Tuesday, January 23, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter Three [26]



In this section, Johnstone addresses the role the Catholic Church played in the Ustashe regime. This is, no doubt, not a pretty story. The Ustashe regime was nauseatingly pious, and the Vatican certainly did not seem overly concerned about the atrocities being committed at least partially in the name of Catholicism.

Where Johnstone goes overboard is not in her condemnation of the Vatican's complicity in Ustashe crimes--this may be the first time, after 148 pages, where Johnstone and I actually agree on something--but in her typical failure to examine the wider context.

The Catholic Church was, as any reader of her book should know, rather chummy with fascist and far-right authoritarian regimes in places other than Croatia. While it's true that Pavelic and his government called forth the spirit of earlier Crusades against heretics, such rhetorical flourishes should not distract us from the wider issues at hand.

Her claims that the Ustashe regime was a direct rebirth of Franciscan persecution of Christians in the Middle Ages is strained, to put it mildly. Her assertion that the Bosnian Church were Bogomil heretics is mistaken, although this misconception is rather widespread and she really cannot be faulted for it. However, she also claims that the Orthodox Christians of Bosnia were Serbs, a very debatable point at best. It is doubtful that the Orthodox Christians of medieval Bosnia thought of themselves as Serbs; not all of them at least. Once again, she makes a direct connection between modern nationalism and pre-modern ethnic/religious identity.

The paragraph I have been discussing closes with this curious quote:

"Elsewhere esteemed for their unworldly pacifism, the Franciscans of Bosnia-Herzegovina (whose stronghold is in the district of the recent "miracles" of Medjugorje in western Herzegovina) acted as a virtual military order to propagate the official doctrine of the Church against both the heretics (Bogomils) and the "schismatics" (Greek Orthodox, that is, Serbs). In those border territories of the faith, along the East-West border with Orthodoxy, the Catholic Church sponsored a militant aggression in total contrast to the meek, ecumenical attitudes displayed in other times and places."

So you have Johnstone making the implicit claim that all Orthodox Slavs in the western Balkans were Serbs, centuries before the onset modern nationalism and the development of modern national identities. But what is more striking about that passage is the final sentence--Johnstone might be the only person in the world who thinks of the medieval Catholic Church as having been meek and ecumenical. This is the same church she was damning for Crusades against multiple heresies, after all.

The rest of this short section continues in the same vein, going over the details of the Ustashe campaign of forced conversions and fanatically relgious rhetoric. Not much to say--it's a horrible chapter in history, and most anyone interested enough in the region to bother with my blog most likely knows about the hell on earth that was Jasenovac. As I said in my previous post--I hesitate to dwell too long on the distortions and selectivity of Johnstone's version of events in Ustashe Croatia because I do not want to counter her callousness to the victims of the Bosnian war with an implied indifference to the victims of Ante Pavelic's insane campaign against Serbs and others. Suffice it to say--Johnstone does nothing to illuminate or understand the horror of that time. Instead, she feeds the fires of resentment by wallowing in exaggerated notions of a quasi-myth papist plot.

1 comment:

Katja R. said...

You are right that Johnstone can't be faulted for mistakes on the question of the so called 'Bogomils' Not a lot of concrete information was available in English about them before the Internet, and some information is fairly recent.

Not all Orthodox people were Serbs and not all Catholic people were Croats. Sometimes Croats became Orthodox because the Orthodox church was less constrained under Turkish rule.

The so called Bogomils constituted in any case a small number of people in Medieval Bosnia, however a lot of them were the nobility.

They were important for that reason and because Hungary wanted land in Bosnia and power, so the existance of small numbers of 'heretics' in Bosnia and small numbers of Orthodox people who arrived initially as refugees from Serbia, after Serbia fell, was a fantastic excuse to take lands in Bosnia.

The Church didn't in those times have a consistant policy on Bosnia because there were four popes right in the era when Mehmet II was begining to move into the Balkans.
A pope would take office, turn to his duties concerning Bosnia and die. Then the next pope would take office, and die.

The Vatican has a lot to answer for in the WWII era all over the world, as far as being chummy with the fascists! Stjepanic however did a lot to throw monkeywrenches into the Poglavnik's plans in Croatia.
In one famous incident he even refused Pavelic bread and salt on the steps of the Cathedral in Zagreb. He was noted for having saved the lives of Jews, Serbs and Gypsies and regularly condemned persecution of these groups, even he condemned persecution of Muslims, which in that era was remarkable. Especially it was remarkable given who was Pope then!