The need for secularism in the countries of former Yugoslavia
juli 17, 2012
The first International Conference of Liberals “Secularism and civic emancipation in The South East Europe” was held on 6, 7 and 8 July in Becici-Budva, Montenegro. This conference was organized by the Liberal Party of Montenegro under the auspices of Democrats 66 (D66) and the Liberal South East Europe Netwerk (LIBSEEN). Different speakers from different countries talked about the need for secularism in the Balkans’ nations and exchanged experiences.
A major topic on this conference was religious nationalism. When religion blends with nationalism, it becomes a dangerous mix. The Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s were encouraged by abuse of religions’ misinterpretations. The Serbian Orthodox Church is inextricably linked with Serbian national identity, and many of its clergy supported the wars. Liberal parties in the countries of former Yugoslavia want to devote themselves towards the emancipation of the new civil oriented generations, that will drag out the region of the existent divisions. Secularism (separation between church and state and equal treatment) is the only way to overcome religious and ethnic differences within one society or between societies and states.
Another major topic was religious education. In Croatia public schools have religious classes where they teach the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. Despite the fact that religious classes are not mandatory many pupils follow these classes due to social pressure. Non-Catholics (Christians from other denominations, Muslims, Atheists and Agnosts) are discriminated. According to the liberal parties, religion is to remain within the religious communities and therefore outside the public (educational) institutions.
Finally, it is worth repeating that a plea for secularism is not a plea against religion. For example, when a liberal politician votes against subsidy for an Islamic centre, he is not automatically an islamophobe. Secularist politicians therefore should be very careful of conservative religious framing of the debate, which denounce secularism as an anti-religious policy. The secularist plea for the separation between church and state and for equal treatment for everyone is in fact beneficial for all religious minorities, and for the religious freedom of individuals.
The conference strengthened my conviction, that liberals in Europe have to fight against religious nationalism, theocratic elements in national constitutions, religiously motivated discrimination and conservative religious framing of the debate. This struggle is for the freedom of religion and the freedom from religion.