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A call for politicization in the Balkans

Education in Post-Conflict Transition. The Politization of Religion in School Textbooks
A new anthology does not ask, but to what extent the religious teaching in the Balkans is politicized. The editors, however, fail to argue what politicization means at all.


One year before Martti Ahtisaari received the Nobel Peace Prize, I was given a ten minute interview with the Finnish Social Democrat and UN peace mediator. It was September 2007, and Ahtisaari was in Copenhagen for a conference to share his experiences of some of the world's most locked conflicts, including Kosovo's / Kosovo's status in ex-Yugoslavia. Ahtisaari had spent the past year mediating between Serbia and the Albanian rebel army UCK. That the effort had been in vain and both Serbia and UCK had rejected Ahtisaari's solution, he was unaffected by: "My plan is good," he stated, adding that everyone except Serbia and UCK agreed with him. I had just started in journalism training at the time and was deeply amazed by this confident peace broker in rigid suits who found it timely to publicly state that he perceived the warring parties as foolish and ungrateful. A bit the same feeling as that afternoon with Ahtisaari I got when I started reading Education in Postconflict Transitionwho is engaged in religious education in the school of ex-Yugoslavia.

A secular manifesto? In the preface of the anthology, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies, Paul Mojzen, sets out his thesis on four different models of the relationship between church and state in a given society: spiritual absolutism (one religious direction "monopolizes the religious space"), religious tolerance (the state "favors one or more religions ") secular absolutism (" suppression of religious expressions in public space ") and pluralistic freedom (a" social arrangement in which a secular society promotes a free, non-intrusive approach "to religious practice).

What kind of book is this? An analysis, a policy recommendation or a secular manifesto?

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Already in the characteristics of the various models, it is recognized that this is not a descriptive, but a normative model outline for improved religious policy, and quite rightly, in the aftermath of "pluralistic freedom" – where the secular state "graciously accepts positive contributions from religious beliefs and practices "(whatever that means) – Mojzen writes:" This is, in my opinion, the desirable social model of the future that a country like the former Yugoslavia should strive to develop. "The question is not so much why Mojzen thinks so, but what his personal opinion is doing on the pages. What kind of book is this? An analysis, a policy recommendation or a secular manifesto?

Well-meaning outrage. Also in the introduction, the description language about religion as a phenomenon is value-laden in principle. It might be wrong enough, but the introduction is in some ways also misleading. For example, it is alleged that the Catholic Church in Croatia "sabotaged" attempts to introduce the subject of "religious culture" as an alternative to students who do not want to teach religious education. However, according to Ankica Marinovic's contribution on how atheism is treated in Catholic religious education in Croatia, this was not quite the case. Marinovic explains that in the 1990s, there was a year-long discussion involving several actors on confessional versus non-denominational religious education – this in a context where religion had been completely banned from school for decades. That discussion won the Catholic Church theologians. It may be considered a pity, but to call it "political sabotage" is unmotivated, and it is evidently wrong to describe "religious culture" as a subject which should have been offered in parallel with a preaching subject; according to Marinovic, it was an either-or.

The introduction also neglects to qualify two concepts, politicization and indoctrination, the first of which is central to the entire book, the second to one of the editors Jasna Jozelic's contribution (see photo). Both concepts themselves are often used politically, and as such, the book comes from the outset to appear as the annoyed calls of religious skeptics / atheists, rather than as a study of factual matters. It is a shame that several of the contributions – including Marinovics and, for example, Zrinka Štimac's chapters on Catholic and Islamic religious education in the field of national, theological, missionary and EU political considerations – provide sober, historically informed and empirically well-founded analyzes.

Politics as the premise of the book. Although the contributions are of fluctuating quality and many are marred by disruptive albeit well-meaning claims (for example, that human rights are better than religious "ethics" or that the school should promote democracy), the great weakness of the anthology is the framework set by the editors. The basic question, according to the editors, is not om textbooks for religion in ex-Yugoslavia are politicizing, but to what degree they are. Ognjenovic and Jozelic think religion (education) is politicizing, so it is, and thus they do not have to explain what they mean by it. The editors' chapters are as assertive as their introduction. For example, Ognjenovic writes: "Anyone who is only slightly familiar with religious history in the area will know that two of the three Abrahamic religions are hostile to women."

The arsenal of opinions is as full as the empirical basis is thin.

From here, she goes on to refer to Christianity and Islam as generic sizes that in themselves function to oppress women, and which – when allowed to enter public space – must be fenced with "human rights".

Arsenal of opinions. I have no doubt that specific religious institutions and actors have played and continue to play an unfortunate role in the (degrading) brutalization and segregation of civil society that followed the collapse of Tito-Yugoslavia. The two editors just can't seem to show how. The arsenal of opinions is as full as the empirical basis is thin.

For example, Ognjenovic uses a single Croatian textbook – which, even in her own words, she found out for the occasion – concludes: «Judging from the above-described and documented sexism, hatred of women and religious nationalist politics that prevails in the Balkans today […] one is forced to conclude that the backlash of civilization in this context is a historical fact. ”From one teaching book in Croatia to the state of civilization itself throughout the Balkans. This is only marginally better with the empiricism in Jasna Jozelic's chapter. First and foremost, she uses the United Nations Declarations on Human Rights and Schooling to say that ... human rights are good at school.

It is unclear who the editors actually address in their calls for the power of religion in ex-Yugoslavia. But just as Ahtisaari was, they are convinced that their plan is good – and that those who disagree are foolish, if at all politicized.

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Nina Trige Andersen
Nina Trige Andersen
Trige Andersen is a freelance journalist and historian.

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