The Freedom and Identity in Central Europe (FICE) working group and the Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) cohosted event brought together a diverse group of experts to explore the relationship between religious freedom and national identity in Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia. The conference provided a comprehensive examination of the interplay between religious freedom and national identity in the region, with each speaker offering unique perspectives and case studies from their respective countries. The discussions shed light on the challenges faced by individuals and communities in maintaining their religious and national identities in the face of historical and ongoing oppression.
Katrina Lantos Swett, PhD, President of the Lantos Foundation welcomed the guests and speakers at the beginning of the panel. Dr. Lantos expressed her appreciation for the dedication of young people and experts in advocating for religious freedoms by convening these panels.
The panel included two keynotes who talked about the role of religious freedoms in the fight against authoritarian regimes. Eric Patterson, PhD, President of the Religious Freedom Institute and Research Fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, and George E. Bogden, PhD, George F. Kennan Fellow, Kennan Institute, Wilson Center and Member of Freedom & Identity in Central Europe, compared approaches to religious freedom and national identity in the U.S. and the CEE region.
Lilla Nóra Kiss, PhD, Visiting Scholar and Adjunct Faculty at George Mason University and Co-founder of Freedom & Identity in Central Europe, discussed the importance of distinguishing between private rights to religious freedom and public (national) identity in Europe, emphasizing the role of Christianity in preserving national identity in Hungary over the last thousand years. She also spoke about the effects of Soviet oppression on religious freedoms and its irrevocable damage to both individual and national identity in Hungary.
Other speakers included Marek Chodakiewicz, PhD, Professor and Director of the Center for Intermarium Studies at the Institute of World Politics, who discussed “Religion and National Identity in Poland: 966-Now,” Emese Latkóczy, Director of the Hungarian Human Rights Foundation, who presented on “The Forgotten Religious Injustice in Romania: 33 Years of Failed Property Restitution,” and Peter Burns, Executive Director of the International Religious Freedom Summit, who presented on ” The survival of Armenian ethnoreligious identity in the face of national crisis.” Mónika Palotai, Visiting Fellow at the Hudson Institute and Founding Member of Freedom & Identity in Central Europe, served as the moderator. Mónika started the panel by playing a video message from Viktor Yevgenovych Yelensky, the Head of the State Service of Ukraine for Ethnic Policy and Freedom of Conscience.
Lilla Nóra Kiss provided key takeaways on the relationship between religious freedoms and national identity. She highlighted the crucial role that Christianity has played in preserving national identity in Hungary and emphasized the need to distinguish between private rights to religious freedoms and the forming of public (national) identity. Her speech shed light on the devastating impact of Soviet oppression on religious freedoms and how it irrevocably damaged both individual and national identity in Hungary.
The event provided a platform for experts to engage in important discussions and share their insights on the challenges faced by individuals and communities in maintaining their religious and national identities in the face of historical and ongoing oppression. The event was a first cohosted event of the Freedom and Identity in Central Europe FICE working group and it was cohosted by the Religious Freedom Institute. It provided valuable insights into the ongoing struggle to preserve religious and national identity in the face of oppression and offered a roadmap for future discussions on this important topic.