Balkan Idols: Religion and Nationalism in Yugoslav States / Edition 1

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Reporting from the heartland of Yugoslavia in the 1970s, Washington Post correspondent Dusko Doder described "a landscape of Gothic spires, Islamic mosques, and Byzantine domes." A quarter century later, this landscape lay in ruins. In addition to claiming tens of thousands of lives, the former Yugoslavia's four wars ravaged over a thousand religious buildings, many purposefully destroyed by Serbs, Albanians, and Croats alike, providing an apt architectural metaphor for the region's recent history.

Rarely has the human impulse toward monocausality—the need for a single explanation—been in greater evidence than in Western attempts to make sense of the country's bloody dissolution. From Robert Kaplan's controversial Balkan Ghosts, which identified entrenched ethnic hatreds as the driving force behind Yugoslavia's demise to NATO's dogged pursuit and arrest of Slobodan Milosevic, the quest for easy answers has frequently served to obscure the Balkans' complex history. Perhaps most surprisingly, no book has focused explicitly on the role religion has played in the conflicts that continue to torment southeastern Europe.

Based on a wide range of South Slav sources and previously unpublished, often confidential documents from communist state archives, as well as on the author's own on-the-ground experience, Balkan Idols explores the political role and influence of Serbian Orthodox, Croatian Catholic, and Yugoslav Muslim religious organizations over the course of the last century. Vjekoslav Perica emphatically rejects the notion that a "clash of civilizations" has played a central role in fomenting aggression. He finds no compelling evidence of an upsurge in religious fervor among the general population. Rather, he concludes, the primary religious players in the conflicts have been activist clergy. This activism, Perica argues, allowed the clergy to assume political power without the accountability faced by democratically-elected officials.

What emerges from Perica's account is a deeply nuanced understanding of the history and troubled future of one of Europes most volatile regions.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Perica's historical study, based on a large amount of primary source, including hitherto unavailable party archives, sociological surveys, and interviews with party and religious officials, effectively demonstrates that religious institutions played a divisive role among Yugoslav peoples, despite periods of respite and the presence of ecumenical currents."—Comparative Politics

"Vjekeslav Perica brilliantly recounts the role of religious narratives, institutions, organizations, and, most importantly, church or religious authorities both in constituting the three dominant identities of Yugoslavs and, in turn, in appropriating those narratives and identities for the destruction of the Yugoslav state and the possibility of civic and civil life in it.... Fundamentalism is the enemy of all that makes democracies functional and civility possible, whether in secular, religious, nationalist, patriotic, or ethnic clothing. Perica's contribution to our understanding of this phenomenon is immense."—Journal of the American Academy of Religion

"Vjekoslav Perica's masterfully written and extensively researched book fills an important gap in the historical scholarship on twentieth century southeastern Europe."— Association of Contemporary Church Historians

Foreign Affairs
This is the first political history of the three principal organized religions in postwar Yugoslavia and its successor states: the Croatian Catholic Church, the Serbian Orthodox Church, and the Islamic community. Perica carefully explores the relationships of each to Tito's Yugoslavia, to one another, to the wars, and to the new states. The Serbian and Croatian churches, in particular, have long arrogated the definition of nationhood to themselves. Because ecumenical moments in Yugoslavia were few, empathy for those of another faith was limited, and commitment to an open-armed, united Yugoslavia was weak, the link between religion and nationalism was neither liberal in the communist period nor benevolent during communism's collapse. All too often, the role of the churches — at times the leadership, at other times the clergy — has been to enlarge the sense of victimhood and to justify revenge.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195174298
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 2/26/2004
  • Series: Religion and Global Politics Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 8.80 (w) x 5.70 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

A former reporter for the Croatian weekly Nedjeljna Dalmacija and Research Fellow at The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and The United States Institute of Peace, Vjekoslav Perica is currently a Visiting Professor in the Department of History at Brigham Young University. He received his Ph.D. in History from the University of Minnesota.

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Table of Contents

Note on Pronunciation and Foreign Language Terms
1 Religion, Ethnicity, and Nationhood 3
2 The First Strife: The Crisis of the 1930s, War, and the Cease-Fire of the 1960 17
3 The Other Serbia: The Serbian Church in the Communist Federation 43
4 The Catholic Church and the Making of the Croatian Nation, 1970-1984 56
5 The Bosnian Ulema and Muslim Nationalism 74
6 United We Stand, Divided We Fall: The Civil Religion of Brotherhood and Unity 89
7 Mary-making in Herzegovina: From Apparitions to Partitions 109
8 Flames and Shrines: The Serbian Church and Serbian Nationalist Movement in the 1980s 123
9 The Second Strife: Religion as the Catalyst of the Crisis in the 1980s and 1990s 133
10 Religion as Hallmark of Nationhood 165
11 The Twilight of Balkan Idols 186
12 Conclusions 211
Notes 245
Selected Bibliography 309
Index 325
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