Who are some famous former atheists
fowid country report: According to the results of the 2002 and 2011 censuses, 84,063 people in Serbia are non-denominational, that is 1.2 percent (80,043 atheists and 4,010 agnostics). These non-denominational groups are numerically in the absolute minority compared to the 85 percent Orthodox and 7 percent other Christians. But what is it like on site in this situation? An overview and a report / interview “Medal of Honor for the Patriarch”.
The changes in absolute numbers from 2002 to 2011 largely paralleled the population decline due to emigration. The number of those who profess to be atheists increases from 40,000 to 80,000.
In his “Balkan Stories” the Austrian journalist and author Christoph Baumgarten writes about various aspects of the situation in the Balkans, especially in Serbia, currently about organized atheists in Serbia:
"A Medal of Honor for the Patriarch"
In most of the successor states of Yugoslavia, religious communities have become a pillar of the nationalist renaissance. They are courted by those in power. Also in Serbia. Not all people put up with that. Balkan Stories spoke to two people who oppose the symbiosis of political and religious power.
They are not spoiled, the Ateisti Srbije, the largest association of atheists, humanists and free thinkers in Serbia.
There is no such thing as an office in the strict sense of the word. Full-time or part-time employees are, if at all, a distant dream.
Vladimir and Isidora only have time for an interview after work. Very happy to do that, they say.
We'll meet in Mali Prague, in the city center, a well-known little restaurant opposite the Hotel Prague.
It's raining cats and dogs.
Vladimir is the boss of "Veliki Prazak", "Big Bang". This is the magazine of the Serbian atheists.
This is volunteer work.
The 52-year-old, a former opera singer, earns his living as a computer science teacher and occasionally performs with his rock band.
You can also see the rocker on him.
Isidora, 35, is also a musician, Mozart fan and piano player. And used to be in a horror punk band.
She is trained as a Serbian and English teacher for elementary schools.
“I used to be very religious,” says Isidora. “Then I studied international literature and also got to know the Bible. Since then I've been an atheist. "
She does not have an official function with the Ateisti Srbije. Although with her energy and eloquence and the willingness to conflict, which she does not hide, she would certainly be an excellent president.
Vladimir and she agree on that.
Difficult to mobilize
Perhaps this is also due to the fact that she considers the 3,000 members of the Ateisti Srbije to be difficult to coordinate.
“We're like cats,” she says and laughs. "Darwin's cats."
“Try putting ten cats in one room,” adds Vladimir.
3,000 members - that is a multiple of what Austria's atheist associations have in common in terms of members.
It is of course difficult to mobilize them, says Isidora: "We have a humanitarian campaign once a year, there are ten to fifteen people there."
On the one hand, this is due to the fact that many of the 3,000 members have emigrated in recent years.
Even if Serbia's atheists have significantly more supporters in the workforce compared to German-speaking countries - on average they too have more academics than the Serbian population.
These are exactly the ones who are emigrating.
Another problem with mobilization is money: the members live scattered across the country.
Many do not have the money to travel to events in Beograd or other big cities.
On average, Serbs earn less than 400 euros a month.
Even the membership fee of the equivalent of 10 euros a year is simply not affordable for most of them.
"It's hard to do for me and my husband," says Isidora. “And we also have people where four or five people live in the household and are members of ours. That is no longer financially possible. "
The Orthodox Church is courted by politics
Especially when it comes to money you can see the difference to the Orthodox Church. Since 1991, it has been the pillar of Serbian nationalism and then courted by all those in power.
Under President Aleksandar Vučić, the money flows quite openly from the state to the church, says Vladimir.
Priests or patriarchs appear in more and more state acts. Conversely, the top government also takes part in official religious celebrations.
That would have been unthinkable in socialist Yugoslavia.
What is hard on the stomach not only for Serbian atheists: denominational religious instruction was also given in Serbian elementary schools and grammar schools.
"That is very violent indoctrination," describes Isidora. "The lessons are given by priests and they only teach the dogma of the Orthodox Church."
“What we saw in the school books was terrible,” she says.
In addition to nationalistic representations, there was also open agitation against homosexuals and atheists.
"We are portrayed there as immoral and without any ethics."
One often hears this prejudice in Western societies as well. It has to be presented in a more subtle way in school books.
“Again and again there is violence against atheist or homosexual students. And it is very clear that it comes from school, ”says Isidora.
Not that it was always easy for homosexuals in socialist times, says Vladimir: "Of course we also had homosexual students. They might not always have been the most popular in the class. But that we bullied or even beat them, that never happened. "
The hard-won social progress in many Western and other societies of the past 30 years seems in many ways not only to have passed Serbia by.
As in many former socialist or Stalinist societies, acceptance of the minority has decreased.
This is particularly noticeable with the increasing propensity to use violence against gays or lesbians. Like recently in Poland.
The fact that Macedonia and Bosnia are having their first Pride parades this year speaks volumes.
In all these societies it is religious communities that sometimes openly and subtly incite against gays and lesbians.
Support of nationalism
In addition, after the fall of communism, religions have become the pillars of nationalism in these societies.
Unless, as in the case of Yugoslavia, they have already driven social change before that.
Religion and nation are synonymous here for most people.
Only an Orthodox can be a real Serb. Just a Catholic Croat.
In Bosnia the main nationalities Bosnian, Serbs and Croats are de facto identical with Muslims, Orthodox and Serbs.
The Orthodox Church likes to present itself as a bulwark against Islam and the Catholic Church and Serbian identity.
"Apparently we really have such a weak national consciousness that we need it," says Isidora sarcastically.
Most of the time in Yugoslavia it wasn't that important.
Vladimir is also critical of the past: "Tito used to be a kind of higher being, a substitute for religions."
The quick turnaround
The authoritarian political tradition under socialism also made it easier for religions to restart, he explains: "Suddenly, strange bearded men in clothes tell people what to do and they obey."
And something else strengthened the religions: "Many former communists and atheists are the worst believers," says Isidora.
This gave and gives legitimacy to religious communities through pseudo-continuity.
Even if the change in attitude of parts of the earlier nomenclature was in many cases more of an ingratiation to new times than an awakening experience.
The dreary economic and political situation takes care of the rest. "For many, the hope of life afterwards is a compensation for the hopelessness," says the 35-year-old.
All of this explains the strong social position of the Orthodox Church in Serbia and comparable organizations in the successor states of Yugoslavia.
Only: religion is here, much stronger than in most western states, above all the relationship of domination.
This can also be seen in two counterexamples: In the Czech Republic and in the areas of the former GDR, the vast majority of people are atheistic or non-denominational.
There, for various reasons, no religious community managed to establish itself as a politically relevant carrier of a national idea.
"Serbs are rather weakly religious"
The religious turnaround has largely not reached people's hearts, even if they ostentatiously emphasize their affiliation to the respective majority religion, describe Isidora and Vladimir.
“In general, the Serbs are rather weakly religious. Few people go to church or practice the religion. Most people's religiosity is most likely to have esoteric connotations. "
This does not prevent them from presenting themselves as traditionally religious on suitable and inappropriate occasions.
It doesn't always happen voluntarily.
“In the most recent census, people who are not Jewish or Muslim were pressured to register as Orthodox Christians. And sometimes the interviewers just did it, no matter what you said, ”says Isidora.
"I was probably registered as Orthodox."
Absurdly high numbers
According to the 2011 census, 85 percent of the population are Orthodox.
An absurdly high value that only the political role of the Orthodox Church can explain.
According to the census, around one percent of the population is atheistic, around one percent belongs to smaller religions such as Judaism or has not declared themselves.
This is not proof of Isidora's statements.
Of course, it makes them more plausible.
This makes the struggle of the atheists against the less beneficial ideological supremacy of the Orthodox Church in Serbian society difficult.
If the pressure is so great during a census, hardly anyone else wants to declare themselves an atheist.
Little space for those who think differently
The media are also rarely interested.
Most and the greatest are close to Aleksandar Vučić and his friends. Or are controlled by them.
There is a lot of space for the Orthodox Church as the bearer of Serbianism.
And little for those who think differently.
Be it politically dissenting or secular forces.
From time to time it happens that the media ask representatives of the atheists for TV discussions, describe Vladimir and Isidora.
“But there we often have a problem mobilizing someone. Also because there are often very short-term inquiries. "
Religious change, supremacy of religious communities, religiously supported homophobia, priestly blessed nationalism - these are problems that Serbia's atheists share with colleagues in the other successor states of Yugoslavia.
Especially since the religious communities, with all their hostility, also like to agitate and cooperate across borders against modern society.
Cooperation is difficult
The atheists have a harder time, says Vladimir. However, he is also a member of the Bosnian and Croatian atheists.
“Unfortunately, some Bosnian atheists have political prejudices against Serbs. In part, I understand. Bosnian Serbs have committed terrible war crimes in Bosnia. "
With blessings from the Orthodox Church.
"Even for us atheists, it is difficult to leave these things behind."
One tries here to push nationalists or homophobes out of the association.
This certainly applies to the Bosnian and Croatian atheists as well.
With the Croatians it seems to have been crowned with varying success.
"Unfortunately there are members of the nationalists there who celebrate Operation Oluja."
This is the Croatian military operation in which the self-proclaimed Serbian Republic in Slavonia was smashed.
200,000 ethnic Serbs fled. Or were expelled. Depending on your opinion.
Celebrating that is not possible even for the most anti-nationalist of all Serbs, for obvious reasons.
But at some point it will be possible to overcome these reservations, Vladimir and Isidora are convinced.
And no matter how adverse the initial situation may be, a few small symbolic successes can be celebrated.
“More and more media are calling church dignitaries by their real names. This is partly due to our activities. "
And dissatisfaction with the church is increasing.
“Actually, we should give the patriarch a medal of honor,” smiles Vladimir. "Every time he makes a controversial statement, we get ten new members."
Published with the kind permission of the author.
Photos © Christoph Baumgarten.
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