Wednesday, January 02, 2008

"The Bridge Betrayed" by Michael Sells [11]


The Serb Church and the Stepanic Syndrome

In Bosnia, the Serb Orthodox Church made the same mistake the Catholic Church made in Croatia during World War II; it became a servant of religious nationalist militancy. In many instances, Christian Serb clergy have supported the extremists who carried out the genocide in Bosnia and have given ritual and symbolic support to the programs of ethnic expulsion and destruction of mosques."

This section goes on to verify this strong opening statement for a very depressing and enraging several pages. Any student of the Bosnian war will know that the list of incidents and statement Sells provides--Orthodox clergy making racist claims about the true nature of Muslims, blessing troops after they had committed atrocities, visiting the sites of destroyed mosques, etc.--will be all too aware of similar incidents. Then again, this book was written in 1996; in 2008, no honest person can deny the involvement of the Serb Orthodox Church in Bosnia.

Sells closes this section by noting that Patriarch Pavle waited until very late in the war to speak out against human rights abuses committed by Serb forces, and then only in a very qualified manner, using the all-too-familiar "all sides are guilty" excuse. Sells wonders if this line of reasoning is somewhat based on the Christian notion of original sin, and if so, he posits this question:

"...if everyone is guilty, is anyone really guilty of anything specific? If everyone is guilty, is anything done to any person that is undeserved? Generalized guilt allows a convenient avoidance of the stubborn fact that in genocide, innocents suffer and their suffering is inflicted upon them deliberately."

Only Unity Saves the Serbs

Sells notes the revival of the symbol of the Orthodox cross with the four Cyrillic 'S's ('C') representing the slogan "Samo sloga Srbina spasava"; "revival" in the sense that the symbol became used more prominently and much more frequently than it had for many, many years. Sells notes that it was

"...natural for a former communist official, raised in the personality cult surrounding Marshal Tito, to move easily into another kind of personality cult."

Milosevic presented himself as the spokesman of Serb "unity"; in Serbian ultranationalism, "unity" means for one ethnic group to remain apart from and opposed to neighboring national groups, all of whom are out to get the Serbs. Rather than appealing to what is noble and expansive and welcoming in Serb culture, this slogan appeals to paranoia, fear, and hostility.

Sells rightly notes that while Milosevic later abandoned nationalist and ethnoreligious iconography and rhetoric, it most certainly does not follow that he had not tapped into genuine religious sentiments before. What follows is a short discussion of the nature of religiosity in the context of this book and ethnoreligious nationalism; as well as the varieties of modern fundamentalism and a consideration of how Serb and Croat nationalism would fit within any possible definition of fundamentalism.

Some of the "explicitly religious ideology of the violence", as he puts it, is detailed; including some of the songs Muslim prisoners were forced to sing. Sells concludes by soberly noting that we Americans--with our history of "ethnic cleansing" against American Indians, living in a country where much of the wealth was originally generated with slave labor, are in no position to claim moral superiority to Bosnian Serbs. I would like to believe that this qualification is unnecessary--it is the ideology hostile nationalism and the specific perpetrators of war crimes and genocide we are concerned with, not an entire people or a culture. Sells wants to close his chapter by returning to the example he began with--the Oklahoma City bombing by Christian white supremists. Bosnia, he implies, is what happens when civil order breaks down and the forces of tolerance, secularism, and reason are swept away by violent sectarianism, religious fanaticism, and irrationality.


Anonymous said...

Dear Kirk,

I don't see any value in nationalistic rethoric or nationalism at all. Nationalism is exclusive, just as religion is. It keeps the "dominant" group united against perceived "threats", mostly minorities, neighbouring countries or those considered to be "different."

The level of Serbian propaganda is astounding, starting from World War II. For example, Serbian claims that over 700,000 Serbs died in Jasenovac, when even the Holocaust Museum in Washington disputes those numbers by stating that the most reliable figures are around 40,000. Not to mention Serbian portrayal of Nazi Fascist Chetniks as "anti-fascists" and resisters of Nazi's, when in fact Serbian Chetnik collaboration with Nazi Fascists is well documented.

I don't even want to go into the 90s and the level of propaganda instigated by Belgrade. It's sickening. And the fact that Serbian Orthodox Church blessed war criminals and justified Serb(ian) crimes with philosophical notion of "all sides are guilty", is just sick. Why don't they accept the simple fact that they committed genocide and they were responsible for 90% of the crimes?

There will never be any reconciliation until Serbs recognize they were wrong. It's impossible to reconcile with an ideology that denies Srebrenica genocide.

Anonymous said...

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