Following the end of Communism, the post-Communist countries of Eastern Europe shifted from enforced atheism toward a stronger focus on religious affiliation, albeit in the framework of political secularism. In the complex reality of rising nationalism and parallel radicalisation processes, governing religion and religious diversity has become an imperative political task. Policy and public debates on counter-terrorism measures and security-led responses to (perceived) violent radicalisation risk amplifying diversity challenges. Such dynamics raise critical policy concerns about the relationship between religion and radicalisation and violent extremism, and the effects of counter-extremism policies on diversity management.
On June 2, 2021 the online workshop “Governance of Religion and Violent Radicalisation in Eastern Europe” brought together experts from the region who attempted to address these and other questions and provide policy guidance. CSD organized the event and was represented by Dr. Liliya Yakova, and Rositsa Dzhekova. Sub-regional perspectives on the topic were put forward by Dr. Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, Director of the Conflict Analysis and Prevention Centre in Russia, Prof. Dr. Evgenia Ivanova, Professor of Political Science at New Bulgarian University, Prof. Dr. Egdūnas Račius, Professor of Islamic Studies at Vytautas Magnus University in Lithuania, and Prof. Dr. Sead Turčalo, Dean of Faculty of Political Science at the University of Sarajevo.
An innovative toolkit on State-Religion Governance Indicators (SRGI) developed by CSD and comparative highlights with respect to Albania, Bosna and Herzegovina (BiH) and Bulgaria were presented by Dr. Liliya Yakova and Rositsa Dzhekova. The SRGI allow for identification of trends and monitoring of developments in state-religion relations, religious diversity governance, violent radicalisation and efforts to address it. Dr. Ekaterina Sokirianskaia’s shared her insights on the North Caucasus and emphasised the need for enhanced state legitimacy and rule of law in the region. Prof. Dr. Evgenia Ivanova, whose presentation focused on Bulgaria, made a case that what is observable in the country is not “radicalisation of Islamism” but rather “Islamisation of radicalisation”. Prof. Dr. Egdūnas Račius spoke about Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, and the Czech Republic, and argued that there may be a threat of religious radicalisation in some of these states, but it is not of Muslims. Prof. Dr. Sead Turčalo shared his perspective on the Western Balkans, in particular BiH, and looked into recognition-related issues experienced by the Islamic community in BiH.
One of the highlights of the discussion is that the countries of Eastern Europe encounter differing challenges when it comes to administering religious diversity and radicalisation. Nevertheless, across the region, there is a need for legal, policy and societal changes to ensure genuine equality between ethno-religious groups and counter stigmatisation and exclusion.