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Page 1

Balkan Idols:
Religion and Nationalism

in Yugoslav States

Vjekoslav Perica

OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS

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republic federation’s patriotic myths was questioned by authors, historians,
and journalists—nationalists as well as liberal communists.73 One of key-
stones of Titoist historiography of World War II, according to which the
Croat Ustaša NDH was an aberration in the history of the Croat people
and was imposed by fascist Nazi invaders, was challenged in the mid-
1980s by intellectual, cultural, and religious circles in Belgrade. A “new
Serbian history” was then in the process of being written, concurrent
with the unfolding ethnic nationalist mobilization of Serbs aimed at re-
structuring the Tito federation. This “new history” was influenced by the
following fours factors and sources: (1) Serbian ethnic nationalist ideology;
(2) nationalism emanating from the Orthodox Church and church histo-
riography; (3) Serb émigré myths and propaganda; and (4) Holocaust and
genocide studies (according to which the Serbs identified themselves with
the Jews and the crimes against Serbs were perceived as equivalent to the
Holocaust). The influence of the fourth factor I have already noted and
will further elaborate hereafter, although a proper understanding would
presumably require from readers familiarity with Holocaust historiography
since the 1960s.74

The “new” Serbian historians argued that the NDH was above all a very
efficient instrument of genocide against Serbs, conceived in Croatia several
centuries before the genocide took place. The NDH genocide, argued Serb
historian Vasilije Dj. Krestić, among many others, targeted the Serb people
for annihilation, while the idea of genocide is, allegedly, several centuries
old, one of the key peculiarities in the history of the Croats, and even a
remarkable idiom of Croatian culture, religion, and national character.75 The
new Serbian historiography, to which both Church and secular historians
contributed, emphasized the role of religion as the key catalyst of Serbo-
Croat hatred, designating the Roman Catholic Church as the chief carrier
of hatred and inspirer of the idea of genocide against the Serb people.76

After inaugurating this new history, the Serbian nationalist movement
moved on to argue that, allegedly, another independent state of Croatia was
in the process of reemergence in what was then the Socialist Republic of
Croatia (then still ruled together by Croat and Serb communists devoted to
Tito’s ideology of multiethnic “brotherhood and unity”). Serbs in Croatia
and Bosnia-Herzegovina were cautioned to be prepared for a possible repe-
tition of the genocide of 1941.

Croatian historians, nationalists and moderates alike, rebuked the geno-
cide thesis.77 The nationalist historian Franjo Tudjman was one of the most
outspoken defenders of the Croats against the Serb “genocide thesis,” but
his proclivity to minimize Ustaša crimes and explain them as an overreaction
against the long Great Serbian pressure on Croats in Croatia and Bosnia,
especially during the interwar monarchy, fueled the anger from Belgrade so
that new genocide charges mounted.78 Tudjman also used his scholarly skills
to write an apology for the Catholic Church and Archbishop Stepinac, des-
ignated as accomplices in Ustaša crimes.79 Monsignor Pave Žanić, who was

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the bishop of Mostar in the 1980s, told me in an interview that all Croat
bishops admired both Tudjman’s scholarship and courage.80

The churches, of course, began rewriting history and challenging each
other earlier through grand jubilees and commemorations of various an-
niversaries from ethnic past. Regarding the Stepinac controversy, in 1979,
the Archbishop of Zagreb, Franjo Kuharić, inaugurated annual mementoes
for Cardinal Stepinac, publicly calling for a “new” truth about the allegedly
falsely accused cardinal. In 1981, the Zagreb archdiocese submitted Stepi-
nac’s candidacy for martyrdom to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes
of Saints. The Curia initiated procedure de virtutibus, which includes study
of the candidate’s life and demeanor, in order to determine whether, as the
proposal argued, the candidate lived strictly according to Christian norms,
thereby setting an example for others. In 1984, the Stepinac case was ele-
vated to the stage de martyrio, focusing on the candidate’s struggle against
communism and his years in jail. In the meantime, the Catholic Church
was completing the nine-year entitled Great Novena “Thirteen Centuries of
Christianity in the Croat People.” In September 1984, at the final ceremony
of the jubilee, Cardinal Kuharić spoke about the Stepinac case. Yet only a
week before the National Eucharistic Congress of the Church in the Croat
People, the Church of Serbia staged its “countercommemoration” at Jasen-
ovac.

Forgive but Not Forget: Liturgy in
the Concentration Camp

Four years after Tito’s death, Serbian Orthodox Church leaders dared to
undertake what Bishop Nikolaj Velimrović had urged as early as the 1950s:
a liturgical commemoration of Jasenovac as a site of martyrdom of the Serb
people second in importance to Kosovo. During Tito’s life such an act would
have been impossible, for two basic reasons. First, Titoism emphasized an-
tifascist Partisans, not ethnic Serbs, as the principal victims of the Jasenovac
concentration camp. As noted in chapter 6, Jasenovac became a shrine of
the civil religion of brotherhood and unity and a memorial to the Partisan
struggle in which all ethnic groups and minorities took part and suffered.
At the site where the Ustaša death camp once stood, state authorities es-
tablished a museum and memorial park with a 140-foot-tall concrete flower-
shaped memorial monument.81 Second, Titoism would have not allowed sep-
arate ethnically based commemorations and uses of Jasenovac to imply that
“the Serb people” were a victim of a genocide carried out by “the Croat
people” as the Serb nationalistic message established in the late 1980s did.

The Serbian Orthodox Church viewed Jasenovac as a latter-day Kosovo,
that is, a sacred site of martyrdom and “eternal memory” that would re-
juvenate the nation. A new Serbia was emerging, with its secular capital
and the patriarchal seat in Belgrade and two spiritual centers in Kosovo and

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Stanković, Vladimir, 40, 41. See also
Croatian Church abroad

Stefan (Boca), Bishop, 32
Stepinac, Alojzije, Cardinal, 19–20,

152 n.100, 229–230
beatification of, 148, 152 n.104, 176
communist trial of, 26–27, 29
his cult in postcommunist Croatia,

176–177, 189
and persecution of Serbs and Jews

in NDH, 118, 152, 155–156
Strossmayer, Josip Juraj, Bishop, 10,

19, 67
Studenica monastery, 7, 128, 249

n.25
Šušak, Gojko, 141, 172, 207
Šuštar, Alojz, Archbishop, 126
Sutjeska, battle of, 96 n. 42, 97
Svete Zdenko, 138–139, 138 nn. 27,

32, 138 n. 33. See also Church-
State relations

Taliban, 169
Theodemocracy, 131
Thirteen Centuries of Christianity in

the Croat People. See Great
Novena

Tito, Josip Broz, 19, 31, 43–44, 54–
55, 56–57, 99, 125, 130, 133,
135, 188, 224–226

conflict with Stalin and
Cominform, 26, 95–96, 98, 98
n.46

cult of, 80–81, 80 n.22, 89–91,
103–105

his dictatorship, 104, 104 n.81
memory in successor states, 207–

208
personal views about religion, 103

Tudjman, Franjo, 57, 103, 107, 140,
147–148, 147 nn.78–79, 161,
196 n.40

and Croatian Catholicism 141, 147–
148, 190–191

Turčinović, Josip, 4 n.6, 69

UDBA (SDB, SDS), communist secret
police, 11, 28, 30 n.56, 35, 48,
133–134, 134 n.4, 141 n.43, 153
n.106

Ukraine, 116, 164 n.170, 268 n.64

Uniatism, 15, 18, 146, 159–160, 164–
170

United States, 80, 92–93, 113, 177,
181, 192, 195–196, 198, 201,
204, 222

Unković, Vitomir, 134, 138, 138 n.32,
139 n.33, See also Commissions
for religious affairs

Ustašas, 18, 28, 69, 110, 188–189.
See also Independent State of
Croatia

Vasilije (Kačavenda), Bishop, 156, 180
Vatican, 25, 47, 135, 146, 150, 162–

164, 177, 189–190, 195, 198.
See also John Paul II

Vereš, Tomo, 31
Veselica, Marko, 57, 63 n.35
Vidovdan (St.Vitus Day), 8, 18, 20,

128
Vincetić, Luka, 179
Vračar. See St. Sava’s Memorial

church
Vrcan, Srdjan, 50, 102, 132, 154

n.114. See also Atheism;
Secularization

Wars in Croatia and Bosnia (1991–
1995), 141, 153–154, 165–166,
171, 185, 191, 201. See also
Croatian War for the Fatherland

World Conference of Religion and
Peace (WCRP), 180 n.59, 239,
239 n.54

World Council of Churches (WCC),
33, 46, 53

World War I, 18, 39–40, 128, 131
World War II, 21–24, 69, 131, 147,

150–151, 156–157
wartime massacres and torture 23,

118, 177

Young Muslims, 74, 76, 142
Youth Relay. See Tito, Josip Broz
Yugonostalgia movement, 208
Yugoslav Muslim Organization (YMO),

11, 76
Yugoslav National Team. See Sport in

Yugoslavia
Yugoslav People’s Army, 96, 138–139,

139 n.35, 154, 163

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Yugoslavs (by nationality), 101–102,
207, 207 nn.84–85

Žanić, Pave, Bishop, 121, 147–148
Žića monastery, 6–7, 51–52

Žitomislić monastery, 121
Zovko, Jozo, 111–112, 111 n.13, 122.

See also Apparitions at
Medjugorje

Zulfikarpašić, Adil, 87–88, 142

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