Saturday, September 15, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [2]


My previous post summarized most of the essential information in these two introductory sentences. I did not have my copy of the book handy when I wrote that post, however, and I inadvertently omitted a couple of points worth mentioning.

I mentioned that Perica was a citizen of Yugoslavia prior to the war; but I did not mention that he had been a regular columnist for the weekly Croatian newspaper Nedjeljna Dalmacija from 1988 to 1991. His weekly column was entitled "Religion and Politics, and at the time he had been a believer in the notion that religion and religious institutions would play an important and constructive role in bringing liberal democracy to formerly communist East Europe. He also served on the government commission for relations with religious groups in the Croatian republic. His faith in the positive power of organized religion in the post-communist world is gone, but clearly he was, in a sense, already working on this book before he even knew he would someday write it.

His shock at what happened to his country was only compounded by his personal knowledge of the role religious institutions played in fanning nationalist sentiment. Furthermore, he realized that Western observers often failed to grasp the dynamics at work. He writes:

"What has been missing in the recent scholarship on Yugoslavia is a study explaining the uniqueness of the Yugoslav case and the concrete, active history-making forces, such as religious institutions. A documented history of religion and its interaction with ideologies, nations, and states has not been published. Consequently, the grand debate on the Yugoslav case in the West induced by the media focus on the Balkan wars in the 1990s ended up with the same preexisting popular misconception that religion per se, that is, the different beliefs and styles of worship, suffice to cause (out of the blue) serious conflicts. This misconception is especially harmful for countries like the United States, because in this multiethnic country, no less vulnerable than similar socities, some people have been seriously frightened by the Yugoslav disaster, while others have downplayed it, attributing to the United States some kind of immunity to what had befallen the allegedly "uncivilized" Yugoslavia."

I hope the connection between this quote and some of the themes of this blog are so obvious that I will not need to justify committing myself to reviewing the book before having read it all.


One last point--in my previous post, I made reference to follow-up research Perica performed after the wars. This was faulty memory on my part--while he did visit the country in recent years, he explicitly states that he was unable to regain access to materials he had used for his original research in the prewar period. His postwar research was done in Washington, DC. Still, Perica cites many sources which would be otherwise unknown to Western readers.

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