'Stark differences' in East, West Europe towards minorities: report

The Romania government tried to pass a law to prevent same-sex marriages
The Romania government tried to pass a law to prevent same-sex marriages Copyright Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via REUTERS
Copyright Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via REUTERS
By Alice Tidey
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People in Central and Eastern Europe are less accepting of Muslims, Jews, same-sex marriage, and legal abortion, a Pew Research Center survey has found.


Nearly 30 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Europe remains starkly divided between its east and west on attitudes towards minorities, religion and social issues, according to a study released on Monday.

The two-year survey conducted by the US-based Pew Research Center among nearly 56,000 adults in 34 European countries found that "the continent today is split by stark differences in public attitudes toward religion, minorities and social issues such as gay marriage and legal abortion."

Religion and identity

One of the important divide is about the place of religion in society with residents in Central and Eastern Europe more likely to consider being Christian (whether Catholic or Orthodox) as an important component of their national identity.

In contrast, few people in western Europe say the same with 84% of Swedes for instance, saying it is not important to be Christian to be truly Swedish.

There are a few exceptions however, including the Baltic states of Latvia and Estonia, where the vast majority of people do not believe Christianity is an important part of their identity.

Attitudes towards minorities

The east-west divide is also particularly pronounced in the attitudes towards religious minorities.

In nearly every Central and Eastern European country polled, fewer than half of adults say they would be willing to accept Muslims into their family.

In the West, more than half say the opposite with the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries being the most accepting. A similar divide is observed with regards to accepting Jews into one's family.

Pew highlights that central European states can, on some issues, align with the East and on others, with the West. The Czech Republic for instance, is found to be closer to the West on same-sex marriage and the importance of Christianity in the national identity and yet, Czechs express low levels of acceptance towards Muslims.

Social issues

The strong geographic patterns continue to be observed on a range of social issues.

Same-sex marriage is backed by a majority in every Western European country surveyed with most of them having already having legalised it.

In contrast, majorities in all Central and Eastern European countries polled oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry. In Russia, Pew found that fully nine in 10 people oppose same-sex marriage.

The significant difference is likely to persist into the future, the research centre argued, because most young adults in Central and Eastern Europe oppose legalising gay marriage, although by somewhat narrower margins than their elders.

In Estonia, 61% of people between the ages of 18 and 34 oppose legalising gay marriage, compared with 75% of those 35 and over. In contrast, only 10% of Danes over the age of 35 oppose same-sex marriage.

The divide is less clear-cut regarding legal abortion but a east-west tilt is still observed. In Western countries, six-in-ten or more adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases including in the heavily Catholic nations of Ireland, Italy and Portugal.

The east is more varied with some countries including the Czech Republic, Estonia and Bulgaria overwhelmingly in favour of legal abortion. But in others such as Greece, Poland and Ukraine, a majority of people feel abortion should be mostly or entirely illegal.

Superiority complex?

Respondents were asked "Our people are not perfect, but our culture is superior to others."

There are exceptions — 58% of Norwegians believe their culture superior while only 23% of Estonian affirm the same — but the eight countries where this attitude is most prevalent are all geographically in the East: Greece, Georgia, Armenia, Bulgaria, Russia, Bosnia, Romania and Serbia.

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