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South Slavic: January 24, 2002


24 January 2002, Volume 4, Number 3

HOW STRONG ARE THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN CROATIA AND THE ORTHODOX CHURCH IN SERBIA?


Part I. Part II will appear on 31 January.


A broadcast of Radio Most (Bridge) of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service. This week, Omer Karabeg hosts: Ivan Padjen, professor of the Faculty of Political Sciences in Zagreb, and publicist Mirko Djordjevic in Belgrade.



RFE/RL: Does the Catholic Church in Croatia act like a political force?

Ivan Padjen: That is almost certainly true. The question is whether it really has any political power, which is quite hard to gauge. It seems to me that its influence is on the rise, mainly thanks to the Church's quite considerable economic power.

RFE/RL: You think that its strength lies in its economic power?

Ivan Padjen: Absolutely not. I do not think that its main strength lies in its economic position.

The main source of its strength lies in what it does, first of all in its own spiritual mission. The other source is the fact that it relies on certain traditional forces within the country, since Catholic traditionalism blends quite well with our national traditionalism, although the convergence is not complete. Another important factor is the organization of the Catholic Church and the economic and financial roles that the organization has.

RFE/RL: Mr. Djordjevic, does the Orthodox Church in Serbia act like a political force?

Mirko Djordjevic: One could say that our Serbian Orthodox Church has been acting as a political force, and for quite some time. That can be traced back to 1989 and the populist wave that brought [Slobodan] Milosevic to power.

The Church is a very influential political force, and it relies on traditional right-wing structures in society. It currently belongs to some ruling structures, and it even enjoys the backing the federal president, who is a religious man.

RFE/RL: Do you find the present Yugoslav president, Mr. [Vojislav] Kostunica, very close to some church circles?

Mirko Djordjevic: Yes. On the one hand, there is a private aspect, about which I would rather not comment. At the same time, he is politically close to the Serbian Orthodox Church, which is a powerful institution.

RFE/RL: Mr. Padjen, which political forces are close to the Catholic Church in Croatia, at least where their political programs are concerned?

Ivan Padjen: As far as the programs of the parties are concerned, it would be hard to say which party in Croatia is not close to the Catholic Church, and for a simple reason: A general convergence has taken place.

What I am trying to say is that, first in the 19th century, as well as in the 20th, the Church has repeatedly sided not only with those deprived of their rights, but also with the working class. Most of the political parties in Croatia have quite pronounced social programs.

One might think that the closest should be the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the Catholic Church, but in fact the position of the Church is to the left of that of the former communists. Look at some Social Democratic leaders' economic liberalism, such as that of Slavko Linic, who might easily be mistaken for a leader of Margaret Thatcher's party's right wing.

RFE/RL: And what is the Catholic Church's position regarding [the late President Franjo Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Community] the HDZ?

Ivan Padjen: That is a different matter. Political relations are one thing, while social programs are something else. The majority within the Church, or most of the bishops, seems to have a positive attitude about the HDZ for many reasons, and only one of them is the nationalistic traditionalism of that party....

On the one hand, the [views] of the official Catholic Church or the majority within it are the same as the interests of the HDZ's right wing -- and I am not talking about the extremists. On the other hand, within the ruling parties there is a Catholic element that is in opposition to the majority within the Catholic Church.

For instance, Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Goran Granic from the Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS) -- who is probably the author of the recent government rebuttal to a letter from the Croatian bishops -- is a declared Catholic. Another deputy prime minister, Zeljka Antunovic of the Social Democratic Party, is also a declared Catholic.

That is the origin of the split among Catholic voters. The traditionalists have a leading role within the Church and are close to the HDZ, while a considerable number of Catholics belong to the parties that used to be in the opposition to the HDZ and are now in power.

RFE/RL: Mr. Djordjevic, which political forces in Serbia enjoy the backing of the Orthodox Church?

Mirko Djordjevic: One could say that the Church supports the party of Mr. Kostunica, since they prefer its general traditionalist, national, and even nationalistic orientation. Almost all parties seek the favor of the Church. Politicians in Serbia use every possible occasion -- whether appropriate or not -- to express their loyalty to the Orthodox religion....

RFE/RL: A precondition for a successful career in former Yugoslavia was membership in the League of Communists (SKJ). Does this type of careerism apply today where religion is concerned?

Ivan Padjen: No, absolutely not. However, one could say that maybe it was true during the first five or six years of the HDZ's rule. Mr. Zdravko Mrsic, a former foreign minister, was probably appointed in 1990 thanks to his connections with the Catholic Church. He lost his job nine months later, which proves that his connections were not crucial to his success or failure.

But there is one aspect worth mentioning: I think that the former Communists who were in power in the 1950s and early 1960s eventually merged with the extreme Croatian emigration -- which some might call the Ustasha, such as [former Defense Minister Gojko] Susak's emigrants. They sought legitimacy from the Church, which in turn thought that it could somehow make use of its new allies.

There was a time when it seemed politically advantageous to be seen in church. But that did not last long, particularly after the change in administration at the start of 2000.

Mirko Djordjevic: A huge number of politicians and other public persons in Serbia, from both financial and cultural circles, flock to be seen during religious ceremonies, taking care not to miss a single opportunity. Politicians crowd around the patriarch. Religious ceremonies wind up taking place where they should not. All this reminds me of communist times, when membership in the SKJ was a necessary prerequisite for social respectability.

RFE/RL: Both the Catholic Church in Croatia and the Serbian Orthodox Church have quite critical attitudes toward The Hague tribunal. They have repeatedly opposed the extradition to The Hague of Croats and Serbs indicted for war crimes. One might say that they do not consider them sinners.

Ivan Padjen: This is not so. Let me just mention the commentary published by the Church's newspaper, "Glas Koncila," in January or February 2000. It said quite clearly that the guilty individuals should be held responsible.

The fact is that a group of Croatian bishops -- those from Dalmatia and the diocese of Gospic -- were explicitly against the extradition of Croatian Generals [Mirko] Norac, [Ante] Gotovina, and others to The Hague. The bishop of Zagreb, [Josip] Bozanic, who is also chairman of the Bishops' Conference, as well as the bishops from the western and northern parts of the country, did not make any clear statements on the subject....

The Church and leading clerics have made a mess of things only by speaking out on subjects about which they do not know much, not by trying to manipulate government policy.

RFE/RL: But the fact is that Dalmatian bishops defending Norac and Gotovina struck a chord with the public. It is also true that the statement of the "Iustitia et Pax" group favored the two Croatian generals, while the other bishops you refer to actually remained silent.

Ivan Padjen: You are right, they were silent. But let me just say that the hierarchy is not the same as the Church. The believers make a Church.

Mr. Djordjevic said that he belongs to the Church, and so do I. And many believers are saying to the hierarchy: "Listen, you do not know a thing about that, and this is why you had better remain silent.... You worry too much about your institutional interests."

Advice like that might also be heard from some government people, such as Mr. Goran Granic and Mrs. Zeljka Antunovic, whom I have already mentioned.

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