Tuesday, November 06, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [20]


"In all the successor states of the former Yugoslavia except perhaps in Slovenia, religion became the hallmark of nationhood."

Islam and Muslim Nationalism in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Even as Slavic Muslims were being singled out for genocide by Serbian ultranationalists--and, for awhile, Croatian ultranationalists in western Herzegovina--Izetbegovic and the SDA pursued of a policy of "Islamicizing" the Muslims of Bosnia. Not to say that events and circumstances did nothing to politicize and "nationalize" the "ethnic Muslims" of Bosnia. Bosnians who wanted first to be Yugoslavs found that Yugoslavia was no more; then when they wanted to be Bosnians they found that "Bosnia" as nationality was no more as well; "Muslim" was all they had left.

While preaching secular tolerance and inclusion, Izetbegovic (who was much more of a fundamentalist Muslim than the vast majority of the Bosnian Muslims he ostensibly spoke for), and while fighting a war for the very survival of the multi-ethnic, secular and democratic republic he publicly defendig, Izetbegovic and the SDA

"...exploited such favorable international circumstances to launch an Islamic revolution aimed at creating an Islamic republic in Bosnia-Herzegovina."

By 1995, there were nearly 200 Islamic organizations operating in Bosnia-Herzegovina, including Hamas and Al Qaeda. The Islamic Community, once a staunch pro-Yugoslav organization, became a vehicle for the Islamization of Bosnian society. The SDA had replaced the moderate reis-ul-ulema Jakub Selimoski with the fundamentalist Mustafa Ceric; Selimoski (who admittedly might have had an ax to grind) would accuse Izetbegovic of turning the Serbian aggression against Bosnia into a civil war, and held the Bosnian President partly responsible for the Bosniak-Croat war of 1993.

It could be argued, however, that the process at work was less religious fundamentalism and more ethnic nationalism. Perica notes that school textbooks "glorified the Ottoman era." Many of the other actions of the new regime were sectarian rather than spiritual in focus. The government sponsored many official reburials and commemorations during the war. This process of Islamization continued after Dayton brought the fighting to an end.

Ceric proved to be a hardliner, opposing interfaith marriages and complaining about "Christian" content on state television during the 1998 Christmas season. He also encouraged Bosniaks to think of themselves as Muslims rather than Slavs, claiming that he had more in common with a Malaysian than an ethnic Serb or Croat from Sarajevo. And Ceric wasn't the only hardliner preaching at mosques.

The building of new mosques and other religious buildings picked up, funded by other Muslim countries. New Islamic and explicitly religious groups for Bosniak youth were also started up with foreign funding.

When Izetbegovic retired from politics, however, his campaign to sharpen the "Muslimness" of Bosnia's ethnic Muslims began to falter. The moderate success achieved by Haris Silajdzic's secular "Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina" in November of 2000 was just one sign that the secular and tolerant nature of Bosnian Islam was beginning to reassert itself; fundamentalism did not have deep roots in Bosnia.

The Madonna of Medjugorje and Croatian Nationalism in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia

Even as the Marian apparitions at Medjugorje became known to the outside world as "miracle" of "peace," Medjugorje became the spiritual capital of the ethnically cleansed Croat statlet of "Hercog-Bosna". The local Franciscans cozied up to the separatist leaders, giving them even more autonomy from the bishop and the official church hierarchy. Medjugorje became a cash cow and a center of vice and fraud.

The church had a difficult balancing act, attempting to temper the worst excesses associated with the growing cult and its patrons while not alienating Catholics from around the world who accepted the validity and the spiritual value of the apparitions at face value. Medjugorje, ultimately, played a decisive role in the establishment of an independent Croatia.

Religion and Nationalism in Other Successor States

While the Milosevic regime in Serbia proper kept its distance from the Serbian Church, this was not true in Republika Srpska, where the church became the de facto state church and efforts by Muslims and Catholics to rebuild religious building were blocked either by state action or by mobs. No members of the Serb clergy spoke out against war crimes committed by Serbs. More notoriously, of course, the church has quite surely helped Radovan Karadzic escape justice for over a decade now. And many Orthodox national churches have openly supported Karadzic's defiance.

In Kosovo before the NATO war, the church was also active in rebuilding and asserting itself, even as Milosevic's party hampered such efforts in Serbia proper.

In Macedonia, the Macedonian Orthodox church was involved in a power struggle with the Serbian Church, which had never recognized its independence. Confrontations were often hostile and rambunctious, with Serbian nationalist leaders taking part. Meanwhile, "Macedonian" nationality came to be defined as membership in the Macedonian Church.

And in Montenegro, a similar dynamic was at play as a nascent national church attempted to break away from the Serbian church. The Serbian patriarch spoke out forcefully against the Montenegran Church.


There are two sections left in this chapter; I will cover them in the next post.


Srebrenica Genocide said...

Quote: "By 1995, there were nearly 200 Islamic organizations operating in Bosnia-Herzegovina, including Hamas and Al Qaeda."

Yeah right. Can he provide single piece of evidence corroborating his claims? By evidence, I don't mean endless fonts and arguments - I need material evidence, which he does not have.

Anonymous said...

Quote: "...Mustafa Ceric proved to be a hardliner..."

Perica is distorting facts. Mustafa Ceric is considered as one of the most liberal Grand Muftis in the world. He is fluent in English and Arabic.

Mustafa Ceric is the co-recipient of the 2003 UNESCO Felix Houphouet-Boigny Peace Prize for Contribution to World Peace and recipient of the International Council of Christians and Jews Annual Sir Sternberg Award for exceptional contribution to interfaith understanding. One of the latest international recognitions he received is 2007 Theodor-Heuss-Stiftung award for his contribution to spreading and strengthening democracy.

Kirk Johnson said...

Daniel, Perica's book is rather sober and thoroughly documented. Maybe I am not doing him justice, but unless you want to hunt down a copy yourself, you'll just have to trust me on this--he does not make gratuitous or unsubstantiated claims.

At any rate, I'm a little surprised that you seem to be implying there were no Al Qaeda elements in Bosnia during the war. This has been fairly well-documented, and the Bosnian government has even acknowledged that many visas were handed out to various foreign fighters without stringent safeguards. Is there any doubt in your mind that there were at least several hundred mujahideen in Bosnia?


As for your comments about Ceric--my brief synopsis probably does not do justice to Perica's version of events. He does give Ceric credit for some of his more tolerant comments and actions later, and he most certainly does not equate Ceric to some of the hate-mongering Christian clerics in Croatia and Serbia. My choice of the phrase "hard-line", given the context and my use of that same phrase when describing ultranationalists in the region, was probably ill-considered.

Ceric did speak out against mixed marriages and pushed for some other "Islamist" measures. A more accurate account on my part would have been something like "Ceric was rather more fundamentalist than Bosnian culture had been previously," or something along that line.

As for the awards he has received, I would like to know more about them--Perica notes that prominant individuals of all three "national churches" have received similar recogntion from foreign governements and NGOs which remain naively ignorant of the pernacious effect religious institutions had in the region.