Bücher | Books - Part 35

posted by PP on 2005/10/03 15:25

[ Bücher | Books ]

Some interesting books were reviewed during the last weeks, for Balkan Academic News (the first and the second) as well as for Transitions online (the third one listed):
  • Klaus Buchenau: Orthodoxie und Katholizismus in Jugoslawien 1945-1991. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz 2004. 484 pp. [reviewed by Bojana Balon]
  • Tom Gallagher: Theft of a Nation: Romania since Communism. London: Hurst 2005, 428 pp. [reviewed by Tobias Denskus]
  • V. P. Gagnon: The Myth of Ethnic War. Serbia and Croatia in the 1990s. Ithaca: Jr. Cornell University Press 2004, 217 pp. [reviewed by Florian Bieber]
1. Klaus Buchenau, Orthodoxie und Katholizismus in Jugoslawien 1945-1991. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2004. 484 pp., 98 EUR, ISBN 3-447-04847-6 (hardcover). Reviewed by Bojana Balon.

Untill the end of 1980s "religion and society" rarely played a central topic of research on socialist and communist countries. The topic was addressed only in a wider social and political context on opposition to the system and the struggle for human rights. In Yugoslavia the sociology of religion did develop but was not allowed to tackle problematic issues such as the developments during the second world war; unfair trials and massive killings of the alleged or true collaborators of the occupation forces (among the victims also priests); processes against the opponents to the new regime in the church; and everyday discrimination of the religious people.
In his book Klaus Buchenau makes a detailed comparative analysis of the history of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) and the Catholic Church in Croatia in the period between 1945 and 1991. He is using a comparative analysis approach, focusing mostly on SOC and the Catholic Church in Croatia since the Serbo-Croatian relations (and the relations between both churches as Buchenau shows) represented the core of the Yugoslavia's "national problem".

Buchenau's book is the first study using a comparative analysis approach between these two religions. He looks at the historical connections between the religion and the nation, the second world war and state-church relations in the socialist Yugoslavia after the war. He analyses in detail the statistics on religious societies, the clergy, the nuns, clergy associations, the relations within each of the church hierarchy, financial aspects, the state subventions, state's tax policy. He presents the ideological development within the churches, the catholic-orthodox dialogue, and the end of the socialist Yugoslavia and the role of the church in this process.

Buchenau focuses on the numerous primary and secondary sources, above all the archives of the Federal Commission for Religious Questions (the central church archives are not open for research yet). Another two important sources he used were the church press and interviews with theologists, priests, journalists and religious people.

By the end of 1980s, many were surprised that Church and religion were becoming a powerful political actor in socialist countries, especially with regards to the war in former Yugoslavia where the connections between the religion and the nation and of the church and politics became so obvious. The author shows that both Serbian Orthodox as well as the Catholic Church in Croatia had an immense impact on the religious-nationalistic mobilization in the 1980s in Yugoslavia, even though he admits that they developed their representations in close cooperation with the secular elites of that time.

According to Buchenau, in order to understand these developments one has to look deeper in to the role of the churches in nation building in the South Slav nations, at religious motives in national mythology, the dramatic developments in the second world war in which religious motives played an important role, and the position of church and religion in the socialist time. He shows that the attempts of the state to instumentalise the church for political interests strengthened the church's conservativism, national-religious, patriarchical and anti-modern ideologies, which influenced the political programs in the 80s.

Buchenau starts his historical overview in the 1930s. With the King's banning of the parties the religious manifestations gained a political aspect and the churches overtook the function of a "protector" of the nation. In that period the religious representations stabilised and remained unchanged also during the socialist time. A strong antimodernism developed with the following basic presumptions: a nation has to thank the church for its existence, secularisation is not only threatening the religious people but the nation as such. Both churches represented the other church as the biggest threat, next to the communists.

Nationalism and antimodernism pushed a part of church hierarchy and also religious people in the nationalistic and fascist movements during the second world war; in Croatia the so called "Ustase" and in Serbia "Cetnici" and the movement of Dimitrije Ljotic. In the Second World War these movements fought for their ideals cooperating with the occupation forces. The partisans fought against national projects and promoted the idea of a Federal Yugoslavia. After the war the communist party revenged and it was not seldom that their opponents were punished as collaborators of the occupators. Both churches lost in this processes several hundreds of priests and the church dared not to speak of this in the public.

The existence of a socialist Yugoslavia was based on specific representations of history. There was the narrative of the struggle for freedom of the partisans and of the communist party for a joint socialistic Yugoslav state in which finally in 1945 all the Yugoslav nations were joined.

Both churches' representations of history were focused on Serbian or Croatian nation and the representation of it as a victim of the other. The enemies of the nation were, first of all the communists, and then the Ottoman Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire, Italy, the Third Reich. For Croatian Catholic Church also the Serbs appeared on the list of the enemies, on the other hand for the SOC the enemies were the Croats.

Between 1945 and 1953 neither Serbian nor Croatian priests could feel safe if they openly opposed the radical secularisation of the society. A different wind came in the 60ss when the role of the secret services decreased and the federalisation of the state started. From them on until the "Croatian spring" in 1972 the churches were in offensive. In this period a proper political will appeared for fostering the inter-religious dialogue under the influence of the second Vatican Council. Many politicians supported this process until as long as it did not threaten the monopoly of the communist party.

But with the "Croatian spring" in 1971, the antireligious currents strengthened in the communist party, the media, education system and the army. As there were no secular movements left which could promote national Croatian identity, the church overtook this agenda. The Croatian Catholic Church started to promote patriotic feelings, the historic connections to the Vatican, and the glorious history of the Croatian nation.

The activities of the Catholic Church had a domino effect. This was especially so in multi-religious parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina where the Orthodox priests and the Muslim imams started more actively to promote their religions among the people. The rise of popularity of the Orthodox Church occurred parallel to further decentralization of the country. What the Croatian spring meant for the Croats, further decentralization of Yugoslavia meant for the Serbs.
Both churches started organising mass events and in that period the political profile of the churches developed and their opposition to secularisation strengthened.

Buchenau asks: can we define the suppression of the Croatian spring or the decentralisation of the country as a mistake in religious politics? He thinks not since not one of these issues was a religious-political issue in a narrow sense and both happened with the aim to protect the state. The problem appeared since the Catholic Church supported the federalisation and the SOC opposed it.

And was the national religious conclusion of the late 1980s at all avoidable? Most probably not. One of the reasons was the ideological one. The attempts to influence the clergy by the Yugoslav state leadership were not unified and could not produce real loyalty to the regime because it was fostered with the state's fear of losing the monopoly. Another problem was the everyday discrimination of religious people in Yugoslavia and the suppression of discussions and identification of the victims and perpetrators of crimes committed during the Second World War and the period immediately after the war.

As a consequence, Buchenau explains, both churches were in a position to play a central role in mobilisation of the public in the 1980s and the 1990s. There was a consensus in the SOC in the 1980s that the genocide is threatening the Serbian nation based on the over emphasised image of the role of the victim that the Serbian nation played in the Second World War. This lead to justification of the project of Great Serbia, as a protection measure against the alleged re-awakening of the Croatian Ustase movement. The electoral victory of Milosevic in 1990 was to a large extent influenced by the "religious factor"- Milosevic instrumentalised the church and based his political program on the issues that were already popularised by the religious authorities – above all the Kosovo issue.

On the other hand the Catholic church in Croatia represented the most important force for the system change in Croatia . No party could ignore the positions of the Church. By the end of 1980s it was in the position to fill out the post communist vacuum however it wanted. And they left not much space for surprises. The Church's political program was taken over by secular politicians for their election programs. The church connected itself to the HDZ and not smaller parties with catholic democratic orientation proving that in the end of 1980s the "national mission" was more important then the usual religious topics.

2. Tom Gallagher, Theft of a Nation: Romania since Communism. London: Hurst, 2005. 428pp., 16.5 GBP, ISBN 1 85065 716 5 (paperback). Reviewed by Tobias Denskus (Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, UK)

One of the remarkable features of this book is that it offers a comprehensive picture of 'modern' Romania, but never forgets to deliver un-agitated, detailed facts for the analysis it promises to deliver. This book is about Romania, but at the same time it is a story about Eastern Europe which raises a lot of broader issues about governance, democracy - and ultimately history and time.

The introduction highlights most of the issues that the reader will follow through the rest of the book: the lack of 'citizenship' that is fostered by an elite group 'which are strangers to the concept of the public good' [2], civil society which 'was pulled out by the roots' [7] under communism and the ambivalent role of external support after the end of the communist rule: 'The restoration of social and economic inequality and the refinement of relationships of social dependence coincides with external efforts to strengthen democracy in Romania and promote good governance' [11]. Similar things can probably be said about other South-Eastern European countries, e.g. Macedonia or Albania, but we are only on page 17 and the analysis and observations do not stop here – they are about to start. The historical outline in the following chapters is a powerful reminder for all those who are engaged in 'governance' issues how long societal processes of adaptation, transformation and especially resistance can take, how slow 'Western' understandings of reform and 'democracy' emerge and are adapted to local realities and how all these issues are linked to deep-rooted and historical problems that the assistance of the 'international community' often tends to ignore when implementing their vision of 'civil societies'. Gallagher refers to a Romanian academic when he concludes that 'the existence of unauthentic institutions that mimicked the civilising practices of more advanced countries from which they derived has been a cause of complaint from his time in the late nineteenth century to the present' [26].

However, the major part of the book is dedicated to the political, social and economic developments after the end of the communist rule. Gallagher offers a detailed analysis about the different parties, groups within the parties, domestic and outside actors such as media, miner's groups or international financial institutions. At some point, this makes reading a bit difficult, because six different acronyms and five names on one page [ e.g. 187] interrupt the flow (but there is a good biographies section at the beginning of the book), but in a broader perspective this is what makes Gallagher's analysis so interesting and different: it does not want to escape the complexity on the ground. This book is not about catchwords like 'corruption' or 'elites', but rather fills these empty vessels that often appear in short journal articles or 'policy briefings' with a particular Romanian meaning. The 'uninspired engagement of the EU' [353] is also linked to policy subscriptions devoid of any historical understanding and a code of conduct of outside advisors with in-build superficiality to 'solve' problems in Romania: 'International officials reluctant to experience realities outside the ministries they liaise with are prone to trust officials if they approximate in a superficial way to their perceptions of how a modern-minded manager should sound and act' [334].

Tom Gallagher's analysis clearly has a lot to say that goes beyond Romania or even South and South-East Europe: A complex web of historical, 'traditional' and local/regional factors shape conflicts – but also any 'solution' – a fact often ignored by those who propagate a 'zero hour' starting point for transformation. This requires careful, meticulous and 'unexciting' analysis, but it is not rocket science. Short, unrealistic timeframes and reduction of complexity mark a lot of the engagement of the 'international community' and Tom Gallagher escapes this by not offering advice to the policy-community. His book is the result of conservative (in the best possible meaning of the word) research, not of consultancies or one-off visits.

One crucial aspect he highlights in the final chapter is the role of education and its links to deep-rooted issues in the society ( e.g. the pervasive anti-Semitism Gallagher highlights throughout the recent history): The EU and domestic civil society have not focussed their attention on the education sector in a country which for many years had the smallest education budget in Europe. Many of today's students 'are demoralised and find no outlet for their energies' (341).

The reliance on old structures and networks in Romania and elsewhere and the turning of a blind-eye to the limits of 'Western' support is a serious impediment for 'sustainable' solutions that would benefit major parts of the population in the medium or long-term. The current policy prescriptions may buy a few peaceful-looking years, but do not challenge structural factors or help to develop local interpretations of participation, citizenship, governance and economic development.

Tom Gallagher's timely analysis for the case of Romania contributes to these debates and helps to understand the particular situation in Romania, but at the same time the 'bigger picture' and deficiencies of the Western European model of governance and assistance in South-Eastern Europe.

Book Review Editors for Balkan Academic News: Jelena Obradović and Cristina Bradatan.

3. V. P. Gagnon: The Myth of Ethnic War. Serbia and Croatia in the 1990s. Jr. Ithaca: Cornell University Press 2004, 217 pp. Reviewed by Florian Bieber.

If not ethnic, what else? The reader need go no further than the title of The Myth of Ethnic War to get an inkling that the author will suggest that ethnicity was not at the root of the wars in the 1990s in former Yugoslavia. At first, V. P. Gagnon seems to argue as much of the literature published in recent years does: the wars in Croatia, Bosnia, and finally in Kosovo did not arise from "ancient ethnic hatreds" – this dead horse has received more than its necessary flogging over the years – but erupted as a result of manipulation of the citizenry by political elites. However, Gagnon goes one step beyond and suggests that the regimes in Croatia and Serbia did not engage in war for the purpose of mobilizing the nationalist masses or gaining legitimacy. Instead, he introduces the concept of "demobilization" as a process by which political elites discourage the political activism of the population. Demobilization thus is a broad technique of political elites to weaken civil society, moderate the rhetoric of opposition parties, and minimize civic engagement. The "authoritarian wars," as one might be tempted to redub the conflicts of the Yugoslav succession, were thus instruments in the hands of what Gagnon calls "conservative elites" to take political weapons out of the opposition's hands. His analysis of the rich empirical data brings him to conclude that nationalism was not powerful before the beginning of the wars themselves, that the wars were not popular in the two countries, and that the conflicts did not "mobilize" large parts of the population in a nationalist frenzy.


Drawing on numerous surveys conducted by Yugoslav social scientists in the late 1980s, Gagnon, who teaches at Ithaca College in New York State and has widely published on former Yugoslavia, makes a convincing case that ethnic stereotypes and nationalist world views were not widely popular, particularly in ethnically diverse regions of Yugoslavia such as in Bosnia and parts of Croatia.

He thrashes out how the nationalist parties won the elections in 1990 and subsequently, not on a platform of ethnonationalist extremism, but of moderation. The Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), in particular, is a good example of a party that generally positioned itself in the political center, with more nationalist parties (Vuk Draskovic’s Serbian Renewal Movement in 1990, Vojislav Seselj’s Serbian Radical Party subsequently) as dark threats mobilizing support for Slobodan Milosevic's "moderate" Socialists. Even as the parties played the card of moderation, neither the SPS in Serbia nor Croatian leader Franjo Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) ever enjoyed the support of the absolute majority of the population, highlighting the constraints to the ruling elites. The hypothesis that most Serbs and most Croats did not want war – most of the youth, anyway – is bolstered by the observation that governments, particularly in Serbia, found it very hard to drum up enough conscripts for the army. The shortfall of reservists forced the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) to revise its ambitious plans for Croatia, as the last defense minister of Yugoslavia, Veljko Kadijevic, admits in his memoirs, Moje vidjenje raspada Jugoslavije (My View of the Breakup of Yugoslavia): young men's draft resistance "became a major limiting factor in carrying out plans to deploy the JNA, more than all the other problems put together.”

Gagnon's argument against the idea that ethnicity was more than a tool wielded by conservative elites to secure their hold on power is coherent and convincing. By the time the regimes headed by Milosevic and Tudjman finally gave way within a few months of each other, the ethnic question had receded, Gagnon writes. Control over power and resources was no longer as intrinsically linked to the state, the "privatization" of businesses to tycoons close to the HDZ in Croatia being a case in point. Thus resistance against "transition" decreased and conservative elites' grip on state organs subsided.

Gagnon’s arguments are refreshing and lucid. His challenge to some of the conventional wisdom on former Yugoslavia joins a line of recent works, some from within the region, some by outsiders such as Eric Gordy in The Culture of Power in Serbia, that have demonstrated how authoritarian leaders made nationalism into a political instrument. While it is not hard to be sympathetic to the argument, the question arises whether this explanatory approach does not attribute too much influence to elites and neglect nationalist mobilization among the population prior to its exploitation by elites.

Gagnon relies heavily on the notion of "conservative elites" to describe the governing circles in Serbia and Croatia. These circles did in fact largely grow out of the conservative wing of the Yugoslav Communists. The term "conservative," however, is so broad that it hardly helps us understand the nature of the elite that took power in each republic. If we understand "conservative elites" in opposition to "democratic elites" in the party, as argued in the 1990s by Latinka Perovic, historian and head of the ruling League of Communists in Serbia in the early 1970s, we also find many conservatives who sided against the rising nationalists. In fact, a significant part of the elites in Vojvodina, Serbia, and Montenegro which were swept away in the "anti-bureaucratic revolutions" instigated by Milosevic in 1988 were part of that conservative elite, as were some of those who made incessant critiques of nationalism in Croatia. What is striking is why Milosevic made a choice for authoritarian and nationalist policies in 1987. As a rising star in the party, his career could have taken a path similar to that of Milan Kucan in Slovenia. Both rose through the ranks as pragmatic reformers in the mid-1980s, but while both survived the end of Yugoslavia and Communism, one made a career as a democratic reformer, the other in being largely responsible for the wars which ravaged former Yugoslavia and finally as a resident of a Hague prison cell. As Jasna Dragovic-Soso’s excellent study of Serb intellectuals (‘Saviours of the Nation’: Serbia’s Intellectual Opposition and the Revival of Nationalism, 2002) highlights, much of the liberal and reformist elites had already turned to nationalism in the 1980s, before Milosevic came to power. While certainly conservative elites existed and in part supported nationalist agendas to secure political or economic power, the persuasive force of nationalism needs to be recognized beyond its purely manipulative function. By no means primordial or inevitably leading to the violent breakup of the multi-ethnic state, the rise of nationalism to dominate political discourse by the late 1980s was not only the result of ethnic entrepreneurs who exploited the rise of nationalism for political ends. When we see a motley group like the Serbian Orthodox Church, popular magazines such as the weekly Duga, and Marxist philosopher Mihailo Markovic taking up the issue of Kosovo in the early 1980s, this indicates a more rooted presence of nationalism. While the mass mobilization in Serbia in 1988 was certainly well organized, as Gagnon points out, it also indicated general dissatisfaction, both of economic nature and frustration with the continued tensions in Kosovo.

While Gagnon's argument that the regimes never won absolute majorities certainly holds true, it does not always dovetail with his case that the regimes' moderation indicates less support for nationalism than has often been suggested. Satellite parties and opposition parties in both Serbia and Croatia often advocated a more radical and exclusivist nationalist agenda than the dominant parties. Although the fringe parties, such as the Party of Serbian Unity led by the paramilitary warlord Arkan or the Croat Party of Pure Right, never gained many votes, elections were often contested either on the basis of more extreme policies or on the basis of a "national consensus." This suggests that while the wars were certainly widely unpopular, there was much shared in the basic assumptions on the war and the national "question" in both countries.

These points of criticism do not suggest that the mechanism of "demobilization" was not at work. Indeed, the book is overall more convincing than those studies that assume the existence of extreme nationalism or suggest that nationalist regimes shored themselves up by exploiting some kind of mass hysteria. Taking into account the considerable degree of variation within Yugoslavia, the case is probably merely not as clear-cut as the author suggests. As a result, this book is an excellent addition to the literature on former Yugoslavia and stands out for its coherent argument, the comparative perspective, and the inclusion of social science literature from the region itself.

In a thoughtful conclusion, Gagnon raises the question whether “ethnic solutions,” such as increased minority rights protection, as for example in the Ohrid Agreement after the short conflict between Macedonian forces and Albanian-minority fighters in 2001, are appropriate if we agree that the conflicts were not “ethnic wars.” This observation is certainly worth more thorough contemplation than the book (or this review) has space for. It also raises a question: If the wars do not start as “ethnic,” do they end up being “ethnic”? The authoritarian regimes and the wars in Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina have transformed societies, which is one reason why clear hindsight of the 1980s is so difficult to achieve today. Stereotypes and nationalist world views have often become more socially acceptable in the post-conflict regions of former Yugoslavia than some 15 years ago and a new generation has grown up in the isolated countries of the region, suggesting that the postwar systems have to engage with a fundamentally different reality.

Florian Bieber is senior non-resident research associate at the European Center for Minority Issues, Belgrade, and author of Nationalismus in Serbien vom Tode Titos bis zum Ende der Ära Milosevic (Nationalism in Serbia from the Death of Tito to the End of the Milosevic Era), Münster/Vienna: Lit Verlag 2005.


Senior Editor

Seitenwechsel. Geschichten vom Fußball. Hgg. v. Samo Kobenter u. Peter Plener. Wien: Bohmann 2008, 237 pp.
(Weitere Informationen hier)
Transcarpathica. Germanistisches Jahrbuch Rumänien 3-4/2004-2005. Hgg. v. Andrei Corbea-Hoisie u. Alexander Rubel. Bukarest/Bucuresti: Editura Paideia 2008, 336 pp.
[Die online-Fassung meines Einleitungsbeitrags "Thesen zur Bedeutung der Medien für Erinnerungen und Kulturen in Mitteleuropa" findet sich auf Kakanien revisited (Abstract / .pdf).]
Seitenweise. Was das Buch ist. Hgg. v. Thomas Eder, Samo Kobenter u. Peter Plener. Wien: Bundespressedienst 2010, 480 pp.
(Weitere Informationen hier wie da, v.a. auch do. - und die Rezension von Ursula Reber findet sich hier [.pdf].)
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