Saturday, September 22, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [6]



War Continues: Exile Politics and Warring Myths

Opposition to the Communist regime was muted or suppressed at home, but thrived in exile, as dozens if not hundreds of competing anti-communist and/or anti-Yugoslav groups agitated against the regime and on many occasions turned to assassination and terrorism in their efforts to destabilize the state.

These groups were mostly ineffective for two reasons--their violent tactics tended to cost them international sympathy and support (and did little to endear them in Yugoslavia; and they spectacularly failed to rise above their divisions in order to form a unified front. Most of these exile groups were national groups, exclusive to one ethnic group or anther. Most also had ties to organized crime--another impediment to international support.

Some of these groups received support from religious institutions and clergy members from inside Yugoslavia, giving them legitimacy and strengthening the link between religious and national identities.

While these groups failed to seriously weaken the Yugoslav state or to form a credible opposition front, they did manage to nurture, articulate, and propagate the self-justifying and revisionist histories of their respective ethnic and religious groups. Croat groups lionized Cardinal Stepanic and made widely inflated claims about the number of NDH, Ustasha, and anti-Communist Croats were killed at the Austrian border at the end of the war. Serb groups developed their own myths about the World War II period, claiming that there was a Yugoslavia-wide genocide against the Serbs, and that all the other national groups in Yugoslavia were against them.

While the Tito regime imposed the civic religion of "Brotherhood and Unity" on Yugoslavs and swept the complexities and tragedies of the war period aside in favor of a simplified myth of Partisan righteousness, ethnic exile groups developed alternate histories, based on the latent fears and real memories of Serbs, Croats, and others. These hate-mongering, self-pitying national myths were just as dishonest as the official Titoist line, and much more poisonous, but they fed off real emotions and were fueled by real memories of real atrocities which could not be discussed openly.

Years of Renewal and Peaceful Coexistence

The split with Moscow in 1948 soon led to more liberal and less draconian policies towards religious institutions. Over the years, the regime improved its relations with the Vatican in particular, restoring diplomatic relations after the Second Vatican Council.

The Interfaith Dialogue

The Vatican's openness to ecumenical dialogue bore some fruit among the clergy of the Croatian Catholic church. A joint Catholic-Orthodox prayer service was initiated by the bishop of Split-Markarska, who reached out to the local Serb Orthodox archpriest. Their joint services were welcomed by local worshipers but opposed from above by the Catholic hierarchy, which forced them to end.

The Serb Orthodox church demanded a public apology from the leadership of the Croat Catholic Church for Ustasha massacres and other war crimes; although the Bishop of Banja Luka issued a public statement of contrition and an acknowledgment of accountability, most Croat clergy responded to Serb charges by demanding apologies in kind for alleged anti-Catholic discrimination prior to World War II and for Chetnik atrocities against Croats during the war.

Neither church was able to overcome such defensive positions. The Serb Orthodox church had several theologians who took staunchly anti-ecumenical positions. Such efforts continued to be made at grassroots levels, but the hierarchy of the two main national churches continued to block any progress towards real dialogue and reconciliation.

Church-State Relations in the Sixties

The Communist Party adopted more tolerant policies towards religious institutions after the adoption of the 1958 Constitution. Relations with the Vatican were normalized and a compromise was struck--the state allowed for free circulation of religious literature and renewed church building while the church quietly dropped the matter of the "martyr" Stepinac.

The government took a policy--documented by Perica from missives and reports he accessed during his research--of giving religious institutions certain latitude and ending the previous practice of intrusive spying and other aggressive intelligence-gathering methods, opting instead for dialogue and monitoring the religious press and other statements. The government understood that many of these churches had strong ties to what the government considered dangerous nationalisms, and sought to avoid pushing religious institutions on the defensive, thus encouraging a retreat into "zealous and fundamentalist" behavior and attitudes.

The government also responded to complaints about delays of the construction and reconstruction of religious buildings, even though the delays were really due to poor urban planning and rapid, uncontrolled urbanization rather than deliberate obstructionism.

Relations with the Serbian Orthodox Church, despite improvements throughout the decade as it received the lions share of government largess, deteriorated at the end of the decade after the rebellion of the Kosovar Albanians in 1968.

Religion Erodes, Churches Grow

In a curious dichotomy, religious participation and even nominal belief plummeted even as religious institutions grew. Church/mosque attendence continued to drop until the vast majority of Yugoslavs simply never attended a place of worship, regularly or at all; meanwhile nearly half of the population were self-described atheist/agnostics.

Yet at the same time, various religious institutions were on a building spree, building--and manning--churches, temples, seminaries and other religious institutions; the production of religious literature also increased exponentially.

The state also supported most national churches--as noted, the Serbian Orthodox church benefited the most by far. The Croatian Catholic church was the one notable exception but it of course received support from the Vatican and from a widely-dispersed diaspora. Clergy in Dalmatia:

"coined terms such as "hard currency areas" and "Deutschemark parishes," referring to regions from which large number [sic] of men went to work in the West and regularly sent back donations and financial contributions for the rebuilding of churches."

These ties to outside support were suspect by the state. But this suspicion--which sometimes took the form of implicit hostility (not always unfounded--there were certainly contacts with and ties to some of the violent anti-Yugoslav emigrant groups)--did not stop the Croatian Catholic church from becoming the wealthiest and most well-supported of all Yugoslav religious institutions.

Perica summarizes his chapter neatly in the final paragraph. He notes that neither the royal Yugoslav state nor the communist one were able to secure legitimization from either of the two main national churches, both of which serve as "guardians of their respective ethnic communities" first and foremost. The gap between church and state was only widened by the violent and traumatic events of Yugoslav history in the 1940s. The two churches were hostile towards each other even as they supported domestic opposition the multiethnic Yugoslavia. The brief promise of ecumenical accommodation in the 1960s failed to overcome deep-seated institutional hostilities, and the hierarchy of each church mostly took the opportunities of political liberalization to agitate for nationalist sentiment. The Serbian Orthodox church lost its preeminent position as the Croatian Catholic church emerged as a strong and well-funded competitor.

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