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South Slavic: November 10, 2005

10 November 2005, Volume 7, Number 33


Part I.

RFE/RL: In today's Radio Most [Bridge], we are going to discuss the strength of clericalism in Serbia and Croatia with our guests Mirjana Krizmanic, a social psychologist from Zagreb, and Ruzica Rosandic, a psychologist from Belgrade [see "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 10 and 17 July 2003].

In both Serbia and Croatia, the churches are today the most popular institutions. They increasingly speak out with great authority, not just on religious issues but also on politics and on matters regarding everyday life. How did they come to attain this remarkable status?

Mirjana Krizmanic: The Roman Catholic Church was suppressed under the communists, and its role in society was limited. However, after the political changes that took place in the early 1990s, the church became very close to the state and was even encouraged to make itself heard. [The late Cardinal Franjo Kuharic sometimes appeared in public with] President Franjo Tudjman, not because he was a great fan of the president, but because he wanted to show that the church had reassumed a public role....

The church got everything it asked for: restitution, the introduction of religious instruction in public schools, etc. The church became the second-most-powerful institution, right after the government.

Ruzica Rosandic: Not only did the church get what it wanted, but the government sought out its support. Here in Serbia, for example, religious instruction was introduced in public schools precisely when [former Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic was extradited to The Hague tribunal [in 2001]. [Prime Minister Zoran] Djindjic's government sought out support throughout society at that time.

Krizmanic: In Croatia, both Tudjman and his Croatian Democratic Community [HDZ] governments used the church for campaigning at election time. Parish priests told their flocks at Sunday Mass whom to vote for. They would say: "It is well known for whom we will vote." This was a giveaway, because "it is well known" is an HDZ slogan.

RFE/RL: Do religious communities in today's societies have the same position the League of Communists [SKJ] used to have?

Krizmanic: You might find it unbelievable, but I would say that they have acquired an even more sinister role. The party wanted people to be obedient but stayed out of certain spheres of public life in which it had no business. But the church interferes wherever it pleases, whether it knows anything about the subject at hand or not.

For instance, it speaks out against sex education and condoms, and denies that condoms offer protection against AIDS. Sex education in Croatian schools is a part of religious instruction, which, I think, is a worldwide first. The church teaches children in elementary and secondary schools that homosexuality is a sin and that it can be treated, which is not true. It teaches that homosexuality is unnatural, which is not true.

The church's mission should be to spread tolerance, but there is not a single word about tolerance in its teaching. It should condemn fraud, but there is not a single word condemning the great fraud of privatization in Croatia....

RFE/RL: Might we say that the Serbian Orthodox Church today plays the role that the SKJ used to?

Rosandic: I am afraid it does. Some of the dignitaries of the church act just like secretaries of the party. Metropolitan Amfilohije Radovic built a tin church and put it, with army's help, at the top of a mountain in Montenegro [see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 August 2005].

Recently a meeting of young Orthodox people took place in Vranje to discuss the "need" to make culture Orthodox. That would mean imposing an ideology to an extent unknown in former Yugoslavia.

RFE/RL: Does an atheist have limited opportunities in today's society?

Krizmanic: One cannot say that an atheist is persecuted or that his chances are limited, but if things continue this way it will be so. An association called Protagora will soon be set up in Zagreb to protect the rights of atheists in the face of creeping discrimination. This is a society where everyone feels pressured to declare himself a good Catholic.

RFE/RL: Can a declared atheist have a public role in Serbia?

Rosandic: There is pressure of sorts to be Orthodox. For instance, there is practically no public appearance of Prime Minister [Vojislav] Kostunica without priests, whom he hugs and kisses, including one who has been charged with pedophilia.

RFE/RL: The prime minister likes to say that he asks the patriarch's advice before making important decisions.

Rosandic: I read recently that the government of the Republika Srpska consulted the church about police reform. What does the church have to do with the police for the government to ask its advice?

RFE/RL: Do politicians in Croatia consult the church about important political decisions before making them?

Krizmanic: It is not so obvious, but I think they do. For instance, the Croatian Bishops Conference gives advice about everything, and the government likes to quote the conference as a sort of supreme arbiter. When I hear what Ms. Rosandic is saying, I realize that we are actually mirror images of the same picture. The differences are very small. When the police inaugurated a new building recently, a priest came to consecrate it and sprinkle it with holy water.

Rosandic: The Bureau for the Improvement of Education invited a priest to consecrate its offices. Not to mention that the priests participate in the National Education Council. They are members of the Council for Broadcasting. They are everywhere.

At the same time, Serbia is flooded with religious kitsch. Some 90 percent of Belgrade taxies have crucifixes and icons hanging on their windshields. It is as if mobile chapels are cruising through Belgrade. It all looks so superficial and senseless. My impression is that the church wants as big a role in society as it can get, but I do not see what benefit the people derive from it. While people live in extreme poverty here, we are building the biggest Orthodox church in the Balkans.