17 November 2015
Byzantine traditions remain strong among Greek Catholics in the former Yugoslavia. Fresco from the church of St. Clement, Ohrid, Macedonia. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Yugoslavia, the “land of the Southern Slavs,” was the fruit of an intellectual concept born in Europe in the 19th century. Members of the intelligentsia speculated that a union of the Balkans’ Southern Slavs — Catholic Croats and Slovenes, Muslim Bosniaks and Orthodox Macedonians, Montenegrins and Serbs — would free them from the yoke of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, which had competed for control of the Balkan Peninsula for centuries.
In December 1918, after the collapse of the two empires, an uneasy union was achieved, and the king of Serbia proclaimed its head. The Yugoslav experiment proved defective as rival groups jostled one another for supremacy, particularly after the death in 1980 of its longtime strongman, Josip Tito.
The Yugoslav state collapsed in 1991 and its former constituents turned on one another in a bloodletting that did not abate until the new millennium. Bosniaks, Croats, Kosovar Albanians and Serbs were all complicit in mass murder, ethnic cleansing, rape and other acts of wanton violence.
Lost in the confusion were Yugoslav minorities — Greek Catholics, Jews and Protestants. The Greek Catholics of Yugoslavia were particularly vulnerable; perceived by both Croat and Serb extremists as neither Catholic nor Orthodox, they included six distinct groups: Macedonians and Serbs who accepted papal authority and followed the rites of the Orthodox tradition; Greek Catholic Croats from the village of Žumberak; Greek Catholic Rusyns who left the Carpathians in the 18th century; Ukrainian Greek Catholics who left Galicia at the turn of the 20th century; and Romanian Greek Catholics living in the Serbian province of Vojvodina.
After the Yugoslav kingdom was created in 1918, the Holy See extended the jurisdiction of the Eparchy of Križevci, (erected in 1777) to embrace all Yugoslavian Greek Catholics. Since the disintegration of the Southern Slav state, the Holy See has regrouped them into three separate jurisdictions: The Eparchy of Križevci, near the Croatian capital city of Zagreb, includes about 18,260 people living in Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 2001, the Holy See established an exarchate for Greek Catholics living in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Led by the Latin bishop of Skopje, it includes some 11,300 faithful. In 2003, the Holy See set up an exarchate for Greek Catholics in Serbia and Montenegro and includes about 22,000 members, most of whom are ethnic Rusyns living in the Serbian region of Vojvodina.
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