Friday, November 30, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [27]


The Balkan Nightmare Continues [and my closing thoughts]

This final, concluding section isn't as dire and fatalistic as the title suggest, but that is really not saying very much. Perica lets a ray of light penetrate the rather pessimistic prognosis, but that ray comes from outside the region; from the rest of Europe, which--he hopes--has changed from the days of Metternich and Bismark and the cowardly indifference of the 1990s. He hopes that the gloomy Balkan fatalism of Andric and Krleza just might no longer be fully justified.

Much of this chapter is slightly dated, although unfortunately not enough. This book was published in 2002 and therefore Perica is describing the situation slightly over half a decade ago. I will not cover the details as I assume most readers of this blog already know; for the purposes of covering the theme of the book I will note that Perica has little good to say on the role of religious institutions in the post-Dayton period. For the most part, prominent religious figures continued to nurture the respective myths and grievances of their particular ethno-religious community. There were, of course, exceptions--most notably the Franciscans of "Silver Bosnia" whose ecumenical outreach is all the more striking when compared to the crude nationalism and bigotry of the Herzegovina Catholic clergy.

Monuments, shrines, churches, and other religious buildings and sites continue to provide ready-made flashpoints for violence and conflict. None of the national churches have truly given up on their particular dreams of a purified homeland for "their" people.

And so on; Perica is mostly recapping the major issues from the book here. It is not an optimistic outlook except for the above-mentioned hope that a truly "new Europe" awaits, holding out the promise of EU membership and more. Perica notes that the Europe of the EU is very secular, little troubled by religion, run by internationally-inclined institutions. Europe, he wants to believe, is no longer content to sit idly while poisonous dysfunctions rot the new states of the western Balkans.

I wonder what Perica would write in an updated edition of this book were he to undertake such a task. I fear he may believe that his troubling book ended on too optimistic a note.


"Balkan Idols" is a useful and important book. I have alluded to some of its structural flaws and have taken issue with certain specific claims and arguments, but overall Perica's research and study overwhelm any such concerns--this area of study was very necessary for the region. Understanding the role that religion and religious institutions have played and continue to play in the nationalism of the region is vital. Perica rightly notes that, all too often, religion gets a pass in world affairs--given great leeway, allowed to take credit for any accomplishments but never held accountable for its failings.

There is more to be said about this issue. I am very curious to hear from others about this book. I should disclose the fact that I am an atheist--it troubles me not at all to read that organized religions act in negative ways with destructive results. I have no problem accepting that premise. But most people are believers to one extent or the other--how can Perica and others who accept his thesis present this argument in a way which doesn't scare many people away?

I hope to revisit this issue again in another post in the near future.

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