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Abstract

Yugoslavia’s faithful adherence to the Soviet Bloc ended in 1948 when the famous Stalin-Tito split gradually sent Yugoslavia onto its own separate socialist path and subsequently led to the policy of active non-alignment between the military blocs. This ideological policy change delineates two very distinct stages for the position of the churches. From 1945 to 1948 Yugoslavia was under strong Soviet influence and followed a Stalinist model of suppression of all religions. The Serbian Orthodox Church was able to maintain its traditional affinity to the Russian Orthodox Church but of little benefit to either Church. The Catholics and Protestants were under an even stricter surveillance because of their traditional ties to churches and cultures of the West. The government treated harshly all religious communities. It sought to ensure that foreign ecclesial leaders had a minimal influence on Yugoslavia’s churches, except to assure the flow of some relief aid from the West and its churches. The second period, from 1948 until the end of the Cold War in 1990 brought about changes that gradually improved the conditions for the churches caused by various factors, one of them being Tito’s regime successful attemptto distance itself from the Soviet bloc. Controls over church life gradually diminished. Due to the government’s need to find a new openness to the West and then create a novel balancing act between East and West, the Catholic and Protestant churches were gradually permitted to repair their ruptured relationships with headquarters. The Orthodox were able to orient themselves toward the Greek Orthodox Church and maintain relationships with both the Constantinopolitan and Moscow Patriarchates and join the World Council of Churches. The Catholics restored their very close relationship with the Vatican and gradually opened themselves to more liberal theological trends from the West. Protestants, a tiny minority of the country’s population, had historically been Western oriented and most developed close relationships with the Council of European Churches and W.C.C. as well as with their churches of origin. Neither the government nor any church leaders joined the Prague Christian Peace Conference or other initiatives from Socialist countries. Only individuals occasionally attended as observers, mostly as a precaution, just in case the government decided to make a sudden turn to the East. That fear was unfounded. Ecumenical efforts among the Churches within the Yugoslav federation were only lukewarm and did not prevent the wars for Yugoslavia’s disintegration in the 1990s. Two clearly distinct stages can be discerned regarding to role of Yugoslavia’s churches during the Cold War. The first was between 1945 and 1948 during which time Yugoslavia was a close ally ofthe Soviet Union and therefore belonged to the East. The dramatic break between Stalin and Tito marks the beginning of the second stage (1948-1990), which can further be sub-divided into two periods, from 1948 to 1953 and from 1953 to 1990 as detailed below. Yugoslavia first had to gradually discover for itself a new role of balancing between the two blocs that eventually resulted in becoming one of the leading proponents of active peaceful non-alliance, having become a critic of great power bloc politics. This political shift helped the churches to carve out more liberty for deciding their own destiny, while the state at first received a more genuine but passive support for its foreign policy. By the 1970s and 1980s Yugoslavia’s religious communities had enjoyed greater autonomy than churches in other socialist countries. Yet, simultaneously, the major 3 religious communities became de facto the only organized alternative to the Communist Party and increasingly stimulated the rise of ethnic nationalism, which ultimately led to Yugoslavia’s demise. The expectation was that Yugoslavia will have the earliest and smoothest transition to a democratic Western-like system should the socialist system collapse. Instead, the bloody wars of the 1990s disintegrated Yugoslavia and catapulted some ofthe large historic churches into social prominence while marginalizing others.

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