Monday, October 08, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [13]


The "Great Novena" set out to create a religious and ethnic revival among Croatian Catholics under the "leadership" of the "Croatian Queen", but in 1981 the Virgin Mary entered events in a more direct fashion--the infamous apparitions at Medjugorje in western Herzegovina.

This area was--not at all coincidentally--always a hotbed of hardline Croat nationalism. The visionaries were under the auspices of the local Franciscans, who were involved in a power struggle with the Bishop of Mostar and the clerical hierarchy in general. Also, the Franciscans were hostile to communism in general and the regime in particular, while the Bishop was officially compliant with the civil creed of Brotherhood and Unity. It is known that one of the Franciscan handlers had a degree in child psychology and that the six children had been "coached" by several Franciscans.

Ultimately, the regime dropped its opposition to the apparitions for very sound reasons--the worldwide fame of Medjugorje was bringing millions of pilgrims and their money to Yugoslavia. The state took over the business of receiving and serving the devout, who mostly came from western countries.

Beyond Mysticism: The Politics of Marian Apparitions

In this section, Perica details the 20th Century history of Marian apparitions and outbreaks of the Marian cult, especially the Fatima cult from Portugal in 1917. He explains how Marian cults often serve as identity symbols for national groups, especially oppressed or stateless national groups. The Marian cult has also served the church as an anticommunist tool throughout the Century, especially in Poland, Ukraine, and Chile in 1973--the Fatima apparition appeared in 1917 at the dawn of the Bolshevik Revolution.

The Apparitions in Herzegovina and the Yugoslav Crisis of the 1980s

The Franciscan presence in Herzegovina dated back to Medieval efforts to enforce Catholic orthodoxy in this frontier region; it wasn't until Bosnia was put under Hapsburg authority in 1878 that the Vatican had full control over the region. By then, the Franciscans had deep ties to local Catholics who tended to look at the official clergy with more reservation.

For Orthodox Serbs, the Medjugorje apparitions--which appeared in an area riddled with mass graves from WWII (when the Franciscan-allied Ustashe all but eliminated the Serb population of western Herzegovina)--were a clear provocation. The Vatican was either unaware of the political subtext of these "miracles" or didn't care; the global fame and appeal of this latest Marian apparition simply overruled any theological or ecumenical qualms the hierarchy might have had. The Orthodox Church held its own commemorations in the area, pointedly dwelling on the fact that the genocide against Serbs had been committed by Catholics, often in the name of Catholicism.

The Medjugorje apparition was the most famous religious event in late-period Yugoslavia; but as Perica glumly notes at the end of this chapter:

"The Medjugorje apparitions of the 1980s were not a "peace and prayer movement," as the Western media stubbornly reiterate, but a prelude to partition, war, and genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina."


I realize I am not doing this book full justice--my decision to carry out a chapter-by-chapter summary has turned out to be something of a mistake; the book is a worthy read, but it is a very thematic and academic book, best experienced firsthand. In retrospect, I wish I had finished the entire book before blogging about it and then composed a single, lengthy review with the benefit of hindsight.

That said, I hope at least one reader of this blog has discovered this worthy book because of my review. It is a flawed book--this is clearly the product of several different papers cobbled together; a strong editor could have possibly encouraged Perica to revamp the entire manuscript into a more cohesive work--and sometimes the prose is a little lacking. But Perica did some important research which could most likely not be replicated, and he has opened a new and intriguing line of inquiry into the roots of the Yugoslav wars--not only the wars of the 1990s, but previous civil conflicts in the western Balkans as well.


Katja R. said...

I would pack my bags and flee any locality with fresh apparitions of the Blessed Mother, it seems to always precede some kind of disaster, whether natural, or man-made. I actually did have a brief visit to Medjugorije back in 2001. The village was just another little place high up in the hills before all that.

Anonymous said...

Keep on going Kirk,
we love reading your analysis!

Anonymous said...

Yakima said: "I would pack my bags and flee any locality with fresh apparitions of the Blessed Mother, it seems to always precede some kind of disaster, whether natural, or man-made."

Hahaha... True, aparitions are never a good thing - or so the saying goes...

acadia said...

Kirk, I would like you to check my latest article about Radovan Karadzic and Srebrenica genocide. Radovan Karadzic in his own words is the best example of his genocidal intentions:


Anonymous said...

Kirk, your examination of Johnstone was a necessary evil I suppose - a hair short for us and even more so for you - but this one is actually interesting. Thanks - I hope you're finding it more rewarding.

Anonymous said...

Kirk, I don't think you should take too critical a view of the way you've approached the task. The technique you use of giving us a chapter by chapter progress report is a very democratic one. It feels like we're on a shared journey of exploration rather than that we're being presented with the findings of your solitary pilgrimage.