Only 15% of Russians, for example, say their country was either “very religious” (3%) or “somewhat religious” (12%) in the 1970s and 1980s, while 55% say Russia is either very (8%) or somewhat (47%) religious today.
There is more variation in the answers to these questions in countries that were beyond the borders of the former USSR.
Today, solid majorities of adults across much of the region say they believe in God, and most identify with a religion.
Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholicism are the most prevalent religious affiliations, much as they were more than 100 years ago in the twilight years of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires.
Whether the return to religion in Orthodox-majority countries began before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 remains an open question.
Reliable, verifiable data about religious beliefs and practices in the region’s then-communist regimes is difficult, if not impossible, to find.
The most dramatic shift in this regard has occurred in the Czech Republic, where the share of the public identifying as Catholic dropped from 44% in 1991 to 21% in the current survey.
Today, the Czech Republic is one of the most secular countries in Europe, with nearly three-quarters of adults (72%) describing their religion as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.” The differing trends in predominantly Orthodox and Catholic countries may be, at least in part, a reflection of political geography.
(Fewer people in Western Europe – for example, 23% in France and 30% in Germany – say being is very or somewhat important to their national identity.) These nationalist sentiments are especially common among members of the majority religious group in each country.In contrast with most of the former Soviet republics, respondents in Poland, Romania and Greece say their countries have become considerably religious in recent decades.But these perceptions do not tell the entire story.In part, this may be because much of the population in countries such as Poland and Hungary retained a Catholic identity during the communist era, leaving less of a religious vacuum to be filled when the USSR fell.
To the extent that there has been measurable religious change in recent decades in Central and Eastern European countries with large Catholic populations, it has been in the direction of greater secularization.In all three countries, the share of the population that identifies with Orthodox Christianity is up significantly since the collapse of the Soviet Union.