Is there a potential for extremism within Romanian society? If yes, how serious is the matter, and what are the possible consequences in the foreseeable future? One of the most important projects of the Institute for Public Policy addresses precisely these questions. The main outcome of the first part of the project was a survey, conducted by the Gallup Organization Romania.
The results of the survey show, among other things, that stereotypes and prejudices are still entrenched in the Romanian cultural pattern. And one can easily slide from misunderstanding to intolerance and extremism. 81 % of the Romanians are not in favor of ethnic Hungarians using their mother tongue in public administration in the areas where they exceed the ethnic Romanian population. This percentage makes me wonder what an ethnic Romanian from Tandarei would answer to the question whether it is fair that an ethnic Hungarian should learn Romanian, besides his mother tongue, just because he happened to be born in Varsand, and not a few kilometers westwards, across the border. 48% of Romanians are in favor of the state taking measures to stop the growth of the Roma population. This is truly staggering! And yet, 42% of the respondents are in favor of banning extremist organizations. I think sociologists from Holland or the United States would suffer a panic attack if these numbers were coming from the same sample, as it is the case here.
Another conclusion of the study is that "the sample" has a serious "knowledge" problem. The authors should be congratulated for having notices this fact: "Most Romanians prove to have a very ambiguous understanding of the concept of extremism, as more than half of the respondents are unable to give a short definition of an extremist organization". Almost 80% of the sample subjects agree with the statement that "priests should not influence the way people vote". And yet, the same "sample" largely agrees (over 70%) that "it would be better for Romania if public positions were held by people who believe in God". The disagreement between these two numbers seems to indicate confusion and inconsistency. Still an inconsistency seems to be the following. Almost 60% of the respondents support outlawing religious sects, while 76% agree with the claim that "each religion or belief is right in its own way".
The question whether or not one can identify "largely spread religious fundamentalist attitudes" within Romanian society - the study concludes that such attitudes do exist - deserves our full attention. When asked whether or not they supported the statement "those who disobey moral commands should be punished", 35% of the sample subjects answered that they did, while 52% gave the opposite answer. Taken in absolute terms, 35 certainly is a very high percentage. And yet, I would go into more "details" with this question in a future research: "When you say that those who disobey moral commands should be punished, what are the immoral actions that you have in mind?" If we find out that respondents consider primarily "adultery" or "little love for your neighbor" to be "immoral actions" this means something completely different than let`s say the same respondents considered primarily "killing" as immoral action. We can be sure that those who are in favor of outlawing religious sects are "religious fundamentalists". I am not as convinced though that the same category includes those who claim that "when science disagrees with the Bible, science is wrong". I urge you to remember that this question was addressed to a sample of which 94% of the subjects believe in God. In addition, to claim that "when science disagrees with the Bible, science is wrong" means something completely different than to claim that scientists should be punished if their claims contradicted the Bible.
The IPP project deserves all our attention and support. The studies, which the Institute has published as part of the project, provide politicians with a tool that they should not ignore when drafting their political programs and electoral strategies for the upcoming electoral year. IPP should continue its research aimed at the more precise identification of intolerant and extremist manifestations. And this research endeavor - very useful for the Romanian society - should result in an action plan to be suggested to politicians, authorities and the civil society. (Cotidianul, January 10, 2004 and New York Magazin)
Intolerance and extremism: a scrutiny, articol publicat in anul 2004