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Warning Signs of Religious Fundamentalism:

Conservative and Retrograde Tendencies in The Former Yugoslavia

Tuesday 5 June 2007

WARNING SIGNS OF RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISM: CONSERVATIVE AND RETROGRADE TENDENCIES IN THE FORMER YUGOSLAVIA

A PANEL DISCUSSION HELD IN NOVI SAD ON APRIL 23RD 2004, ORGANIZED BY WOMEN IN BLACK, BELGRADE ANDMILEVA MARI]-EINSTEINWOMEN’S STUDIES, NOVI SAD

Panel Moderators: Marija Perkovi_ and Adriana Zaharijevi_
With the participation of activists from Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia

MARIJA PERKOVI_ WOMEN IN BLACK ACTIVIST, VRBAS
A month after the formation of the government, we have the impression that the former regime is being restored, both by the entry of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) into the government and by the strengthening of the right-wing Serbian Radical Party (SRS) in Serbia. On the very night following the elections on December 28th, 2003, there was an escalation of nationalism in Subotica, and later in other cities throughout Vojvodina as well. In March, there was an escalation of nationalist clashes in Kosovo. Mosques were burnt in Belgrade and Ni_ in retribution. Then,. the Law on Financial Support to The Hague Defendants and Their Families was passed, followed by the decree arranging payment for the priests protecting the Serbian monasteries in Kosovo, etc.
Soon after October 5th, 2000, when we thought there would be a break with previous retrograde tendencies, President Ko_tunica went to the Hilandar Monastery. Then, everything that Milo_evic had secretly thought and _e_elj publicly advocated became legitimated as the will of the people, and accepted matter-of-factly.
The streets belonged to us as we walked in solidarity, hoping for democratic change. Now there are street protests by the right-wing forces that we fought until October 5th, groups that we thought couldn’t return. Unfortunately, in the last few months we have witnessed more nationalist outbursts than ever before. I hope that we will muster the strength to talk about this today. Additionally, the latest research by the SKAN agency demonstrated that the citizens of Serbia place the most trust in the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) (68%), followed by the army, while only 4% of citizens trust the Hague Tribunal. In Vojvodina, research has recently been conducted by the administration, showing that over 30% of high-school students do not wish to have any contact with other nations, and wouldn’t wish to even see a Croatian or Albanian tourist in Novi Sad. This is all happening in multi-ethnic Vojvodina!

ADRIANA ZAHARIJEVI_, WOMEN IN BLACK ACTIVIST, BELGRADE
Although the war is over, the nationalist-militarist cultural mentality still remains the dominant cultural model. For instance, the politics of natality is directly under the influence of SPC. Through their actions and influence, various branches of youth organizations advancing Orthodox Christianity, challenge the human rights of women, especially their reproductive and sexual rights.
A new value system founded on conservative, right wing ideas has first and foremost affected women, so that the law on abortion was barely passed at the beginning of the nineties. Alongside with discarding the idea of ’Communism, Titoism and Brotherhood and Unity’, and returning to ’ Serbian original traditional values’, Milo_evic’s flirtation with various institutions, ideologies, and symbols, in conjunction with the military machinery, militarism and overt nationalist politics of the Church, deprived women of their previously won rights and freedoms, if not de jure, then certainly de facto. The Serbian Orthodox Church had an important role in promoting ’traditional values’, appealing to women to return to ’privacy’, to home-making, and celebrating
a woman exclusively in the role of mother (the mother of a soldier and a warrior) and as the keeper of tradition.
This has turned abortion into a burning issue. As a woman’s basic reproductive right, abortion has been jeopardized rhetorically, publicly and politically. Patriarch Pavle’s epistles (read for Christmas and Easter) are full of stigmatizations of pacifists and ’irresponsible mothers’ who haven’t given birth to a ’sufficient number of sons’. The SPC also condemns gynecologists and nurses who performing abortion or assisting with the procedure.

SANDA MALBA_A, ACTIVIST OF CESI (CENTER FOR EDUCATION AND CONSULTING), ZAGREB

CLERICALISM IN CROATIAN SOCIETY SINCE THE BEGINNING OF THE NINETIES
From 1990 onwards, there have been many examples of the fundamentalist influence of the Church in Croatia. This fundamentalism isn’t only some fanatics but also distinguished, leading men of the Church, favored and given silent approval by the government.
When the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) was in power, the Church was very closely aligned with them. After HDZ lost power, the closeness remained. At that time Croatia signed an agreement with the Vatican granting the Church a particularly privileged position within the state. Religious instruction was introduced into schools, the Church regained its property, and the state created funds for financing churches. There were many additional privileges. During the 1990s the Church imposed its values as universal. In such circumstances, in the aftermath of war and destitution, the state decreased the budget for healthcare, which was a considerable blow to the female population. Priority was given to restoration. In this context, there was much talk about the bad demographical situation in Croatia. In 1992 Anto Bakovi_, a Franciscan cleric and a well-known hate-monger was assigned by the Ministry of Restoration to deal with the demographic issue. His major program was to create a strong one-nation state in which Croat women would give birth to baby Croats in order to preserve the national identity. The first medicine removed from the list was contraceptives. Abortion wasn’t forbidden, but it cost women the equivalent of their entire monthly wages. Doctors had the right to cite conscientious objection regarding abortion, so that instead of performing it in public institutions they made money by performing it privately. In Pula and Split abortions weren’t performed at all.
There was an initiative to criminalize abortion. Those advocating the initiative were right-wing politicians, Catholic fundamentalists and even some NGOs. They got enormous publicity in the media. Round tables were organized in which no women participated. It was recommended that prior to abortion every woman should consult a priest. Data was cited claiming that women had aborted 180,000 unborn Croats. What did we do then? Twenty-five women’s groups collected 20,000 signatures for a petition stating that we shouldn’t consult priests but our physicians, and we succeeded.
Additionally, the film Silent Scream played in religious instruction classes in schools, showing the act of abortion itself. During the projection, pupils are not allowed to leave, even if they don’t feel well.
Now that we want to join the EU there has been many cosmetic changes, adjusting domestic laws to the EU laws, but the Church still hasn’t given up.

ZILHA _ILJAK, INTERNATIONAL MULTIRELIGIOUS AND INTERETHNIC CENTER, SARAJEVO

FUNDAMENTALISTS SEE WOMEN AS BIRTHING MACHINES, NOT INDIVIDUALS
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, (BH) the influence of the churches and the Islamic religious community is also very significant, but there aren’t such drastic examples as in Croatia, for instance. This is probably because we are under international protectorate, so there haven’t been any specific state programs through which religious communities could become prominent. The evidence shows that all three religions are patriarchal, and significant influences come both from Serbia and Croatia. In B-H, women are definitely discriminated against. Customs and tradition strictly determine a woman’s position within the family and in public life. This also goes for the Islamic family, which is founded on a patriarchal basis and extends male dominance to all spheres of family and public life. Women and the female body have always been a training ground for demonstrating power. Every attempt to change this has been resisted by the fundamentalists. This phenomenon has been especially prominent for the past 30 years, following the Iranian revolution.
When the wars of the nineties broke out, the position of women worsened. With the strengthening nationalism, there was an affirmation of woman as the mother of the nation; she wasn’t an individual, but had to give birth for the sake of the community. These tendencies came from Serbia and Croatia; Muslim women were supposed to compete with other women in number of births. There were strange statements at that time coming both from political and Islamic officials, exerting pressure on women to bear children. During the war many women were raped. They didn’t get moral support from the Islamic religious community, but were declared heroines. Throughout this period religion and the nation were constantly intertwined.
After the war, there has been no campaign against abortion, but there have been activities by the Islamic community, which is comprised of many groups one can see appearing on television every evening. These groups are more active than women’s groups.

KSENIJA FORCA, WOMEN IN BLACK ACTIVIST, BELGRADE

ABORTION, SERBIAN NATIONALISM, AND ORTHODOXY

Following October 5th, 2000 when Ko_tunica came to power, the Church has been gaining great prominence in Serbia. The Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) has become a part of the education system; religious rituals have begun to be performed in public institutions such as hospitals, schools, and the premises of certain political parties, breaching the secularity of the state. In this way the SPC has gained a vast space for operating and spreading its doctrine. Clerical-nationalist organizations have been formed. ’Obraz’, ’Sveti Justin Filosof’, and ’Dveri Srbske’ exert great influence on society and are supported by the political, clerical and the so-called intellectual elite. This, but not only this, has resulted in young people in the streets destroying and burning the sacred objects of other religions, depending on the occasion. Of course, these clerical-nationalist forces were gaining strength for years during the reign of the Milo_evic regime, but now they have further widened their political power.
One of the essential teachings that the SPC (but not only the SPC, this is a commonality among many religions) promotes is that abortion is murder. It should be mentioned that Patriarch Pavle, as the mouthpiece of the SPC, never misses a chance to ’warn’ women in his epistles that abortion is an act of murder and to remind them not to do that. It should also be mentioned that during the wars in the former Yugoslavia the same SPC bestowed its blessing upon ’Serbian’ warriors, rapists and murderers.
The Church as an institution, and especially its fundamentalists, are trying to seize political power so that they would be able to control the lives of everyone, especially women. They mostly operate in the spheres of ethics, the family, sexuality and reproduction.

MYTHS ABOUT ABORTION

Presupposing that God has created everything and takes eternal care about the order of things, ’of every blade of grass, and likewise of people’, and knows what is good for each one of us, the campaigners against abortion support their ’argument’ in the following way:
THE FETUS IS A HUMAN BEING, I.E. A PERSON - ONE BECOMES A HUMAN BEING AT CONCEPTION, NOT BIRTH. Here the fetus is completely equalized with a living person. In relation to the pregnant person there seems to be two completely different bodies. An impression is created that the fetus does not depend on the pregnant woman, but that the pregnant woman represents merely a conduit for bringing nutrition to the fetus for nine months. It goes without saying that the fetus is completely dependent on the will and life of the woman. From the Church’s viewpoint, the woman matters only as this conduit. there is a complete disregard for her emotions, her social status, and her life as an actual person.
THE FETUS IS A LIVING ORGANISM THAT CANNOT DEFEND ITSELF. This statement is primarily aimed at provoking a sense of pity and guilt in a person who wishes to abort or has aborted a pregnancy. It also serves to encourage others’ condemnation.
ABORTION IS A VIOLENT INTERRUPTION OF A PREGNANCY; THISARGUMENTIS ACCOMPANIED BY A DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF ABORTION AS THE DISMEMBERING OF A CHILD IN THE WOMB, AND THEN PULLING THE PARTS OUT OF THE WOMAN. A trick woven into all the anti-abortion texts is to depict abortion as ’chopping up a living child’; in spite of the fact that there are various ways of performing abortion and that abortion is usually performed while the fetus doesn’t even have a shape which we consider human.
ABORTION IS A PART OF THE VALUE SYSTEM OF THENEW WORLD ORDERTHAT FANTASIZES ABOUT HUMAN AND WOMEN’S RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS. IN THIS WAY, IT JEOPARDIZES THE FAMILY AND ALL THE OTHER TRADITIONAL VALUES OF THE NATION. Abortion is part of a wider conspiracy theory, it is just one more way in which the creators of the so-called new world order wish to rule the world and increase their numbers. It all begins with the leftists, i.e. with Marx, who proposed that God was invented by man, and so affected a discontinuity with the previous way of thinking. The creators of the aforementioned order are mostly Jews, but also traitors to their nations and the misguided (depending on who the author of the text is and where she/he lives), leftists led by Marx, humanists and, of course, feminists. All of them are atheists - that is, Satanists. In Serbia these are also Romany, Croats, Albanians, Muslims, lesbians, and homosexuals as they’re called here, , all those suspected of being non-Orthodox (since religion and nation in their opinion are the same), or all those who desecrate the idea of a traditional Orthodox family. In the book entitled Abortion – Another Humanist Watermill of Death (published by IHTUS) if a quoted physician is Jewish, it is inevitably mentioned in the footnote.
ARGUMENTS FOR ABORTION SUCH AS UNEMPLOYMENT, POVERTY, INADEQUATE ACCOMMODATION, AS WELL AS GIVING PRIORITY TO CAREER OVER MATERNITY are part of the value system of the new world order that puts ’man’ in the position of God. In connection to these arguments, it is also mentioned that God has a plan for everything and that if a woman is pregnant it means that God has a plan for her. She should give birth to the child regardless of everything, even if she has no place to live. The SPC accuses women of ’ignoring’ their maternal instinct and choosing a career because they are selfish and, as mentioned above, misled by the idea of the centrality of ’man’ and not God.
ABORTION IS THE MURDER OF A NATION. This is an invitation to all those who have been misled to stop performing abortions since there are fewer and fewer Serbs and Orthodox Christians. This sentence is very explicit in right-wing texts, but often there are less explicit discourses conveying the same message in various other media.
IT IS A NEW WAY OF OFFERING A SACRIFICE TO THE DEVIL. As mentioned above, all the unbelievers (which in this context can also be read as un-Orthodox), regardless of whether they declare themselves atheists or not, are automatically assumed to be against God, meaning (in line with the well-known policy that you’re either with us or against us, the so-called ’either/or’ policy) that they believe in the Devil. This is consequently followed by the conspiracy theories on which I don’t want to elaborate here, but it is important to note that they make use of the prejudices existing in society, the imagery of horror movies, emotional blackmail and manipulation.

THE RIGHT OF A WOMAN TO BE IN CHARGE OF HER OWN BODY

The key point of these texts is that abortion is not viewed only as the murder of a living creature, but also as an attack on the nation, religion, natality, social morality, etc. All these myths promoted by the mouthpieces of SPC and clerical right-wing organizations are concordant with the ideas of populist policy in their aim to spur women to bear children for the good of the state, nation, race, class, and religion. This kind of pro-natality populist policy uses the mechanisms of emotional blackmail and threats. It is based on already existing prejudices. In a society such as this one, it has an excellent basis. I’m afraid it’s just a matter of time before the repressive measures of this policy become official laws.
COMMON TOPICS REGARDING WOMEN IN THE TEXTS OF THE SPC AND RIGHT-WING YOUTH ORGANIZATIONS:
WOMAN AS A SUBJECT DOES NOT EXIST
HER INTERESTS DO NOT EXIST. THEY ARE THE INTERESTS OF THE NATION, STATE, CHURCH
HER BODY BELONGS TO THE NATION, STATE, CHURCH, HUSBAND,
FETUS, CHILD, EVERYONE BUT HERSELF
Given that patriarchy is the dominant system of values in the Church teachings and in the texts of clerical-nationalists, it is completely clear that a woman’s role on earth and in society is to be a mother and a servant to the family. The laws prohibiting abortion force women back into their traditional roles as mothers and nurses, defining them in terms of their reproductive abilities while simultaneously denying the importance of female participation in politics, the economy, and the social and cultural life of a society.
In the declaration issued by the Sisterhood of Saint Stefan Lipovac Monastery it is said, “As for the woman herself, her true freedom is actually not jeopardized by the prohibition of abortion. She would best realize the freedom of her being by PROTECTING THE CHILD’S LIFE. In this way she would be protecting the divine purpose of the female body assigned to the woman by God, to bear children. Only in this way can she take the evangelical path to salvation.”
The conclusion is clear. According to the SPC, there are only two roles for women, one is to bear children in a church-sanctioned marriage, and the other is to be a nun.
Numerous international conventions grant women their right to health. It is the duty of every state to provide their citizens with quality, generally available, secure, and complete healthcare. Unfortunately, reality is far from the adopted resolutions.
In this country abortion was legalized in 1952, but even during the time of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRJ) it was the only medical procedure that cost money. This was also a way of punishing women. Currently, the situation is incomparably worse. Women still pay for abortion in state hospitals. The conditions there are catastrophic. Additionally, procedures have been invented to encourage a woman to keep the child ’at all costs’. Abortions in private clinics are extremely costly and beyond the means of most women. Also, these abortions often aren’t officially documented and may be treated as illegal. They are mostly performed in an assembly-line manner and with disregard for the woman’s fears. The latest reforms of health service (with the exception of private clinics) provide for abortion free of charge in the case of rape (including incest), and in the case when the fetus’s and/or woman’s health is jeopardized, whereas if the reasons for abortion are of a socio-economic nature, the woman must pay. For now, that isn’t a large sum. There are a number of problems here. Apart from the obvious paradox that a woman has to pay if she has decided to abort, due to a lack of money and means to sustain a child, such an approach implies a moralizing/accusatory attitude and violates a woman’s autonomous decision and her right to an abortion. Reproductive rights mean the right of a woman to decide independently whether or not she will have children and when, regardless of her nationality, class, race, age, religion, disability, difference, sexual orientation or marital status - in the economic, social and political conditions that will enable her to make the decision.
Millions of women abort even when abortion is illegal. Also, the death rate of women due to illegal abortions is enormous. When faced with an unwanted pregnancy, in countries were abortion is forbidden, poor women usually induce abortion themselves or go to persons who perform abortions without any medical education. This increases the risk to their health. The women who survive such abortions suffer the consequences later. ILLEGAL ABORTION MEANS LEGAL DEATH FOR WOMEN. SPC does not wish to accept and recognize the experience of women, on the contrary.
Of course, women don’t decide to abort out of pleasure, and abortion is just one of the ways to terminate pregnancy. The availability of contraceptives and sexual education are of equal importance. In Serbia, however, in the style of horror films, it is considered more important that young people in public schools should be acquainted with the inability of the human mind to understand the secret of Trinity in religious instruction classes, than to gain knowledge about their bodies, their genitals, and the ways to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy, not to mention women’s reproductive rights…
For all these reasons I think it is important that when talking about abortion we take a holistic approach to female health, and that in fighting for reproductive rights we always focus on the interests of the woman.

BOBAN STOJANOVI_, WOMEN IN BLACK AND THE NETWORK OF CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTORS ACTIVIST, BELGRADE

RETROGRADE TENDENCIES AMONG THE YOUNG

A few days ago a girl in a city bus was explaining to her mother how in some class they had a simulation of two forms of family: a modern and a traditional one. She gave a very precise explanation of what each model offered, and finally concluded that she preferred the traditional family because it is clearly visible who is who, who the man is, who is the woman, who is the father and who are the children. This wouldn’t have been strange had it been spoken within the Orthodox code by a chaste, humble, and kind girl. But this was announced by a very alternatively dressed girl, with several earrings, a bunch of bracelets, and a striking green purse. Had I met her in the street, I would have believed she was a representative of the Other Serbia, the one that is not only more politically correct, but also more alternative and less traditional. It turns out I had a prejudice that outer appearance showed what was inside and that Otherness had certain visual characteristics by which some people could be recognized. However, on one hand, the people in Serbia, but also across most of the former Yugoslavia, are not lacking idols promoting fashion styles and ways of being a fake individualist. On the other hand, when those same young people start thinking about certain matters, which may be considered politically important, numerous questions imposed on them logically demand answers. Certain political opinions are very often acquired from the environment, without a particular inclination to find a necessary answer to a question, so it is not strange to hear a youth of 19 say that Croats should be killed, that Kosovo is the heart of Serbia, and that faggots should be sent to prison camps… And if you ask him where he has acquired this information, perhaps he would point to the graffiti on a nearby wall. This harmless everyday milieu is exactly where there are answers to the question why, after everything that has happened here, young people still hold some regressive ideas.
The answer is not only the above-mentioned wall, but can also be found in numerous imposed trends belonging to the promotional campaign for a new national identity. Namely, the wars fought in the former Yugoslavia can be characterized as ethnic wars. For these wars, it was important to create new and healthy nations, including some kind of a new Serbian nation. To create such a nation, apart from having volunteers willing to spill blood on Serbian land for the Serbian idea, it was important to create new generations of young Serbian men and women who would bring glory to Serbia, justify wars, justify all the hatred launched from the intellectual-fascistic positions. Who can help but trust the young and their nationalism, if it’s said that Bishop Atanasije is overzealous? The chief promoters of backward ideas are the SPC and numerous rightwing parties and organizations of clero-fascist leanings, who have the Church’s blessing and support in infiltrating exactly those parts of identity which are the most vulnerable: the sense of belonging and of loneliness, the sense of security and being protected. To be the same means safety. One achieves security by belonging to a large group. The idea of security is important here because it provides for daily existence. Belonging to a group for this reason is not the same as belonging to a group for the sake of an idea.

WHICH ARE THE PRINCIPLES INDICATING ONE’S BELONGING TO SUCH A GROUP?

The main principle is patriotism, meaning a readiness to live and die for one’s fatherland and to respect national authorities and the state institutions, including, of course, the Church. The Church is particularly important, because it reflects upon the subtle part of one’s personality, the one with which we often grapple with, emotions and feelings, right and wrong, moral and immoral, individual and collective… From this position the Church represents an authority that controls emotions, morality and values, promoting the principles of correctitude, belonging and tradition, often within the historical context of the survival of the Serbian nation through the ages. All these ideas aim at justifying war crimes and provoking suspicion about whatever is Other and Different, be it another nation, religion, sexual orientation, political opinion, and the like. Such suspicions constitute an excellent system for controlling and manipulating a large group of people.

WHAT ARE THE REGRESSIVE TENDENCIES?

These are primarily nationalism and clericalism. They represent the two most important factors, which because of various state institutions, are currently experiencing a revival, in the most terrifying sense.
THE NEW SERBIAN NATIONALISM IS INSTITUTIONALIZED. This is evident in the introducing of religion in schools, in the work of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences, in the history schoolbooks, but also in the abundant of merchandise such as Orthodox alphabet book, Easter puzzles and similar trinkets. For a somewhat older generation there are numerous youth organizations such as Sveti Justin Filosof, Obraz, Dveri Srpske, and others. They mostly recruit members among the student population, the population which should demonstrate to the public the true image of Serbia. The students, being trustworthy, progressive young people, represent the country’s future and therefore the nation’s future. It is completely logical that their families, close and distant cousins, neighbors and friends, rely on them. There are several very important concepts upon which these ideas are based. These are:
THE CHURCH PRESCRIBES VERY PRECISELY THE BEHAVIOR AND APPEARANCE OF A GIRL/WOMAN AS OPPOSED TO A MAN, TAKING CARE THAT CERTAIN TRANSGRESSIONS ARE PENALIZED. This results in campaigns against abortion, artificial insemination, equality of the sexes and gays and lesbians, sexual freedom, women who opt for single parenthood, and all those who aren’t married. (A few years ago there was a campaign to introduce taxes for the unmarried). They promote the ideas that women should cover themselves before entering church, that our sons and daughters aren’t good enough, and that giving birth should be encouraged. They promote qualities such as chastity, humility, faithfulness, loyalty, courage, and silence…
Through nationalism, young men are offered a clear example of militant values and values of gender sacrifice, i.e. authoritarianism, hierarchy, the relationship of subordination and machismo reflected in the patriarchal attitude, the equalization of God’s authority in heaven and the husband’s at home, and honoring relationships based on positions of power, hierarchy, and authority. The relationship between the army and the Church is disturbing. These two institutions support and justify each other, which is most explicitly reflected in the justification of war, war crimes and criminals and the incessant advancement of their inherent connectedness. Also, there are some very traditionalist motifs, such as remaining faithful to the warrior (boyfriend) serving in the army. An amazing number of girls consider themselves more worthy if they wait faithfully until their boyfriends return from the army. This has the symbolic significance of participating in the country’s defense. She mustn’t disappoint the warrior because her life depends on him. Some of these facts sound almost unreal, but they do exist. This is why we are here discussing retrograde tendencies.
VIOLENCE AGAINST THE OTHER AND THE DIFFERENT IS A VERY CLEAR CONSEQUENCE OF SUPPORTING THE IDEA OF NATIONALISM AND CLERICALISM. In 2001, after the first Pride Parade was held in Belgrade, Atanasije Jeftic concluded that beating people in the street had served a good purpose. The healthy youth of Serbia, consisting of Partizan and Red Star football hooligans, united to beat gays and lesbians, i.e. the unhealthy portion of Serbia. Recently, when the mosques were burned, Amfilohije appealed for understanding for the young in Serbia, since ’the children are sad about the destruction of their holy places, and therefore angry’. There is also a very important aspect of promoting physical and mental health as the basis of the nation and excluding all those who do not fit the requirements of such a controlled society.
Uniformity implies, above all, the repudiation of difference. This can be very dangerous as it means one pattern within our nation or group, and the same image is already assumed within another group. In this way, we resort to roots, tradition, and trying to be good, honest, sincere, pious, and whatever else befits a young and healthy Serb. Since there can be only one victor and our group is always better than the other, it makes us also a bit better than others, i.e. we value ourselves more than members of other groups. In this way, whatever doesn’t fit within one pattern is an automatically excluded other. Uniformity is one of the important reasons that make young people exclude those who are different. It frequently happens that someone gets beaten in the street just because she/he is dressed a bit differently.
CONTROLLING PEOPLE BY MEANS OF SOCIAL PREJUDICES means promoting a certain system of values. It makes prejudices stronger. Young people, who are undergoing a phase of intense questioning of their politics, sexuality, Otherness, are looking for information to provide them with direction and some explanations. Unfortunately, the social “mainstream” is Bishop Nikolaj Velimirovi_ and Co., grinning at us from behind every corner and offering answers about the Jews, the Holocaust, human rights, capitalism, homosexuality, sin and a wide spectrum of other topics.
Given the rather bleak image revealed to us by the retrograde trends among the Serbian youth, it is difficult to offer any concrete suggestion for a solution. It is essential that all of us who perceive and feel the impact of such tendencies are willing to speak out publicly and condemn them. As representatives of civil society we must support and encourage each other in order to create a milieu of trust which would be available to all those who endorse civic values, but have difficulties upholding them within society. It is also very important that we are open to self-criticism and criticism within our circles, since we flatter each other too often, admiring numerous centers and organizations for this or that. Very often, directly or indirectly, we support some tendencies that promote elitism and exclusiveness rather than civic values. Persistence and patience are very important factors in one’s engagement in building the civil sector, since this is a comprehensive and lengthy process.

SLOBODAN SAD_AKOV, DEPARTMENT OF PHILOSOPHY, UNIVERSITY OF NOVI SAD, AND THE EUROPEAN MOVEMENT IN SERBIA

FUNDAMENTALISM IN SERBIA

Present-day Europe has developed based on the process of secularization. The first fundamental factor in the secularization process was the expropriation of Church property. (In the feudal system, the Church owned one-third of state property.) This was followed by the processes of education and development of society. The third step, which I will expand on, is the Church’s separation from the state. These processes made religion a matter of personal freedom, belief and choice, a matter of basic human rights. These rights are regulated by the constitution granting the freedom of religion, but also the freedom of nonbelief. The modern world recognizes the right to be different. Each identity is respected and there is a maximum of tolerance towards the Others, as they are called today. On the other hand, fundamentalism insists, usually from the position of the right-wing, tribal and patriarchal structures, on one exclusive identity. It is an imposition of this identity as true, correct and the only possible one. It is a primitive and unenlightened manner of reacting to everything that civil society entails. It is simply the negation of the principle determining the course of European civilization and the overall values of the modern West.

The question is how to oppose all of this. What is it that we see? What do the modern tendencies of society bring? In opposition to building a civil society in our country, the fundamentalists are trying to affirm a concept of anachronistic national states in the Balkans, insisting on one nation, one national interest, one leader, one Church, centralization, and unity. This counteracts the possibility of respecting different interests, first and foremost individual human interests, and the possibility of freely establishing one’s own identity. In this way, the monopoly of one nation, one leader, and one Church enables robbery, nationalism, and Church domination to flourish. As opposed to the Church in a modern society, which is not capable of influencing state policy from a privileged position, religious fundamentalism expresses itself in terms of the incessant meddling of the SPC in the sphere of the state. The fundamentalist Church incessantly influences public opinion via its followers, endeavoring to create state policy. Concretely, there is, for instance, the problem of sects, which is constantly emphasized as a serious state problem. I think this problem is marginal and should be the concern of criminal law. The SPC has a monopoly on determining which religions are ’correct’, although in civil society they are all correct by definition, provided that they are founded on an individual’s free choice and that they do not breach the laws. Our problem is not with sects but with Serbian nationalism, which permeates the spheres of public, cultural and political life in society.
What part does the SPC play in this organized madness called Serbian nationalism, which still persists, led by this political Frankenstein? It plays a considerable part, marked by primitivism, anachronism and nationalism. Where the high priests of SPC are concerned, we feel a completely unjustifiable restraint in speaking critically. Therefore, we refer to them with discretion, while they are unscrupulous in influencing this society politically. Most of the SPC priests are not priests but politicians and that is how they act in public. Therefore, we would be completely correct to treat them like politicians and criticize them accordingly. Besides, it is questionable whether the SPC really is Christian if it acts in this manner, not to mention the consecration of casinos, shopping malls, and political parties’ offices. Which canons and principles of Christianity are upheld by this?

Religious fundamentalists are all those who want to impose their spiritual monopoly on the society and state. The SPC abundantly uses its privileges and means, without restraint. We must all be prepared for this. It seems that a great radicalization of our society is approaching. We could find ourselves hanging around here like sitting ducks for the fundamentalists. This is why we must design a good strategy for common action involving all segments of civil society against the increasing fundamentalism.

JELKA KLJAJI_-IMSIROVI_, BELGRADE WOMEN’S LOBBY, BELGRADE

THE SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH, WAR, AND CONFRONTING THE PAST

I will talk about the fundamentalism of the SPC. If a high Orthodox official were here now, he would call me completely ignorant, since they relate fundamentalism exclusively to Islam. This would mean that Serbian fundamentalism doesn’t exist at all. I would be pronounced an atheist, which, as they explain in schools, is someone who not only disbelieves in God, but also works against God. The basis of the SPC’s operations from the beginning of the 1980s has been St. Sava’s doctrinal nationalism, which the influential theologians and the church books refer to as organic or evangelical nationalism. Which principles does it imply? One Nation, one Church, one State. The other principle upon which SPC operates is the threefold paternalist principle, paterfamilias, king-emperor-state and God in Heaven. These principles were adopted by SPC on St. Vitus’s day in 1989, at the gathering we are all familiar with. St. Sava’s doctrinal nationalism was an important factor in exciting ethnic hatred; it preceded the onset of war in this area. Patriarch Pavle, regarded as a moderate bishop, justified all these wars. He called them just and defensive. When journalists asked him if Christians distinguished between just and unjust wars, he replied that wars are fought in Heaven as well and that a defensive war is the word of Christ. It should be pointed out that the SPC has never condemned any war. After the bombing, they declared that we were defending ourselves, but that we could have acted differently.

While in power, Milosevic often had clashes with SPC. On the other hand, the clerics had a good relationship with the leadership of Republika Srpska (Karad_i_ and Mladi_). Biljana Plav_i_ was the Maid of Kosovo. When she distanced herself from them they dubbed her ’a hysterical granny’. It is important to mention that Atanasije Jevti_ and Amfilohije Radovi_, while talking about the war in Bosnia, claimed that justice and the soul of the whole world were being defended there.

According to our theologians, war crimes occurred here and there, and many more were committed by the other sides. Arkan was especially favored. He would enter churches in full war gear. On one occasion, he declared that his supreme commander was Patriarch Pavle himself. The Church never discussed nor condemned the devastation of cities. When Vukovar fell, they said it was liberated, not mentioning from whom. In Banja Luka, where there were no military operations, 16 mosques were demolished. The Church never even mentioned this, let alone condemned it. On the contrary, the very year after the mosques had been demolished, the city hosted the Holy Assembly of Archbishops in 1994.
I would like to draw your attention to May 2001, when a foundation was laid in Banja Luka for the Ferhadi mosque. There was a riot provoked by outraged masses of nationalists, and the SPC didn’t react.
In March this year, when the Bajrakli mosque was burned in Belgrade, the SPC reacted (which is a positive step forward) but the bad thing is that these outraged youths are in fact the junior followers of the Church. In a way, they are the outcome of the socio-political influence and operations of the Church through all these years.
Following October 5th, 2000, the SPC changed its strategy, softening it a little, so that now they no longer advocate for Greater Serbia, but a High Serbia, uniting all the Orthodox believers under this high roof. Also, the Church is securing a stronger hold on institutions by introducing religious instruction in schools, and through its large entry into the military and hospitals. The latest bit of religious fundamentalism is the epistle of Bishop Pahomije stating that women should bear children for the Church to raise, Serbs are human and Communists are Turks, and that Serbs aren’t criminals.

STA_A ZAJOVI_, WOMEN IN BLACK ACTIVIST, BELGRADE

ARE THERE ALTERNATIVES TO FUNDAMENTALISM?

Starting from the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state (established in all European constitutions except Greece), it is necessary to evaluate the influence of religious communities. In that sense, the following criteria may be applied:
1. WHO DOES THIS COMMUNITY REPRESENT? ON WHOSE BEHALF DOES IT SPEAK? DOES THE POPULATION IT REPRESENTS AGREE WITH IT?
The Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) claims that Orthodox Christians make up 95 percent of the overall population of Serbia, relying on a still unpublished census complied in 2003. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all those who have declared themselves as Orthodox are really believers.
2. IS THE DATA CITED BY THE REPRESENTATIVES OF THIS RELIGIOUS COMMUNITY CORRECT AND VALID?
Namely, the SPC purposefully disregards the percentage of people belonging to other religious communities. Additionally, the SPC never takes into account atheists and agnostics. The opinion polls that we have conducted in the past three years (2002, 2003 and 2004) on abortion and reproductive rights in general, as well as those of numerous other researchers, demonstrate that not all female Orthodox Christians think that abortion is murder. It makes one wonder. Does SPC consider them bad believers? The women themselves do not think so, but unlike the SPC, proclaim control over their own bodies and the right to self-determination.
3. DO THE PROPOSALS MADE BY THE SPC, AND THOSE POLITICIANS WHO BREACH THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE, RESPECT THE RIGHTS OF ALL INDIVIDUALS, I.E. OF ALL CITIZENS? DO THEY SERVE THE COMMON GOOD? DO THEY RESPECT OTHER RELIGIONS? DO THEY PRACTICE PLURALISM AND TOLERANCE?
Here are a few examples that show a total breach of constitutional principles and disrespect for the democratic heritage:
– Serbia’s Minister of Culture, Dragan Kojadinovi_, in a statement on renovating the Hilandar Monastery after the fire, urged that no workers with religious beliefs other than Orthodox Christianity should take part in the renovation. This is an extreme example of discrimination.
– Milan Proti_, a former ambassador of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to the USA, had the embassy’s premises consecrated in accordance with Christian Orthodox customs. This is an obvious example of the theocratization of the state.
– Vladeta Jankovi_, the ambassador of Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to the UK, keeps a portrait of Patriarch Pavle, the head of the SPC, on the embassy’s premises. This is also an example of theocratizing the state and its loss of a secular character.

4.ARE THESE POLICIES FEASIBLE?
In 2004, Kobasicijada (a traditional sausage festival held in the village Turija in Vojvodina) coincided with the first week of Lent. Since the SPC hadn’t succeeded in banning the event, Bishop Irinej, who was in charge of that area, ordered that the local church be closed during the festival, with the death bell sounding every fifteen minutes. All the festival participants were punished with a one year ban on partaking in religious ceremonies (with the exception of baptizing newborn children). Bishop Filaret was even more radical. He imposed the same punishment upon all those who organized Patron Saint Day feasts and other celebrations during Lent. These examples demonstrate not only the SPC’s repression of undisciplined believers, but also that those believers participated in their traditional events, not heeding the SPC’s prohibitions.

The model of sexuality advocated by the SPC, by some of the church dignitaries who preach against premarital sex, has nothing to do with the experience and reality of the population as a whole, especially the youth of this country.

Given that the SPC, just like all other religious communities, strives to monopolize morality, they reduce spirituality to their religious heritage alone and tend to influence public opinion in order to impose their own moral principles. The state and its representatives, as well as the civil society, should thwart the interference of the Church in state affairs, which is prescribed by the constitution.

For this reason, the following questions may be put to the authorities:
— WHY DON’T THEY OBSERVE THE CONSTITUTIONAL PRINCIPLE OF THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE?
WHY ARE RELIGIOUS COMMUNITIES ALLOWED TO MEDDLE IN ADMINISTRATIVE AND POLITICAL AFFAIRS?

In the case of Serbia, one may concretely ask them why they visit Patriarch Pavle prior to some important political event or meeting. Of course, they are allowed to visit him, but exclusively as private citizens. This shouldn’t be publicized.

— WHY DO POLITICAL LEADERS AND POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS TREAT CHURCH DIGNITARIES AS POLITICAL DISCUSSANTS WHEN THEY ARE EXCLUSIVELY IN CHARGE OF RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS?
For instance, after the violence induced by Albanian extremists in March 2004, the Serbian government organized the so-called processions and collective prayers headed by representatives of the Church and state in Belgrade. This is another obvious example of merging the Church with the state, and a sign of clerical influence upon social life.
WHY DO CIVIL AUTHORITIES COMPLY WITH THE CHURCH’S ETHICAL DOCTRINE?
The best example of this is the introduction of religious instruction in public schools.

WHAT TO DO? WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVES?

– To insist on separating the Church and the state, i.e. on observing the constitution of the Republic of Serbia, which clearly defines the secular character of the state. This means that religious communities have no authority with regard to institutions. It means that the representatives of religious communities cannot talk about public, let alone state, affairs as Church dignitaries but only as citizens. For instance: Risto Radovic, known as Bishop Amfilohije, has the right to talk exclusively as a citizen. The state must treat him as a citizen. The fact is, however, that the Bishop constantly gives his opinion about all state affairs, and does this exclusively in his capacity as a church dignitary.
– To insist on the secular character of society. Namely, state affairs cannot be organized in accordance with religious principles. Religion is the private affair of every individual. It is impolite to draw attention to one’s religious beliefs in public life or consider them an advantage, but this is constantly done in Serbia. This next point is very important from the standpoint of women. There are an increasing number of physicians in state hospitals who advocate for the restriction or even prohibition of abortion. In a secular state, they can advance such a form of conscientious objection, but as civil servants they are obliged to perform abortion, since it is legal. To repeat, abortion was legalized way back in 1952 in the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia. It represents one of the fundamental human rights of women.

GORDANA COMIC, DEMOCRATIC PARTY PARLIAMENTARIAN IN THE NATIONAL PARLIAMENT OF SERBIA, FROM NOVI SAD,

THE MIXING OF CHURCH AND STATE

The process of amalgamating the church with the state is complete. Allegedly, it happened accidentally. This is very dangerous because you don’t see who your political opponent is; politicians think it is all right to flirt with the Church, and the clerics think they hold sway over politicians. They are both lying, and I think this is an ideal moment for the civil sector.
Unfortunately, I see that this confusion is going to worsen in the near future. There will be scandals and various unpleasant situations, which will reveal the government’s haughtiness. This cannot last for long, because the citizens will realize that the government doesn’t care for the citizens themselves, and that the Church, by behaving in such a manner, proves incapable of minding its own business. It deals with the nation instead of religion. It is paradoxical that my political messages are unacceptable, even though I consider myself more genuinely Christian than they are. Why are the army and the Church the most trusted? There’s no one else to be trusted, unfortunately. That is a fact. Public opinion polls show that as much as 75 percent of this country’s citizens are in favor of the EU, without having the slightest idea of how many changes must be made to match EU laws and how we must change how we behave as a society. We need to respect human rights and deliver war criminals to The Hague Tribunal. The people are simply not given any explanations. This was a mistake made by the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) as well. Finally, a new constitution is being prepared. We have no idea what it will look like. Therefore we should get involved in time, lest they impose the Church on us along with the state.

Prepared by: Stasa Zajovic