A group of intellectuals has exposed a deep rift within Serbian society by challenging the veracity of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.
Local media say the unidentified "organized citizens" submitted an anti-Darwin petition to parliament in Belgrade, signed by dozens of intellectuals.
The initiative calls for a review of the teaching of Darwinism -- the evolutionary history of life on Earth accepted by the overwhelming majority of the scientific community -- and demands that the religiously inspired theory of creationism be taught in Serbian schools alongside evolution.
The petition's organizers say their goal is to challenge the dominant status of Darwinism in schoolbooks, arguing it is just one of several theories of human creation and that they question the science behind it.
"I tell you that the [Darwin] theory of evolution and claiming that man came from monkeys [sic] offends all [religious] believers, not just Orthodox [Christians]," said Belgrade University professor Ljiljana Colic, whose failed attempts as education minister to oust Darwinism from the school curriculum led to her resignation in 2004.
Colic told Danas.rs that she was happy to sign the petition because she "absolutely agrees with everything written in it."
Zeljko Tomanovic, dean of the biology department at Belgrade University, countered: "It is the old creationist ideas that are totally anachronistic and unscientific. There is no scientific knowledge that supports the aforementioned claims [of creationism] and that deny evolution."
In addition to the signatures of certain elites in Serbia, the petition has been championed by several leading newspapers.
The issue has divided the country, and pro-creationists have tapped into an anti-Western, antiglobalist current that has festered in Serbia as high unemployment (16 percent in 2016) and a stagnant economy combine with Brussels' perceived indifference toward Belgrade's aspirations for closer relations and eventual EU membership.
"There is a disillusionment with liberal democracy and even an anger against the West," an RFE/RL Balkan correspondent said, adding that "this dogmatic, conservative movement is on the rise."
Those who fear the rising influence of the Serbian Orthodox Church -- manifested in the push to teach creationism in schools -- are worried that such proposals will dilute the country's education system and lower public discourse on science and other important topics.
The National Assembly said it had received the petition, which had been signed by 166 people, including doctors, professors, priests, and politicians, some of them reportedly also members of the Serbian Academy of Sciences.
But the Academy of Sciences said that "we don't share the petition's views" and added that only two of its members had signed the document. Initial media reports said dozens of academicians had signed.
Aleksandar Jerkova, a member of parliament's Science, Education, and Technology Committee, told Danas.rs that he regretted that "the signatories to this petition are not engaged in solving the really important problems in education [facing Serbian schools] that will determine the future of our country."
He added that the standards and curriculum in Serbian schools were at a "20th-century level" and this anti-Darwin petition will "take the schools back to the [standards] from the start of the 19th century."
Belgrade resident Stevan Karic agreed, telling RFE/RL: "I don't know [about this creationism initiative].... I think it's reverse evolution."
With reporting by Dragan Stavljanin and Gordana Knezevic of RFE/RL's Balkan Service