Religious Demographics of Russia and Eastern Europe

The Ottoman Empire, 1453-1828


During its peak in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, the Ottoman Empire was a massive and powerful force in the Middle East and Europe. In the nineteenth century, however, the empire was steadily losing power. Unlike most of its neighbors, the main religion practiced in the empire during the nineteenth century was Islam. This was a shift from the beginning years of the empire in which Christianity was the majority among the people though the leaders were mostly Muslim. Under tradition of Islam, however, non-Muslim communities were recognized and protected by the state.

Picture: Accessed September 3, 2015.

Content: Malcolm Yapp, “The Empire from 1807 to 1920.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Accessed September 3, 2015.…/The-empire-from-1807-to-1920.


Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569-1795)

During the sixteenth century, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth provided a refreshing image of religious tolerance. Catholic, Jewish, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant and even Muslim communities all co-existed peacefully at the time of the Counter-Reformation. A major reason for this is because the commonwealth comprised several former states, including, Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania. Even after the Counter-Reformation, Poland had a rather peaceful transition into an age in which the Roman Catholic and Orthodox church population accounted for about 80% of religious believers, with Judaism and various Protestant groups accounting for the remaining 20%. It is important to note that a major reason for this religious change was  Jesuit propaganda. Still, in comparison with events such as the Thirty-Years War in Europe (1618-1648), the commonwealth’s religious transition was relatively peaceful.

Sources: Accessed September 3, 2015. Accessed September 3, 2015.


Prussia, 1701-1871


Throughout its brief history as an established kingdom before being absorbed by and later becoming Germany in the nineteenth century, Prussia experienced a distinct period of expansion. Prussians were geographically separated in their own religions for the most part, with notable populations of Roman Catholics in the Rhineland and, after King Frederick William 1 allowed 20,000 refugees of Salzburg into the state in the early 1700s, Prussia gained a substantial Protestant population which continued to grow throughout the kingdom’s history. These specific refugees created a Protestant “homeland” in Eastern Prussia, which had been sparsely settled before the eighteenth century, and in doing so solidified a distinctively Protestant region for years afterward. During the Napoleonic Wars Prussia relinquished much of the land it had gained from Poland in previous decades, but Prussia many advancements were made during the French occupation, notably the increase of civil liberties for Jewish people, who while only a small part of the population had experienced distinct second-class treatment by the government.

Source: “Prussia,” New World Encyclopedia. Accessed September 4, 2015,


Greece, 1832-1924

The religious climate of Greece between 1832-1924 was rather complex. The Convention of London in 1832 established the Kingdom of Greece, a sovereign state under the reign of a Bavarian prince named Otto. Prior to Otto’s rule, the Greek Church represented a part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Yet the government now affirmed that the church was autocephalous, or independent. While the church became autonomous, the dominant religious community remained Eastern Orthodox Christians (98%) and was subsidized by the state. The religious population was not homogenous however, as there was a Muslim population heavily concentrated in Thrace. Muslims that were not located in Thrace were displaced with the Population Exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923. Under this convention, Muslims were displaced based not on their religious or linguistic identity, yet by their religious preference. Muslims did not comprise the only religious minorities in Greece however, as there were marginal populations of Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses’ and Jewish Greeks.

Sources: “Kingdom of Greece,” Wikipedia. Accessed September 4, 2015.

“Religion in Greece,” Accessed September 4, 2015.

“Greece People,” Fact Rover. Accessed September 4, 2015.

“Greece,” New World Encyclopedia. Accessed September 4, 2015.


The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, 1922-1991

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was a Marxist-Leninist state established in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution of November 1917. Though diverse, the regime was extremely authoritarian and highly centralized. The USSR implemented “State Atheism,” meaning the government denounced any sort of religious practice, confiscated religious materials, imposed atheistic propaganda through the education system, and harassed practicing believers. Among the religions that remained in place were Christian Orthodoxy, Greek and Roman Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam. The regime did not treat all confessions in the same way, extending a limited tolerance towards some forms of Islam in order to integrate Muslims into the state.

Sources: “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,” Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed September 4, 2015.

David Kowalewski, “Protest for Religious Rights in the USSR: Characteristics and Consequences,” Russian Review, 39/4 (1980): 426-441.


Yugoslavia, 1922-1992

Yugoslavia  first emerged as the provisional state of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes after the First World War. By 1922 a centralized state was formed with a new constitution that placed power under the Serbian Karadjordevic dynasty and the Yugoslavian assembly, Skupstina. This marked the beginning of Yugoslavia as singular country, but the unified state was still loosely held together due to the differing ideas of its many ethnicities. The demographics of the state were predominantly Serbian, but also had large numbers of Croats, Slovenians, muslims, Macedonians, Albanians and a small number of Hungarians. In terms of religion the country was very diverse, including Orthodox Christians in the regions of Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia, Muslims in Kosovo and Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Catholics in Croatia and Slovenia. In 1946 Josip Tito led Yugoslavia into its communist era. While communism traditionally did not encourage religion, Tito organized the state into six separate regions, each holding more autonomous power than they had had before. This separation of regions allowed for religious and ethnic identities to solidify in the state, creating the gaps between Muslims, Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics seen today.
Sources: “Yugoslavia | Former Federated Nation [1929-2003].” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Accessed September 4, 2015.


Democratic Republic of Hungary, 1946-1989

11953180_10207396579623507_1334744743127236087_nIn 1946 Hungary became a socialist republic. The majority of opposition to communism came from churches, which were the main targets of the movement. The communists attempted to turn a Christian celebration into a political one by introducing the 1949 constitution on St. Stephen’s Day (December 26). The Calvinist, Lutheran, and eventually the Roman Catholic Churches were forced to take an oath of loyalty to the state. In response to revolutions in the 1950’s, amnesty decrees in the 60’s led to a peaceful agreement between the Vatican and the socialist state. The 1950 law that disbanded Christian religious orders was repealed in 1989 and citizens gained a reasonable amount of religious freedom.

Sources:”Religion.” U.S. Library of Congress. Accessed September 3, 2015.
Várdy, Steven Béla. “Hungary.” Encylopaedia Britannica. Accessed September 1, 2015.
Map,…/hungary_pop_1973.jpg Accessed September 3, 2015.


West Germany 1949-1989

Map: Purple = Protestant. Yellow = Catholicism. Blue = Nonreligious

The division of Germany by the Allies after World War II led to the creation of two states. In the west, the Federal Republic of Germany continued to hold onto its religious traditions under a democratic government, with a large cohort of Catholics in areas such as Bavaria, Wuttemberg, and the Rhineland. In the north, Evangelical Protestants remained the dominant religious group in areas such as Hamburg and Bremen. After unification with East Germany, a state that had been officially atheist while under Communist rule, the Protestant population of Germany has declined in favor of non-believers. In contrast, the Catholic population remains nearly the same as a percentage of the population in southern Germany post reunification.

Source: Jürgen Moltmann, “Religion and State in Germany: West and East,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 483 (1986): 110-117.

Map Source: Accessed September 3, 2015.


Romania, 1990-2015

Up until the December Revolution of 1989, which led to the fall of Romania’s communist leadership, the freedom to practice religion freely was stifled by a strict governmental framework of laws. Once Romania gained its independence, the population experienced a religious revival. As of 2011, approximately 81% of the population practices Orthodox Christianity. The remaining percentage is composed of Roman Catholics, Greek Catholics, Pentecostals, and several smaller Protestant denominations. Orthodoxy maintains a strong grip on both local and national politics. The Orthodox Church sponsors several state owned banks and cultural centers, and also acquired numerous ex-Greek Catholic institutions in the early 1990’s. The Romanian government has also sponsored and funded several construction projects on Orthodox Churches, generating financial criticism from both the population and international community. Orthodox Christianity remains the dominant religion among the populous, and the primarily Orthodox government respects people’s freedom to practice other religions.

Liviu Andreescu, “The Construction of Orthodox Churches in Post-Communist Romania,”  Europe-Asia Studies, 59/3 (2007): 451-480.
Cristian G. Romocea, 2011. “Church-State Relations in Post-1989 Romania,” Journal Of Church & State, 53/2 (2011): 243-277.

Russia, 1991-2015


According to the CIA World Factbook, 15% to 20% of Russians are Russian Orthodox. 10% to 15% are Muslim, and 2% of Russians describe themselves as simply “Christian.” These statistics are of practicing worshipers. Russia has a large population of people who do not practice any religion. Russia had been a part of the Soviet Union, and Soviet atheism still influences Russia today. Under the control of the Communist Party, Russian priests were imprisoned and churches were abandoned or converted for other uses. People who were open about their religious beliefs were often denied jobs and admission to universities. After the fall of the USSR, people felt they were able to express their religious beliefs and there was a rise in Orthodox and other various types of religion. A large number of Russians do not practice any religion.

“Russians Return to Religion, But Not to Church.” PewResearch Center. Accessed September 4, 2015. russians-return-to-religion-but-not-to- church/.
“Russia.” The World Factbook.  Accessed September 4, 2015.…/publi…/the-world-factbook/geos/rs.html.


Lithuania, 1990-2015

The population of Lithuania is 85% Roman Catholic. Before 1990, Soviet rule resulted in an irregular atheism. Russian Orthodoxy is the second largest confession but claiming only 4.6% of the population. A smaller portion (0.9%) are Old Believers, whose Russian ancestors fled to Lithuania to escape persecution. Lutherans and Reformed Christians each occupy specific territories, respectively in the Klaipéda and the Biržal regions. Lithuanian law officially recognizes four other faiths, including Sunni Islam, Judaism, Karaism (an offshoot of Judiasm), and Eastern Catholicism. People of these religions make up less than one percent of the entire population.


Estonia, 1990-2015

Estonia has a diverse religious background that was greatly influenced by its history within the Soviet Union, which suppressed all religious practices. R eligion had a rebirth of popularity after 1990, when Estonia regained its independence. Partly as a backlash against the Soviet anti-religious policy, the rebirth of all forms of religious expression blossomed with the ability to have open practice and worship.
Historically the Lutheran church was the predominate religion, and has regained it’s preeminence with the ousting of the Soviets. Having the unofficial monicker of being the “state religion” the Lutheran church allows differing worship practices to coexist.
Other religions are not discouraged by the state. Judaism, Islam, Orthodoxy; both Russian and Estonian as well as some smaller Orthodox practices exist. While they may not flourish, they are not persecuted either.

Source: “Religion,” Estonica. Accessed September 4, 2015.


Latvia, 1991-2015
Latvia broke free from under the rule of the USSR in 1991, which consequently allowed its people to practice religion more freely, as the USSR had made seemingly every effort to suppress religion in Latvia. In 1986, while under Soviet rule, the Lutheran Church in Latvia registered 1290 baptisms, a number which ballooned to 10,661 in 1991. This trend of growth has since continued steadily, as it is estimated that there are over 700,000 members of the Lutheran Church in Latvia. Strictly based on number of official followers, Lutherans are trailed by Roman Catholics, estimated at around 430,000; and Orthodox Christians, estimated at a 370,000 followers.

Sources:Walter R. Iwaskiw, ed. Latvia: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1995. Accessed September 4, 2015.

“Religion in Latvia,” Wikipedia. Accessed September 4, 2015.



Belarus, 1991-2015

11919120_2478919887387_3462616182104800407_nBelarus declared it’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Initially, the government remained similar to that of Russia – a one party ruling system comprised of executive committees and national ministries that worked together. In 1994, Alexander Lukashenko was elected (and still remains) president, effectively replacing the power of the Prime Minister. Conflicts between religions were strained upon independence as citizens associated with either the Roman Catholic Church or the Orthodox Church, while many also had ties to the Uniate (Greek Catholic) Church. Today, however, issues of religion are becoming less important and Protestant churches are growing in number.

Source: Jane Grichtchenko, and A.A Gritsanov. “The Local Political Elite in the Democratic Transformation of Belarus,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, (1995): 118-25.


Ukraine, 1991-2015


Ukraine became independent in 1991 after the Soviet Union collapsed. New rulers established a national church to mirror countries with political independence. The majority of the population, over 97%, is Christian, around two-thirds Orthodox and the others Catholic and Protestant. According to The Economist, four major church organizations declare “spiritual descent from the conversion of the Slavs.” The largest registered community is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (also known as Moscow Patriarchate). It is similar to that in Russia and is the only one recognized by other Orthodox churches. The second is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate. There are two national Catholic Churches; the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is the largest Eastern Catholic Church in the world. Ukraine’s population is only approximately 1% Muslim and Jewish.
Sources: “Ukraine country profile – Overview.” 15 July 2015. Accessed September 3, 2015
“The World Factbook.” Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed September 3, 2015…/publi…/the-world-factbook/geos/up.html
“Ukraine’s churches: Inspiring and confusing.” The Economist (Feb 21 2014). Accessed September 3, 2015…/erasmus/2014/02/ukraines-churches
“Religions in Ukraine” Religious Information Service of Ukraine. Accessed September 3, 2015


Moldova, 1991-2015


1991 brought about the fall of the Soviet Union, and with it a Declaration of Independence for Moldova. In 1992 legislation was passed guaranteeing religious freedom to the country’s people. Prior to 1991, the Soviet Union strictly limited religious activities, and furthermore, demolished a large percentage of Orthodox churches throughout the land. Moldova is predominantly Eastern Orthodox Christion, who make up 93% of the country’s religious population. Protestants make up approximately 1.7% of the population, while Roman Catholics, Greek Catholics, Atheists, Old Believers, and Judaism each individually comprise 1% of the population. Religion in Moldavia is still recovering from the state-sponsored atheism of the Soviet Union, however it is safe to say that Eastern Orthodox Christianity will not be going away anytime soon in Moldavia.

Sources: “Moldova,” Countries and their Cultures, Accessed September 3, 2015.

“Moldova,” Encyclopedia Britanica, Accessed September 3, 2015.

Map, Accessed September 3, 2015.


Czech Republic, 1992-2015

The Czech Republic is one of the least religious countries in the world. In a 2011 census, 45.2% of respondents were indifferent to religion and 34.2% were not religious. The rest included small percentages of Catholics, Protestants, and Buddhists. Before the twentieth century, Roman Catholicism dominated the region until World War I. Roman Catholicism declined after World War I and the breakup of Austria-Hungary. While the Communist Party ruled Czechoslovakia (1948-1990), the government confiscated items and properties owned by the Catholic Church. The faith has declined since. In 1992, Roman Catholic Czechs were at a percentage of 39% and by 2011, the percentage dropped to 10.3%. The percentages for Protestants, Hussites, and Buddhists dropped as well. The Czech Republic is known to be indifferent when it comes to religion.



Bosnia and Herzegovina, 1992-2015


Like many other states that emerged from the breakup of Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence on March 5, 1992. Bosnia’s population includes three main ethnic groups: Muslim Bosniaks, Catholic Croats, and Orthodox Serbs. Serbian leader and president, Slobodan Milosevic, wanted to build a nation-state that would be a “Greater Serbia,” which did not include Muslim Bosniaks, however, and on April 6, 1992, the Bosnia War began in the capital of Sarajevo. Serbian forces pushed Muslims out of the northern and eastern regions of Bosnia. What followed was the systematic killing of mostly Muslim men, the raping of Muslim women, and the destruction of entire villages and towns. It is estimated that between 100,000 to 110,000 people were killed and about 1.8 million were displaced during the war and the period of ethnic cleansing that lasted from 1992 to 1995. Today, the population is divided. There are little to no intermarriages between the religious and ethnic groups. With a population of a little over 4 million, it is estimated that 40% are Sunni Muslim, 31% Orthodox Christian, 15% Roman Catholics, and around 14% represent other religious affiliations.

Sources: “Bosnian War,” New World Encyclopedia. Accessed September 4, 2015. http://”
“Bosnia and Herzegovina,”  New World Encyclopedia. Accessed September 4, 2015.
Julien Borger, “Bosnian War 20 Years On,” The Guardian (April 4, 2012). Accessed September 4, 2015.


Serbia, 2006-2015
11953098_10202995019596980_7318270929924889867_nThere are seven “traditional” religious groups in Serbia, including: Serbian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Slovak Evangelical, Reformed Christian, Evangelical Christian, Muslim, and Judaism. According to the 2002 census, Serbian Orthodox believers constitute 84% of the population and although there is no state religion, the Serbian Orthodox receive preferential treatment from the state and have all their religious holidays considered national holidays. Although the constitution of Serbia protects religious freedom, other laws and policies restrict it. While members of the Serbian Orthodox church receive special welfare benefits, subsidized pay, and other special treatment, members of minority religious groups often experience discrimination from other citizens, the police, and government officials. When leaders of these minority religious groups report acts of discrimination or violence, investigations by the police tend to be slow or inconclusive. In addition, those who are not in registered religious groups face difficulty in tasks such as opening bank accounts, owning property, and publishing literature. Some groups, including the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches, are not even allowed to register as officially recognized religions.

Source: Accessed September 3, 2015.

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