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Serbia: Congressman Calls On U.S. Churches To Offset Nationalism

  • Joe Schneider

Washington, 16 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - A U.S. congressman today called on U.S. religious leaders to get involved in Serbia and help offset the nationalism displayed by the Orthodox church there. Congressman Bruce Vento (D-Minnesota) led a four-member delegation to the Balkans on a six-day visit. Vento told a news conference in Washington today he was concerned by the nationalistic display of the Orthodox church in Serbia.

He said people should welcome the church's public support of the opposition leaders in Serbia. But he said the church "abandoned (Serbian President Slobodan) Milosevic for the wrong reasons."

Vento said the church was unhappy Milosevic abandoned Serbs in Bosnia. Vento added opposition leaders in Serbia, some of whom had been accused of extreme nationalism, all denied the charge when he met with them.

"No one wants to take the credit for nationalism," he said.

He said the Orthodox church in the region could contribute to the nationalism and added "some ecunemical effort" in the United States could help the situation.

The U.S. politicians met government and opposition leaders in Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia. Meanwhile, Serbia came under renewed pressure today from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the European Parliament to reinstate opposition victories achieved in last November's municipal elections.

The Vienna-based OSCE today reiterated its demand that the government of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic respect the will of the people and follow what should be merely a mechanical process of translating results into seats. It rejected incomplete concessions made by Milosevic so far.

In Strasbourg, France, the European Parliament today urged the European Union and its individual countries to freeze economic and other relations with Belgrade until it agrees to reinstate opposition victories.

The renewed support for the opposition came on the same day that opposition leader Zoran Djindjic said he expects Milosevic to introduce emergency rule in Belgrade in an effort to sidestep who should run the city. Such a move would also allow him to ban demonstrations.

Djindjic's comments came after the Yugoslav Supreme Devense Council, which includes Milosevic and other top military and political officials, said that it expects Serbia -- and not outsiders -- to "politically solve the problems" and restore stability.

Meanwhile, Belgrade students, who have been demonstrating in parallel with the daily Zajedno (Together) opposition coalition for more than eight weeks, called for nationwide protests to continue on a "larger scale."