CHAPTER NINE: THE SECOND STRIFE Religion as the Catalyst of the Crisis in the 1980s and 1990sThis 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, 1979-1987By 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, 1988-1990The 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 ElectionsThe 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.