Incapable of guilt, capable of ‘forgiveness’
Author: Ivan Šarcevic
Uploaded: Thursday, 08 March, 2012
Searing indictment by the editor of the Bosnian Franciscan journal Svjetlo Rijeci of the participation of Bosnian Croat political and religious leaders in an RS 'jubilee'.
[The Republika Srpska Jubilee On 9 January 2012 a ‘festive jubilee’ was held in the Serb entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina, marking the twentieth anniversary of the birth of this ‘republic’ whose biography contains the names of tens of thousand of innocent dead and hundreds of thousands of innocent expellees. It celebrated the start of the realisation of a plan for territorial encirclement of a Serb-dominated Bosnia-Herzegovina (a Serb Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina), which began with merciless persecution of its non-Serb population, general pillage and wholesale destruction of property. It was the start of a road paved with malevolent intentions and even worse deeds, through which the ‘honourable military formations at the time of the national liberation war’ (Milorad Dodik) created a hell for the non-Serb population in order to achieve a purely Serb ethnic territory. Cold-blooded murder, concentration camps, expulsions, pillage, destruction, the Srebrenica crime condemned in The Hague - these form the biography of this ‘youngest Serb state’ (Patriarch Irinej), ‘established in response to Bosnia-Herzegovina’s independence’ (Boris Tadic). Big words were spoken and medals distributed - with a great deal of euphoria and excitement. The celebration was enhanced by the presence of the Serbian political and ecclesiastical elite, including the president, the minister of the interior, the patriarch, as well as the Russian ambassador who gave a medal to Dodik. No one mentioned the victims. Which is not surprising for they would only have spoiled the festive idyll and cosy atmosphere. This political banquet was attended also by a high delegation from the Bosnia-Herzegovina HDZ - Dragan Cavic, Borjana Krišto, Vjekoslav Bevanda - and by the Catholic bishop of Banja Luka, Franjo Komarica, who received a Medal of Honour with Gold Rays. Setting aside whether one should be surprised at this, it is pertinent to ask whether, by attending a jubilee celebrating de facto the expulsion of around 220,000 Croats (not to speak of the Bosniaks) from their land, they were overlooking the people who passed through the hell prepared for them by the ‘honourable military formations’. The Banja Luka mufti refused the medal. In the name of what kind of jubilee and what quality of ‘medal of honour’ did they bow before the entity boss? Murder, expulsion, pillage and destruction are the four elements marking this political product of the war. Participation in the Banja Luka political banquet was nothing but a sign of support for an evil creation. Marko Karamatic]
The celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the establishment of the Serb entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which took place on 9 January 2012 in Banja Luka - the speeches, the performances, the church liturgy and the parades - had only one aim: to proclaim lie a truth, to utilize rituals and medals to hide hypocrisy, and to absolve criminality by appeal to a historical and metaphysical necessity. Pulling all the strings in this theatre of fatalism was the president, Milorad Dodik, acting as chief puppeteer. He insisted that the Miloševic-Karadžic-Mladic duchy in Bosnia-Herzegovina (MKMD) is ‘a historical necessity, an expression of the Serb people’s legitimate will’; that the duchy ‘encapsulates centuries of struggle against tyranny and evil, fascism and racism’; and he expressed the wish that it would last ‘as long as the dream of freedom’. He was joined, among others, by Serbian president Boris Tadic, the illusionist of consensus and reconciliation between peoples and states belied by his own practice, and the unavoidable travelling stage-director of pan-Serb folk culture, Emir (now Nemanja) Kusturica.
A celebration graced by Orthodox bishops
Also present was the first among equals - Patriarch Irinej, a cleric who upon his election to the leadership of the Serbian Orthodox Church in 2010 sent out two clear messages. The first message went to the Muslims: ‘The philosophy and psychology of Islam are such that, when Muslims are few in number, they know how to behave properly, and are correct; but when they emerge on top and become superior, they apply pressure.’ The second went to the Montenegrins: ‘We are one and same nation, however much they [the Montenegrins] may deny it. The division that has occurred between Serbia and Montenegro is an insane and irrational act. I fail to understand a Montenegrin refusing to accept Serbdom as his ethnic home, his own people. We in Serbia divide as the people of Šumadija, Bosnia [sic!], Vojvodina, but our ethnic centre, our roots lie in one - Serb - nation.’
It should be recalled here that not long go, on this very same place in Banja Luka, his predecessor Patriarch Paul blessed the rebuilding of a church destroyed by the Ustashe, who also killed the Banja Luka bishop Platon, and sent out this warning: ‘The causes of the present tragedy must be clarified and seen as a whole, because they did not happen overnight. Because we will appear before the martyred Platon who was among the first to die, sacrificing himself rather than others. This destroyed church, in the place of which we are erecting a new one, is a warning to us all. Was it necessary to destroy the mosques in this town, was it necessary to rip through the cross of the Catholic church in this town?’ The patriarch was not heard, because he frequently radically contradicted himself. Despite this warning, and in the absence of fighting, many more houses of God were destroyed, and practically all non-Serbs were expelled from Platon’s town.
So on this occasion Patriarch Irinej poured from his St.Sava armoury a blessing over the entire Milosevic-Karadžic-Mladic duchy, naming it ‘the youngest Serb state’. There is nothing wondrous about this. For if St Stephen could be chosen as protector of the MKMD - of this ‘age-long’ Serb Lebensraum, a colony from which Croats and Bosniaks have been cleared - then anything is possible. Then even St Stephen and his teacher, Christ, could become subjects of this youngest monastic domain. This, of course, represents a perversion of the Gospel and Christianity: in a theological sense, St Stephen could primarily be protector of the victims of the RS army. In a political-military sense, the MKMD emerged as an enforced contraction of the Great Serb project, of Karadžic’s and Plavšic’s seventy per cent of Bosnia-Herzegovina to Dayton’s forty-nine per cent. This duchy survived with the help of Franjo Tudman’s Herzeg-Bosna policy, with the help of a senseless war between the Croats and the Bosniaks, with some contribution from the inter-Bosniak war in the Bosnian Krajina, but mainly through generous international endorsement of dishonour and injustice.
The symbolism underpinning the new reality
St Stephen testifies against all that is celebrated in this duchy. The Serb entity is one of the most theocratic landscapes in the world, formed from the loss of ‘Yugoslav’ and ‘Bosnian-Sarajevo’ privileges, from fear of the other, from crime, genocide, expelled populations, from devastated places, detention camps and mass graves. It is a morally neglected and anti-Christian ‘landscape of screams’ (Nelly Sachs), a colony overgrown with the silent cries of victims rendered mute by the deafening noise of endangered Serbdom. The celebratory rituals were not meant to praise God, but to suppress the knowledge of sinfulness, to devalue the capacity for guilt through which man manifests his highest freedom and dignity. It was from the capacity for guilt, from self-criticism and repentance, that the great Apostle Paul arose, the very one who had assisted in the stoning of the innocent Stephen. T he MKM colony exists, however, in a pre-Christian, pre-conversion, pre-Pauline state, devoid of sin and guilt.
All is possible in the ‘sin-free’ MKMD
We should not be surprised, therefore, that Dragan Cavic and Bishop Franjo Komarica also received medals. As one of Karadžic’s successors on the RS throne, a few years ago Cavic said this about the Serb-inflicted genocide in Srebrenica: ‘Those who, when committing this crime might have evoked the nation to which he belonged, committed also a crime against his people. Those who might have evoked God when committing the crime in the expectation of his blessing, committed a crime against the God in whom they believed. Those who lost honour during the war through their transgressions should not expect that the whole of the Serb people should be dishonoured together with them.’ This same Cavic, former president of the MKMD, whose architects insisted in the prisons and before the judges in The Hague that they incarnated the Serb nation, received from Dodik a Medal of Honour. His cleansing of himself and his people, was it extracted only under pressure from the High Representative, Paddy Ashdown?
Bishop Komarica joined a small but ‘strong’ Croat delegation. It was led by that foremost backroom dealer, Dragan Covic, president of the HDZ in RS - yes, of the HDZ of Republika Srpska - because, as one of Covic’s chief lackeys and ideologues, the national Bruce-Lee builder from Mostar, Nino Raspudic has put it so clearly, it is logical that, due to the Great Bosniak hegemony, the Bosnian Croats should go along with Serb (= Dodik’s) policy and ‘seek common interest with Dodik’. Nothing has changed since the time of Franjo Tudman and Mate Boban! Croat policy never had its own logic, never identified the national interest of all Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina as opposed to the narrow one of those in Herzegovina; so it becomes ‘logical’ to follow Serb policy. Indeed, confronting unashamedly a TV auditorium, Covic justified his presence at the Banja Luka festivity by saying that he had visited the few Croats in RS more often than anyone else, and even stayed there overnight. The only thing one can say about this is that it is a lie, for his acts and their results speak louder than his declarations. The only thing that Covic could have truthfully said was that his principal henchman in RS, Emil Vlajki, had surpassed him in the frequency of his overnight stays.
Bishop Komarica and his Medal of Honour
It is worth noting here that, when it comes to both the Catholic and the Serb churches, their dignitaries’ model of behaviour has never greatly differed from a national-political one. They have always followed politics, even in hard times. There are, in principle, two models of behaviour, one of which is to remain in one’s country, and the other to leave it taking your congregation with you. The latter has always been dominant. This is true of the time of the Ottoman conquest of Bosnia and Andelo Zvizdovic; it is true of the time of the Vienna War, when most Franciscans left together with their flock. The same is true of Sarajevo archbishop Ivan Šaric at the end of World War II. The model of retreat from Bosnia forms a constitutive element of Croat policy, and largely also of the Croat Catholic church. During the last war too, the majority of Croat bishops and clergy followed Franjo Tudman’s national sirens, taking with them people from as far away as Janjevo and Vojvodina. Large parts of Bosnia became deserted.
We find such examples in the Serb Orthodox church too. It has became governed by the principle that a people should follow its ‘moving state’, up to and including Irinej’s ‘youngest’ one. Rather than observing the example of the Herzegovina archbishop Makarije, who sought a modus vivendi with the Turkish government and recreated the patriarchate of Pec, the Serb church follows in the footsteps of Patriarch Arsenije III, Bishop Nikolaj Velimirovic, and those who [like Bishop Vasilije Kacevenda] withdrew to a secure spot during the recent wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and took their courts to either the ‘reserve homeland’ [Serbia] or to some part of the freshly cleansed MKMD. They took with them the clergy, the people and the dead; and now, ensconced in their new settlement, they send out messages about their nation’s suffering under the enemies of Orthodoxy and the Serbs, in an effort to cleanse their guilty consciences.
There are those who believe that, because he has remained with his people, Bishop Komrica knew what he was doing in accepting the medal. One must say, however, that by remaining at considerable sacrifice he was only doing his duty; that past achievements cannot be used to justify all actions, or self-criticism be avoided by the lamentations about one’s impotence and rambling on about personal insecurity to which the church and religious leaders in general are so inclined. Bishop Komarica, therefore, should never had accepted the ‘Medal of the RS dishonour’ from Dodik’s hands. He cannot be excused by the cursory nature of the man’s kiss, nor by any historical similarity with persons from the past, because these are different circumstances. In the cases of such medal-giving, it is worth recalling the poet’s words: ‘It is your praise I fear most’ [Stevan Tontic].
Bishop Komarica’s self-justification
But Bishop Komarica went even further in justifying his act. He hid behind the ‘Christian duty to forgive’: ‘Even during the war’, he said, ‘we called for peace and forgiveness. We all must embrace truth and justice, but also forgiveness. Forgiving is our Christian duty.’
Who, after all, can be against forgiveness and reconciliation? Without them there is indeed no future for this country or the world. But one must also say that all human actions, including also forgiveness, can have more than one meaning,. Our public space is suffused with the ideology of reconciliation. Some politicians have indeed gone one further on this than the spiritual leaders. They visit places of mass execution - from Jasenovac to Bleiburg, from Vukovar to Srebrenica, from Briševo to Dubrovnik, from Prijedor to Ravno - and speak of reconciliation. Not long ago the Herzegovinian bishop Grigorije sought forgiveness in Dubrovnik, the same bishop who just before that had stated that ‘it is the people in Sarajevo who have turned Dodik into a nationalist’. Such words show that everything can be turned into its opposite, including Jesus’s own evangelical message that man is corrupted not by what comes to him from outside, but what comes from his heart; because man is not just a product of others, but forms his character with his own decisions and acts.
Everything can thus be turned upside down, including forgiveness. In our land it is most often sought not out of morality, but in order to hide one’s own crimes; for the sake of continuing domination over others; to avoid admitting historical guilt; and, last but not least, to gain a political point or two, or collect money from powerful politicians. In other words, from slogans about reconciliation to material benefit.
Forgiveness is essentially evaded. It is inserted into a victimological sloganeering about how others committed far earlier and far more unforgivable crimes against us, while we, insofar as we have ever done anything wrong, were only responding to evil in order to save ourselves from
extermination. However, by maximizing the guilt of others, or by equalizing it, ethics comes to be suspended and people become mere puppets under the iron hand of history. As the greatest living Dodik ideologue and puppet, Rajko Vasic (secretary of the SNDS party), likes to say: people are only ‘tools of madmen’, ‘foreign minds’ and ‘foreign eyes’.
In the context of a collective demonic innocence, forgiveness in our land has been surrendered to political fatalism. It has been wrenched from the domain of the individual, and the relation to God. It has become a totemic word that can justify any sin and misdeed. With this kind of forgiveness, in the end one justifies evil and propagates the kind of Christianity that, as the theologian Johann Baptist Metz says, is more responsive to sin and criminals than to suffering and victims. With such a forgiving God, the quality of suffering of the victims is lessened so that the power of the evil may be saved. This is a religious mythology of the victor, not a theology of the Biblical God and Christ who does not allow suspension or repression of the question of justice and restitution, for which so many innocent people killed ‘are hungry and thirsty’, so many deported, so many who live without any rights throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina, and most of all in the entity whose guardian angel turns out to be the first of Christ’s martyrs.
A God who would only redeem people from sin and from guilt - especially that which is not acknowledged, that which is not repented, that for which no recompense is made - is too human. All great and lesser priests who hear their congregation’s confessions know about recompense for injustice and the satisfaction of Divine justice. Even if only symbolically, they demand from those who repent, for this act of belief to be fulfilled, penitence for their sins and a true righting of injustice. Here, however, colonies are created devoid of sin, devoid of repentance, without any restitution for the injustice done. In our land, beginning with the so-called believers, all are incapable of guilt, but are capable of ‘forgiveness’.
On 9 September in Banja Luka there were many reserved seats. The hospitality was overwhelming. Some of those who had been invited did not come. Only the victims and God were denied a place. They were not allowed to speak. But they were there, most conspicuous in their absence.
Translated From Svjetlo Rijeci (Sarajevo), February 2012. The author is the journal’s editor-in-chief.