Geography of Europe
Current religious trends in Europe can largely be traced to one of three significant factors. The first is the increase of Muslim immigration. The second is the decline of Soviet-Style Communism, which had an official atheist ideology. Finally, there is the question of the long-term prognosis for religion in Western Europe, as more people identify themselves as non-religious or as atheists.
The growing Islamic presence in Europe is a recent trend, although hardly a trend that has been unknown to history before. The Moorish dominance of Spain and Portugal continued into the early modern period, until their expulsion. The Ottoman Empire made frequent incursions into eastern Europe in the middle ages and into the enlightenment, conquering territory as far as Vienna. And present trends have their origin in the post-war German economic boom of the late 1960s and 1970s, when German manufacturing was sustained by large numbers of Turkish Muslim Gastarbeiter or guest-workers. What is perhaps new is the large-scale Muslim immigration into countries where the only connection is by way of colonialism, like England and France. In 2008, Travis reported that the “400,000 increase in the size of the Muslim community in less than seven years demonstrates its position as the fastest growing faith community in Britain, and also reflects the age structure of the community, with more than one-third under the age of 16 at the time of the 2001 census.” (Travis 2008). But the lion’s share of British Muslims are from the Pakistani community, and therefore might be directly traced to the British colonial enterprise on the Indian subcontinent. In any case, the increased Muslim presence has led to political tensions in many European countries, where often it sparks quasi-fascist response (Le Pen in France, Wilders in the Netherlands, Haider in Austria) or an increased assertion of secularism in the face of perceived religious fundamentalism (as with the headscarf ban in France, the provocations of Theo van Gogh’s films and cartoons of Muhammad in the Netherlands, or public controversy over arranged marriages in the UK).
The official atheist stance of the U.S.S.R. had an effect in eastern Europe and anywhere that fell roughly under Communist dominance. Paradoxically this effect was often a strengthening of religion in some of those territories: the chief example here is Poland. The Catholic church in Poland offered a focus for popular resistance to Soviet political dominance, and the Catholic church overall was quick to capitalize on this rationale for faith in an era of declining social prestige by naming the first Polish Pope (John Paul II) in the late 1970s, who remained enthroned until the early 2000s. However, the death of both Soviet Communism and John Paul II have showed the social context which made Poland the “most Catholic” country in Europe may no longer prop up the church: Walton in 2002 quoted a Polish undergraduate as summarizing the change, stating “Once the Catholic Church was a symbol of opportunityBut now people of my age see it as trying to become a political power, rather than a religious institution.” (Walton 2002). In other words, the Church filled the political vacuum, and the Polish people are reacting against it accordingly.
However, if you told a time-traveller from the year 1900 that the most Catholic country in Europe in 2014 would be Poland, that time-traveller might very well respond: What about Ireland? And this is a good question, as it relates to the long-term decline in religiosity in a number of European countries. In 2011, statistical demographers caused some controversy when they looked census data and predicted the future extinction of religion in several European countries for which it had reliable “census data stretching back as far as a century from countries in which the census queried religious affiliation”: their analysis demonstrated that Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Switzerland would all have no organized Christian presence within approximately a generation (Palmer 2011). The reasons for this are perhaps more complicated, although frequently political: in Ireland, for example, Catholicism focused political opposition to Great Britain much as it did in Poland against the Soviets. In other words, the process undergone in Poland currently — where the Catholic Church has filled a political vacuum and become instead the dominant power structure — arguably occurred in Ireland under DeValera. The excesses of the church’s overreach in Ireland have led to a reaction, and Ireland has gradually come to take on the character of the largely secular European states it joined in the EU.
Palmer, Jason. “Religion May Become Extinct In Nine Nations, Study Says.” BBC News, 22 March 2011. Web. Accessed 1 March 2014 at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12811197
Travis, Alan. “Officials Think UK’s Muslim Population Has Risen To 2M.” The Guardian. 7 April 2008. Web. Accessed 1 March 2014 at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/apr/08/population.islam
Walton, Nick. “Changing Times for Poland’s Catholic Church.” BBC News, 15 May 2002. Web. Accessed 1 March 2014 at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/1987335.stm
Liechtenstein, Andorra, and Vatican City all qualify as microstates within Europe, although each of them has managed to endure into the twenty-first century for different reasons. The Vatican is, of course, the remnant of the once-vaster Papal States, which were eventually subsumed into Italy itself as part of a series of treaties and political compromises: nonetheless, it remains sovereign. Liechtenstein and Andorra however occupy the same sort of liminal space geographically: they are sandwiched between two much larger, more powerful countries. Liechtenstein is bordered entirely by Austria and Switzerland, Andorra by Spain and France.
It is perhaps worth noting that, in the twenty-first century, the chief thing these microstates have in common within the larger political ecosystem of Europe is their ability to leverage their own sovereignty economically. Andorra, for example, has traditionally been a haven for smuggling between France and Spain, and even to this day remains a hotbed of smuggling activity — Bloomberg News in 2012 reported that Spain’s smuggling problems are largely focused on “Gibraltar in the south and Andorra in the north[as] the main locations for smuggling” (Baigorri 2012). It is worth noting that both Gibraltar and Andorra are geographical peculiarities: Gibraltar is a protectorate of the United Kingdom, while Andorra is a sovereign microstate.
In 2009, the BBC reported “Liechtenstein and Andorra are among three states designated as ‘non-cooperative tax havens’ by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development” that have “come under intense pressure to abandon longstanding bank secrecy rules” as part of generalized European “plans to toughen the international response to banking centres seen as harbouring tax evaders.” (Gregory 2009). This stemmed from an incident in which leaked documents from a bank in Liechtenstein demonstrated the vast extent to which the country existed as a tax haven for wealthy German citizens.
In some sense, this financial skullduggery is a necessity, as microstates like Liechtenstein and Andorra have no large economic base apart from tourism. This is also the case with the Vatican, and it is worth noting the Vatican too has
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