Survey Report Serbia
Sur vey Report Serbia
Nenad Zekavica 0
0 Thi s Article is brought to you for free and open access by Digital Commons @ George Fox University. It has been accepted for inclusion in Occasional Papers on Religion in Eastern Europe by an authorized editor of Digital Commons @ George Fox University. For more information , please contact
Part of the Eastern European Studies Commons; and the Religion Commons
Survey report Serbia
By Nenad Zekavica
During March and April 2019, a survey was conducted as part of a regional project which
deals with the role of religion in the Western Balkan countries. The survey was conducted
as the research part of the project and it was conducted among members of cultural and
political elite members of society. Its purpose is to give a sketch of the religious topography
of different societies in the Western Balkans.
The respondents were carefully selected and around 80 surveys were sent to the selected
candidates. As a result, we received 30 completed surveys with necessary data. We have
tried to follow guidelines and to receive feedback form people with different occupations:
politicians and government employees (N=3), religious leaders (N=4), academia (N=7), civil
society leaders (N=6), journalists and opinion-makers (N=5) and young leaders (N=5). Of
the respondents, 21 were male (70%) and nine (30%) were female. The average age of the
respondents was 35.5 years, with the youngest respondent being 25 years old and the
oldest one 54 years old. With regard to respondents? education, six respondents have a
bachelor?s degree, 15 respondents hold an MA, while nine of them have obtained a PhD
The role of religion in Serbia
The questions were designed to show how religion is perceived in Serbia and to see its role
in Serbian society, and also in other Western Balkan countries.
The first question was related to the level of importance of religion today for most of the
people in Serbia, on the scale, 1?7 where 1 represents ?not at all? and 7 stands for ?very
important?. The average grade was 4.37. Overall, we could say that religion is moderately
important for people in our society. Additional data which can show the importance of
religion for people living in Serbia comes from the census in 2011,148 when it was shown
that more than 94.4% of the population identified as religious ? as a member of a church
or religious community/organisation. The disparity between these two is quite obvious.
Specialised surveys show that a high percentage of people are not believers in terms of
practising religion, but they rather choose their religious affiliation on the basis of their
traditional belonging to a specific confession. The number of atheists and agnostics is
growing. This is the reason for the opinion that in large surveys, such as national censuses,
it is hard to get precise data on religious affiliation. Hence specialised surveys are more
The special study available only in Serbian, written on the basis of Census in 2011. Etnomozaik
178, retrieved via http://pod2.stat.gov.rs/ObjavljenePublikacije/Popis2011/Etnomozaik.pdf
76 ROLE OF RELIGION
IN THE WESTERN BALKANS? SOCIETIES
suitable for collecting that type of data.149
Therefore, the data collected on the census is more connected to the personal feelings of
traditional belonging than on active participation in religion, i.e. the activities of a religious
organisation or community.
However, when it comes to the level of influence of religion on people and their attitudes,
things change. The influence of religion on societal issues, such as poverty, justice, equality,
crime, social cohesion tends to drop significantly. It drops down to an average grade of
4.03. It drops even further down when respondents were asked to scale the influence on
people?s attitudes when it comes to political issues, such as democratic participation,
voter behaviour, political parties. Our survey has shown that the average grade is 3.77.
When we compare the two questions which deal with the influence of religion on people?s
attitudes on both societal and political issues we can observe that respondents opted for
an above average grade of 43.29% for societal and only 23.31% for political issues.
When asked about the influence of religious leaders in their respective communities and
their influence on public opinion in general the results changed a bit. Interestingly enough,
See Etnomozaik 82, (???? ???????, ??????????? ??????? ? ???????? ? ???????????
??????? ????????? ????????????), ????, 31, 4, 2007, pp. 698?699.
one would expect that the influence in religious communities would be seen as significantly
higher than in the general public. However, the difference between the average grades of
the two is almost insignificant. The reason for this could be the fact that the majority of the
people declared as religious and that there is not much difference between the religious
communities and society in general. However, the influence is not equally distributed
throughout the scale, showing that around a third of people in religious communities
are not highly influenced by their respective religious leaders. Despite that fact, religious
leaders are still pretty influential. The significant difference is with the average grade of
the influence of religion and of religious leaders. We can see that the average grade in the
questions dealing with the role of religion is somewhere between 3.77 for political and 4.03
for societal issues. However, when it comes to the religious leaders? influence, it is notably
higher ? somewhere between 4.47 and 4.63.
has no influence
The influence of religion on developments in Serbia
The next question is designed to show if religion influences different developments
in society and to show to what extent it is influential. The respondents were asked to
say if religion has a positive or negative influence on specific developments or has no
influence at all. The specific areas of influence of religion they were asked about were
political developments, democracy, interethnic relations, social cohesion, economic
wellbeing, tolerance and peaceful coexistence and development of good neighbourly relations
among countries in the Western Balkans.
According to this question only, people tend to see religion as a phenomenon which affects
different areas of society in Serbia. If we combine all of these sections together we have 47
votes for positive influence, 73 for neutral and 70 opted for negative influence, while 20 did
choose to respond. These results are similar to those in the previous questions. Religion
has only relative influence ? and it is more perceived as negative than as positive. We will
now get more details about particular areas of development.
According to the first section of the tenth question, which deals with political development,
people do not see any kind positive influence of religion. They tend to see religion as
predominantly negative (N=14), or neutral to a lesser degree (N=13). However, strikingly
enough, there was not a single respondent that sees religion as having a positive effect on
78 ROLE OF RELIGION
IN THE WESTERN BALKANS? SOCIETIES
When it comes to the development of democracy the situation is pretty much similar,
although there were few (N=5) who tend to believe that religion has a positive influence
on the development of democracy. The vast majority once again opted for either neutral
(N=13) or negative (N=9) impact of religion on the development of democracy.
The issue of interethnic relations showed us that only a few people (N=4) tend to believe
that religion does not affect its development. Contrary to the previous questions where
a high percentage of respondents did not recognise the influence of the religion on
political developments and on the development of democracy, the role of religion in the
development of interethnic relations seems to be significant. However, this influence is
mostly recognised as negative (N=14), with an additional nine respondents who see a
positive influence for religion on interethnic relations. Therefore, religion is seen as one
of the reasons causing problems in interethnic relations in Serbia. The underlying reason
for such a negative impact could be the fact that ethnicity and religion almost completely
resonate with each other in Serbia.150
Based on this survey people seem to see more of a negative influence for religion on various
aspects of society ? only tolerance and peaceful coexistence and social cohesion were
recognised as being positively impacted by religion. But even these two developments are
not univocally seen as such. Both of them are almost equally considered to be negatively
influenced by religion. When it comes to tolerance and peaceful coexistence we can see that
there is quite a small difference between the positive (N=11) and negative (N=9) influence.
Social cohesion was similar, where most people (N=13) tending to see positive aspects of
religion. However, with a very small difference in number, other respondents said it has
no impact (N=4), or that it has a negative impact (N=10). In all other developments, the
negative role of religion seems predominant, or respondents have opted almost equally
for neutral and negative aspects of religion.
However, when it comes to economic well-being the respondents in the vast majority
(N=19) stated that religion does not impact it, five opted for negative influence and three
for positive one.
The last section of question number ten dealt with religion?s contribution to the
development of good neighbourly relations among Western Balkan countries. It seems
that the majority of the respondents recognise a negative (N=11) influence of religion
on relations between Western Balkan countries, with additional 11 respondents who do
not recognise the influence of the religion in this matter at all. Only 20% (N=6) of the
respondents claimed that religion positively influenced this development.
The next part of the survey dealt with interreligious relations in Serbia on the one hand
and in the wider region of the Western Balkans on the other. We asked our respondents
to describe the current situation in Serbia and the Western Balkans as a whole. They had
to choose on scale 1?7, where 1 stands for religious hatred and 7 for religious harmony.
As we can see from the graph below, people are very critical of the current state of the
interreligious relations in the country. Regarding the situation in Serbia, the majority (N=16)
do not see those relations as harmonious and good. The remaining respondents (N=14)
claimed that religious relations are leaning toward the positive side of the scale. When
asked about Western Balkan interreligious relations, our respondents seem to be even more
critical about it. A fairly large number of respondents (N=22) described current religious
relations as poor at the moment. Only eight respondents think that relations are good at the
moment, and only one claimed that they can be described as religious harmony.
The respondents were then asked to estimate the future development interreligious
relations in the next five years in Serbia and in the Western Balkans (see graph below) and
to further explain their selection. Once again, they had to choose from the scale 1?7, where
1 stood for ?will significantly deteriorate?, 7 for ?will significantly improve?, and 4 for ?it will
remain the same?.
80 ROLE OF RELIGION
IN THE WESTERN BALKANS? SOCIETIES
Our respondents showed doubt in high percentages that things will change significantly
in any direction. The majority of 56.67% (N=17) do not see any incoming change in terms
of interreligious relations in Serbia, four respondents see the relations deteriorating
a bit, and five see those relations slightly improving. When asked about the future of
interreligious relations in Western Balkan countries, respondents seem to be a bit more
optimistic. Namely, only six of them think that relations will deteriorate, while the majority
sees relations as staying the same (N=13) or improving at some level (N=11). However, the
small differences are only in the distribution of the respondents. Overall, the vast majority
of respondents feel that relations will remain the same or slightly improve or deteriorate
(N=26 for Serbia and N=24 for Western Balkan countries).
When asked about the rationale behind their selection, a few responses stood out by their
frequency: influence of political factors (in the context of the Western Balkans in the first
place) and lack of initiative for interreligious cooperation.
The main reason for relations staying more less the same is because of the influence of
regional politics, or politics in general, on the religious institutions at some level. Political
influence was recognised either as a rise of the right across the Western Balkans or as an
entanglement of nationalism with religion, or at the highest frequency as an influence
of daily politics on religion, i.e. religious institutions and representatives, or as one
member of academia phrased it: ?The inter-religious factors are determined by political
relations in WB. They will continue to develop along those lines?. On the other hand, one
of the representatives of an NGO claimed that ?the 5-year time period is too short for any
significant change - there can be only small changes toward religious harmony or otherwise.
The reason for this is the historical burden which lies on the top of our interethnic and
inter-religious relations in region?. Another respondent pointed to the gap between the
formal interreligious meetings between leaders of distinctive religious communities and
other believers. In his opinion: ?...those meetings do not have any significant influence on
The last part of the survey deals with the threats and opportunities for interreligious
relations in the country and in the whole region. An absolute majority (N=23) repeated
their concerns from the previous questions. The religious relations in the Western Balkans
and in Serbia will continue to be determined by political factors in Serbia and in other
Western Balkan countries. Some of those political factors are the rise of the right and
nationalism, interests of political elites etc.
People were also worried by the low level of knowledge about religion in general (due to
the long heritage of communism), but by a low level of education in general, which affect
one?s critical approach.
Some of the respondents (N=8) were worried by the fact that people who were involved in
the war in Syria have returned to their homes in the Western Balkans and that they present
an imminent threat, not only to the religious relations, but to general security.
One of the recognised potential threats (N=7) is the fact that there are not many initiatives
which work on improving religious relations or on improving of mutual respect and
knowledge about other religious communities.
Despite the low level of influence of religion as a whole and predominantly negative
influence of religion on different areas in society people also seem to be rather positive
and open about the potential role of religion in Serbia and wider. For example, its benefits
could be seen in the areas of economic well-being, especially when it comes to helping the
poor and those who need help by organising special programmes of assistance.151
Current study quote. This kind of interreligious initiative has been seen by three respondents as
a way of improving not only economic well-being of the poor but also interreligious relations.