Thursday, October 25, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [18]


The Collapse of the Interfaith Dialogue

Any hopes for a thaw in interfaith relations collapsed in the late 1980s, as Serb Orthodox Church rhetoric became ever more shrill and uncompromising. Church leaders continually turned down invitations to attend ecumenical functions, before finally (after some years of giving the cold shoulder) submitting the "Preconditions for Ecumenical Dialogue." The letter was full of extreme accusations about the churches alleged direct involvement in the Serb genocide, and demands for public demonstrations of remorse and acceptance of guilt. It is likely that Serb church leaders knew how outrageous these demands were, and were actually hoping to force the Catholic church to modify its support for the Macedonian church and for Kosovar autonomy.

The Catholic church, for its part, retaliated with renewed defenses of Cardinal Stepanic, and accusations that the Serb church was doing the dirty work of unnamed "certain politics".

In 1990, the regular interfaith ecumenical symposia was cancelled since Croat church leaders refused to attend in protest of the separatist Serb actions in Croatia. Ecumenical dialogue was at an end.

Untimely Commemorations

The first paragraph of this section summarizes the essential points well:

"From June 1990 to August 1991, the Serbian Orthodox Church carried out a series of commemorations in honor of "the beginning of the Second World War and the suffering of the Serbian Church and Serbian people in that war." Those commemorations came as a continuation of the September 1984 consecration of the Saint John the Baptist memorial church at Jasenovac. Thse religious events coincided with Slobodan Milosevic's so-called antibureaucratic revolution, that is, the Serb nationalist mobilization carried out through street protests and an aggressive media campaign. Concurrently, the Serbian Church's commemorations bred popular sentiments of pride and self-pity as well as a lust for revenge."

Incompatible Worlds: Serbs Call for Partition

In the 1980s and into the 1990s, Serbian Church leaders began to openly discuss the need for partition, specifically to provide a homeland for Serbs. While such calls generally carried qualifying comments that the rights of other national groups needed to be respected, the general tone was belligerent and uncompromising.

Not all of the rhetoric was strictly ethnic or exclusively about the Serbian people, but rather religious. The church made calls for the creation of an Orthodox sphere of influence or commonwealth as a "defense" against the Roman Catholic and Islamic communities. The Vatican was condemned as a stooge of Western or even "anti-Christian" forces.

Even as Tudjman and Milosevic met secretly to partition Bosnia between them, Catholic and Orthodox leaders met to discuss the same thing.

An Eye for an Eye, a Tooth for a Tooth: The Serb Call for Revenge

The Orthodox Church increasingly acted as an organizing force for Serb nationalism in Serb-populated areas in Croatia and Bosnia. The rhetoric employed was collectivist and apocalyptic, with calls for collective defense and, more ominously, for preemptive moves. In April 1991, Bishop Lukijan made a frequently-quoted "eye for an eye" statement, which went beyond calling for aggressive measures to ensure collective security and actually called for retaliation for historic crimes. The implications of the Church's focus on collective and generational guilt was now made explicit.

In this context, Vatican recognition of Slovenian and Croatian independence was seen as a provocation by the Serbian Church. Hostility to any dialogue with the Vatican continued after fighting ceased in 1995.

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