SERBIA: "Heavy pressure" forces postponement of first Macedonian Orthodox church
Soon after news emerged that an ethnic Macedonian association had bought a plot of land in Novi Sad to build Serbia's first Macedonian Orthodox church, religion minister Milan Radulovic declared publicly that the state has a duty to prevent the building of the church. "Radulovic's statements deny us one of our most basic rights – the right to freedom of confession," Dragan Veljkovski, president of the Association of Macedonians in Vojvodina which bought the site, told Forum 18 News Service. He complained of "very heavy pressure" since the news became public which has led to the building plans being postponed. Macedonians contrast the Serbian government's strong defence of the persecuted Serbian Orthodox Church in neighbouring Macedonia with its moves to restrict non-Serbian Orthodox jurisdictions at home.
Veljkovski is highly critical of the minister's comments. "Radulovic's statements deny us one of our most basic rights – the right to freedom of confession. After the information was made public that we bought a plot to build a church and the minister's reaction, we have faced very heavy pressure."
His outrage was shared by Jovan Radeski, president of the National Council of Macedonians in Serbia and Montenegro. "Radulovic's comments caused feelings of inequality and insecurity among the Macedonian national minority in Serbia," he complained to Forum 18 on 9 September.
Sonja Biserko of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia echoed the criticism, telling Forum 18 on 12 September that the minister's remark is "in collision with Serbian law".
Veljkovski said that the site in Novi Sad had been bought by his association with donations from abroad. Although the motivation for building the church is what he says is the need to counter assimilation of ethnic Macedonians in Serbia, he insists this is a religious freedom issue. He painted a wider picture of difficulties for Macedonians in Serbia, including a lack of education and school textbooks in Macedonian.
Jugoslav Velickovski, a Belgrade-based historian, told Forum 18 that many Macedonians migrated to Serbia after the Second World War, though he believes about a third may have left again since the early 1990s. Many of those that remain have been assimilated into the Serbian population. "For this reason, the question of religious freedom, together with the questions of education and media in the mother tongue, are the biggest prerequisites for preserving the national identity of Macedonians in Serbia," he told Forum 18 on 9 September. "Until now, the Macedonian Orthodox have not had a single church in Serbia."
He said that as news of the proposed church building in Novi Sad emerged soon after Serbian Archbishop Jovan was imprisoned in Macedonia (see F18News 27 July 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=618), a "very stormy reaction" greeted the news. "What is disturbing is the reaction of the Serbian authorities. Minister Radulovic announced that it will not be permissible for the Macedonian Orthodox to build a church, since the Macedonian Orthodox is not recognised as an Orthodox Church, which is exactly the viewpoint of Serbian patriarch Pavle."
News of the purchase of the plot of land in Novi Sad to build a Macedonian Orthodox church - and of an agreement that the Montenegrin Orthodox could build a church in Lovcenac in Vojvodina - provoked an immediate reaction from minister Radulovic. "If new churches in Lovcenac and Novi Sad are going to be built without the permission of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the government has the duty to prevent it," he told the Belgrade daily Danas on 10 August. "The local authorities should not give the necessary building permissions and other documents and should prevent building."
Members of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church in Serbia were likewise outraged by Radulovic's remarks, though the local authority told Forum 18 that it sees no reason to refuse a building application for a Montenegrin Orthodox church (see F18News 12 September 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=648).
The Macedonian Orthodox Church is not recognised as canonical by the other Orthodox patriarchates, who argue that it was established in the 1960s under the sponsorship of the communist government. Talks between the Serbian and Macedonian Orthodox in recent years to try to find a resolution of the dispute came to nothing, after which the Serbian Orthodox Church established a branch in Macedonia, which has been heavily persecuted by the Macedonian government.
Macedonians and human rights activists in Serbia point out the bitter irony that while the Serbian government has tried to pressure the Macedonian government to free Archbishop Jovan and to end the harassment of the Serbian Orthodox Church there, it is at the same time unwilling to allow other Orthodox jurisdictions – including the Macedonian, Romanian, Montenegrin and Old Calendarist Orthodox – to function freely.
For a personal commentary by a religious freedom lawyer arguing that Serbia should not follow Austria's system of dividing religious communities into different categories with differing legal rights, see F18News http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=403
For more background, see Forum 18's Serbia religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=387 and survey of attacks on religious minorities in 2004 and early 2005 at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=581
A printer-friendly map of Serbia and Montenegro is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=europe&Rootmap=yugosl
12 September 2005
While a Serbian Orthodox church is being built in Lovcenac in northern Vojvodina, the local authority's allocation of land in the same village to build a Montenegrin Orthodox church sparked an immediate response from Serbia's religion minister, Milan Radulovic. He claimed that as an unregistered religious community, the Montenegrin Church does not exist, adding that the government has a duty to stop it and the Macedonian Orthodox Church building any places of worship in Serbia. The head of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church, Archbishop Mihailo, condemned what he called "arrogant behaviour on the part of Serbia", pointing out to Forum 18 News Service that the Serbian Orthodox Church operates unhindered in Montenegro. The Serbian government has tried to exclude or restrict all other Orthodox communities, including the Romanian Orthodox, the Old Calendarist Orthodox, the Macedonian Orthodox and the Montenegrin Orthodox.
9 September 2005
Recent incidents of violence against Serbia's religious minorities have included the wounding by stabbing of Hare Krishna devotee Zivota Milanovic in the town of Jagodina and the beating of two Muslim conscripts during their military service, Forum 18 News Service notes in its latest listing of verbal and physical attacks on religious minority communities. Places of worship – particularly Adventist churches – have been vandalised and subjected to arson attacks, while the authorities have threatened to destroy a Romanian Orthodox church. A Serbian Orthodox bishop was quoted in the press as threatening to make sure that whatever the Old Calendarist Orthodox build will be torn down.
8 September 2005
As physical and verbal attacks on religious minorities continued over the summer, Serbia's religion minister Milan Radulovic has challenged Forum 18 News Service's documentation of the extent of such attacks over the past year and a half. While Forum 18 listed over 100 attacks on religious minorities in 2004, Radulovic put the number at 82, dismissing all but two as resulting in no more than "minimal" damage. He claims the number of such attacks this year has fallen by half. This is the first time a Serbian government minister has admitted such attacks have taken place, even if few attacks ever lead to prosecutions. "The very fact that in 2004, the police registered 82 attacks but brought only four criminal charges for inciting religious hatred, while in the first six months of 2005 police registered 20 attacks but launched only one criminal case for inciting religious hatred gives cause for concern," Vidan Hadzi-Vidanovic of the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights told Forum 18.