Monday, May 26, 2008

"Heavenly Serbia: From Myth to Genocide" by Branimir Anzulovic [5]


The Violent Balkan Highlands

This section examines the violent nature of Dinaric mountain culture, which can be attributed to illiteracy, lack of central authority, general lawlessness, and a provincial, patriarchal culture deeply steeped in notions of a particular kind of personal honor and machismo. Anzulovic notes that this area was never completely conquered either by the Byzantines or the Ottomans, and that the pagan-tribal nature of highland society was never completely replaced by any of the monotheistic faiths which held the people's nominal loyalty--indeed, the priests were often illiterate, and were more likely to be deferential to the indigenous moral code rather than insisting on overt adherence to Church teachings.

These characteristics were common among highlanders of all faiths; among Orthodox highlanders, however, this endemic violence and attendant callousness towards suffering was enshrined in Prince Njegos' "The Mountain Wreath", thus spreading the bloody, vengeful, merciless code of the mountains to the more literate lowland culture.

The Prince-Bishop's "Song of Horror:

I have written elsewhere in this blog about "The Mountain Wreath", a masterpiece of Montenegrin poetry which celebrates the Christmas Eve massacre of Muslims by Christian fighters; I have written elsewhere about the poem and its glorification of God-sanctioned murder as well as the curious idea that the gratuitous shedding of Muslim blood is in itself a baptism, rather than a sin of which one must be cleansed in order to receive baptism.

Anzulovic notes the almost complete absence of actual Christian theology or morality in the poem; he quotes Bishop Nikolaj Velimirovic, who said "Njegos's Christology is almost rudimentary. No Christian priest has ever said less about Christ than this metropolitan from Cetinje." Another anti-Christian facet of Njegos' world-view is the quasi-Manicheism view that the world itself is an evil place. And while Njegos presents the battle between Christianity and Islam as a battle between good and evil, there is nothing intrinsicly moral about the conflict as he describes it--Anzulovic ascribes "nihilism and necrophilia" to this blood-obsessed poet-priest.

At this point in his analysis, Anzulovic makes a very telling observation--that

"...the theme of the struggle against the Turks was not a part of the Serbian folk singers' repertory in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. During this period of Turkish rule, the Serbs enjoyed peace and the benefits of a well-administered empire; their church had substantial autonomy; and service in the Ottoman army provided income for many Serbs."

There is more, but the key point is that the mythic component of Njegos' poem was projected backwards onto the period, rather than being a faithful representation of that era. He goes on to note that other works from the West concerning the conflict between Christians and Muslims were mostly devoid of the "intense and overt hatred displayed in The Mountain Wreath" Anzulovic quotes from several different works in order to demonstrate this, then compares The Mountain Wreath to another classic work of Slavic literature, Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, which looks at ethnic violence much differently.

Finally, Anzulovic notes that

"...the glorification of genocide in The Mountain Wreath cannot be attributed to external influences. Many foreign influences can be detected, but not in the sphere of ethics."

Anzulovic states that there are two sources for this peculiar value-system: the cult of revenge from the Dinaric tribal societies, and the teachings of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

The Chorus

This section examines how many academics and intellectuals, both in Serbia and without, have turned a blind eye to the troubling moral code Njegos' poem articulates. He discusses the career of Yugoslav dissident Milovan Djilas, who bravely wrote about a massacre of Slavic Muslims in Montenegro in 1924, an atrocity which his own grandfather participated in. Yet:

"Djilas justified Njegos' advocacy of violence. He recognized that violence was evil, yet found its use in the service of Serbia's national goals permissible because "Serbianism is a concrete form of the human desire for good, for freedom." "

Like many Serbian nationalists, Djilas shared a sense that Serbs were threatened by the outside world; combined with the sense of their "rightness" as a people, almost means can justify preserving such a mythic/religious end.

Blind, unthinking faith in the righteousness of "Serbianism"; an unwavering certainty that considers no violation of decency and morality outside the bounds of propriety as long as whatever atrocity we are considering is in the service of this holy cause--and yet, the proponents of "Greater Serbia" somehow tried to convince the world they were fighting against dangerous religious fanatics.


Anonymous said...

Anzulovic wrote
"During this period of Turkish rule, the Serbs enjoyed peace and the benefits of a well-administered empire; their church had substantial autonomy; and service in the Ottoman army provided income for many Serbs."

In reality, the Serbian Orthodox Church was abolished for almost a century during this time of "substantial autonomy". The only group of Serbs that enjoyed Turkish rule were the ones that accepted Islam as their faith. Today these people euphamistically call themselves Bosniaks which is what Anzulovic would consider himself I can safely surmise. This recently invented ethnic group has in several hate filled spasms attempted to exterminate any connection being once Serbs. There's probably nothing that makes Anzulovic more infuriated then knowing that he can never fully convince himself or others, no matter how hard he tries, that he is not of Serbian stock. He is that which he hates most!

Anonymous said...

I married a descendant of a Polish king who is attributed to cutting off the Ottoman army before they over ran Europe. Yeah for me.

Owen said...

The most recent "hate-filled spasm" in the area can be pinned down to the murderous genocide perpetrated by Serb forces at Srebrenica in July 1995.