Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [19]


The war in Bosnia not only took the lives of many people (mostly civilians) and left many more injured and approximately half the population displaced; it was also characterized by the destruction of religious buildings. The destruction was rather one-sided--over 1,000 mosques were destroyed, while nearly 200 Catholic churches and 28 Orthodox churches were also destroyed.

As Perica notes, religious institutions played an important role in fueling the ethnic conflicts which tore Yugoslavia apart:

"The three largest religious organizations, as impartial foreign and domestic analysts have agreed, were among the principal engineers of the crisis and conflict. Western analysts noticed religious insignia on the battlefield, prayers before the combat and during battles, religious salutes, clergy in uniforms and under arms; elite combat units labeled "the Muslim Army" or "Orthodox Army" accompanied by clergy; massive destruction of places of worship; forms of torture such as carving religious insignia into human flesh; and so on."

These obvious manifestations of religious influence only serve to illustrate the underlying reality--that the national churches bore a great deal of responsibility for defining and amplifying the fears which fueled the violence. Perica points out that Serb nationalists acknowledged that they struck first in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, but that they justified their actions as being proactive and defensive in nature, since they were reacting to the perceived threat of genocide at the hands of the "enemy nations" they lived among. And those threats were, by and large, articulated and justified by the Serbian Church. The same church that drew parallels between the fate of the Serbs and the Jews, between Kosovo and Jerusalem, and between Auschwitz and Jasenovac.

At the end of this short section, Perica adds that the Croats and the Muslim national churches also developed martyr-nation myths of their own.

Religion and Nationalism in the Successor States

Perica notes that:

"In all the successor states of the former Yugoslavia except perhaps in Slovenia, religion became the hallmark of nationhood."

He illustrates this point in the next few sections, which I will summarize in my next post.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [18]


The Collapse of the Interfaith Dialogue

Any hopes for a thaw in interfaith relations collapsed in the late 1980s, as Serb Orthodox Church rhetoric became ever more shrill and uncompromising. Church leaders continually turned down invitations to attend ecumenical functions, before finally (after some years of giving the cold shoulder) submitting the "Preconditions for Ecumenical Dialogue." The letter was full of extreme accusations about the churches alleged direct involvement in the Serb genocide, and demands for public demonstrations of remorse and acceptance of guilt. It is likely that Serb church leaders knew how outrageous these demands were, and were actually hoping to force the Catholic church to modify its support for the Macedonian church and for Kosovar autonomy.

The Catholic church, for its part, retaliated with renewed defenses of Cardinal Stepanic, and accusations that the Serb church was doing the dirty work of unnamed "certain politics".

In 1990, the regular interfaith ecumenical symposia was cancelled since Croat church leaders refused to attend in protest of the separatist Serb actions in Croatia. Ecumenical dialogue was at an end.

Untimely Commemorations

The first paragraph of this section summarizes the essential points well:

"From June 1990 to August 1991, the Serbian Orthodox Church carried out a series of commemorations in honor of "the beginning of the Second World War and the suffering of the Serbian Church and Serbian people in that war." Those commemorations came as a continuation of the September 1984 consecration of the Saint John the Baptist memorial church at Jasenovac. Thse religious events coincided with Slobodan Milosevic's so-called antibureaucratic revolution, that is, the Serb nationalist mobilization carried out through street protests and an aggressive media campaign. Concurrently, the Serbian Church's commemorations bred popular sentiments of pride and self-pity as well as a lust for revenge."

Incompatible Worlds: Serbs Call for Partition

In the 1980s and into the 1990s, Serbian Church leaders began to openly discuss the need for partition, specifically to provide a homeland for Serbs. While such calls generally carried qualifying comments that the rights of other national groups needed to be respected, the general tone was belligerent and uncompromising.

Not all of the rhetoric was strictly ethnic or exclusively about the Serbian people, but rather religious. The church made calls for the creation of an Orthodox sphere of influence or commonwealth as a "defense" against the Roman Catholic and Islamic communities. The Vatican was condemned as a stooge of Western or even "anti-Christian" forces.

Even as Tudjman and Milosevic met secretly to partition Bosnia between them, Catholic and Orthodox leaders met to discuss the same thing.

An Eye for an Eye, a Tooth for a Tooth: The Serb Call for Revenge

The Orthodox Church increasingly acted as an organizing force for Serb nationalism in Serb-populated areas in Croatia and Bosnia. The rhetoric employed was collectivist and apocalyptic, with calls for collective defense and, more ominously, for preemptive moves. In April 1991, Bishop Lukijan made a frequently-quoted "eye for an eye" statement, which went beyond calling for aggressive measures to ensure collective security and actually called for retaliation for historic crimes. The implications of the Church's focus on collective and generational guilt was now made explicit.

In this context, Vatican recognition of Slovenian and Croatian independence was seen as a provocation by the Serbian Church. Hostility to any dialogue with the Vatican continued after fighting ceased in 1995.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [17]


The War of the Churches

Relations between the Catholic and Orthodox churches by the late 1980s were at a level of mutual distrust and animosity reminiscent of the 1930s. Growing tensions in Kosovo and the rise of the Macedonian Church exacerbated the animosity between the Serb Church and the other two main national churches, as Serb religious leaders erroneously attributed Albanian separatism to Islamic fundamentalism, while the Vatican came out in support of autonomy for Kosovo while it also recognized and maintained ties with the Macedonian church.

The Churches and the World War II Controversy

The death of Tito provided the opportunity to openly and vigorously questions the dogmatic version of history that underscored the civic religion of Brotherhood and Unity. The most prominent manifestation of this was the "new Serbian history," which refuted the notion that the Ustashe movement was an aberration in Croatian history imposed by outsiders. These historians believed that the NDH government was "above all a very efficient instrument of genocide against Serbs, conceived in Croatia several centuries before the genocide took place." Croats were portrayed as implacably hostile to Serbs, and that any independent Croatia would automatically be a threat to Serbs within its borders.

Croat historians countered with their own version in which the genocidal nature of Ustashe crimes were downplayed and explained as reactions to Serb pressures. Tudjman, the preeminent historian of this school, also defended the role of the Catholic church during the war. The competing commemorations and other events of the 1980s can be seen as attempts by the Catholic and Orthodox churches of propagating these respective revisionist myths.

Forgive but Not Forget: Liturgy in the Concentration Camp

After Titos death, the Serb church attempted to lay claim to the legacy of Jasenovac, which under Tito had been interpreted as a memorial to the multiethnic Partisan struggle against fascism. The Serb church reinvented Jasenovac as one of the two centers of Serb spiritual life, the other being Kosovo--both were sites of martyrdom and victimization at the hands of hostile neighboring peoples.

In mass ceremonies at Jasenovac, the parallel between Serbs and Jews was explicitly laid out, with Kosovo as the Serb Jerusalem and Jasenovac as their Auschwitz. The Serb version of events vastly exaggerated the number of Serbs killed at Jasenovac while omitting any mention of the many non-Serbs (including many anti-Ustashe Croats) who also died there, with the exception of Jews, with whom the Serbs claimed an affinity.

As these events at Jasenovac became yearly events, the Serb church expanded its campaign to rewrite history and began holding other commemorations to the victims of the "Serb genocide" at sites of Partisan military heroism and loss--the church was eliminating the complex reality of World War II and replacing it with a new myth in which the Serbs had been systematically hounded by enemies; and those enemies were all the other peoples of Yugoslavia.

A Battle of Myths: The Yugoslav Auschwitz versus the Martyr Cardinal

The battle of the numbers of Serbs killed at Jasenovac and in the war in total continued to wage, with Croat historians putting the numbers very low and Serb nationalists putting the numbers impossibly high. Serbs sought to win over the opinion of Yugoslavia's small Jewish community, which required the history of Nedic's wartime quisling Serbia to be completely ignored and forgotten.

Some Yugoslav Jews took the bait, and did their part to help promote the Serb nationalist version of events. Meanwhile, "Archimandrite Jevtic accused Croat Catholic clergy and the Vatican of inciting a genocide against the Serbian people." Other Serb scholars and clerics echoed the belief that the Vatican either directed the genocide or had the power to stop it had it chosen to.

In response, the Croat Catholic church stepped up its defense of Cardinal Stepanic, arguing that he had actually opposed Ustashe atrocities and had saved many Serbs and Jews from death. This defense angered the Serb church, who believed that he had been made a saint because he was involved in genocide.

Disputes over Holy Places

Serb clergy laid claim to the ruins of churches and other religious buildings which had laid dormant for decades, and in some cases centuries. Services were held at various ruins in ethnically mixed areas, based on dubious or often unproven claims that this church or that monastery were "really" Orthodox. Doing so was a way of laying claim to an area both spiritually and historically, by way of showing that a given area has historically Serb.

Many of the massacres and other acts of violence against Croats in Croatia at the beginning of the war happened in towns and villages where such commemorations had been held and claims had been made. And one of the first acts in newly "liberated" areas was the destruction of Catholic churches.

Similar confrontations were organized by Serbian nationalists--including Vojislav Seselj and his Radical party--at contested holy sites in Macedonia and Montenegro.


In the interests of keeping this post at a manageable length, I will conclude my review of Chapter 9 next time.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [16]

CHAPTER NINE: THE SECOND STRIFE Religion as the Catalyst of the Crisis in the 1980s and 1990s

This chapter consists of many short sections detailing various aspects of the years leading up to the wars. As the subtitle makes clear, Perica is no longer documenting how religious institutions helped to foster nationalist sentiment and sectarianism. In this chapter, the negative role that the various national religions played are explicitly described. Perica is beginning to take the gloves off.

The Clerical Offensive and the Regime's Last Stand, 1979-1987

By 1980, the regime recognized it needed new policies for dealing with increasingly active and restless religious institutions. Officials realized they would need to deal with a relatively light hand, although the regime continued to spy on religious institutions. The offices in charge of monitoring churches tended to be understaffed and rather placid, and there were few actual informants in place.

The hesitant and half-hearted nature of the governments efforts at control emboldened members of the clergy, especially among the Croatian Catholic and Serb Orthodox churches. In Bosnia the tensions were especially troublesome since the Islamic Community was also increasingly involved in nationalist agitating.

These efforts by the regime, which vacillated between sporadic repression and tolerance, ultimately did little to stem the nationalist tide.

A Promise of Peaceful Transition: Moderate Religious Policies and the Regime's Belated Democratization, 1988-1990

The Croatian espiscopate had an ambiguous relationship with the regime; despite all the nationalist agitating documented earlier, there was also some genuine pro-regime sentiment. Some members of the hierarchy argued that their situation was rather favorable compared to the Church in other socialist countries. The Vatican also sought to respond to overtures made by the regime. Relations between Belgrade and the Vatican improved, although attempts to set up a papal visit were sabotaged by the Serbian Orthodox church, which sought to place conditions on the Pope's involvement in any interfaith ceremonies--specifically pushing for a statement regarding Jasenovac.

Still, there were positive developments during this time. The regime continued to loosen restraints, and in 1989 and 1990 worship services were broadcast on television in every republic save Serbia. The Catholic espiscopate and the Serbian Holy Synod both released statement affirming support for the regime if it allowed for religious freedom; in both cases certain constitutional reforms were sought as well.

Ethnoreligious Realignment and the Multiparty Elections

The prospect of the first democratic, multiparty elections in the republics meant that religious issues became important campaign issues. In Croatia the government assigned Zdenko Svete to negotiate with the Catholic Church regarding power-sharing. His authority was limited, and his position was weakened further because while the Catholic bishops wanted concessions and wanted them right away, the Croatian government had its hands tied because it also needed to negotiate with the Serb Orthodox Church. Ultimately, the Church failed to support any non-nationalist or pro-unity parties; meanwhile, problems with the Serb Church intensified.

The Serbian Church in Croatia tended to focus almost obsessively on Jasenovac, demanding reparations for losses suffered as well as the above-mentioned demands for a papal apology. The church also gained a reputation for magnifying minor issues over land, buildings and resources into threats against Croatia's Serb minority.

The Catholic Church ended up supporting the HDZ and its new leader, Franjo Tudjman. Because Tudjman had made a name for himself as a historian refuting the "new Serbian history" (and downplaying the sins of the NDH and the Ustashe), he was certain to antagonize Serbs. It was his nationalist credentials which won him Catholic support in spite of his communist past.

The church and Tudjman worked together to rally support--especially financial support--from the Croatian emigre communities in the West. It was also at this period that the HDZ began recruiting from the criminal world just as was happening in Serbia (most infamously with Arkan).

The church's support might have been crucial to the HDZ's success in Croatian elections; it was even more crucial for the HDZ's fortunes in Bosnia. This should not be surprising, as all three of the nationalist parties dominated the election results in that republic. The Serb Orthodox church backed the SDS, and the SDA received a great deal of support from the Muslim clergy (the Islamic Community was more supportive of the Yugoslav ideal than either of its Christian competitors). Ordinary clerics were very supportive of the SDA and its fundamentalist wing, and the election campaign was marked by the appearance of green banners and other decidedly un-Bosnian Islamic trappings borrowed from other Muslim countries.

Ironically, in Serbia proper the Serb Church had less influence, as Milosevic kept his distance and even sometimes antagonized the church hierarchy. The new patiarch, Pavle, was openly critical of Milosevic. However, the church did strongly support nationalist parties, and continued to stir up panic and fear regarding the rise of Tudjman and the HDZs ascendancy.


I will consider the remainder of this chapter in the next post.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Srebrenica Memorial Quilt--how to support

In previous post on the quilt below, I included links both to the AdvocacyNet page on the project and the BOSFAM main page. In the interests of convenience, here's a direct link to the page at AdvocacyNet with directions on how to contribute:

Support the Srebrenica Memorial Quilt

Forty dollars is a very reasonable amount. Owen and Daniel are buying a panel, I need to find my wallet and do the same!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Jimmy Carter in Bosnia--1994

In 1994, former President Jimmy Carter took it upon himself to enter into direct negotiations with the illegal Bosnian Serb Republic leadership. The embarrassing cluelessness and staggering amoralism of his words and deed during this sordid episode were concisely exposed in an editorial, written in acid, from the January 9, 1995 issue of The New Republic magazine entitled "Merry Christmas, Mr. Karadzic." That article is not available for free from their website, but it is reprinted in The Black Book of Bosnia: The Consequences of Appeasement, a great collection of writings from their pages covering the war period which collectively serve as something of a relic of mid-90 liberal interventionism (albeit a frustrated, outraged, and ultimately defeated variant).

The shame of seeing a former US President sitting at a table with the two future butchers of Srebrenica, lending his prestige and legitimacy to their vile cause, should still rankle any honorable or even merely decent American. I am sure I am not the only one among us who has ever wondered, "What does Mr. Carter think of his actions then, given the benefit of hindsight?" Knowing about Srebrenica and Zepa, knowing of the growing body of evidence that the ICTY and the OSCE have accumulated, has Mr. Carter rethought his shameful decision to elevate those thoroughly dishonest, racist thugs to the level of statesmen?

Well, thanks to the recent publication of his book Beyond the White House: Waging Peace, Fighting Disease, Building Hope, we now have an answer, and it is neither uplifting nor surprising. The NR editorial described Carter's approach to negotiations thusly:

"For peace is never lasting or true when it is based on the belief that there is nothing worse than war; but that is Carter's belief. He practices "conflict resolution," a contentless approach to conflict, for which all parties in all conflicts are like all parties in all conflicts, and there are no conflicts that cannot be fairly ended by compromise."

This explains why his diplomatic venture had no lasting impact on events in Bosnia, and I suppose it at least helps us to understand why he announced at the time that his meeting with Karadzic represented "One of the rare chances to let the world know the truth." Carter can be forgiven for not knowing much about Bosnia or the Balkans; he cannot be forgiven for abdicating any sense of moral idealism in the single-minded quest for a peace agreement at any price. To say nothing of the smug self-righteousness which characterizes his self-serving account.


Carter begins his account by mentioning that in June of 1994, he was approached by New Hampshire state House speaker Chris Spiro and Serbian ambassador Milan Milutinovic, who delivered a personal message from Slobodan Milosevic himself requesting that Carter come to Belgrade to negotiate. Carter says that he declined because "I had no desire to become involved in the Balkans." Given what came later, this ranks as by far the wisest decision he ever made on the matter; pity he didn't stick with it.

Unfortunately, though, seven months later Radovan Karadzic offered Carter a second chance to stick his nose into a situation he had no interest in understanding, and this time he accepted the invitation:

"Early in December 1994, I received a handwritten letter from the Bosnian Serb political leader, Radovan Karadzic, requesting I meet with a delegation to explore ways for the Serbs to accept the latest recommendations of the International Contact Group (United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia). I was not very familiar with the political situation in the former area of Yugoslavia, although I had welcomed Marshal Tito to the White House for a formal visit."

Note that Carter mentions that the note from Karadzic was "handwritten"; suggestive of a thoughtful, civilized gesture. Given that the prose in this account is rather clipped and perfunctory, the inclusion of this detail is clearly meant to reflect positively on the mass murderer he would soon enough be commiserating with.

More serious is the seemingly innocuous mention that he was "not very familiar" with the situation in Yugoslavia; as if any reasonably informed citizen at the time was not cogent of the daily TV broadcasts and constant print journalism on the war. How could any person who makes international diplomacy his self-appointed mission have NOT known enough about the situation in Bosnia in the winter of 1994?

He goes on to describe Karadzic as

"...a poet and a psychiatrist who was accused of holding some UN hostages and was growing increasingly independent from Slobodan Milosevic, the elected ruler of the Serbs, who also sought dominion over the other provinces."

Apparently, Carter felt the need to prove he wasn't kidding when he wrote he was "not very familiar" with the situation. Karadzic was accused of "holding some UN hostages"? Well, yes, he was accused of that--along with masterminding mass murder, genocide, and the violent destruction of a sovereign nation. I don't know if the description of Milosevic as the "leader of the Serbs" is simply lazy language or if Carter unwittingly buys into the same collectivist mentality that Serbian nationalists embodied. Milosevic was the leader of Serbia, not of "the Serbs." And how interesting that Carter felt obligated to point out that Milosevic was elected. How neat--Diana Johnstone would be proud.

It gets worse--here is the next sentence:

"In April 1992, Bosnia had come to be recognized as an independent state, and Karadzic became the first president of the Bosnian Serb administration, with it capital in the mountain town of Pale."

This goes beyond whitewashing events--this amounts to a complete repudiation of reality. I have no idea what to say in response. If former President Carter really believes this, he is an idiot. If he does not believe it, then he is something much, much worse.

Carter isn't quite done paying homage to the Bosnian Serb "Administrator":

"As a Greek Orthodox Christian, he had reached out to fellow Orthodox countries and publicly stated, "The Bosnian Serbs have only two friends: God, and the Greeks." This was a fairly accurate statement at the time we received his letter."

Karadzic would no doubt be bemused to find out that he is Greek Orthodox, but other than this unconscious admission that Carter was absolutely clueless he could not have any complaints with Carter's characterizations. Carter was apparently too blinded by his own sense of moral equivalence to see this naked call for a pan-Orthodox crusade against other peoples for what it was; as for the implicit agreement with the notion that the Serbs--as their nationalist myths maintain--are a chosen people; the less said the better.

And so, Carter accepted the mission. He cleared it with the White House and the State Department. He assures the reader that Clinton encouraged his mission and wanted an immediate report afterwards. Carter gives no indication that there is something strange about the President of the most powerful country in the world taking such a passive role in events, but his lack of leadership on Bosnia was depressingly familiar by December 1994.

The details of the negotiations are not worth recounting, since Carter operated under the assumption that Karadzic was negotiating in good faith and that all the Bosnian Serbs wanted was a fair shake. Carter lists all the "concessions" he was able to win from the Bosnian Serb leader, who of course was very interested by that point in consolidating the ethnically cleansed territory his forces had won. Karadzic was trying to back the Bosnian Government into a corner, putting them on the spot so they could either accept an unjust "peace" or face international condemnation for refusing to sign. And Carter was the willing tool of this plot.

Carter then actually traveled to Bosnia after more meetings with various dignitaries, and after Karadzic appeared on CNN to repeat his promises to agree to a peace deal--Carter must not have been aware that he had made many such promises before. In Sarajevo he met briefly with Alija Izetbegovic, who "was skeptical about our mission and had some fairly harsh demands, but none that deviated substantively from the prepared text I had in my pocket." Carter did not, it seems, share the contents of that prepared text with Izetbegovic.

That was all the time he could spare for the actual President of the country; it was time to leave "war-ravaged Sarajevo" for Pale:

"Because the direct road was mined, our route was circuitous (a seventy-five minute drive to travel nine miles), through beautiful and undamaged farms, pastures, and mountain slopes reminiscent of the Alps."

Not even Michael Parenti could improve on this economical contrast between the Muslim President with his "harsh demands" and "war-ravaged" city accessible only be mined roads (mined by whom?) versus the peaceful, pristine land around the capital of the Bosnian Serb "Administration." Hey, there probably aren't very many Muslims in the pastures of the Alps, either.

Once he arrived, Carter was delighted that General Mladic and Mrs. Karadzic ("also a psychiatrist" he notes) were both in attendance. Carter mentions that he was stubborn about "substantive changes" but did allow for the inclusion of certain phrases such as "equal treatment of both sides" and "discussion of all issues." Given the context, these changes could only not be considered "substantive" if one accepts that the entire enterprise was a toxic, disingenuous fraud on behalf of ethnic cleansing from the start.

Carter insists he was able to get Karadzic to agree to drop his cease-fire demands down from the 12 months he had originally asked for to the 4 months Carter had been advised was the maximum that the Contact Group and Izetbegovic would accept. That Karadzic finally agreed to this was the only concession Carter either sought or achieved, and it wasn't his idea to begin with.

Then it was back to Sarajevo, where Carter presented the offer to Ejup Ganic (yes, he met with the Bosnian Serbs first) as essentially a take-it-or-leave-it offer. He told Ganic that he would go public and declare that the Bosnian Serbs had accepted peace and the Muslim-led government had refused.

And so Carter--or, rather, Karadzic--had the agreement. It sounded good on paper, and had it in any way reflected reality or the honest intention of the Pale regime it might have been worth the paper it was written on. And, pathetically enough, Carter still doesn't get it.

An interesting aside--on the flight out of Zagreb to Frankfort, Carter and his wife were "annoyed" when:

"...some duty-free Christmas presents were delivered to us in a Marlboro bag. I wrote Delta's CEO to complain about the airline's advertising cigarettes and urged him to ban all smoking on their flights."

Yes, the man who willingly acted as a stooge for a genocidal outlaw regime without taking the time to learn even as much about the war he was interfering in as any reasonably literate newspaper subscriber would know; the man who lacked the moral fortitude to take one hard look at the horrors being enacted all around him by the men he happily dined with; this same man took time out to write a letter protesting cigarette advertising on a bag. A bag containing free gifts. "Petty" does not convey the vacuity of such a man.

Is it any surprise that such a man still does not understand the implications of his actions? That he fails even now to grasp how wrong-headed his decision to negotiate on behalf of a tinpot fascist was? That at the end of this passage, he blames the international community for failing to meet the Bosnian Serbs halfway, letting his precious ceasefire slip away?

It is true; Carter ultimately faults the international community for continued warfare in the region; he concludes this short account by skipping ahead to Kosovo, where:

"A contingent of Albanian formed an armed force and contested control by Milosevic of portions of Yugoslavia. Although the Serbian response was at first fairly restrained, by mid 1999 hundreds had died in escalating retaliations, and more than 100,000 Kosovo Albanians were reported to have been forced from their homes."

So it wasn't just Bosnia that Carter knows little about. He does know enough to note that NATO dropped a lot of cluster bombs and toxic uranium bombs on "the Serbs," however. Which may be why he concludes with:

"It is interesting to conjecture about how many human rights atrocities, refugees, and deaths might have been avoided if our agreements and suggestions had been honored by the international community."

Mr. Karadzic thanks you, Mr. Carter.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Srebrenica Memorial Quilt

I have written previously about BOSFAM, the weaving cooperative operated by and for Bosnian women who lost family members during the war. Many of the weavers lost husbands and sons at Srebrenica. BOSFAM provides them both with the sense of community and family to carry on as well as the opportunity to utilize their weaving skills as a source of income.

The Washington DC-based non-profit group AdvocacyNet is a worthy organization which works to facilitate grassroots organizations developed by locals rather than imposing well-meaning programs onto troubled communities. AdvocacyNet has a long-standing connection with BOSFAM, continuing to send interns to work with the center. I personally own a beautiful kilim from BOSFAM, which I purchased through AdvocacyNet.

Now AdvocacyNet is helping BOSFAM to spread the news about the Srebrenica Memorial Quilt, a commemoration of some of the victims of Srebrenica. The quilt is made of individual panels, each one carrying the name of one victim of the massacre. Relatives of victims can have a BOSFAM member add a panel in memory of their loved one for a $40 donation; there is an option for those of us with no personal ties to Srebrenica to do so as well. I will be making a donation, and encouraging friends and family to do the same.

Although the websites linked above do not specify this, I have been informed that the plan is to eventually bring the completed quilt to Washington DC, to be presented to lawmakers at an event designed to bring pressure to push for the arrest of Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. Not only will buying more panels benefit a very worthy cause--the larger the quilt, the bigger the impact this planned presentation will have.

Please take time to check out these links, and seriously consider making a contribution. And, most of all, please forward this information and these links to anyone and everyone you know.

Thank you.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [15]


Well, I'm actually a little past the half-way mark, but since I had to return my copy and have not yet received another through Interlibrary Loan (a great service, if your local library provides it, by the way), so I thought I'd take this opportunity to reflect a little on the book as a whole.

I have read ahead of where I'm at in the review, and for the record I'm looking forward to reviewing the rest of the book. The later chapters lend themselves more to substantive analysis than do the earlier chapters (which are shorter--roughly speaking the first 8 chapters make up a little over half the book, with the rest of the book consisting of only 4).

The book does suffer somewhat from being the result of academic research, writing, and publishing over many years, dating back from the 1980s up until the very early 2000s. Many of the early chapters seem to have been separate articles or at least give the impression of having been developed separately. Perica is upfront about the non-linear structure of the book, which he describes as being both narrative and analytical in approach. This is not surprising, given his academic background and the circumstances of the books development. However, while his decision to analyze the different national churches and other aspects of his topic in discrete chapters, often out of chronological sync with surrounding chapters need not be a liability, the lack of consistent editing is. Too many details, facts, and anecdotes are repeated, often verbatim, as if each chapter was edited in isolation with no regard for the other chapters. This only accentuates the already stuttering pace of the book.

Also, there are some obvious spelling and syntactical errors which are often quite glaring. Coupled with the failure to rework his varied preliminary drafts into a more unified text, these errors tend to make the book harder to digest than it should be.

That's the bad news, and my apologies to Mr. Perica for leading with them. The good news, on the other hand, should dispel any doubts the potential reader has that this book is worth reading.

The subject matter, it cannot be emphasized enough, is vitally important for understanding the events leading up to the Balkan wars of the 1990s, and for understanding the cultural and political realities in the former Yugoslavia today. Perica has wisely and intelligently mapped out a new area of inquiry which others had not explored or often even acknowledged. If he had done nothing but presented this information--much of which was the result of his own independent research--he would have done all of us an enormous favor.

But he has done more than that--despite my above-mentioned concerns about the editing of this book, he is an enjoyable and readable writer, who presents his findings in a manner quite accessible to any reader. And, as I hinted above, the best is yet to come--the final few chapters contain more analysis than some of the earlier chapters provided.

I encourage anyone with an interest in the breakup of Yugoslavia, or in the formation of nationalist sentiment in the western Balkans in the 20th Century, to read this book. And I promise my readers that, when my review of "Balkan Idols" resumes, the reviews will be more interesting, if only because Perica's insights and analysis come to the fore.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Srebrenica Genocide Blog

Sometimes you can miss something right in front of your eyes. Today I noticed--a year and a half after starting this blog--that I'd never included a link to one of the blogs I read on a regular basis; namely the Srebrenica Genocide Blog.

This oversight has been corrected. I trust that most readers of this blog are already familiar with Daniel's excellent and impassioned work. I am just happy that I finally noticed this puzzling omission.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [14]

CHAPTER EIGHT: FLAMES AND SHRINES: The Serbian Church and Serbian Nationalist Movement in the 1980s

The subtitle of Chapter Eight summarizes the contents nicely. Essentially, the Serbian Church kept the flame of nationalism alive even as "nationalist Communists" who worked within the system (such as Dobrica Cosic) were systematically purged, leaving the church as the only meaningful anti-regime/pro-nationalist institution.

As I mentioned, I'm going to dispense with the detailed, section-by-section analysis of this book from now one (only three more chapters to go after this one). This relatively short chapter details to a surprising degree how explicit and focused the Serbian Church's efforts were. The focus on Kosovo (including increasingly frequent parallels drawn between Serbs and Jews, and Kosovo and Palestine--the rhetoric often became mawkishly hyperbolic) and on the direct connection between church and state were only two of the many facets of this seemingly all-consuming struggle. The church simultaneously pushed massive church building projects, including the construction of one of the world's largest Byzantine churches in Belgrade while decrying mosque-building in Yugoslavia and using its connections to block construction of a mosque, also in Belgrade. This tendency to act the martyr while playing the victim, of course, is a common theme in modern Serb ultra-nationalism.

The church also pushed the (erroneous) theory that Albanian nationalism in Kosovo was, and always had been, driven by religious rather than nationalistic motives, lending a extra dimension of urgency and hysteria to a dangerous and volatile situation it had helped foster to begin with.

All this occurred against an ironic backdrop--Orthodox Christians in Yugoslavia were not very religious; in fact, the Orthodox had much lower rates of both professed belief and religious participation/attendance compared to Muslims and--especially--Catholics. Serbs had higher rates of declared atheism as well. But little of this seemed to matter, as the church pursued activities which had little to do with theology, less to do with spirituality, and very much with nationalist politics and worldly power.

Monday, October 08, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [13]


The "Great Novena" set out to create a religious and ethnic revival among Croatian Catholics under the "leadership" of the "Croatian Queen", but in 1981 the Virgin Mary entered events in a more direct fashion--the infamous apparitions at Medjugorje in western Herzegovina.

This area was--not at all coincidentally--always a hotbed of hardline Croat nationalism. The visionaries were under the auspices of the local Franciscans, who were involved in a power struggle with the Bishop of Mostar and the clerical hierarchy in general. Also, the Franciscans were hostile to communism in general and the regime in particular, while the Bishop was officially compliant with the civil creed of Brotherhood and Unity. It is known that one of the Franciscan handlers had a degree in child psychology and that the six children had been "coached" by several Franciscans.

Ultimately, the regime dropped its opposition to the apparitions for very sound reasons--the worldwide fame of Medjugorje was bringing millions of pilgrims and their money to Yugoslavia. The state took over the business of receiving and serving the devout, who mostly came from western countries.

Beyond Mysticism: The Politics of Marian Apparitions

In this section, Perica details the 20th Century history of Marian apparitions and outbreaks of the Marian cult, especially the Fatima cult from Portugal in 1917. He explains how Marian cults often serve as identity symbols for national groups, especially oppressed or stateless national groups. The Marian cult has also served the church as an anticommunist tool throughout the Century, especially in Poland, Ukraine, and Chile in 1973--the Fatima apparition appeared in 1917 at the dawn of the Bolshevik Revolution.

The Apparitions in Herzegovina and the Yugoslav Crisis of the 1980s

The Franciscan presence in Herzegovina dated back to Medieval efforts to enforce Catholic orthodoxy in this frontier region; it wasn't until Bosnia was put under Hapsburg authority in 1878 that the Vatican had full control over the region. By then, the Franciscans had deep ties to local Catholics who tended to look at the official clergy with more reservation.

For Orthodox Serbs, the Medjugorje apparitions--which appeared in an area riddled with mass graves from WWII (when the Franciscan-allied Ustashe all but eliminated the Serb population of western Herzegovina)--were a clear provocation. The Vatican was either unaware of the political subtext of these "miracles" or didn't care; the global fame and appeal of this latest Marian apparition simply overruled any theological or ecumenical qualms the hierarchy might have had. The Orthodox Church held its own commemorations in the area, pointedly dwelling on the fact that the genocide against Serbs had been committed by Catholics, often in the name of Catholicism.

The Medjugorje apparition was the most famous religious event in late-period Yugoslavia; but as Perica glumly notes at the end of this chapter:

"The Medjugorje apparitions of the 1980s were not a "peace and prayer movement," as the Western media stubbornly reiterate, but a prelude to partition, war, and genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina."


I realize I am not doing this book full justice--my decision to carry out a chapter-by-chapter summary has turned out to be something of a mistake; the book is a worthy read, but it is a very thematic and academic book, best experienced firsthand. In retrospect, I wish I had finished the entire book before blogging about it and then composed a single, lengthy review with the benefit of hindsight.

That said, I hope at least one reader of this blog has discovered this worthy book because of my review. It is a flawed book--this is clearly the product of several different papers cobbled together; a strong editor could have possibly encouraged Perica to revamp the entire manuscript into a more cohesive work--and sometimes the prose is a little lacking. But Perica did some important research which could most likely not be replicated, and he has opened a new and intriguing line of inquiry into the roots of the Yugoslav wars--not only the wars of the 1990s, but previous civil conflicts in the western Balkans as well.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [12]



Civil Relgion in a Communist Country

Every successful nation-state needs a "civil religion" of some kind; some shared belief to which the people can give loyalty. Holding a nation together by force alone is ultimately futile.

These civil religions involve founding myths, cults around "founding fathers" and other national heroes, a sense of national mission ("exceptionalism", as Perica puts it), and various patriotic ceremonies, rituals, commemorations, memorials, and--in Yugoslavia especially--sports.

In Communist Yugoslavia, the civil religion was built on the creed of "Brotherhood and Unity," which was founded on various national myths including the Partisan resistance of WWII, the break with Stalin in 1948, the unity and harmony between all the national groups making up Yugoslavia, the cult of Tito, the leadership of the non-aligned nations movement and the form of "self-management" socialism that Yugoslavia pursued, and finally the important role assigned to sport in Yugoslav ideology.

The Myth of the Nation's Origin: Yugoslav Victories over Hitler and Stalin

The Partisan anti-fascist struggle was by far the most successful and broad-based liberation movement in all of Europe during WWII. Although Allied aid cannot be discounted, the Yugoslavs could justifiably take pride that they had, by and large, freed themselves from the Nazis and their domestic allies (most notably the NDH and, later, the Chetniks). The liberation struggle was both costly and popular--casualty rates were high, especially for Party member who were expected to take leadership roles and risk in combat; at the same time the Partisan forces grew in size until what began as a guerrilla movement ended up fielding large armies and even a proper air force and navy. The heroism of the war went beyond the ideologically committed cadres--this was truly a People's War, with members of Yugoslavia's many minorities well-represented.

This war became the founding myth, commemorated with countless "people's heroes" and battlefield commemorations, etc. Ultimately, Tito's break with Stalin--and his ability to hold power against the attempted Stalinist purge from within--can be explained at least partially because Tito's appeal was to nationalism rather than class identity. Stalin himself understood this, but failed to rein Tito in.

Self-Management and Nonalignment

The shift from Stalinist-style communism and the creation of "self-managed" socialism--which borrowed as much, if not more, from 19th Century socialism than from orthodox Marxism--was a source of genuine pride and self-identity for Yugoslavs. As was Tito's leadership role in what became known as the organization of non-aligned countries.

The Myth of Brotherhood and Unity

The ideal of "Brotherhood and Unity" was premised on the idea that ethnic strife (most notably Greater Serbia ideology) was a threat to the peace and stability of Yugoslavia, and it was up to the party to dampen and eventually exterminate such passions. The official ideology did not seek to create a new, "Yugoslav" nationality, but rather to encourage and promote tolerance and mutual acceptance among the countries various national groups.

This civil religion was no mere figment of Tito's imagination; at least some observers have argued that the country was not held together primarily by force. And when the option of selecting "Yugoslav" as an ethnic label was offered, it became increasingly popular over the years (particularly in Bosnia). Studies showed that self-described Yugoslavs were less religious than other citizens, and more hostile to the various national churches. At the same time, they were more likely to participate in civic and official patriotic events. They're "Yugoslavism" was genuine and deep-seated.

The Tito Cult

Tito was a larger-than-life figure to Yugoslavs, and much revolutionary sentiment was directly tied to him. The Tito cult died hard; in the late 1980s, as the League of Communists lost powerful to the republics, loyalty to Tito's and his legacy remained strong.

A Patriotic Ritual: Tito's Relay

Although Tito later decreed that this annual celebration of his birthday be renamed the "Youth Relay" as a way of underscoring the nation's youth and vitality, it never lost the strong connection to personally commemorating the leader. The relay passed through all the republics, and the baton--containing a birthday message to Tito--was carried by young representatives of different Yugoslav nationalities.

The Myth of the Yugoslav Synergy: Was There a Secret Link?

In this final section, Perica briefly discusses some of the arguments against the legitimacy of Yugoslavia' civil religion. The anti-communists and nationalists, he argues, faced the burden imposed by the fact that "Brotherhood and Unity," in many ways, was a success. Nationalists had to turn to a sense of martyrdom, the notion that their respective national group had been subverted, oppressed, and betrayed in the trap of nations that made up Yugoslavia.

Perica concludes the chapter with the heartfelt claim that Yugoslavia, and the creed of brotherhood and unity, could have outlived not only Tito's death but even the end of communism. There was nothing in the creed incompatible with democracy, and the Tito cult could have lived on as a unifying national myth of tolerance. But he concludes this hopeful tone with a more somber note--this myth alone was not enough. Yugoslavia needed to have begun democratization much earlier.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [11]

CHAPTER SIX: UNITED WE STAND, DIVIDED WE FALL The Civil Religion of Brotherhood and Unity

Tito's death in 1980 triggered a wave of genuine grief and a national sense of loss across Yugoslavia, especially among ethnic and religious minorities.

Yugoslavia' Swan Song, 1980-1984

Official proclamations of continuity and stability of Yugoslavia after Tito's death initially seemed well-founded. The 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo was a crowning achievement for Yugoslavia and a highly successful advertisement for Yugoslavism.

Sporting excellence had always been encouraged by the regime; the Partisans took time to organize "national" teams and enter international competitions even during WW II. Yugoslavia "punched above its weight" in international competitions both team and individual. The ideal of the national team--in all sports--was vigorously promoted by Tito's government.

Monday, October 01, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [10]


For most of the Communist era, the leadership of the Islamic Community consisted of veterans of the WWII Partisans and were loyal to the regime and supportive of the official creed of Brotherhood and Unity.

During the sixties and seventies, challenges to traditional identification came from two sources--the government itself, which established a new Muslim national identity; and from a reinvigorated if still illegal Young Muslim, led by prominent Muslim dissident Alija Izetbegovic.

A Nationality with a Religious Name

When the Central Committee of the League of Commnunists of Bosnia and Herzegovina declared that Muslims be given national status by the Federal government, the response was immediate--many Muslims quickly adopted the new designation. But there were complications. Some traditionalists worried that the religious identification, which was not traditional, was premature and that Muslims needed more time to develop a separate cultural identity and history. The Young Muslims, on the other hand, insisted that the identification should be more, not less, explicitly religious. Izetbegovic was the leader of this push to "Islamicize" Slavic Muslims in Yugoslavia. This was the period when Izetbegovic produced the later infamous "Islamic Declaration," which provided much (decontextualized) ammunition for Serb nationalist intent on proving the existence of jihadists in Sarajevo.

For its part, the Islamic Community--which had been known as the Islamic Religious Community, dropped the word "Religious" from the organizations title in an effort to emphasize the culturally secular aspects of the new national identity. Perica writes:

"Under the new name, the Islamic Community aspired to become a de facto Muslim national institution that would compensate for the lack of what were national academies of sciences and arts and cultural umbrella organizations (maticas) in Serbia and Croatia."

Rebuilding and Expansion

The communist years were good to the Islamic Community. Funds were allocated for rebuilding neglected or damaged religious buildings. Hundreds of new mosques and other religious institutions were constructed in the 1970s.

This was possible because the Islamic Community remained supportive of the regime and, unlike the two main national churches, did not pose a threat to the multiethnic nature of Yugoslavia. While the regime continued to keep an eye on proselytizing activities and demonstrated concern when religious figures sought out explicit identification with other Muslim countries (such as revolutionary Iran), it also allowed clerics a great deal of freedom.

Unlike the main Christian denominations, the Islamic Community was pan-Yugoslav rather than being identified with a single republic. It was also decentralized, and the reis-ul-ulema lacked absolute authority. The mainly Albanian Sufi sect broke away from the Islamic Community, but this independent organization was also loyal to the regime.

While the regime was, on the whole, comfortable with these developments, they were viewed with suspicion and alarm by the Serbian press. The construction of Europe's third-largest mosque in Zagreb was criticized for being oversized in relation to its need and symptomatic of belligerent nationalism; these reports being published even as the Serb Orthodox Church was building an equally grand new church in Belgrade, and civic authorities there were blocking the construction of a mosque for Belgrade's Muslims.

Religious Nationalism in Bosnia-Herzegovina

The Islamic Revolution in Iran and the death of Tito triggered a revival of efforts by Izetbegovic and his allies. The resulting crackdown by Bosnian authorities ultimately backfired, harming the governments relations with other countries while fueling the rise of Muslim nationalism. Izetbegovic and others were released with reduced sentences, but the state found that the Islamic Community had lost credibility by standing with the government. At the same time, Izetbegovic had gained popularity, including among the clergy.

The Islamic Community attempted many reforms, and even allowed for its first democratically elected reis-ul-ulema, Jakub Selimoski. At the same time, Serb politicians were raising the heat under the issue, using the threat of Islamic fundamentalism to incite fears of growing Muslim nationalism. The Serb press portrayed Selimoski--a moderate who worked hard to counter the influence of Izetbegovic--as a fundamentalist working to establish an Islamic dictatorship similar to Iran.

The Islamic Community also increasingly turned to public displays of religiosity to rival those of the Croat and Serb churches; these explicitly religious events, in reaction to the climate of aggressive nationalism being promoted by Serbs, Croats and Albanians, increasingly took on a nationalist aspect.

Efforts by the Islamic Community to moderate tensions were complicated because not only was it facing a challenge from Izetbegovic, there were growing anti-Muslim sentiments coming from Serbia. Izetbegovic secretly founded the Muslim Patriotic League, an underground militia; around the same time, he also founded the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), which was an explicitly Muslim party. Izetbegovic cleverly positioned himself a mediator between the secular Muslims and his own party's fundamentalist wing.

The SDA's policies had a strongly religious tone from the beginning. Its appeal was largely rural, so the party was reliant on clerics to organize mobilization at the local level. Ultimately, the SDA would depose the moderate Selimoski and bring the Islamic Community under its wing. The Islamic Community was becoming another "national church."