Religion, Rights and Secular Society

Religion, Rights and Secular Society

European Perspectives

Edited by Peter Cumper and Tom Lewis

The expectations of many that religion in modern Europe would be swept away by the powerful current of secularization have not been realised, and today few topics generate more controversy than the complex relationship between religious and secular values. The ‘religious/secular’ relationship is examined in this book, which brings together scholars from different parts of Europe and beyond to provide insights into the methods by which religion and equivalent beliefs have been, and continue to be, protected in the legal systems and constitutions of European nations. The contributors’ chapters reveal that the oft-tumultuous legacy of Europe’s relationship with religion still resonates across a continent where legal, political and social contours have been powerfully shaped by faith and religious difference.

Chapter 12: Human rights and religion in the Balkans

Julie Mertus

Subjects: law - academic, european law, human rights, politics and public policy, human rights


Eastern Europeans celebrated the end of the Cold War as a great ‘opening’. While the Germans had their wall, the opening represented the physical tearing-down of the barrier and the flood of humanity pouring from one side to the other. The Czechs had their bridges and castles; throwing gates wide open, they marched to the castle (na hrad!), blasting 1980s dance music from cheap transistor radios. The Poles had their charismatic labour leaders, their poets and their dreamers, many of whom were suddenly set free from their dark jail cells. The people of the south Balkans _ in particular those living in what was then Yugoslavia _ were less clear about what needed to be opened. To be sure, they had plenty of political prisoners crying for release as well as their own flows of cross-border humanity. Yet they were already considerably ‘open’. As the 1984 site of the Winter Olympics, Sarajevo was a jewel in the crown of Yugoslavia, a city neither east nor west, a place where citizens boasted that they ‘had the best passport in the world’, because it was ‘accepted almost everywhere’.

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