Western Confessionalization of Eastern Europe as Practiced in the Former Yugoslavia

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    • Presentation speakers
      • Bojan Aleksov, The School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London, UK


    The preponderant role of religion and confessional segmentation as a result of Orthodox-Byzantine and Islamic-Ottoman legacy are often considered the chief markers that distinguish the ‘Eastern’ from the ‘Western’ Europe. Historical research has in the meantime delegitimized this view offering more nuanced and differentiated approach especially illuminating the contribution of nationalism as a “Western” import to the alleged age-old identification of religion and nation as well as to the conflicts in the last two centuries among confessionally mixed populations of Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

    My paper analyses more recent developments, dating back to 1989, when East-West opposition and associated differences regarding the role of religion were expected to disappear. Taking examples from the conflict in former Yugoslavia and successive efforts at democratization and the integration into the European Union of its constitutive parts I attempt to show that what actually took place was the contrary. More specifically I will demonstrate how many policies and interventions of the European Union and other “Western” political, educational, humanitarian and media agencies, putatively termed confessionalization (Reinhard and Schilling), contributed to the petrification of confessional segmentation and buttressed conservative political attitudes of religious leaders and institutions. International mediators and media promoted religious hierarchs into national leaders; confessional catechism was established along Western models; religious charitable institutions privileged and special inter-confessional bodies introduced who only reinforced the existing confessional leaderships and divisions. In addition many political and social requirements concomitant with the accession into the European Union from restitution of the private property to commemoration of the Holocaust opened new avenues for the engagement of conservative religious hierarchies and fortified their position within nascent democratic states.