MACEDONIA: Monastery demolished – another church demolition planned, and Metropolitan to be jailed?
A Macedonian government official, Dr Cane Mojanovski, has refused to confirm or deny to Forum 18 News Service reports that the government intends to demolish the Serbian Orthodox Church in the village of Luzani. The reports follow the surprise night-time destruction of the St John Chrysostom Monastery in Nizepole, southern Macedonia – which contained Metropolitan Jovan (Vranisskovski) and about 10 monks and nuns – by approximately 500 police armed with automatic weapons, and demolition workers with bulldozers. The monastery was the cathedral of the Archbishopric of Ohrid, and was earlier this year attacked by a paramilitary 'state security' unit armed with machine guns. Officials in Bitola have refused to discuss the monastery demolition with Forum 18. Metropolitan Jovan is separately being threatened with an 18 month jail sentence, and told Forum 18 that he expects his appeal against the sentence will be turned down.
The intended church demolition comes after the sudden and unexpected demolition, just before midnight on the night of 15-16 October, of the Serbian Orthodox monastery of St John Chrysostom in the village of Nizepole, near Bitola in southern Macedonia. About 500 police from the capital Skopje, armed with automatic weapons, surrounded the monastery while Metropolitan Jovan was inside with about 10 monks and nuns. At the same time, police blocked the Ohrid – Bitola – Nizepole road. Workers then used bulldozers to demolish the monastery, as well as walls stabilising the steep terrain on which the monastery was built. The monastery was the cathedral of the Serbian Orthodox Archbishopric of Ohrid, in Macedonia.
The authorities have claimed that the reason for the monastery's demolition is that it did not have a building permit. Forum 18 made eight calls on 21 October to various officials of the Bitola administration, but no-one was prepared to discuss the reasons for monastery's demolishion. Once Forum 18 had explained why it was calling, officials immediately referred the questions to other offices.
Dr Mojanovski told Forum 18 that he cannot comment on the acts of other state institutions, and that the demolition of church buildings is under the authority of the building inspectorate.
The monastery was built in a village, and in its vicinity are more than 50 solidly-constructed buildings none of which has a building permit, as is normal in Macedonia for villages of this type. The land on which the monastery stood belongs to Metropolitan Jovan's parents, Galina and Argira Vranisskovski, and their house – which was recently robbed and damaged by fire - is about 100 metres (100 yards) from the site of the monastery. Even though in planning terms their house, like the other village houses, has the same legal status as the monastery, the building inspectorate has shown no interest in any of the village's houses.
Metropolitan Jovan told Forum 18 on 20 October that he had gone to Bitola's building inspectorate after the monastery's destruction to ask for the formal legal decree ordering the destruction, but officials told him that there was no decree. They said they had received an order from Skopje and then placed an "information paper" announcing the intended demolition of the monastery on the town hall noticeboard. When Metropolitan Jovan asked to see a copy of this "information paper", the officials told him that they no longer had it.
The demolition is the latest in a long series of attacks by Macedonian authorities on the Serbian Orthodox Church in Macedonia. Among numerous other incidents, Metropolitan Jovan has been jailed, as well as another bishop and a monk fined (see F18News 28 January 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=238), and the now-demolished monastery was attacked last February with machine guns by a paramilitary "state security unit" (see F18News 24 February 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=259).
A day before the destruction of the monastery, 15 October, Metropolitan Jovan received the results of an appeal against a mid-August court decision that he be sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment for "spreading religious, national and racist intolerance", charges he rejects (see F18News 23 September 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=418). He told Forum 18 that he has 15 days to make another appeal, but that he expects that this will be turned down and that he will be sent to jail again.
The Macedonian state has prevented any rival Orthodox jurisdiction to the Macedonian Orthodox Church from existing in the country (see F18News 23 September 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=418). On 18 October the MIA state news agency reported that "representatives of the Macedonian Orthodox Church clergy and monastic order fully support the Synod of the Macedonian Orthodox Church in its efforts to preserve the church, its name, autocephaly status and dignity". The Macedonian Orthodox Church claimed autocephaly (complete independence) from the Serbian Orthodox Church in 1967, but no other canonical Orthodox Church in the world recognises this.
A printer-friendly map of Macedonia is available from
http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=europe&Rootmap=macedo Note that the formally recognised name of Macedonia in international law is "The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia".
23 September 2004
The Serbian Orthodox Church in Macedonia has again submitted a registration application, but this is unlikely to succeed. Such communities "will never get registration", Cane Mojanovski, head of the State Committee for Relations with Religious Communities and Religious Groups, told Forum 18 News Service, as only the Macedonian Orthodox Church can exist in the country. He said the Religion Law allows only one organisation for any one faith. He could not explain why Orthodox Christians could not freely choose their faith. Metropolitan Jovan (Vranisskovski), who heads the Serbian Church in the country, has been convicted of inciting religious hatred, while religious sites have been raided. He complains the state is "in league" with the rival Macedonian Church. "They do not let us perform services, they harass me with these trials, and they do not let foreign Orthodox priests enter or travel through Macedonia," he told Forum 18. An Interior Ministry entry ban list reportedly includes more than 20 Serbian Orthodox bishops banned from entering Macedonia.
9 September 2004
Ahead of the OSCE Conference on Tolerance and the Fight against Racism, Xenophobia and Discrimination on 13-14 September 2004 in Brussels, Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org surveys some of the more serious discriminatory actions against religious believers that persist in some countries of the 55-member OSCE. Despite their binding OSCE commitments to religious freedom, in some OSCE member states believers are still fined, imprisoned for the peaceful exercise of their faith, religious services are broken up, places of worship confiscated and even destroyed, religious literature censored and religious communities denied registration. Forum 18 believes most of the serious problems affecting religious believers in the eastern half of the OSCE region come from government discrimination.
5 August 2004
In its survey analysis of religious freedom in Serbia, Forum 18 News Service notes the problems caused by a proposed draft religion bill, religious education in schools, and physical attacks on religious minorities. However, alternative civilian service regulations have been introduced, so conscientious objectors to military service are not now prosecuted. In a listing of attacks on religious minorities in 2003, Forum 18 records that Evangelical-Methodists, Jews, Seventh Day Adventists, Serbian Evangelicals, Jehovah Witnesses, Lutherans, Romany Pentecostals, Baptists, Hare Krishna devotees, Catholics, and Muslims were all victims of different types of attack in 2003, ranging from hate speech and graffiti to physical assaults. A noted church-state commentator, Mirko Djordevic, has told Forum 18 that "we cannot say that the religious freedom of Serbian citizens is threatened, but different confessions limit each others freedom." Pavel Domonji, from the Helsinki Committee, observed to Forum 18 that "Small religious communities are often under attack. It is probably because they form trans-national communities, where every believer is a member, regardless of their ethnic background."