Sunday, September 23, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [7]


The Serbian Orthodox Church in the Communist Federation

"The Communist Party of Yugoslavia considered Great Serbian nationalism the principal enemy of the revolution."

Despite getting a lion's share of state support, in many other ways the Serbian Orthodox Church suffered under Tito, and lost ground to the Croatian Catholic Church and the Islamic Community.

Kosovo Embattled

The sack of Serbian Communist Aleksandar Rankovic ended his efforts to increase the size of the Serb majority in Kosovo. Ethnic Albanians rebelled frequently from 1968 to 1973, winning a greater degree of autonomy from Belgrade but also posing a threat to ethnic Serbs, who had lost their privileged status.

The Serbian Orthodox Church reacted strongly to this backlash, holding an unauthorized liturgy in honor of Dusan the Mighty, the medieval Serbian tsar. The public ceremony explicitly linked the fate of contemporary Serbs with the status of Kosovo and the legendary legacy associated with it.

The Church also increased the volume and intensity of its claims that there was widespread persecution of ethnic Serbs, and their cultural and religious sites, in Kosovo. Claims of widespread rape of Serb women by Albanians were vigorously disseminated by the Church, although official records did not substantiate these claims.

Schism and Disunity

Despite the efforts of Patriarch Germanus to keep the Macedonian Orthodox in the fold (the Serbian Church even acknowledged the newly defined Macedonian nationality), in 1967 the Macedonian Orthodox churches formally broke away to form their own national church. The schism was not encouraged by federal authorities, but did little to discourage it, either.

Macedonian nationalists naturally tried to claim that there had always been an indigenous Macedonian Orthodox Church. The Serbian Orthodox Church did what it could to make life difficult for this new national church, and the heavy-handed efforts of the state to lean on the Serb church in order to force it to accept the new reality only produced a reactionary and stubborn backlash. The fact that the Vatican was supportive of the new church deepened anti-Catholic sentiment among Serb Orthodox clergy. Turf wars over control of a historic monastery had the effect of making the new church and the Macedonian republic government into allies.

At the same time, there was another schism, as the hardline anti-Communist Serbian Church in the USA--which had officially continued to support the Chetniks and the royalist cause even after the American government threw its support to the Partisans--officially broke with the mother church. The American hierarchy accused Germanus and the Serbian leadership with cooperation and appeasement of the communist regime.

The pro-regime clerical association worried the churches leadership; this organization provided persions to members of the clergy who had supported the Partisan cause. Despite the churches official position during the war, many lower-level clerics had supported the Partisan movement, if only because they were victims of, or threatened by, Usasha violence. These were paid as part of a larger clerical association, which encouraged and rewarded support for "Brotherhood and Unity." Two-thirds of the Serb clergy belonged.

The regime also sought to create a stronger and more distinct Montenegrin identity, separate from Serbia. These efforts included the destruction of the old chapel housing the remains of Prince-Bishiop Njegos, which were then moved to a new, secular mausoleum.

Commemorations and Renewal

The religiosity of ordinary Orthodox continued to decline, to rates of belief much lower than for Catholics or Muslims. The church leadership took to raising consciousness by frequent public displays and commemorations, cementing the church as a repository of ethnic and national identity in lieu of widespread individual devotion.

Germanus also turned his attention to foreign relations, especially with Orthodox churches overseas--particularly with the Russian church. The two churches stressed the cultural and religious ties between their two peoples, and their shared sense of being both special and threatened peoples, surrounded by jealous and hostile others.

The state was quite suspicious of the Serbian Church; Perica quotes documents which surmise that the church understood it did not have theological or spiritual sway over the masses, so it turned to ethnic and nationalist sentiment. The church played to fears--and stoked them--in order to strengthen it's position. The Serbian Orthodox Church increasingly presented itself as the defenders of Serbian national interests. And by purging any party members sympathetic to Serbian sentiments and fears, real or imagined, he unwittingly ceded the cause of Serbian nationalism to non-secular forces. The Church was well-positioned to pick up the mantle which Tito had allowed to fall unclaimed.

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