Sunday, November 11, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [22]


After the fall of the Iron Curtain, Perica argues, the Cold War-era construct of "Eastern Europe" was replaced by "Central Europe" and "the Balkans." The Balkans, naturally, became known as a backwards and violent region outside the pale of the "real" Europe. The nations which came into being were not recognized as fully developed, proper countries--not without good reason, as nearly all of the ex-Yugoslav states descended into economic decline. Organized crime became institutionalized, as did political impotence and civic dysfunction. As he writes:

"And only the growing influence of myth and religion helped some people to believe that the new was better than the old."

The Catholic Church and Croatia's Return to the West

Perica notes that the Catholic church has twice had the opportunity to play a decisive role in forming a new Croatian nation-state in the 20th Century--during World War II, and in the early 1990s. In both cases, the church chose to support noxious, right-wing nationalist regimes which engaged in varying degrees of violence and persecution against other national and religious groups. In both cases, the regimes failed and were replaced. In neither case did the church repudiate the failed fascist regime, or engage in an honest assessment of events and its own responsibility. As Perica notes:

"Instead, like most religious organizations, Croat church leaders sought to substitute myth for history."

The Church actively supported the new nationalist regime in Croatia from 1990 onward. Tudjman and his party declared that the revival of Croatian independence and nationalism represented "Croatia's return to the West." Croats, according to the new myth, were being liberated from "atheistic communists and Orthodox Serbs." The Croats were going to turn their back on the primitive Balkans and "rejoin" the civilized, Christian (especially Catholic) Europe they believed they rightly belonged to.

They did a lousy job of it; much of this long section details how craven, hateful, and corrupt; and also undemocratic, sectarian, and anti-liberal (that is to say, un-Western) Croatia under the HDZ was. There is far too much information in this section for me to summarize without going on at length, but events and actions include:

-Terrorist attacks against memorials to the Partizan period and other symbols of multiethnic Yugoslavia;

-Purging books written in Cyrillac, as well as books by leftists, Serbs, pro-Yugoslavs, and even foreign authors "guilty" of atheism, socialism, or atheism (Mark Twain, Jack London, and Oscar Wilde were all banned) from schools and libraries;

-Establishing a commission to produce a "report" that claimed that the Ustashe committed few atrocities during the war, and those that were acknowledged were "reactions" to aggression by Serbs and other non-Croats;

-Official rescinding all verdicts by state courts against "innocent victims of communism and Croatian patriots." Known war criminals and pro-Ustashe terrorists were retroactively pardoned like everybody else;

-Various actions which served to establish the Catholicism as the de facto state religion, including actions which pointedly favored Catholicism over all other faiths;

-The HDZ and the Croat Catholic church collaborated in supporting the creation of the illegal breakaway state of Herceg-Bosna;

-The creation of an enormous, multi-layered state security apparatus.

The result was an economically devastated pariah state which was rejected by the West, run by an autocratic regime which was corrupt at the highest levels. The church was directly involved in corruption as well, serving as a conduit for transferring money out of the country and into secret accounts. Since these scandals threatened the integrity of the church itself, it should be no surprise that many voices from within the church spoke out in criticism of the Tudjman regime. But not enough voices; as Perica writes:

"Yet it is cold comfort for Croatian Catholicism to be somewhat less bad than Serbian Orthodoxy."

Eventually, economic disaster, international disapproval, and extreme corruption as well as Tudjman's death doomed the HDZ, which was replaced in the 2000 election by a left-leaning liberal government. At this point, the church could have embraced the opportunity to make a break with a sordid, nationalist past, and to truly embrace the "West" it had been rhetorically courting. It could have learned from the HDZ's failure--and from the failure of post-Yugoslavia Croatia--and reevaluated the ideology and mythic history it had been promulgating. Instead, the Church turned against the new, democratic government.

Slander against members of the new government (tellingly, the Croat Catholic church often labeled opponents as 'atheists') was followed by open support for indicted war criminals and more heated rhetoric.

Finally, there was an attempted coup organized by members of the HDZ, other right-wing groups and some military officers. The church did not official participate but many members of the clergy supported it; even some Bishops gave sermons openly challenging the legitimacy of the new government.

The church was also involved in a foiled attempt to revive the secessionist statelet of Herceg-Bosna in 1998, as well as in varied efforts--some of which were quite successful--to put nationalist clergymen in positions of authority, such as at the University of Zagreb.

In short, the Catholic church in Croatia protested the left-liberal, secular and democratic government of 2000 but supported the far-right Tudjman regime of the 1990s and the fascist Ustashe regime of the 1940s. Fortunately, the campaign to oust the post-HDZ government failed--as Perica notes:

"Thus, contrary to scenarios that would have sustained the myth of "The Thirteen Centuries of Christianity in the Croat People," it was not the Catholic Church that brought Croatia back in the orbit of Western civilization but a regime led by former communists that the Church had resisted in an attempted coup."

Thus did the national church of Croatia conclude its ignoble 20th Century.


Srebrenica Genocide said...

Before the war, Croats (in Croatia as well as in Bosnia) enjoyed "country/folk" or "narodna muzika". HDZ government in Croatia also made sure to purge this type of (what they perceived as "Yugoslav" music) from radio stations and music stores. They were replaced by cultural music from Slavonia, Lika, Kordun... Bosnian Croats still continue to enjoy "narodna muzika", but Croatia is a completely different territory.

Anonymous said...

Croatia is a CATHOLIC country. Serbs, jews, communists, evangelicals, and other non-catholics DO NOT belong there!
Our religion is part of our national identity. Those who aren't catholic have no rights in our land and deserve none either.

Kirk Johnson said...

Well, anonymous serves as a good "poster child" for the toxic effects of nationalist religion.

Anonymous said...

Kirk, it's useful to have the comments of someone like Anonymous to remind us of the reality of the toxic hatred that political opportunists like Milosevic and Tudjman turned to their advantage.

Anonymous said...

I sometimes wonder if these devout "Catholics" and "Orthodox" have ever forced themselves to read the Sermon on the Mount?