Successful Islamophobic politics in Central Europe
Currently, Islamophobic policies have strong support in Central and Eastern Europe. With the young Sebastian Kurz as chancellor of a coalition government formed by right-wing Freedom Party and the traditionally centrist-right People’s Party, Islamophobia has become a central feature of Austria’s policy making. As the latest European Islamophobia Report has revealed, many Eastern European countries with a shorter history of EU membership often refer to Central and Western European countries when implementing discriminatory laws against Muslims. Romania, for instance, followed with a legislative proposal for the ban of face veiling in educational institutions initiated by the ruling People’s Movement Party (PMP), after the law was implemented in Austria a year before.
This is especially the case with the political elites in Eastern Europe such as the Visegrad countries (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Hungary, named for the Hungarian town where they met in 1991 to form their alliance). Here, the ruling parties coopted the Islamophobic policies of Western European right-wing parties and successfully made it impossible for any opposition on the far right to emerge as a contesting oppositional power.
New Poll Suggests Widespread Anti-Muslim Attitudes
A new poll conducted by Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life has again confirmed the widespread anti-Muslim attitudes in Central and Eastern European countries. The report found out that Eastern and Western Europeans differ on the importance of religion, views of minorities, and key social issues. According to the report, people in Central and Eastern Europe are less accepting of Muslims and Jews, same-sex marriage, and legal abortion. The research is based on a series of surveys conducted by Pew Research Center between 2015 and 2017 among nearly 56,000 adults (ages 18 and older) in 34 Western, Central and Eastern European countries.
This is especially true when it comes to the acceptance of Jews and Muslims. Regarding the question who would be willing to accept Muslims as members of their family, the acceptance rate was lowest in Central and Eastern European countries with the Czech Republic ranging at seven 12 percent, followed by Belarus (16 percent), Lithuania (16 percent) to Hungary (21 percent) and Romania (29 percent) to Poland (33 percent).
While the willingness to welcome Jews in their families is also below 50 percent in most Central and Eastern European countries, it is still much higher than compared to the Muslims. What is striking here is that these countries are the ones with the smallest percentage of Muslims among its total population.
In most Western European countries, the percentage of respondents willing to accept Muslims into their families is above 50 percent with only Italy (43 percent) being an exception. The highest percentage can be observed with the Nordic countries (82 percent for Norway, 81 percent for Denmark, 80 percent for Sweden), while the Netherlands rank highest with 88 percent. Similarly high is the percentage of people in support of church-state separation in Western European countries. When asked if religion should be kept separate from government policies, the younger generation (below 35 years of age) is quite similar across Europe. At the same time there is a little more acceptance of Muslims and Jews among the younger generation in Eastern Europe.
Anti-Muslim Attitudes Go Hand in Hand with Anti-Gay and Anti-Women Rights
Also, when asked if they agree with the statement, “Our people are not perfect, but our culture is superior to others,” a divide can be observed along the East-West-line. While more than 60 percent agree with this statement in Russia, Romania, and Bulgaria amongst others, 40-59% supported this statement in most Central European countries such as Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Moldavia, and Austria. The lowest-ranking countries were Sweden (26 %), Spain (20%) and Belgium (23 %) and other countries such as France, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, ranging between 30% and 40%.
The divide between Western Europe and Central and Eastern Europe is more obvious when it comes to other social issues such as the legalization of same-sex marriage. While most Western Europeans are in favor of it, most people in Central and Eastern Europe oppose it. Also, legal abortion is supported in most Western European countries, while this issue divides Central and Eastern European countries.