Sunday, November 25, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [25]


The Myth of Religious Revival

After the fall of officially atheistic communist regimes throughout Eastern Europe, many predicted there would be a "religious revival" throughout the region. Superficially, the statistics bore this out--there was a huge rise in the number of people in most ex-Communist states professing religious beliefs and participation in/belonging to formal churches.

But a closer examination of the situation throws this "religious revival" in a different light--the growth was almost entirely in the official national churches, rather than among sects, cults, and other "bottom-up" spiritual movements. The "religious revival" in the former Eastern Bloc was almost purely "top-down." The official churches had led the fight against communism because they wanted to lay claim the the authority and assets of those atheist regimes for themselves. There was very little genuine theology or deeply-felt spirituality in this religious revival, contrary to Western assumptions.

To be frank, this section is somewhat disjointed and tries to cover too much ground. Perica attempts to link the discussion to a global rise in apocalyptic religiosity, with mixed results. I agree with much of what he says here--he rightly notes that religious organizations and institutions are quick to involve themselves in political and social debates without acknowledging that religion itself is often the problem. However, this and other larger points seem to come out of the blue; fortunately, his insights specific to the Balkans are premised on all which has come before, lending much credence to his conclusions, despite the far-ranging tangents he adds.

A Godly Idea in A Godless Regime: Religion and Yugoslav Communism

This section argues that Titoism, while still "by all means a part of the dark legacy of communism" was "less bad" than the competing nationalisms and ideologies available to the peoples of the western Balkans. By laying claim to the ideal of Brotherhood and Unity, Titoism forced the opposition to either make a nonviolent, alternative claim to that same ideal, or to undermine it and stand for division, intolerance, and hostility. While Perica initially seems to be waxing nostalgic for Titoism, he concludes by stating that Tito's rule was simply the "least worst" option which has so far proved workable.


Sorry for the long delay between posts--I will conclude my review of this final chapter in the next installment.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Kirk. I hope you're finding Perica rather more rewarding to work your way through than Johnstone and Parenti were!

Kirk Johnson said...

Oh, absolutely--it's a flawed book, but quite a worthy read all the same. Perica has opened a whole new avenue of inquiry; one book just isn't enough for this subject.

Thanks as always for the feedback.