Blesok no. 34, September-October, 2003

The Image of the Religion Syndrome in the Balkan World

Jasmina Mojsieva Guševa

    Emphasizing the fact that the religion[1] is the actual phenomenon which represents the collective spirit, and having in mind that this phenomenon is also quite important for shaping and comprehending each individual or national identity, with this paper – we would like to show how the problem of the religion syndrome[2] in the Balkans influences the individual and even national mentality, its identification with the national origins up to its numerous deviations as a result, through many examples from the Balkan literature in the XX century…
    This context comes from the domination of the western civilization upon the Balkans with its relaxed, even quasi-belief in God, practicing – mainly – the traditional church rituals. Their understanding depends on the idea that the life is a kind of a struggle. Accordingly to that, the weaponry appears as an instrument for life’s maintenance and preservation. With such logic of overcoming the obstacles with violence, the freedom comes to a form of an absurd. In such kind of a context, the human virtues, empathy and the correct treatment of the Other and everything that is foundation of the religious understanding – is lost.
    Because of the specific development, the Balkan is especially compatible for the implementation of the western logic and increasing of the religious conflicts. At the Balkans, the main contemporary religion groups have their origins in the Middle Ages, which mean that they traditionally bear the characteristic of the society in which they were originally established. These characteristics are xenophobia, centralized hierarchy, permanent manifestation of latent conflicts and external tension within different social forces. The face of Evil, or the Devil – the enemy, at first, concerns the heretics, unbelievers; afterwards, it spreads onto the social order and society in general. That structure has been valid during the five-century-long presence of the (Muslim) Ottoman Empire at the Balkans and later it has been replaced with the idea of the religiously orientated (Christianity) nation. The change from the religious beliefs epoch to the national states epoch on the Balkans happened in the second half of XIX century. The national and linguistic links – then – have become the new identity signifiers. Under the influence of the strong social process and external influences of the large Christian community at the Balkans, the region divides to numerous and separate national communities. Religion was put aside as a secondary in the processes of shaping the new national identities. Christians in the Balkan, as Maria Todorova[3] has concluded in her book Imagining the Balkans, started to understand each other with the language of nationalism, while their notion of the Muslims remains at the domain of the non-differentiated discourse between the religious communities. That makes the problem even more difficult, because the religious communities (with their “ghettoization”) remain to be a potential threat for bigger conflicts at the Balkan. This situation endures up to the moment when the antagonistic interactions between the social and religious groups (with conflicting interests upon the same territories, the same privileges in the society, etc.) will stop. All this is happening at the Balkans, even at this moment.
    Nobody has given better explication and analysis of the relationships between the religious communities in the Balkan, such as Ivo Andrić. On the relations of the historical facts he anticipated the religious conflicts in these areas with all of their horror. Andrić founds the base of all Balkan tragedies in the endemic hate and the forces of fear that exist in the region. “The fear stands only as a correlative for the hate and it is its natural echo, while the hate is only what’s essential”. Andrić is worried upon the fact that there are more people in the Balkan then anywhere else who, in unconscious state, for different reasons and excuses are able to kill and able to let to be killed. Today (as well as before in the XX century), this context is being used by the western politicians in accordance with their own interests at the Balkan and wider.

    The roots of the Balkan religious intolerance and hate are primeval. We can find them even in the mythic patterns, which in the earliest stage are almost traumatic/tragic as in the hagiographies of Apostle Paul[4], Erasmus Lihnidski[5] and Saint Barbara[6]; later, this pattern has a heroic transformations – we can note that by the figures of Saint Zlata Meglenska[7], Sent Gorgi Kratovski[8], Saint Spase Radoviski[9], Krale Marko[10], Bolen Dojcin[11], Milos Obilic[12], Banovic Strahinja[13], Marko Bocaros[14], Janis Bukovalis[15] and many others.
    The myth of the wild Homo Balkanikus which we can find in the reports of the western itinerary writers and intellectuals from the past centuries is – slowly – changing. The society and economic life in the second decade of XX century impose the need of collaboration and toleration, which will overcome the problems that are originally perpetuated by religious groups, nations or states. The political and cultural factors are becoming more and more integrative-inspiring. The people's awareness of the mutual similarity increases, although they are apart with their different religious and national beliefs. That context was evident up to the 90's, when the disintegration of the Yugoslav community started – along with the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Nowadays, the world balance is lost. The mythic Balkan territory, which stands as the cradle of the European history and culture, and as the crossing point between the East and the West, now is in the center of the worldwide interests – again.
    That's the reason why – at the beginning of the XX century – the concept of the term balkanization, besides all political, social, cultural and ideological changes, as Maria Todorova[16] claims again, gets the pejorative meaning. The motifs for such pejorative meaning of that term are transmitted comprehension for the Balkans from the past. The basic of this problem is the different interests' conflict of the global power-states for domination, which initiate the problems all over – again[17]. For the completion of their goals they use a well-planned strategy, which is based on the existing or potential religious and national conflicts in the region.
    The same motifs are also the main thesis in the novel Babadzan, where – with a few briefly given passages where the beginning of the paranoid cycle between the two religions – Christian and Muslim – is shown. Their mutual misunderstanding origins from the hostile attitude projection of the Other. That includes the deviation of the truth, suspicion, incorrect glorifying of each one's own significance… The other characteristic of this novel is the highly emphasized noting of every thought and action, and in that notion, of every spiritual frame – the nature of those who lived beside each other without even slightest comprehension and understanding of the Other. They remain captured in their traditions and their inherited conservative models of thinking characterized with sealed xenophobia. Instead of the Reign of understanding, toleration, collaborations and common-life spirit, they insist on partial and unchanging, frozen image of the world. That presents an illusion as a base for the creating of rigid and static society, always as a base for potential struggles and conflicts.
    In the Balkan literature, the use of the pattern of falling in love with a stranger (with different religion or of different nation), is very common. For instance, a woman falling in love with a man with different religion or nationality, or vice versa: in the Balkans, this kind of an act is always a subject for condemnation. Such is the love of young Jewish Rifka and the Croatian nobleman Ledenik from the Andrić's short story The Love in the Province[18]. Sometimes in the Other, one can search the projection of a Father, which in the Balkan literature (for example – in Krleza’s works) has a hostile connotation. All of the sons in Krleza’s works [ex. Leone from the novel Gentlemen Glembaev, or Fillip from The Return of Fillip Latinovic) abandon their homes driven by morality problems, spending certain period in some foreign countries. Afterwards, they come back home with hope for better life and home situation than those they left before, as according to Spehar[19] this reminds us on the Evangelistic story of the lost son and his return to the father's home. But, above-mentioned sons would very soon understand that their happiness is impossible because of their destiny-founded determination to suffer because of their family's “corrupted blood”. All of them have ugly perspectives of themselves and they're suffering identity crises. That's one of the reasons why they don’t experience the Evangelistic lost son pattern[20]. For them, their home relatives are with the lost sense of morality, honesty and truth. They are far away from the Christian image of God. They bear that curse of introversion, fear and paranoia, which origins from the experience of Evil and suffering in the Balkan collective past. It seems that the image of righteous God, in the Balkan mythology is being replaced with the cruel God. That's another reason for the people of this region to cast out their own beliefs of God and to accept the logic of the West.
    The cruel God, or the dethroning the dead God – like Nietzsche's idea of God, also appears as a practice at the Balkans in the XX century, where only a few real believers, so few in comparison to the unbelievers that use the religion cover only to justify their egoistic acts.
    Considering all this, all of us who live at the Balkans, in our moments of danger and menace – we can’t do anything else, but to try to understand the universal messages from the religion, such as patience, hope and calmness. This brings us the power for the spiritual breakthrough – further and beyond the phantasms of domination. Having the patience with the other opinions and beliefs, we can get the real understanding for every difference that stands in our way; and only in that way – we can really and fully understand our own beliefs. Of course, this kind of patience understands putting and respecting the clear limits between the Good and Evil, between the Truth and False. And, by the way, all of the world's religions do agree in (at least) two things: they all preach patience, and all of their Holly Books contain the same foundations of morality.


1. The term “religion” comes from the Latin language verb religare that means linking/gathering/connecting. It is the spiritual link between God and man. The basic of every religion is the faith in God. The other main characteristics are: the dogma, the cult and the morality. See: Macedonian Theology Terminology, MANU, Skopje, 1999, p.93.
2. The term faith in the Old Testament refers to the term/idea of Hope (to confirm and prove one’s submission to God). In the New Testament, the term faith refers exclusively to the Christian believing in God. See: New Concise Bible Dictionary, editor D. Williams, Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship, 1989, p.93.
3. Todorova, Maria, Imagining the Balkans, Magor, Skopje, 2001, p.261


4. Pop-Atanasov, Gjorgi, The Bible on Macedonia and the Macedonians (Biblijata za Makedonija i Makedoncite), Menora, Skopje, 1995, p.129.
5. Stojcevska-Antic, Vera, The History of the Macedonian Medieval Literature (Istorija na makedonskata srednovekovna knizevnost), Detska Radost, Skopje, 1997, p.242.
6. Kitevski Marko, Macedonian Folk Holidays and Customs (Makedonski narodni praznici i obicai), Menora, Skopje, 1996, p.196.
7. Ibid, p.174.
8. Ibid, p.64.
9. Ibid, p.163.
10. Sapkarev, Kuzman, Selected Works (Izbrani dela), book 2, Misla, Skopje, 1976, p.68.
11. Miladinovci Brother's Miscellany (Zbornik na Braka Miladinovci), Koco Racin, Skopje, 1962, p.219.
12. Djuric, Vojislav, Anthology of Heroic Folk Songs (Antologija narodnih junackih pesama), Srpska Knjizevna Zadruga, Beograd, 1983, p.280.
13. Ibid, p.235.
14. Popovic, Jovan, Sterija, Davorje, Beograd, 1893, p.35-34.
15 Stojanovic, Miodrag, Brigands and Klefts in Folk Poetry (Hajduci i klefti u narodnom pesnistvu), SANU, Beograd, 1984, p.249.
16. Todorova, Maria, Imagining the Balkans, Magor, Skopje, 2001, p.51.
17. There is something more to it: in order to distract the focus aside from their own frustrations and failures, those announce the guilty party somewhere else – toward certain individuals or groups, focusing their pressure on those “guilty” parties. Examples for this can be noted everywhere and anytime; in this occasion, we'll mention the most drastic one: Adolph Hitler blamed the Jews and the Communists for all problems of the Weimar German Republic and e put them under the most severe prosecution and extermination. The African Americans are always victims of the frustrated “White American” groups, whenever some strong economical or social crisis burst out. The politicians (wherever and whenever) will always distract the focus of the masses from the bad local and internal state problems with “finding” the enemy (and accordingly, the victims) at some other territory, nation or state – the actual reason for the beginning of the numerous wars in the endless war history on our planet.
18. Andrić, Ivo, Helena, the Woman who's Gone (Jelena, zena koje nema), Svetlost – Sarajevo & Prosveta – Beograd, 1989, p.173.
19. Spehar, Milan, The Problem of God in the Krleza's Works (Problem Boga u djelima Krleze), Krscanska sadasnjost, Zagreb, 1987, p.27.
20. The New Testament, Biblisko zdruzenie na Republika Makedonija, Skopje, p.90.

created by