to democracy and the rule of law if Europe’s consociational democracies remember their constitutional values, maintain them as their cultural assets and organize their European integration process as well as their foreign policies accordingly. This ultimately necessitates commitment to non-intervention and acknowledgement of the territorial integrity of the countries concerned.«
SABINE RIEDEL, THE ROLE OF DEMOCTRATIC STATE IN INTER-RELIGIOUS RELATIONS. THEORETICAL AND HISTORICAL CONSIDERATIONS IN RESPECT OF COUNTRIES IN TRANSMITION
in: Julia Gerlach, Jochen Töpfer (Hg.): The Role of Religion in Eastern Europe Today, Wiesbaden 2015, S. 55-79. See the article here >
»Since the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, all the countries of Eastern Europe began a deep transition process characterized by the opening of their economies and changes in their political systems towards democracy. The new political framework directly affected the status and working conditions of churches and religious communities in many respects: First, the collapse of the socialist systems was mainly caused by the loss of political legitimacy of the ruling communist parties. New democratic values pushed back their socialist ideology together with its anti-clerical and anti-religious views. Secondly, the disappearance of an official state doctrine initiated a search for a new national identity in cultural and religious terms. Thirdly, people were no longer afraid to openly express their religious consciousness or affiliations, so that societies gradually developed forms of cultural and religious pluralism. Finally, all Eastern European countries adopted the European convention on Human Rights (1950) and joined the European Council of Europe, ensuring freedom of religion as well as self-determination for religious groups and their institutions. In short, identity, legitimacy, autonomy, cultural rights, and religious values became key issues in transition countries describing and rewriting the relationship between state and churches and interreligious relations. The first section of this chapter will give a short theoretical introduction to this topic.
This paper analyses the new church/state and inter-religious relations in three transition countries characterized by their cultural, ethnic, and religious diversity: the Russian Federation, and two Balkan countries: Bulgaria, and Bosnia and Herzegovina (chapter section 3). To this day, all these countries suffer from democratic deficits, which raises the question of whether the lack of democratic structures is responsible for the existing interethnic and inter-religious tensions; or, to pose the question another way: To what extent have state institutions and public bodies already developed concepts or strategies for managing and resolving social conflicts between groups with different religious consciousness, values, and identities? In order to understand the essential task of democratic states as a neutral authority in interfaith disputes, the second chapter section of this article covers Europe’s experience with monarchies and authoritarian regimes, where ruling elites justified their power and privileged position through specific cultural or religious values. A further chapter section examines the advanced democracies of Western Europe, which needed to adopt methods to integrate large numbers of immigrants of different faiths. This comparison may serve to illustrate that countries in transition—similarly to other modern societies—face choices between various approaches to mediating inter-religious tensions. Finally, we have to discuss not only the necessities but also the boundaries of governmental regulation, which are determined by norms of democracy and human rights. […]
European democracies as models for church–state and inter-religious relations?
In this last chapter we examine different models of church–state relations among Western Euro-pean democracies to determine whether or not a democratic model developed during the 20th century. At this juncture, it should be pointed out that there is nowhere a genuine democracy in the ideal sense used by Robert Dahl, but only attempts to approach this model. Within this pro-cess, the democratically governed countries of Western Europe represent three main models of church–state relations due to their historical developments: The first model is characterized by the existence of an established national church as in the United Kingdom, Denmark, or Greece. The second model has no official state church but grants religious communities the status of a public body or corporation. As Germany and the Netherlands illustrate, this cooperationist model has given churches or faith communities the possibility to conserve their own social services in the health and educational systems. The third secular model rejects such state subsidies, regard-ing religion as a private matter so that church and state institutions are totally separated. Exam-ples are France, which has adopted its secular model in 1905 via the Law on the Separation of the State and the Church; and Sweden and Norway, which only recently abolished their state churches (in 2000 and 2012 respectively).
In the 1960s and 1970s, Muslims emigrated as guest workers from the Balkans, Turkey, North Africa, and the Middle East to Western Europe. Large numbers eventually decided not to return to their countries of origin but to stay in their new host countries. The benevolent receptiveness of the state towards family reunification and the payment of social welfare benefits led to the further arrival of young people and women affiliated to Islamic communities. Today, the national statistical institutes of the member states of the European Union estimate the total number of Muslims to be over 16 million or four percent of the population. This is slightly less than the proportion of Muslims among the Russian population (about 20 million), but more than that in the Balkans (about 9 million). Within the EU, Muslim communities have been established in member states that have completely different church–state relations: Germany and France each have approximately 4 million residents with a Muslim background, compared with approximately 2.5 million in the UK and 1 million in the Netherlands. Due to legislative differences, these countries developed very different approaches to integration of immigrant populations. The inter-esting question is whether these measures are successful, and how far they have an effect on church–state as well as on inter-religious relations. […]
Conclusion: boundaries and necessities of government regulations
State control over religious communities provided an instrument for authoritarian systems to control civil society and prevent the emergence of oppositional forces. The simple transformation of the relevant controlling authorities into advisory bodies with the cooperation of faith commu-nities will not be enough to meet the challenges of democratization. With a view to Bulgaria and the Russian Federation, we can draw the conclusion that indirect state influence on faith com-munities could indeed prevent further escalations of interreligious tensions. Without a neutral state authority and functioning state institutions as in Bosnia and Herzegovina, faith communi-ties will still be misused for political purposes. However, even moderate state influence does not provide a sustainable solution to inter-religious conflicts, because in the long term the state can only retain its authority while it heeds the principle of autonomy and self-governance of reli-gions. Furthermore, the new cooperationist model of church–state relations gives the illusion that state interference has almost disappeared, whereas in reality it continues indirectly through public subsidies. These financial handouts strengthen and intensify the competition among faith communities by demonstrating their unequal treatment.
Apart from these abuses of state influence, there is a need for government regulation in order to guarantee the neutrality of public institutions involved in religious affairs. A legal framework is necessary simply because some method is required to define church–state and inter-religious rela-tions. In democratic states, this legislation dealing with various religions and cultures must first respect the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Free-doms as well as internationally accepted standards of human rights. Furthermore, it must guaran-tee high priority to the secular law in the sense that religious traditions and religious rights must be permitted their place within their respective communities but must accept secular legislation as a superordinate and final authority. Otherwise, the domination of a religious legislation would lead not only to situations of conflict with other faith communities but also to social disintegra-tion. This is the most important point of criticism related to the multicultural approach that con-nects cultural or religious belonging with specific collective rights. The respect shown towards religious differences alone is worth nothing if faith communities do not treat other groups with the same respect, whether other churches, religious groups, or humanist communities.«