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Milija Gluhovic

Milija Gluhovic -- Warwick/JNU String of beads

The Rise of Political and Religious Right in Serbia

Linked to

Rise of the Right

1. Introduction

This “string of beads” starts by referencing a case of interruption and cancellation of a performance in Serbia (then just one of six republics in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) by a religious and political right group on the eve of the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. Then I will reference few articles that could help us understand this incident in a broader sociopolitical context at the time as well as some theoretical essays by Mahmood and Butler that may help us see this incident in the light of the ongoing debates in Europe and broader on the issues of secularism, post-secularism and the (religious) far right today. This entry may complement well discussions on political right by other colleagues, in particular Silvija’s contribution as her focus is on the Balkans in the same time period as well.

2. Synopsis of the event

On 31 May 1990, performance Saint Sava, written by Siniša Kovačević and directed by Vladimir Milčin, performed by the Zenica National Theatre at the Yugoslav Drama Theatre in Belgrade got interrupted (later cancelled) by a group of mostly young people, who identified themselves in public as theological students and activists of the Serbian Youth Bloc, and who were led by the archpriest of the Serbian Orthodox Church Žarko Gavrilović and Vojislav Šešelj, a high official of the Serbian Renewal Movement at that time. Termed as Serbia’s own “Rushdie affair,” the event marks a transition from communist to nationalistic forms of censorship in Serbia. I propose suggest to look at this controversy as a site from which to think through the issues of the rise of the extreme political and religious right in Serbia and Eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

3. Video link

Interruption of the performance Saint Sava at the Yugoslav Drama Theatre on 31 May 1990.

[I am currently trying to find a translation of the text or a review of the text/performance. I will update the site with this new information if I get hold of it.]

4. Socio-cultural context:

a) “The Serbian Orthodox Church and New Serbian Identity” (Belgrade, 2006, pp.1-13). Pages 3-5 should give you enough contextual information about this event.

b) Ivan Ivekovic, “Nationalism and the Political Use and Abuse of Religion: the Politicization of Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Islam in Yugoslav Successor States,” in Social Compass 49.4, 523-536.

I am recommending pp. 523-526 (introduction and the part on Serbia).

Ivekovic’s key argument is that in the early 1990s (before and right after the break up of the former Yugoslavia) “Religious beliefs have been super-imposed on new ethno-national projects. Religious activists and church officials have joined battle for the de-secularization of society. The politicization of religion has been followed by the confessionalization of public life, guaranteeing privileges for the dominant denomination” (2002, 523).

5. Theoretical writings that may stimulate our engagement with the event in a broader context of the present-day concerns with secularism, postsecularism and violence.

a) Saba Mahmood, “Religious Reason and Secular Affect,” Critical Inquiry 39 (Summer 2009): 836-862. On the rise of the religious right globally and the need for new ways of conceptualizing the conflict between secular necessity and religious threat today. I am in particular recommending pp. 323-329 (the intro of her article).

b) Judith Butler, “Sexual Politics, Torture, and Secular Time” in The British Journal of Sociology 59.1 (2008), 1-23. Also available as Ch 3 in her book Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? (London; NY: Verso, 2009), 101-136. On mobilization of a progressive sexual politics in the discrimination against religious minorities in Europe and the rationalization of recent wars.

It is difficult to find a representative excerpt in Butler’s essay, but the first half of the article, pp. 101-114 should be enough for what we are after here.