The Historical Gadfly – Episode 3: Niksa Spremic on Yugoslav History and Catholicism in Southeast Europe

A quick update with a new podcast.

With all the recent news about Ratko Mladic, the Serbian general accused of war crimes who was recently found in hiding in Serbia, and the memories of the 1990s Balkan Wars still relatively fresh in most adults’ minds today, it can be easy to forget that for much of the 20th century, much of the Balkans were unified, politically if not economically, in either the form of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, or, later, Yugoslavia (which came in two incarnations: monarchist and Communist. The latter one is especially well-remembered in at least American memory for its crappy automobiles, but due to the linguistic demands of studying the region (ideally one would like Bosnian-Serbo-Croatian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Greek, and maybe Albanian, Russian, or Turkish in addition to this all) and the intense nationalism that has marked the region since the dissolution of Yugoslavia, sophisticated readable histories of what Yugoslavia meant are far and few between. Too bad, since there surely might be some interesting parallels between Southeast European integration under, say, Tito, and what prospects or options the region might have as a whole today in an integrated Europe, now that it appears likely that the former Yugoslav states will enter the EU (assuming the EU still exists ten years from now.)

Mail Order Car, Mail Order Girlfriend

While I have no pretensions to become just such a scholar of Yugoslav history in my lifetime (I’ve never visited the region, and while I can fake to read Bulgarian, the other Balkans languages are probably not for this lifetime), one person who might, our guest for this interview, was Niksa Spremic, an M.Phil. candidate in History here at Oxford, who recently concluded a dissertation on the Croatian Catholic Church in Yugoslavia during the 1960s-1990s. It may sound abstruse, but Croatian Catholicism actually was quite fundamental to a lot of the debates and themes that would structure Balkan history: ethno-confessional nationalism, separatism, the perception of Yugoslav imperialism, etc. Still, as Niksa points out, this is not a universal history of Communists oppressing Catholics, but rather a more complex story still playing out in Croatia, where nationalist politicians have formed alliances with an orthodox Catholic clergy to promote social conservatism and parochialism, perhaps at the risk of the country and broader region’s future.

Franjo Tudjman, President of Croatia from 1990-1999 and a figure somewhat at the center of our discussion

Give it a listen. You can download our interview here.


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