Figures of (Trans-) National Religious Memory of the Orthodox Southern Slavs before 1945: An Outline on the Examples of SS. Cyril and Methodius

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The analysis of lieux de memoire, or places of memory, is--in the eyes of the historian--still a relatively new approach. Although its origins lie in the works of Maurice Halbwachs, it was only applied later by Pierre Nora, and subsequently in Germany by Etienne Francois and Hagen Schulze (Echterhoff and Saar 2002). Within this concept, places of memory are to be understood metaphorically--they are not confined to physical places, but include personalities, events, buildings and memorials, institutions and terms. Such places of memory exist in the production and reproduction of social groups sharing the remembrance. They are "long living points of crystallisation of collective memory and identity. They are embedded in societal, cultural and political practices, and they change inasmuch as the ways of their perception, reception, use and transmission change" (Francois and Schulze 2001:18). Jan Assmann (1997) writes about 'figures of memory', and defines them as "culturally formed, societally binding 'images of memory'"--a term used already by Halbwachs. Assmann prefers the term 'figure', because it means not only iconographic shaping, but narrative, too--alluding to figures of speech. 'Figures of memory' have, with Jan Assmann, a 'specific relationship to time and space' as well as to a social group. According to him, 'cultural memory concentrates on fixed points in the past'. The past 'levitates and fixates' into 'symbolic figures'. In the process of remembrance, history is said to become 'a reality as a normative and producing power' (Assmann 1997:52). Yet Assmann's sharp separation between dynamic 'communicative memory' (which refers to the recent past and communication with living witnesses) and the long term, less flexible 'cultural memory' must be questioned. While Halbwachs stressed the dynamics of reproduction, Assmann's conception of a primarily religious 'cultural memory' is more static. Yet change in 'mythical history' (Smith 1999) in repeated narration is not to be underestimated, but rather has to be of primary interest (Flacke 1998). Seeing figures of memory as possibly 'invented traditions' (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983) to foster national 'imagined communities' (Anderson 1991), one has to be very sceptical about any claims of continuity and homogeneity.

Lieux de memoire are most often analysed in a national context, and seldom, until lately, in a transnational setting. For the new cultural history of nationalism, the construction, popularisation and cultural medialisation of national self-perception is pivotal. (1) Yet so-called national saints, or Christian religious figures of memory, have so far mostly been analysed for the late medieval ages and early modern period, while only a few works focus on their role in the 19th and 20th centuries. When Nationalism is analysed as 'secular religion', the term 'religion' is used in an analytical and abstract way. Yet it is my intention to look for expressively Christian elements in nationalism (Steigmann-Gall 2004:390-93). (2)

Working with these concepts, the perception of the individuals themselves (and thus their words and sentences) remains of determining significance. I concentrate on national religious figures of memory in nominally orthodox societies to investigate whether the latter developed a special relationship between Christian religion and nationalism. Religious history and cultural history are thus central aspects of political history. In a further step, which does not lie within the scope of this study, the results have to be compared to the evolving research on national saints in western European modern societies. Only then is the project able to adapt, confirm or refute the often-asserted thesis of an especially close relationship between church and nation in Eastern Europe--particularly between nationalism and the Orthodox church.

For my project, 'Figures of National Religious Memory of the Orthodox Southern Slavs until 1945', only those phenomena which were important in the political discourse of the Slavic dominated pre-modern societies, or those which became relevant during the national movements in and after the 19th century, are discussed. …