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15th ECPR General Conference, University of Innsbruck

'Retraditionalization' and Sacralization of 'Worldview Matters': The Politics of Values in Eastern Europe

Europe (Central and Eastern)
Comparative Perspective
Political Ideology
Barbara Gaweda
Tampere University
Barbara Gaweda
Tampere University

Eastern Europe has not followed the secularizing tendencies of post-industrial democracies. The contrary has been the case. ‘Worldview matters’ (as sexuality, gender, reproduction, identity and relationships are commonly labelled in Poland) have been increasingly presented and legislated within the framework of ‘return to tradition’ and ‘return to the natural (godly)’ in the last two decades. While feminist literature has been addressing the ‘remasculinization’ in Eastern Europe, the question remains: how and why has the ‘retraditionalization’ of political values happened in Poland and in Russia? The rejection of state socialism, which nominally proclaimed itself an egalitarian system and the lack of attention to social inequalities after 1989 produced a vehement reaction in the form of resurgent, nostalgic ethno-nationalism, militant religiosity, and social conservatism. I show how Polish and Russian politicians have been tending towards the fusion of official religion and state, for reasons of legitimacy and political expediency. I analyse how religious authorities, while not having explicit control over policymaking, have become legitimate players on the political field and how their input on policies is sought and respected. Due to the politicians’ reliance on the organized churches, religious authorities (including conservative religious activists) are informal veto players, sharing power and becoming institutions in and of themselves, having long-lasting effects on how citizens and the states conceive what is thinkable and unthinkable (cf. Kang 2015). Looking at political debates on ‘worldview matters’ in Poland and in Russia, I trace how issues regarding gender and sexuality spill over into mainstream politics influenced by religious discourses. I examine the mechanisms of discursive moral panic guiding arguments for ‘retraditionalizing’ family and reproduction, intertwining with homophobia and anti-equality rhetoric. The comparison between the two cases exposes common points, since both countries have been implementing legislation promoting only heteronormative, essentialist, gender binary, and ‘white’ identities.
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