In many Central and Eastern European countries, religion and national identity are closely entwined.
This is true in former communist states, such as the Russian Federation and Poland, where majorities say that being Orthodox or Catholic is important to being “truly Russian” or “truly Polish.” It is also the case in Greece, where the church played a central role in Greece’s successful struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire and where today three-quarters of the public (76%) says that being Orthodox is important to being “truly Greek.” Many people in the region embrace religion as an element of national belonging even though they are not highly observant.
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The Orthodox countries in the region are further toward the east, and many were part of the Soviet Union.
The Catholic countries are further toward the west, and only Lithuania was part of the USSR.
This political divide is seen in responses to two separate survey questions: How religious do you think your country was in the 1970s and 1980s (when all but Greece among the surveyed countries were ruled by communist regimes), and how religious is it today?
With few exceptions, in former Soviet republics the more common view is that those countries are more religious now than a few decades ago.
In Russia, Ukraine and Bulgaria, far more people said they were religiously unaffiliated in 1991 than describe themselves that way in the new survey.
Today, solid majorities of adults across much of the region say they believe in God, and most identify with a religion.
Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholicism are the most prevalent religious affiliations, much as they were more than 100 years ago in the twilight years of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires.
The most dramatic shift in this regard has occurred in the Czech Republic, where the share of the public identifying as Catholic dropped from 44% in 1991 to 21% in the current survey.
Today, 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.” The differing trends in predominantly Orthodox and Catholic countries may be, at least in part, a reflection of political geography.