Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [26]

CHAPTER TWELVE: CONCLUSIONS [continued]


The Myth of the Three Evils of the Twentieth Century and Other New Myths

Perica writes:

"The most crucial single characteristic of the religion under consideration is worship of history. History as the principal object of worship entails myths that facilitate coming to terms with various historical controversies coupled with the worship of the nation (or ethno-religious community). I would single out three sets of new myths that most critically affected the period under consideration and are likely to exert significant influence on future events in successor states in the former Yugoslavia. These myths could be named as follows:

1. The Deep Roots Myth
2. The Jerusalem Myth
3. The Myth of the Three Evils of the Twentieth Century"


For anyone who has followed my review of this book--or, indeed, anyone who has read even a little on the Balkan wars--the first two myths probably need little elaboration at this point. For the first, Perica notes that Serbian and Croatian nationalism emphasized an imagined, mythologized ancient past and a continuity between the contemporary "true" nation and that past, irregardless of the intervening centuries. These "deep roots" trumped any other nationalism or national identity--whether Yugoslav or Bosnian. This insight is not original to Perica; his contribution has been to illustrate how fundamental religion and religious institutions have been in formulating and maintaining this myth.

I cannot improve on this paragraph, quoted in its entirety:

"In sum, architects of the Deep Roots Myth have labored to create a "visible" link between ancient ethnic communities and nation-states founded after the collapse of communism and disintegration of the former Yugoslavia. Their favorite word is "tradition," which they perceive as something immutable in ever-changing history, created centuries ago yet somehow coming to us intact and unaltered. As they make people conscious of these allegedly immutable things that resisted the power of historical change and invite the people to "wake up" and "return" to their "genuine" identities, their chief aim is to profoundly alter the current situation in the society, culture, economy, government, identity, and mentality of the people. In other words, ethnic nationalists say that nothing has changed since the Middle Ages in order to change everything today."

The second myth--the "Jerusalem Myth"--is obviously about Kosovo, but Perica also claims that the ideal of a mythic homeland. He writes:

"The ruins of the former Yugoslavia are full of tombs and monuments of all sorts and all ages, sites of martyrdom, wailing walls and sacred centers both above and under ground, to which the damned groups want to return but cannot. What the Jerusalem Myth really narrates is a story about a land of ceaseless resentment inhabited by eternal losers."

There is some bite to that analysis, and also much truth.

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Perica was less successful at convincing me of the importance of the third myth, which he spends several pages arguing and yet in its essentials can be reduced to this--the Vatican, which throughout much of the 20th Century clearly supported many far-right and fascist regimes and opposed any left-of-center political movements as a secular threat to its own authority, has made a concerted effort in the post-Cold War environment to reinvent its past. The Vatican's revisionist strategy is to claim that the Church steadfastly opposed all totalitarianisms--communism, fascism, and Nazism--equally.

This is interesting, since it suggests that the beautification of Stepanic had little to do with intentional stoking of Croat nationalism but rather was part of a wider, global effort to rewrite history. Stepanic's martyrdom at the hands of Tito was the only thing which mattered; his actions during the Ustashe years simply did not compute.

However, Perica has thrown the net pretty wide here; he also gets bogged down in an attempt to determine whether or not the Vatican has maintained a double standard in dealing with right-wing versus left-wing movements and governments. It is a worthy subject of study, but it seems to come out of nowhere, and takes us far afield from the western Balkans. That is not to say he is wrong, or that there is no connection between this line of inquiry and the primary topic of his book, but the sudden turn to ideological debates within the Vatican is rather jarring. Oddly, Perica claims that this third myth is possibly the most important of the three he has outlined; I feel it is the least important, or more accurately the least directly relevant. Considering how much intellectual terrain Perica has mapped out in this book, he is entitled to an occasional wrong turn.

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I know I promised to wrap things up in this post, but the final section is several pages long, and I wish to give it enough attention and space, as well as adding some final thoughts of my own. I will review the final section of this last chapter in my next post.

2 comments:

Daniel (Srebrenica Genocide Blog Editor) said...

Quote: "The most crucial single characteristic of the religion under consideration is worship of history."

I can't quite put my finger on why are people so much "into the history" over there? Can't people of Serbia and Croatia look into the future?

Quote: "In other words, ethnic nationalists say that nothing has changed since the Middle Ages in order to change everything today."

I couldn't have concluded this better myself. The sad part is that nationalists do not understand the difference between stone age and modern age.

Quote: "The ruins of the former Yugoslavia are full of tombs and monuments of all sorts and all ages... What the Jerusalem Myth really narrates is a story about a land of ceaseless resentment inhabited by eternal losers."

Can anybody refute what Perica just concluded? Impossible. Have you ever heard about "The Jerusalem Syndrome." Similar paralel can be drawn with the Balkans (sadly). There is a way too much history in the Balkans, and I am quite convinced that people are sick of it and they don't even realize it. If peace is ever to last, first governments need to invest some money to decontaminate people from their own misery, past, history, nationalism...

Quote: "...the Vatican, which throughout much of the 20th Century clearly supported many far-right and fascist regimes."

Serbian Orthodox Christian priests also supported Serbian Chetniks who were slaughtering Jews and Muslims of "Yugoslavia." In fact, the first experiments in mass executions of camp inmates by poison gas were carried out in Serbia. Serbia was the first country to proudly declare itself "Judenfrei" ("cleansed" of Jews). In August 1942, Dr. Harald Turner (the chief of the German civil administration in Serbia) announced that Serbia was the only country in which the "Jewish question" was solved and that Belgrade was the "first city of a New Europe to be Judenfrei." Turner himself attributed this success to Serbian help. The fight against the Jewish influence had actually started six months before the German invasion when the government of Serbia issued legislation restricting Jewish participation in the economy and university enrolment.

Daniel (Srebrenica Genocide Blog Editor) said...

Correction: Can't people of Serbia and Bosnia (not Croatia as I stated in my last comment) look into the future?