Interfaith dialogue in Czech Republic

imagesWhen somebody talks about interfaith or interreligious dialogue, putting aside all my international experiences, the whole concept leaves me very confused. I come from the Czech Republic, arguably the least religious country in the world. According to the Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism 2012 made by WIN-Gallup International, 78 % of the Czech population is either not religious or straight-out atheistic. Catechism is not taught in our schools and the theory of evolution is not challenged by anyone, abortions are legal, the Christian and Democratic Union struggles to stay in the Parliament, and apart from those drunken conversations at 4 a.m., you hardly ever ask about somebody’s religion or whether they believe in God. I could count on my fingers the number of openly practicing Christians that I have met in my life. I have heard of stories from other European countries or the US where parents were disapproving of their children’s partners because they were not Christian. In my family and most other Czech families, it would be the other way around. My grandmother was very unpleasantly surprised when she found out I was reading the Old Testament at the age of 10.

You might be asking – how did this situation come about? The answer is simple. It is the legacy of the two totalitarian regimes that the 20th century had in store for us. During the times of the “First Republic” as we call it, i.e. pre-WWII, the Czechoslovak Republic was predominantly Christian with a sizeable Jewish population. In 1939, when all regions of the then-dissolved Czechoslovakia have become an integral part of the Reich, a systematic persecution of the Czechoslovak Jewish population began, resulting in deaths of hundreds of thousands of them and forcing the remaining survivors to emigrate after the war ended, mostly to the United States and the newly-established Israel. After the parliamentary elections of 1948, Czechoslovakia officially joined the “Communist club” under the protection of the USSR. The following 40 years brought about discrimination of every single religious group present in our country. Whether you were Protestant, Catholic, Hussite or a Jehovah’s Witness, chances were if you showed your faith publicly, you wouldn’t get into high school. Or you couldn’t go on that trip to East Germany you were so looking forward to. Or you were spied on by the State Security agency.

Since 1989, we have been living in a democratic republic, where all basic human rights, such as freedom of speech, assembly and religion, are guaranteed and protected. Anybody can practice whichever religion they want, be part of any religious group, or worship any deity they choose to. For many Czechs it has been interesting to discover different religions and their traditions, as it has been hard to understand religious clashes and wars in other countries. However, in general, even though they’re mostly not believers, the new generation of Czechs, which I’m also part of, welcome people of faith with open arms and have the utmost respect for them.

Michal Tenkrát – Evs volunteer in Cagliari

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