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South Slavic: January 31, 2002


31 January 2002, Volume 4, Number 4

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



Part II. Part I appeared on 24 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: Mr. Djordjevic, how would you define the attitude of the Orthodox Church toward The Hague tribunal?

Mirko Djordjevic: From the very moment The Hague tribunal was founded, the Synod and the Assembly of the Serbian Orthodox Church have been categorically claiming that the tribunal was illegitimate and unfair, and that it is trying the entire Serbian people. Unfortunately, the attitude has not changed....

In taking this stance, the Church has implicitly acknowledged that Milosevic is the same as the Serbian people, which is absolutely not true. The Church has also acknowledged a sort of a collective guilt.

The Church refuses to understand the simple fact that The Hague tribunal -- just like any other court -- simply tries the criminals, and criminals are not the concern of the Church.

The latest statement confirming that negative attitude toward The Hague tribunal is the statement by the honorable Metropolitan of Montenegro Amfilohije, who -- defending Milosevic as if he were a righteous man -- said that he would not even extradite his dog to The Hague tribunal.

Therefore, the attitude of the Church is consistently negative, just like the attitude of some power structures within the DOS [the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia coalition]. This includes, first of all, Mr. Kostunica, who has never missed a single opportunity to say that he could not care less about The Hague tribunal.

RFE/RL: It is interesting, though, that the Church has a negative attitude toward The Hague tribunal only when the crimes of its own people or of its own believers are concerned.

Ivan Padjen: I would not say so. The Catholic Church in Croatia is divided on that matter. First, many believers who are active in politics disagree with the [politically conservative] group of Dalmatian bishops (see Part I, "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 24 January 2002).

Second, some important bishops -- such as those in Zagreb, Istria, and Rijeka -- never spoke out against co-operation with The Hague tribunal. They simply do not discuss that issue.

You should bear in mind that, between 1990 and 1995, the Catholic Church was probably the most important critic of blatant nationalism. Let me just remind you of the famous statement by [then] Cardinal [Franjo] Kuharic when the conflict started: "If your neighbor burns down your house, you should not do the same to him. If your neighbor kills your brother, you should not do the same to him." That was a direct appeal not to behave according to the principle of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."

At the same time, the Catholic Church was against evictions from their flats of former officers of the JNA [Yugoslav People's Army], mostly Serbs. They were evicted without court orders, on the basis of some administrative decisions of the [Croatian] Ministry of Defense....

If the Catholic Church should be held responsible for something during that period of time, then it should be its indirect support for nationalism thanks to its persistent orientation toward traditionalism....

But its behavior started to change -- and I would say in an irresponsible way -- when its own privileges were threatened. That happened after Operation Storm [against Krajina in 1995], when the Church concluded that a strong Croatia governed by [late President Franjo Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Community] the HDZ, was something that the Church could rely on. It was a vehicle through which the Church's interests could be realized.

More recently, some elements in the Church have sided with evil by linking up with extremist elements in the HDZ and by being preoccupied with their own wealth and privileges provided by the state.

RFE/RL: Mr. Padjen, you have just said that money was given by the state. Some people think that the Catholic Church enjoys a privileged place in Croatian society. They cite as an argument the agreements with the Vatican, which grant the Church in Croatia a position better than that found almost anywhere else in Europe.

Ivan Padjen: Other Churches enjoy a similar status elsewhere in Europe. However, one thing is certain: The agreements with the Vatican are at variance with the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia. According to the constitution, the Church and the state are separate, and all religious communities and all citizens are equal before the law, regardless of their convictions....

RFE/RL: Mr. Djordjevic, does the Orthodox Church enjoy a privileged place in Serbia?

Mirko Djordjevic: Politically speaking and in terms of the media coverage, one could say so. As far as its economic situation is concerned, there are no available figures about the extent of state financial aid to the Church, or about the financial situation of the Church. However, the times when the Church was poor and when a priest was virtually deprived of everything are history. In financial terms, our Church is doing rather well now.

RFE/RL: Talking about the state's financial aid to the Church, did Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic not promise important financial aid for the cathedral of Saint Sava in Belgrade?

Mirko Djordjevic: Yes.... There is nothing wrong about the state's financial aid to the Church, but it could go wrong if it remains undefined by law. The Church should not be allowed to obtain a privileged position that could alienate members of other confessions.... The relationship between the Church and the state must have a legal basis, the way it is in democratic societies.

RFE/RL: Finally, Mr. Padjen, do you think that the influence of the Catholic Church in Croatia might continue to grow?

Ivan Padjen: I am not sure, since there are two parallel processes at work in the modern world. First there is the process of secularization, which has proven long-lasting and has led to a relative decrease in the number of believers. Conversely, the past three decades have seen a revival of interest in religion and spirituality....

I do not know how things will go in Croatia. I can only say that it would be best for the Church to stick to the principles of the Second Vatican Council, which means that it accepts that secular affairs are not part of its direct concerns....

Moreover, the Church should be aware that [the late] Cardinal [Alojzije] Stepinac's words are still valid: "I prefer to see that my priests remain poor, that they are shepherds instead of farmers."

The deep feeling of identifying with the Church that dates from the very first years of Communism and helped spread and strengthen Catholicism in Croatia after1945 is fading now. Many clerics, especially in the middle-aged generation of priests, spend too much time and attention on having enough money for building new churches, offices, or cars, and much less for on their spiritual mission....

RFE/RL: Mr. Djordjevic, do you think that the influence of the Church will grow in Serbia?

Mirko Djordjevic: That trend will certainly continue. But that is not the main problem. Facing the truth is the most important issue for me.

An English journalist recently asked me if I could imagine the Serbian patriarch, followed by the archpriests and the priests with candles in their hands and with bells ringing, heading toward Srebrenica in order to ask to be forgiven or to repent. Or toward Batajnica, in the very vicinity of Belgrade, which is even closer to us. It has [mass] graves of [ethnic Albanian] people [from Kosovo] who were never properly buried, since Serbia has become a country of other people's graves. I told him that I could not imagine such a thing at this time. That time has not come yet....

The Serbian Orthodox Church still refuses to face up to its own responsibility. Our Church has never openly egged people on to war, and a real believer would never even consider such a thing. But by being behind nationalism,... the Serbian Orthodox Church was not only an observer but also an accomplice of sorts.

But full of hope, I follow the situation of the Church, including our Church, the Church of the Croats, and the Church in general, since the Church is one and indivisible.

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