Friday, November 16, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [24]


Legitimization of the state through religion becomes an extremely complicated and treacherous undertaking in multiconfessional countries. This is even more true in a multiethnic state where ethnicity has been defined, largely or in part, by religion.

Perica writes:

"The making and unmaking of Yugoslav states as a case study, in general, and its religious dimension, in particular, offers scholars a kind of "laboratory" in which important findings and conclusions can be made. Here are some of those conclusions."

Multinational States and Legitimacy by Religion

Yugoslavia never achieved legitimization from the national churches. Both the Serb Orthodox and Croat Catholic churches desired centralized, "ethnically compact" (Perica's memorable phrase) states with the church as the official or at least de facto state religion. Perica also notes that, whatever the pro-unity sentiments and political leanings of Bosnia's Muslims, there can be little doubt that most Muslim clergy at least dreamed of a Muslim state in the western Balkans. The desire to create a "relgious monopolt" leads to authoritarianism and conflict with neighboring states and other faiths. Perica terms the Balkan variant of this side effect of the theocratic impulse as "ethnoclericalism."


"The concept of ethnoclericalism is the Balkan case's contribution to the recent scholarship dealing with religious fundamentalism, "religious nationalism," and various challenges to the secular state and western liberal though about religion. Key components of ethnoclericalism are the idea of ethnically based nationhood and a "national church" with its clergy entitled to national leadership but never accountable for political blunders as are secular leaders."

Perica notes that "ethnic churches" are "designed as instruments for the survival of ethnic communities." As a result, they require a sense of crisis and the fear of some external threat, real or imagined. They are loath to accommodate "outsiders" or liberal ideas. They favor centralized, authoritarian social and political structures, designed to protect the community from outside threats and maintain the social order under duress. They define the ethnic group as members of the national faith, and for this and the other reasons listed before favor close collaboration with the state. Church and State are not to be separated--they are equal ruling partners.

The clergy of the national churches must be members of the national ethnic group. This is true in Orthodox countries generally, of course--Orthodoxy has a long tradition of church-state synergy. But in Croatia, in modern times, this has also been true of the Catholic church; in Croatia, Croat saints are superior to "foreign" saints just as Serb saints are superior to all "foreign" saints in the Orthodox faith. And Bosnian Islam is also marked by a distinctively Balkan ethnic nationalism not found in most Muslim countries. For all their antagonism, the national churches of the former Yugoslavia are, in some fundamental ways, merely different variations on the same theme.


Anonymous said...

Quote: "...a multiethnic state where ethnicity has been defined, largely or in part, by religion."
True. Not going back to Serbia, Croatia and other countries in the region - I will focus on Bosnia only. Up until the mid 19th century, the term Bosniak was used for all inhabitants of Bosnia regardles of faith. In medieval Bosnia, Bosniaks were largely members of an indigenous Bosnian Church and were considered heretics by both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. As a result, some Bosniaks were forced to convert to Caholicism and Eastern Orthodox religions. During the Ottoman period (15th-19th century) mostly heretic Bosniaks in large numbers converted to Islam. During the 19th century (Austro-Hungarian period), the Bosniaks of Catholic and Eastern Orthodox faiths acquired Croatian and Serbian national identites and came to be known as Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serbs.

Quote: "...there can be little doubt that most Muslim clergy at least dreamed of a Muslim state in the western Balkans."

Well, I am sure that most Christian clergy also dreamt about Christian state in the western Balkans guided by the principles of the Bible.

Quote: "...Croat saints are superior to "foreign" saints just as Serb saints are superior to all 'foreign' saints in the Orthodox faith."

That is interesting conclusion, but I thought that's pretty much normal in different societies when it comes to Christianity? Pardon my knowledge of religion - and for the record of fairness - it seems that same principles are applied in other Churches, whether we take a look at Greece, Russia, France, United Kingdom or any other country. It seems that local "saints" are held to a higher standard than foreign saints. :)

Anonymous said...

I don't think that you're right in your comment about "national" saints. There are some specific "national" saints in the UK whose reverence owes something to specifically local issues - for example the English Martyrs are honoured by Catholics for having died rather than renounce their faith in a period of persecution (during the Reformation). But apart from local devotion I wouldn't say that English saints such as Sts Bede, Cuthbert, Alphage, Chad, Herbert, are honoured over Sts Francis of Assisi, Benedict, Catharine of Siena, Francis Xavier, Anthony of Padua, Teresa of Lisieux, - leaving aside the apostles and of course St Patrick is a law unto himself.

I can't speak of other countries but I suspect that the phenomenon of intense veneration of local saints (which of course runs counter to the notion of a universal church that the Catholic Church proclaims itself to be) in a country like Croatia, next door to the home country of so many of the saints, is likely to be the reflection of a secular reoccupation with national identity which has found expression in the Perica's ethnoclericalism.