Wednesday, September 19, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [5]


Civil War and Communist Revolution, 1941-1950

Occupied Yugoslavia was divided into several occupation zones and satellite states. There is surely no need to rehash Yugoslavian history for readers of this blog; much of this section consists of a rehash of the WW II period. Suffice to say, Perica quickly surveys three main groups--the NDH (Independent State of Croatia) and the ruling fascist Ustasha party; the multi-ethnic Partisans; and the Serb nationalist Chetnik movement. He also mentions the quisling Serb state ruled by Nedic and the similar state in Slovenia.

He then examines where the support for each of the three main movements came from. The Ustasha was a minority movement in Croatia which came to power without any popular mandate--where did their power come from, and from where did they derive their legitimacy and, ultimately, even some degree of popular support?

Much of their military and material support came from their Axis benefactors. The other source of their support was the Catholic Church. The hierarchy, by and large, supported the NDH, and the ruling party returned the favor by imposing a wide spectrum of religious (Roman Catholic) legislation, as well as the infamous repressions and acts of state-sponsored genocide. And of course, the Vatican helped many Ustasha members escape justice and/or vengeance after the war.

The Serbian Orthodox church was somewhat hampered by the imprisonment of leading figures by the Nazis in an effort to contain Serbian independence; the decapitated church hierarchy supported Nedic's pro-Nazi regime, while many members of the clergy supported the Chetnik movement, which soon turned away from anti-fascist resistance (most of the time, anyway--the reality of the Yugoslav civil wars was always too complicated for simple generalizations) to fighting for an independent Serbia within the Axis sphere. Like the NDH, certain units of the Chetniks carried out acts of ethnic cleansing, against Croats and Muslims.

The Islamic Community leadership often supported the Ustasha, while ordinary clergy often joined the Partisans. Many Serb priests did as well, and many Croats fought both with the Partisans and in independent units against the NDH.

The Partisans were truly multi-ethnic, and while I do not want to romanticize their exploits, Perica notes that it is impossible to understand both the success of Communism in post-war Yugoslavia and the rise of the "Brotherhood and Unity" civil religion without acknowledging that the Partisans were, by and large, guilty of relatively less severe, widespread, and gruesome crimes against humanity than either the Ustasha or the Chetniks.

It is important to remember that Perica is discussing the history of institutions, not of people; nevertheless, when we read that the NDH received widespread and official support from the indigenous Catholic church at all levels, it is impossible to ignore that this would have been a factor in legitimizing the regime and garnering genuine grassroots support. This is well-known; less often discussed has been the Serbian Orthodox Church's support for the Nedic regime and it's active participation (including some priests taking leadership roles in military units) in some of the worst Chetnik atrocities.

The Islamic Community seems to have been the least uniform in its actions, which is to be expected since there was no "Muslim" puppet state or quisling regime to turn to. Still, the fact is that leading Muslim clerics tended to support the NDH or the Axis forces. But among both Muslims and Serbs, as well as Croats, ordinary people were much more able to compromise and work with other Yugoslavians.

The end of the war and the triumph of Tito brought on an initial period of repression and terror. The relatively moderate and relaxed nature of Yugoslavian communism in later years has tended to overshadow the brutality of Tito's early years in power; what Perica terms "a crude Balkan variant of Bolshevism". There was widespread persecution of clergy, and the simplified Partisan myth of World War II was imposed on the entire country.

The Islamic Community and the Orthodox Church in Macedonia supported the regime, but neither the Serbian Orthodox Church or the Croatian Catholic Church would; neither national church would ever truly legitimize Tito's regime. The trial of Stepanic provided Croats with a martyr figure, the Vatican upping the pressure of the situation by making him a cardinal.

By 1953, the Yugoslav communist government was entrenched, and the founding myth of "Brotherhood and Unity" and the concordant historical myth that socialism and Tito had conquered poisonous nationalism and ethnic hatred once and for all had been fully articulated and were now the official credo of the new civil religion. But the two largest national churches were not resigned to the new order; they withheld support, nurtured competing national myths of victimization and righteousness, and supported resistance movements which resorted to many different methods, including terrorism and violence.

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