Wednesday, October 24, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [17]


The War of the Churches

Relations between the Catholic and Orthodox churches by the late 1980s were at a level of mutual distrust and animosity reminiscent of the 1930s. Growing tensions in Kosovo and the rise of the Macedonian Church exacerbated the animosity between the Serb Church and the other two main national churches, as Serb religious leaders erroneously attributed Albanian separatism to Islamic fundamentalism, while the Vatican came out in support of autonomy for Kosovo while it also recognized and maintained ties with the Macedonian church.

The Churches and the World War II Controversy

The death of Tito provided the opportunity to openly and vigorously questions the dogmatic version of history that underscored the civic religion of Brotherhood and Unity. The most prominent manifestation of this was the "new Serbian history," which refuted the notion that the Ustashe movement was an aberration in Croatian history imposed by outsiders. These historians believed that the NDH government was "above all a very efficient instrument of genocide against Serbs, conceived in Croatia several centuries before the genocide took place." Croats were portrayed as implacably hostile to Serbs, and that any independent Croatia would automatically be a threat to Serbs within its borders.

Croat historians countered with their own version in which the genocidal nature of Ustashe crimes were downplayed and explained as reactions to Serb pressures. Tudjman, the preeminent historian of this school, also defended the role of the Catholic church during the war. The competing commemorations and other events of the 1980s can be seen as attempts by the Catholic and Orthodox churches of propagating these respective revisionist myths.

Forgive but Not Forget: Liturgy in the Concentration Camp

After Titos death, the Serb church attempted to lay claim to the legacy of Jasenovac, which under Tito had been interpreted as a memorial to the multiethnic Partisan struggle against fascism. The Serb church reinvented Jasenovac as one of the two centers of Serb spiritual life, the other being Kosovo--both were sites of martyrdom and victimization at the hands of hostile neighboring peoples.

In mass ceremonies at Jasenovac, the parallel between Serbs and Jews was explicitly laid out, with Kosovo as the Serb Jerusalem and Jasenovac as their Auschwitz. The Serb version of events vastly exaggerated the number of Serbs killed at Jasenovac while omitting any mention of the many non-Serbs (including many anti-Ustashe Croats) who also died there, with the exception of Jews, with whom the Serbs claimed an affinity.

As these events at Jasenovac became yearly events, the Serb church expanded its campaign to rewrite history and began holding other commemorations to the victims of the "Serb genocide" at sites of Partisan military heroism and loss--the church was eliminating the complex reality of World War II and replacing it with a new myth in which the Serbs had been systematically hounded by enemies; and those enemies were all the other peoples of Yugoslavia.

A Battle of Myths: The Yugoslav Auschwitz versus the Martyr Cardinal

The battle of the numbers of Serbs killed at Jasenovac and in the war in total continued to wage, with Croat historians putting the numbers very low and Serb nationalists putting the numbers impossibly high. Serbs sought to win over the opinion of Yugoslavia's small Jewish community, which required the history of Nedic's wartime quisling Serbia to be completely ignored and forgotten.

Some Yugoslav Jews took the bait, and did their part to help promote the Serb nationalist version of events. Meanwhile, "Archimandrite Jevtic accused Croat Catholic clergy and the Vatican of inciting a genocide against the Serbian people." Other Serb scholars and clerics echoed the belief that the Vatican either directed the genocide or had the power to stop it had it chosen to.

In response, the Croat Catholic church stepped up its defense of Cardinal Stepanic, arguing that he had actually opposed Ustashe atrocities and had saved many Serbs and Jews from death. This defense angered the Serb church, who believed that he had been made a saint because he was involved in genocide.

Disputes over Holy Places

Serb clergy laid claim to the ruins of churches and other religious buildings which had laid dormant for decades, and in some cases centuries. Services were held at various ruins in ethnically mixed areas, based on dubious or often unproven claims that this church or that monastery were "really" Orthodox. Doing so was a way of laying claim to an area both spiritually and historically, by way of showing that a given area has historically Serb.

Many of the massacres and other acts of violence against Croats in Croatia at the beginning of the war happened in towns and villages where such commemorations had been held and claims had been made. And one of the first acts in newly "liberated" areas was the destruction of Catholic churches.

Similar confrontations were organized by Serbian nationalists--including Vojislav Seselj and his Radical party--at contested holy sites in Macedonia and Montenegro.


In the interests of keeping this post at a manageable length, I will conclude my review of Chapter 9 next time.


Anonymous said...

Kirk, your description of this blog is inaccurate. We are not ethnic Muslims, we are Bosniaks.

Kirk Johnson said...

Daniel, I have corrected that error.

I realize the problems with using "Muslim" as an ethnic designation, but from over here in the States it wasn't clear to me how common or accepted the 'Bosniak' designation is among actual Bosniaks.

For example, the use of the term "Native American" has become almost universal here in the States, even though--as I understand it--most American Indians don't like or at least don't use that designation themselves; they still refer to themselves as "Indians" (when they don't use the name of the specific tribe/nation they belong to).

Thanks for setting me straight!

Anonymous said...

Let's take Serbia as an example. According to the 2002 census, there were 136,464 people who declared themselves Bosniaks in Serbia (excluding Kosovo), and only 19.503 of those who declared themselves as Muslims.

In Sandzak region, which was traditionally part of Bosnia, and which is now shared by Serbia and Montenegro - according to the official censuses in Serbia and Montenegro from 2002 and 2003, the total population of Sand┼żak is 426,044 people.

193,026 or 45.31% declared themselves as Bosniaks, while only 27,047 or 6.35% declared themselves as Muslims.


Kirk Johnson said...

The Sandzak was traditionally part of Bosnia? I realize it was incorporated into Serbia relatively recently in history, but I always thought that--aside from the brief period of medieval expansion--that the Drina river has always been accepted as Bosnia's eastern border.

Honest question--I really don't know.

Anonymous said...

That is true for the medieval period, but for the bulk of Ottoman rule Sandzak was one of several provinces (or Sandzaks - thus the name) making up the Bosnian pashaluk.