Religion Cannot Be Left to the Maelstrom of Identity Politics

Central Europe Between Parochial and Europeanised Christian Democratic Politics

3 June 2021

Jiří Schneider

Senior Fellow

Thirty years ago, Christian democracy seemed set for a promising start in Central Europe. Democratic leaders after 1989 were either deeply involved with the idea (Lech Wałęsa, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, József Antall) or at least recognised that religion must not be used for political conflict (Václav Havel). Yet, parties and movements shielded by Christianity were short-lived, with no longer tenure, and suffered from fragmentation. Today, politics inspired by Christianity is at a crossroads: abandoned by the secular mainstream, hijacked by nationalists.

Perhaps it was too naive to expect that Christian democratic ideas would have influenced post-communist politics in a similar way as it happened in post-Nazi Germany, post-fascist Italy or Spain? To what extent did a ‘Western’ concept of Christian democracy shape Central European politics?

Today, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán provocatively – and with quite a messianic undertone – reverses the question: Do not ask how Christian democrats influenced Central European politics but ask how Central Europe could save the Christian character of Europe.

Is he right in claiming that he represents a more authentic Christian democratic policy than his colleagues from Western Europe?

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Jiří Schneider

Senior Fellow

Visegrad Insight Senior Fellow. A former diplomat, in May 2021 was elected Synodal Curator (Lay Moderator) of The Evangelical Church of The Czech Brethren. Following the democratic changes in 1989, he was elected to the Czechoslovak Parliament in 1990 and 1992. After the split of Czechoslovakia, he joined the Foreign Ministry as the head of policy planning. He also served as the Czech Ambassador to Israel (1995-1998) and most prominently as the First Deputy Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic (2010-2014). He took direct part in the development of think-tanks and NGO platforms as a Program Director at the Prague Security Studies Institute (2005-2010) and as the Executive Director of Aspen Institute Central Europe (2016-2020).

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