Co-editors: Seán Mac Mathúna • John Heathcote
Consulting editor: Themistocles Hoetis
Field Correspondent: Allen Hougland


Globalization and Medjugorje
Jonathan Levy

Restitution & justice for concentration camp survivors of Serb, Jewish, and Ukrainian background and their relatives

Phillip J. Kronzer Foundation for Religious Research

The Great Medjugorje Fraud

Medjugorje - A False Apparition

Medjugorje Deception or Miracle? by Antonio Gaspari


Modernization theory proposes that increased structural complexity in society equates with greater efficiency, thus the more social differentiation, the more specialized we become and better able to perform our tasks. In developing countries, changing from an agrarian economy to a diversified economy is one manifestation of modernization. This is progress described in the broadest terms but does progress really occur in this manner? Does increased structural complexity really yield anything truly worthwhile in developing countries? Short of some cataclysm, modernism is viewed as a one-way street, but is it really? Could modernization and its economic partner globalization actually lead to what has been termed barbarization or even decivilization? Is change always for the better?

The Dutch sociologist Mart Bax has spent well over fifteen years studying firsthand a small town in Bosnia Herzegovina, which has been the site of unprecedented growth, specialization, and globalization. The name of the town is Medjugorje and Bax made "scientific" outings on an annual basis to meet with his informants and make and record observations. Medjugorje was a small agrarian hamlet in Herzegovina prior to 1981, notable only for being near the site of a massacre of Serbs by Croats in 1942. The Croats who allied themselves with Nazi Germany took revenge on the Serbs under whose rule the Croats had chafed after WWI. The Croats formed the paramilitary Ustasa organization and with the help of Roman Catholic clergy sought to purge Croatia and Bosnia of the hated Serbs who were Orthodox Christians. Operating from Medjugorje, the Ustasa rounded up the local Serbs and slaughtered several hundred Serbs disposing of them in a ravine at a place called Suramanci.

On June 24, 1981, the Virgin Mary or Gospa as she is referred to in the local dialect appeared to six Croatian teenagers who had gone out to have a smoke or as was later revised by the local clerics, to look for "lost lambs." What followed was a ten-year period of unprecedented growth and modernization fueled by a steady influx of pilgrims from Western Europe and America, freely spending hard currency and enhancing the local economy. Medjugorje prospered like never before despite the opposition of the local Bishop and the suspicions of the Yugoslav secret police and government authorities.

The Virgin Mary or as she preferred to be called in Medjugorje, the Queen of Peace, brought prosperity to the town and its environs. Villagers expanded their homes into boarding houses to accommodate the pilgrims, concessionaires and tour guides sprang up, gift shops, hotels, and cafes were all built. Local villagers were pressed into service as laborers, technicians, and hospitality workers. Entrepreneurs operated taxis and other related businesses. Craftsman produced religious paraphernalia for sale to tourists. Eventually so called Peace Centers were constructed along with new churches and a massive cathedral. And the miracles kept coming, regular messages were received from the Gospa, spontaneous healing of terminal illnesses were reported, visions and apparitions were reported by pilgrims. It appeared to be a textbook case of modernization and globalization under the most benign of circumstances.

Evolutionary modernization had come to rural Yugoslavia. The development of Medjugorje as a shrine central to the worldwide Roman Catholic Church integrated Medjugorje into the global economy as a major tourist destination. By 1990, promoters of Medjugorje had claimed over eighteen million visitors, although there is really no way to verify these figures, one may assume the numbers must have been in the millions.

But the net result by 1992 was what Bax terms barbarization, not just sporadic violence but organized brutality. Medjugorje is not unique, by examining it we can understand why the fruits of modernization in developing regions of the world is often times not liberal democracy and peace but so often the barbarization process described by Bax. World Bank and International Monetary Fund loans do not always bring about liberal democracy.

So is Medjugorje an example of modernization? Rostow equated economic progress with modernization. And of course Marxian modernization in Russia and China was all about quotas and five years plans which in turn were designed to build infrastructure. Rostow's theory was an alternative to Marx. The political scientists Easton and Almond provide elaborate theories based upon structural functionalism, the idea that the politics can be viewed as a series of inputs and outputs. But more telling is the revelation that much of modernization theory was masquerading under the term political development and was underwritten by the Ford Foundation throughout the 1960's. Surely, the moguls of Detroit perceived communism as a competitor and sought an alternative to the strong armed but apparently successful Stalinist model of modernization. Thus while there is no real consensus, there are several related themes here, economic and social progress, specialization, and the machinelike functioning of society. Medjugorje's building and tourism boom, the replacement of an agrarian society with a specialized one, must surely be a modernization under any definition.

Modernization in the developing world often meant dictatorships and botched attempts at centrally planned economies. With the end of the Cold War, democracy or rather its trappings was associated with modernization. The oft-cited Fukuyama trumpeted that liberal democracy and capitalism associated liberal economies were the end result of a historical progression even if it was tied to IMF and World Bank loans. Nonetheless some caution against embracing democratization too quickly as a panacea for developing nations. But is "modern man" really any more refined than his ancestors. Economic might and copious theory did not lessen the crimes of Hitler, Stalin and Mao. And in developing countries is modernity just a thin veneer that disappears under economic downturn or other stress?

Bosnia was once part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the envy of all communist nations. A place where socialism had worked, seemingly irresolvable ethnic conflicts had been put aside to work towards modernity and unity. The socialist economy produced high quality consumer goods for export and even went head to head with Detroit by introducing the Yugo car in the United States. By all measures, Yugoslavia was making progress. But under the surface of the socialist state, a long suppressed and secretly nurtured nationalist antagonism simmered.

Tito's government after World War II had been determined to rid Bosnia of fascist elements, called the Ustasa, and their sympathizers in the Croat population. The Ustasa took to the mountains and carried on a low-level guerrilla conflict until 1957. On the surface it appeared that order had finally been reestablished but old hatreds die hard. According to Bax, blood feuds continued in Bosnia. Likewise the Franciscan Order which had openly sided with the Ustasa during World War II, eventually returned to their churches and monasteries. The Franciscans are a Roman Catholic religious order with a long history in Bosnia dating from the 14th century. They are essentially independent of the local archdiocese in Mostar. In 1972, the Franciscans built a new church in Medjugorje. By 1981 when the Virgin Mary appeared to six children there, the Franciscans were locked in an administrative dispute with the Bishop of Mostar over control of the village church and their activities.

The Franciscans immediately latched onto the six children and began collecting the messages the young seers received from the Virgin. The more general messages urge peace, fasting and prayer and were distributed worldwide. Other of the divine messages contained instructions to the local populace including where to build commercial establishments. Bax theorizes the Franciscans had two purposes in promoting the apparitions and messages, one to prevent control by the Bishop of Mostar by establishing a viable religious shrine on the pilgrimage tour circuit and second to assert local control and pacification of the population and prevent blood feuds among local Croat clans which had been endemic to the region.

R. Robertson has proposed that increased globalization actually is a root cause of religious fundamentalism and ethno-nationalism. Globalization and modernization stimulate a response that at times seems at odds with notions of progress. The Iranian Revolution is an example of reaction to the modernization and globalization that began occurring in Persia in the late 19th century and gained impetus under the Shah. Traditional forces in Iran felt threatened by the changes being made and eventually revolted and overthrew the old regime.

Bax, a political sociologist based in Amsterdam, has found evidence of what he deems barbarization in Medjugorje following the breakdown of Yugoslav civil authority in 1991. Quoting Elias, Bax tells us that the barbarizing process presupposes civilizing processes. Bax reminds us that Bosnia Herzegovina was the locale of 400 years of war between the Turks and Austrians; the area became a checkerboard of separate ethnicities, Serbs, Croats, and Muslims. The founding of Yugoslavia in 1919 did little to quiet the region as the Serbs dominated the government. Croats were discriminated against and formed bands of Ustase, the Serbs retaliated by forming paramilitary bands known as Chetniks. The Second World War turned Bosnia into a huge battlefield where Croats and Muslims aligned with the Germans and fought Serbs and Communist Partisans. The Partisans were victorious and the Ustase eliminated, but by the late 1970's the Croats including those in Medjugorje were again forming Ustase bands.

The establishment of the shrine in Medjugorje pacified the region. Bax reports that crime decreased and violence disappeared. The Queen of Peace brought millions of tourists who pumped huge sums of money into the local economy. But as the state monopoly on power evaporated in 1991, Croat nationalism reasserted itself, often under the leadership of the Franciscans. In Medjugorje, the Serbs were quickly eliminated by 1991 but the civil war that was raging began to cut into the tourist trade. Tour groups were often waylaid or prevented from reaching their destination. Economically, the villagers had in many cases taken out loans to expand their homes. Clans controlled their rivalries as long as the money flowed in from tourists. By 1991 most of the boarding houses were empty except for those owned by the Ostojici clan, which had good outside connections. Other clans asked the Ostojici to share their good fortune; the Ostojici declined.

One of the most brutal aspects of the war in Medjugorje was not the conflict between Croats and Muslims or Serbs but between the Croats themselves. A blood feud was soon ignited in Medjugorje and its environs that killed 200 members of the village of 3000 and caused another 600 to flee the region. Pilgrims at the Medjugorje Peace Center did not even realize the feud was ongoing although grisly atrocities including mutilations and torture were carried out on a regular between the warring clans in nighttime raids. Finally, elements of the Croatian Army aligned with one of the warring clans intervened against the Ostojici, 100 men were rounded up and quickly liquidated in one of the many ravines in the area.

By the end of 1992, Medjugorje was again accessible to tourists. Houses were being built and repaired. Visitors were told Serb aggressors had done the damage to the village. The Ostojici property was taken over by their rivals, the remaining Ostojici having fled as refugees to Germany. Bax finds the whole incident reminiscent of a situation where escalating violence helped by outside forces leads to a tragic outcome. But what is puzzling is the sheer barbarity of the dispute, villagers mutilated and tortured each other, elderly people were murdered, homes were burned, and women and children killed. Bax notes that the violence as it became more grisly also became more organized. In regards to mutilation, he notes they followed a fixed pattern with more and more parts of bodies being removed as the conflict increased. Homemade rocket launchers were used to chase out the Ostojici who remained. As for the Mother of God, Bax reports the victors offered up prayers of thanks for her special grace and protection.

Was this internecine slaughter in Medjugorje the fruits of modernization and globalization? Robertson and Beyer in their examination of the Iranian revolution explain how modernization and globalization actually were root causes of Islamic fundamentalism in Iran. Modernism Revisionism recognizes the tenacity of religion and ethnicity that is resistant to change or "progress". In the case of Medjugorje, even Croats of the same ethnicity and religion slaughtered each other over the lowest common denominator, clan differences. Additionally, not just Croats died or were persecuted in the environs of Medjugorje, ethnic cleansing of Muslims and Serbs also occurred.

Modernism has been criticized for "taking a zero sum view of the relation between tradition and modernity," Tradition supposedly will whither as modernity increases. Thus in Medjugorje, even though the shrine based on religious apparitions of the Virgin Mary was religion based, the villagers themselves should have become more "modern." This modernity spawned by the building of hotels, restaurants, and tourist complexes. Initially, the Franciscans were able to quell local tendencies towards violence but even the Virgin Mary, busloads of pilgrims seeking peace, the Medjugorje Peace Center built in honor of the Queen of Peace, could not prevent horrendous violence. Indeed modernization may have reinforced violent tendencies based on centuries old tradition and enmity. It has been observed that traditions adapt to modernization and may actually be revitalized by the relationship.

The intertwining of modernity and tradition is especially evident in Medjugorje. It is the pilgrims from Europe and North America that brought the hard cash that made Medjugorje a major tourist destination. At first glance one would tend to dismiss the story of six teens conversing on a daily basis with the Gospa as just so much sensationalism. Yet, such apparitions have been recognized in Fatima, Portugal to which the current Pope has dedicated his reign. Other approved sites are Lourdes in France and Guadalajara, Mexico. Medjugorje has not been approved by the Vatican, the local Bishop of Mostar, condemned the apparitions as false almost immediately. But in a sense modernization and Vatican ambivalence permitted the Franciscans to continue developing the site.

It was no coincidence that Father Slavko Barbaric, a Franciscan schooled, as a psychotherapist in Germany was one of the early handlers of the six children. When Barbaric died last December while leading a tour group, a special message was received by one of the now adult visionaries that Father Slavko was in heaven by the Gospa's side. Bax reports that the Franciscans seemed remarkably well prepared to promote the apparitions worldwide. The Franciscan order immediately sent their own experts to Medjugorje to validate the ongoing apparitions. More interesting is the global nature of the effort to promote Medjugorje. According to Bax, for over a decade, the international Medjugorje campaign was directed from Franciscan University at Steubenville, Ohio. Tour promoters specialize in Medjugorje, one of largest is run by Caritas of Birmingham, Alabama, a cult dedicated to Medjugorje.

According to a May 3, 2001 Fox News story aired locally on channel 19 in Cincinnati, an ex cult member compared Caritas to Waco and the cult leader Terry Colafrancesco to David Koresh. Colafrancesco who began the Alabama based cult in 1987 grosses over a million dollars in annual income, he owns a 137 acre estate and swimming pool while 50 followers work 12 hour days running his publishing business that distributes Medjugorje tracts and staff his travel agency that specializes in pilgrimages to Medjugorje. The followers like Mike O'Neill who was profiled by Fox, live in run down trailers. According to O'Neill, children often sleep on the floor and members are paid a miserly wage. Colafrancesco often makes odd dictates, such as banning mayonnaise. Colafrancesco is tied to one of the teen visionaries, Marija. Of the six Marija still experiences the most visions, touring the world, and often witnessing apparitions of the Virgin in the drawing rooms of well-heeled donors.

The worldwide pull of Medjugorje has increased in recent years with a 20th anniversary celebration planned for June 25, 2001. The Marian devotions of John Paul II also provide a powerful impetus to the Medjugorje movement. Numerous organizations support Medjugorje in the United States and it is revered by the charismatic movement of the Catholic Church, which is a Catholic reaction to the Pentecostal movement and includes such practices as faith healing and speaking in tongues. The US State Department travel advisory for Bosnia indicates that Medjugorje is the only locale in the country where credit cards are accepted on a normal basis. The only thing preventing Medjugorje from becoming permanent pilgrimage fixture is lack of Papal recognition. The Vatican's official position is that it neither approves nor disapproves of Medjugorje but it does not doubt the sincerity of those who choose to go there.

By 1992, the clan warfare chronicled by Bax had subsided, the remnants of the Ostojici left to continue their "war" from a refugee camp in Germany. A new campaign of ethnic cleansing was then launched against the remaining Muslims, the Serbs having been chased out in 1991. In 1992, forces from Medjugorje including the local militia known as the rocketeers because of their use of home made rocket launchers, slaughtered Muslims in a nearby village and blew up the mosque. By 1994 the Franciscans had built a church there. The scene was repeated in 1993 by the rocketeers of Medjugorje as other Muslim villages were razed, Franciscan churches established and Croat refugees resettled.

The final stage of ethnic cleansing occurred in 1993 in Lavsa Valley against the Muslims. The villagers who were not killed outright were rounded up and murdered at a Croat run concentration camp one half hour from Medjugorje. Transports of prisoners were routed through Medjugorje but the Muslims were told to cover their eyes lest their gaze pollute the Croat holy shrine. The Western pilgrims never realized that an extermination camp was only minutes away. Indeed, organizations like the aforementioned Caritas of Birmingham blamed the Serbs for all the inconveniences in the region including destruction of buildings, much of which occurred during, inter clan warfare among Croats.

Is Medjugorje a fair assessment of modernization and globalization? Bax argues that we can learn much from one small village in Bosnia Herzegovina. The behaviors exhibited are not unique and even though the region is striking for its barbarity and violence, much can be applied to Eastern Europe as a whole. Indeed, Bax shows that what appears to be random or senseless behavior when looked at a higher level, makes perfect sense when analyzed at the lowest level. This perhaps is the problem with modernization theory; it seems to make sense at the macro level when its proponents announce that religious and ethnic differences will shrivel in the face of economic progress and democracy. But in reality, as in Medjugorje, modernization and globalization can actually enflame local rivalries, which operate at the clan or tribal level. In fact, barbarism may occur because of, not in spite of so called progress.

The collapse of communist Yugoslavia might be viewed as progress, another socialist regime unable to compete with capitalism and democracy. However so called progress yielded barbarization when the state structure collapsed. Tradition and religion became stronger and were a basis for decivilization. Even the presence of 18 million tourists between 1981 and 1991 along with a modern infrastructure had no effect on Medjugorje, indeed as soon as there was economic stress, the villagers resorted to a vicious clan war.

Bosnia is not alone; other states have similarly lapsed into barbarism under stress despite modernization and loans from the Wolrd Bank and IMF. One need only look to democratic Russia and its treatment of Chechnia or the total disintegration of West Africa and the Congo. Progress is not linear, perhaps these lapses in civilization can be forestalled by authoritarian governments or well-managed economies but it is troubling that much of Medjugorje's support comes from the United States. There appears to be a segment of the population that would willingly revert to traditionalism if permitted to, as such they must travel to Bosnia to behold the Miracle City of the Queen of Peace. Others like Colafrancesco build their own versions of Medjugorje in the United States.

Globalization is a two way street as Medjugorje reveals. Westerners support a shrine that has been condemned by the local ecclesiastical authorities as fraudulent and common sense tells us that the Mother of God cannot be issuing thousands of messages, some on rather mundane issues such as where to place buildings. Spontaneous healings are seldom what they appear and apparition seekers staring into the sun have been known to see many odd things. Nonetheless, Medjugorje continues to prosper on both a global and local level. It also offers us a look at barbarization and how easily it may occur. Compared to the forces of tradition, religion, and ethnicity, modernization and globalization appear to be of secondary importance and that perhaps is the lesson of Medjugorje.

The author, Jonathan Levy, is an attorney working for both the victims of the Ustase and the Phillip J. Kronzer Foundation for Religious Research. He has filed several lawsuits against the Franciscan Order, Vatican Bank, Croatian Liberation Movement, and Medjugorje promoters including Caritas of Birmingham alleging gross violations of human rights by the Neo Fascist Franciscans at Medjugorje.

He can be contacted at For further information see: and


Vicky Randall and Robin Theobald, Political Change and Underdevelopment, Duke University press, Durham, 1998, pg. 28.

Mart Bax, Medjugorje: religion, Politics, and Violence in Rural Bosnia, Free University press, Amsterdam, 1995, pgs. 122-3.

The approved Roman Catholic shrine of Fatima, Portugal involved three shepherd children in 1917 coming upon an apparition of the Virgin Mary. The obvious intent of the Medjugorje children's' handlers, Franciscan monks, was to associate Medjugorje with the approved shrines of Fatima and Lourdes.

Bax, pgs. 106 et seq.

Randall and Theobald, pgs. 24-25

Randall and Theobald, pg. 250.

Bax, p. 102

Mart Bax, Holy Mary and Medjugorje's Rocketeers, The Local Logic of an Ethnic Cleansing Process in Bosnia, Ethnologia Europaea, pg. 54.

Bax, Rocketeers, p. 48

Randall and Theobald, pgs. 250-252

Ibid, p. 46.

Ibid, p. 46.

Ohio and Indiana are the heartland of the international Medjugorje movement, besides the aforementioned Franciscan University at Steubenville, there are major Medjugorje centers at Norwood, Ohio, the University of Dayton, and at Notre Dame, Indiana.

Interview with Mike and Jackie O'Neill, April 2001.

Fox 19 News, Cincinnati, May 3, 2001, Local Man Escapes Cult by Andy Treinen.