Perica, Vjekoslav. Balkan Idols: Religion and Nationalism in Yugoslav States. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

1 = page number
“…” = quote of book text
“… “…” …” = text in quotation marks in book text
‘…’ = quote in book of another text (source)
[…] = my notes
= summary or paraphrase of book text



5 “the nation state cannot exist without an adequate system of public patriotic worship, symbol, myth, and ritual. Nation states also cannot exist without history and myth, which also require worshipful acceptance.” The origin myth “becomes sacred; that is to say, historical narrative becomes religion rather than history based on evidence.” The difference between Serbs, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims “is not religion but the myth of national origin, which is consecrated by native religious institutions.”

Michael B. Petrovich: Historically, religion here is less a matter of private conscience but rather of public identity. ‘Identification between religion and nationality’ sometimes meant that religious conversion results in a change in nationality.

6 Srdjan Vrcan: ‘there exists a rather strong correlation between religious affiliation, commitment to religion and involvement in the church on one side and nationality on the other.’

7-8 Key element of Serbian religion and nationalism:

  • Kosovo myth: Kosovo is the Serbian nation’s and Serbian Orthodoxy’s birthplace, symbol, center, rallying point, “lost paradise”, “Serbian Zion”/”Serbian Jerusalem.”
  • Ethnic/native saints, including medieval rulers (rather than theology)

9 Ethnicization of Catholicism in Croatia only started in the 19th century. Fewer native saints.

11 Until Austrian rule, Muslims were under the Ottoman religious authority, did not have their own religious organization.

“In both Yugoslavias, the Muslim religious organization [Islamic Religious Community, later Islamic Community] supported the common state…as an acceptable political framework for…Muslims scattered across [the country].”

12 Macedonian Orthodox Church was created in the late 1950s/early 1960s as a breakaway group from the Belgrade Patriarchate. “In Tito’s Yugoslavia, the Macedonian Orthodox Church was the most patriotic religious organization in the country.”

13 There were 4 mainstream religions and some 40 religious minorities in 2nd Yugoslavia, the biggest of which were the Evangelicals (seat and most members in Croatia), Jews, Calvinists (Vojvodina), Baptists (Croatia), Jehova’s Witnesses, etc.

15 Serbian Orthodox and Croatian Catholic clergy cooperated best when under a foreign threat.

Unlike in Western and Central Europe, no large-scale interfaith conflicts occurred in this area, though various incidents and tensions have.

38 & 132 1960s and 1970s: marked decline in declared religious affiliation and church attendance; declining numbers of believers from 90% in 1953 to 70% in 1964 to 53% in 1969 to 45% in 1984. Best at resisting the trend were Catholics (30% non-believer in 1984) and Muslims (40%), worst Orthodox Serbs (70%).

Meanwhile, religious institutions took this time and advantage of liberal official policies to rebuild and expand, increasing the number of temples, schools/seminaries, monasteries, and sacral cultural monuments.

42 Catholic Church was the largest, wealthiest, and best organized.

Yugoslav state did not receive legitimation from the Serbian Orthodox or Croatian Catholic churches, both of which served as guardians of their respective ethnic communities and as pillars of domestic opposition.

55 The 1970s purge removed liberal and secular nationalists from communist ranks, playing into the hands of clerical, anticommunist nationalists organized in/by churches.

63 “After the collapse of the Croatian (secular) nationalist movement [in 1971], the Church became the only driving force of Croatian ethnic nationalism. Many nationalist leaders recognized the Church’s leadership and became practicing Catholics.”

74-80 Islamic Community in SFRY, the Muslim religious organization (and its representatives):

  • was led by former Partisans, dedicated to Titoism’s brotherhood and unity;
  • was a factor in stability of religious and ethnic relations;
  • was the regime’s source of religious legitimation;
  • believed Muslims scattered around the country should live in a united Yugoslavia with Bosnia and Herzegovina as a republic;
  • was “a pan-Yugoslav, multiethnic federation of autonomous Muslim institutions and associations, congruent with self-management;
  • was not a guardian of (ethno)national identity but was a “nationality with a religious name”;
  • was both a religious and national institution for Muslims;
  • was more easily controlled by the Party;
  • backed non-alignment;
  • did not worship medieval native rulers, saints, shrines, territories, ethnic myths;

1968: “Muslim” recognized as a nationality on par with other constituent nations.

85 Islam became most visible in 1989-1991, with religious festivals, as part of the community’s response to growing nationalisms.

86 June 1990: first Muslim nationalist text since Tito’s death published in Preporod newspaper, describing a Muslim as “a schizophrenic creature” and quoting Mehmed Selimović: “Bosnians belong to no one. Settled in the middle of a crossroad, we were always being given to someone as a dowry.”

92 “No other phenomenon better symbolized the pride, elan, and relative prosperity of Tito’s Yugoslavia than internationally recognized Yugoslav sports.”

Sarajevo Olympics = international recognition of Yugoslavia success as a nation and award for sports development

All employees and retirees donated 2.5% of income for 4 years for the Olympics and 1.5M people made one-time donations.

1,600 relay runners carried the torch in 2 routes

94 Yugoslav sports teams = “source of national pride and cohesion” and “an efficient instrument of official nationalism” epitomizing brotherhood and unity

In 1982, Yugoslavia was 10th in the world in international competitions output (medals).

95 Yugoslavia’s “civil religion” consisted of

  • brotherhood and unity (“Yugoslav spirit”)
  • Tito cult
  • (myth of) pan-Yugoslav anti-fascist struggle in WWII
  • “the victory over Soviet hegemony
  • the Yugoslav model of socialism and
  • the country’s non-aligned foreign policy.”

Civil religion combines national origin myth(s) with founder(s) cult, a sense of exceptionalism, monuments, rituals (commemorations, celebrations), and often sports.

96 C.L. Sulzberger: ‘Tito’s partisans had created history’s most effective guerrilla army.”

Tito’s resistance became recognized as one of the most successful local movements in WWII. Went from 40K in 1941 to 350K in Summer 1944 to 800K in May 1945, organized in People’s Liberation Committees and including ethnic minorities, with broad popular support.

97 “[T]he Partisan War became the founding myth and energizer of the new nationalism,” legitimizing CPY’s rule.


  • shrines / memorials at battle sites
  • statues of Tito and heroes
  • memorials to NOB everywhere
  • Order of People’s Hero (narodni heroj)
  • extensive sections in textbooks
  • holidays
  • rituals / commemorations, incl. on holidays like Dan Republike (11/29) and Serbian Uprising (7/7/)
  • poetry/literature
  • films / TV
  • literature

98 NOB myth was fused with Tito’s victory over Stalin, both thanks to brotherhood and unity.

99 Non-alignment, self-management, and brotherhood and unity “became pillars of the new nation” and “facilitated…the nation’s sense of exceptionalism.”

100 Yugoslavism wasn’t a new national identity but rather it “entailed the idea of necessity as well as fruitfulness of “fraternal” relations among several distinct groups.” Emphasized diversity and distinctiveness of each nation but through education and rituals reinforced the notion that unity was better than ethnic conflict by bringing freedom, prosperity, and pride.

Tito, at LCY’s 11th Congress, on 6/20/1978: “the unity of Yugoslavia’s nations and nationalities…is the precondition of not only our prosperity but of our very survival.”

Brotherhood and unity was always contrasted as the highest patriotic value with ethnic nationalism.

101-102 Most people who declared themselves Yugoslav rejected both ethnic/national identity and especially religion (they were the most secularized), while professing faith in the civil religion.

104 From 1945 to 1990, every town/city had a boulevard/avenue/street, plaza/square, or school named after Tito.

117-122 [Great summary and analysis of the Medjugorje apparitions.]

123 Serbian church strengthened in the 1980s thanks to the escalating Kosovo crisis.

148-150 Beginning in 1984, Serbian Orthodox Church redefined Jasenovac as well as Kozara, Kragujevac, Užice, and other Partisan spomenici from memorials to anti-fascists/Partisans to memorials to Serbs killed by Ustaše, a “Yugoslav Auschwitz” for Serbs.

166 “The three largest religious organizations…were among the principal engineers of the crisis and conflict.”

168 Mid to late 1990s:

“In all successor states of the former Yugoslavia, except perhaps in Slovenia, religion became the hallmark of nationhood. (…) [R]eligious organizations became co-rulers with the new regimes in all the succesor states except Milošević’s Yugoslavia.”

169 Bosnia: Izetbegovic et al were “ethnic nationalists, similar to Serbs and Croats. Religion boomed, but so did a “new” history, without which a nation cannot exist. School textbooks glorified the Ottoman era. The Bosniaks [became] a martyr-nation” i.e. victim of Croats and Serbs. Massive commemorations and reburials. Mandated use of Muslim greetings. New mosques built, others rebuilt.

173 + 176-177 Croatia: The Medjugorje apparition was added to the nation’s founding myths.

“the postcommunist Croatian nationalist regime established Catholicism as the defacto state religion and the Stepinac cult as the key patriotic symbol,” incl. a 9-ft statue in his native village and monuments in many other places, beatification

Church as the nation’s founder and “guide through history”

174 Macedonia: Macedonian Orthodox Church became “the main pillar of the tiny, barely viable nation,” resisting the Serbian patriarchate’s struggle.

176 Serbia: Serbian Orthodox Church established myths of WWII martyrdom of Serbs, incl. and esp. at Jasenovac, canonized new saints, proclaimed brother hood and unity as “some kind of a temporary disorder…engineered by godless forces.”

206 Who/what tried to save the country from falling apart:

  • Yugoslav civil religion
  • sports
  • urban youth culture/press
  • pop/rock/folk music – “Artists defended the country that inspired them.”
  • humor/satire

Last waves of Yugoslav patriotism were propelled by

  • Tito funeral
  • last Tito’s Relay
  • Sarajevo Olympics
  • trophies/victories of the Yugoslav national team in various sports

207 Old symbols (Tito, sports, buildings/monuments, museums, properties) were “appropriated and put in the service of new nation-building projects.”

208 (Yugo)Nostalgia emerged in late 1990s:

  • surveys showed continued popularity of Tito
  • in literature, music, film, media, sports, concert halls, internet