The Political Aspirations

of the Serbian Orthodox Church



With the coming of Milošević into power the public scene has been reopened for the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) after five decades of the communist era. The aim was to obtain the support of the Church in the realization of the national program, and, indeed, the Church played the role it had been assigned. One the on hand, it strongly encouraged the rise ethno-nationalistic spirit combined with aspirations for the “Greater Serbia” project on all levels of the society: religious and national feelings of citizens have been manipulated for overtly political purposes. On the other hand, the Church openly backed the regime of Slobodan Milošević. However, its comeback failed to reach an institutional form, due to an ambiguous attitude of the Milošević regime towards the communist ideological heritage, which, among other things, took the secular character of the state as granted.

With the overthrow of Milošević and the establishment of the new regime, which explicitly and manifestly based its legitimacy on anti-communism, the ideological obstacles for the legalization of the ongoing process of the Serbian Orthodox Church’s public reappearance were removed, and the activities leading to an institutional shift from the secular principle on all levels of social and public life accelerated.


1. Rebuff of the Principle of Separation of Church

and State and the Violation of the Freedom and Equality

of Religious Beliefs


The redefinition of the relations between the Church and the State started when religious instruction in a dogmatic form became a part of public school curricula. Practically overnight, at the very beginning of the 2001/2002 school year a decree issued by the Serbian government in July 2001 instituted religious instruction in elementary and secondary schools. The decision was taken in spite of strong public opposition, without any preparatory trainings of instructors, serious considerations of such programs, and was made formal through a decree, which seriously breached constitutions of both Serbia and FRY in several ways. Starting with the principle of separation of church and state itself, and then by a flagrant violation of the provision guaranteeing the privacy of religious feelings and the freedom of consciousness, up to a factual abolishment of equality of confessions, by granting the right of religious instruction only to confessions explicitly listed in the decree. Immediately after stepping into the schools, the Church entered the Army. Then a request for the integration of the Faculty of Theology into the State University followed, as well as a request for the restitution of the Church’s property. These two requests are still waiting for a legal solution.

Both the Church and republic and federal ministries of religion made it clear that they regarded all these measures only as the first step towards the rejection of the principle of separation of church and state, proclaimed by the Constitution, and towards establishment of some form of unity between the two. Greece and its model of the state church are often being set as an ideal. “The State should proclaim the Serbian Eastern Orthodoxy as official religion, that is, our state should be verified as a Serbian Orthodox one, though other religions should have the right to exist, but not in the same rank as the Serbian Orthodoxy and only the ones the Serbian Orthodox Church does not regard as satanic” (Office of Religious Instruction within the Patriarchate).[1] The former dean of the Faculty of Theology believes that “religion is not a private emotional feeling, as it is being explained here”[2], while in an official address to the public, the Serbian Orthodox Church sharply attacks the point of view according to which religious feelings are in the domain of an individual’s privacy, while calling proponents of the secular state “followers of the Satan.”[3]

The former FRY Minister of Religion, Bogoljub Šijaković, also rejects the model of separation of church and state as being in conflict with Serbian tradition and proposes a solution, which incorporates elements of different models of unity – from state church, through “symphony” between the state and the church, up to the model of acknowledged churches as was the case in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The Patriarch himself prefers the “symphony” by saying, “We believe that the best relation between state and church is the one that used to be, that of the symphony – harmony between the state, that is, the society and the church.”[4] This model of the state-church relations shaped in Byzantium and evolved during many years into a system giving holy sanction to the national state, in modern times became the foundation for the development of the “church nationalism”.

There are individuals within the SOC itself who oppose the idea of the unity of state and church as an anachronism harmful to the interest of the church. “Attempts still exist here to build a divine state according to the Byzantine model. The Byzantine symphony today is a total absurd and an obstacle that prevents the Church to take its proper place,” believes father Nenad Ilić, adding that the Church has to be separated from the State and politics in order to “resume its genuine meaning”.[5] It is hard to find out whether such opinions are supported in the ranks of higher clergy. In public addresses, these voices are extremely rare.

Although the final model for the state-church relation, namely the fundamental reorganization of this model, cannot be established without a revision of the Constitution, the rebuff of the principle of separation of church and state has in fact already taken place in an indirect way through the model of acknowledged churches.

The Serbian government’s decree on the introduction of religious instruction has already established the category of “traditional churches and religious communities” by listing the churches and religions (seven in total). Unprecedented in the existing legal system in Serbia, this category discriminates other confessions. In the meantime, the concept of acknowledged churches – named as “traditional,” “big churches recognized worldwide,” etc. – has gained legitimacy in different ways and on all levels, and is practically not being questioned any more, except when the number of churches the State should acknowledge is concerned. Advocating the restitution of the Church properties the Serbian Minister of Religions acknowledges the right of restitution only to “traditional churches and religious communities, which are seven.”[6] And the request of the Serbian Orthodox Church for the access to the radio broadcast system signed by the Patriarch, mentions other “historical, that is traditional religious communities” without naming them.[7]

Pravoslavlje, a periodical published by the SOC, goes a step further, and proposes passing of a “law on the Church” instead of a law on the freedom of religion. The magazine advocates the view that it is wrong to neglect “the fact that the Church is one and unique” and treat it the same way as “everything that was ever called a religious community, all that was created literally yesterday at a meeting of a secret organization, a cult, or by people who have wavered from the true religious course…or are, moreover, susceptible to religious terrorism…”[8]

This understanding of the freedom of religion is widespread in the circles within the SOC. Numerous churches and religious communities, mostly Protestant, are considered religious sects or cults. Intense intolerance, even unveiled aggression towards these “cults” persists. “Serbian people are subject to systematic and planned evil, as has been justly observed by Bishop Nikolaj: this is a spiritual genocide committed by numerous cults - Protestant, satanic and those coming from the Far East,” says Pravoslavlje.[9] A fear that a Western conspiracy might commit a spiritual genocide of the Serbian people is being spread via this periodical, fear of genocide to be carried out by religious cults. “There is a plan to systematically cover the whole area of Serbia and Montenegro with a net of cults.”[10] Furthermore, “It is not a question here about something as an Adventist church… It is about the Adventists known to our people as the cult of Sabbatarians.” “The fact that they emerged and… are more and more frequently appearing in the media” is, in fact “a God’s sign and an alarm bell for the Serbian Orthodox Church, its followers and its clergy”. This is similar to the “spontaneous response” to the occurrence of “cults” and their “avant-garde propaganda” after the World War I, when the “famous Prayer Movement” emerged. This “greatest and most magnificent wonder in the modern history of our church”, the “Prayer Movement, was organized and led by St. Bishop Nikolaj.” “Maybe these new activities of the cults … will give birth to a new Nikolaj whom we need today more then ever before,” says the priest and editor-in-chief of The Voice of the Church radio outlet and magazine, Ljubomir Ranković.[11]

The reference to Bishop Nikolaj as the highest authority in the Serbian Orthodoxy is characteristic for the communication between the SOC and its followers. Bishop Nikolaj is a cult personality for the most conservative and nowadays predominant circles of the SOC.[12] Their major characteristics are an anti-Western stance on all issues and nationalism, with elements of fascism. The remains of Bishop Nikolaj were transferred to Serbia in May 1991, in the days when Serbia started a war in the territory of the former Yugoslavia. This was in accordance with the attempts of Milosevic’s regime to mobilize the nationalistic euphoria and the pro-war feelings more effectively. After October 5, 2000, the SOC promotes Bishop Nikolaj even more than it used to. He is being qualified “as the greatest Serb after Saint Sava,” and turned into a myth as “a symbol of Serbdom and Orthodoxy.” For example, on March 24, the anniversary of the beginning of NATO intervention in Serbia, the Church, in the presence of the top military official, General Nebojsa Pavkovic, unveils a monument to this controversial bishop in the Soko monastery[13]; to a bishop who had publicly shown his respect of Hitler and overt anti-Semitism.[14] Recently, the Federation of Jewish Communities in Serbia and Montenegro, drawing attention to the rise of anti-Semitism after October 5, pinpointed Bishop Nikolaj’s book “Words to the Serbian People behind Dungeon Windows” as the “the most disgusting anti- Semitism” where Jews “are the synonym for the Devil.”[15]

The current glorification of Bishop Nikolaj has, to a great extent, its rationale in the attempts of the Church to obtain a special place within the state. Namely, reference to Nikolaj is the usual “argumentation” the SOC uses to disqualify other churches as cults and, in fact, to advocate the idea about a state church.

In view of such an understanding of freedom of religion by the SOC, an understanding that ultimately leads to a denial of this very freedom, frequent outbursts of intolerance towards other confessions did not come as a surprise, including such violent acts as the one of last December in front of the Patriarchate, when followers of the Church of England were prevented from attending the Christmas service.[16]


2. Pretensions to a Moral and Ideological Monopoly

on the Society


After the October 5, with strong and manifest support from top FRY officials, especially President Vojislav Kostunica, the SOC is growingly imposed as the supreme moral and ideological arbiter – starting with the education of children up to the overall cultural and civilizational orientation of the society. The moral values the Church promotes are, almost without exception, characterized by collectivism, xenophobia and anti-Western feelings. Furthermore, the way these values are promoted is marked by a high degree of intolerance and even aggression.

 The SOC is particularly vigilant in its attempts to be the arbiter in education. Its standpoint is that “to separate the Church from school is the same as to separate a mother from her child.”[17] Moreover, all those opposing the idea of religious dogma as the moral foundation of education are “followers of the Satan.”[18]

In its confrontation with the atheists, the SOC uses the hate speech in its “purest” form. Unrestrained and straightforward methods the Church uses are to be attributed to the fact that it relates atheism to communism and pro-Western feelings, the phenomena that the Church believes have lost their legitimacy within the Serbian society during the last fifteen years.

The journal Pravoslavlje says that “the Serbo-phobia and the fight against God led by communist hordes… have created an enormous spiritual wasteland among Serbs. In the tomb of the Serbian people, the SFRY, education was founded on atheism… For centuries the love of God has marked the Serbian nation… and today, we are a mindless crowd that can be manipulated and seduced by any charlatan. With further Americanization we will become mercenaries of the new age,” writes Pravoslavlje.[19]

In his Christmas epistle for the year 2002, the Serbian Patriarch condemned atheist parents for “pushing their own children on the road of false happiness and false freedom…” and “destroying their children’s lives.”[20] Both ministers of religions, the Serbian and the federal, joined the claims that atheism was illegitimate. The acting Serbian minister, Vojislav Milovanović, believes that atheism caused war, poverty and a “moral plunge into the abyss,”[21] while the ex-federal minister, Bogoljub Šijaković, relates atheism to “the state of mind and psychological heritage of a spiritually and morally disturbed society, we have lived in for fifty years.”[22]

The Church places human rights activists in the same company with atheists: like atheists, they are related to communism, that is, “Titoism”. For the Federal Minister of Religions, human rights activists are “political chameleons,” “who used to persecute people for their faith in the name of communism and Titoism, and now do the same in the name of human rights and European integration.”[23] The Patriarch considers human rights activists to be “sinful minds”[24] – which is similar to the way Bishop Nikolaj labeled individual rights and freedoms as “some petty declarations of human rights..[25]

In the attempt to gain control over the education, the Church shows great ambition, albeit nervousness, intolerance and lack of control. The introduction of religious instruction in public school curricula was not enough to satisfy its pretensions to be the arbiter in moral issues of the society. The government of Serbia became their main target, the Ministry of Education above all, since the Church identified there a political option loyal to the principle of a secular state. Namely, the Ministry had made it clear that the decision to introduce religious instruction was unwelcome and contrary to the Church’s status, and a political favor resulting from the pressure by the Church and political structures the Church leans on. The Serbian Orthodox Church responded with insults and insinuations, the hate speech and anathema.

In this context, typical is the statement by which the SOC Synod targeting the Serbian government because of some controversial activities in the summer camps organized by the Ministry of Education. Ill-willed interpretation of something unverified – and misguiding, as it turned out later on – information about inappropriate conduct of instructors had a conspicuously political role, whereby the Church was the harshest critic of the government and the responsible Minister. “As long as there is religious instruction, the gerrymandering shamelessness and satanic immorality cannot impose their rule over human self-consciousness and become the measure of humanity and human dignity.” In its statement, the Synod says, “Ministers and educators who undermine the spiritual and moral values of their own people and thus the universal moral values…are not only undeserving to carry this honored name, but also have no the right to carry it”. The Synod draws attention to the fact that “modern education and the development of a new consciousness of high school students, things they are being taught in educational workshops, are nothing but perfidious child brainwashing.” “In our time, unfortunately, a marriage is made between the post-communist atheism and the Western capitalist hedonism. From such a hideous marriage monsters and freaks the world has never seen before are already being born. And all this under false pretensions of ‘new consciousness’, ‘a new man’, ‘new order’ and ‘new community’. We are asking our new teachers and educators whether they are aware of this danger that faces the modern man and humanity? Or is it that some of them really do want to direct the younger generation on this road to nowhere? Is it possible that this was the essential reason for opposing the introduction of religious instruction in the schools? And for imposing as a substitute, or alternate, the so called civic education?” reads the statement of the Synod.[26]

The Montenegrin Metropolitan Amfilohije Radovic adds his personal opinion to the statement of the Synod, by sending a direct political message. Namely, in his opinion, the Civic Alliance of Serbia (the political party the acting Minister of Education belongs to) “like all other political parties, emerged from Tito’s mold.”[27]

Extreme intolerance to everything that comes from the Western cultural and civilizational circles is one of the most important messages that the SOC sends to its followers. It is also the most noticeable trait of its rhetoric. In this, the SOC is entirely consistent with its newly reborn idol, Bishop Nikolaj, who saw in the modern history of Serbia a Western conspiracy to “transform the recently liberated Serbian populace into the populace of the rotten West.”[28]

“Serbs in Europe, yes; Europe among Serbs, God forbid!” makes a phrase that can be taken as the SOC’s motto when it comes to its attitude towards the West.[29] “The forces of Satan - conspiring, political, cultural, liberal, leftist – are leading the NWO (New World Order), which is, beyond doubt… inspired by the Satan.” The main source of all evil is America, where “a collapse of moral… and mental health” took place. The whole West is under the influence of “hellish forces…conspiracy against Christianity, a Godless culture.” The West is dominated by “atheist psychology as the modern heresy, similar to the Gnostic one,” claims Pravoslavlje just to hopefully conclude that “amongst Serbs there won’t be any disturbed individuals who would readily infect us with the deadly malaise of Western culture. Let them and their progress remain at arm’s length.”

This hope is accompanied by fear - a fear from “a strategy of soft approach,” which was “established right after the end of the World War II…, and which implies total and incontestable acceptance of foreign values, foreign religion, foreign customs, foreign economy, way of life and way of thinking, spiritual and other values as our own values.”[30] All these “foreign values” are often classified under the concept of “the new” in the rhetoric of the SOC. One of the symbols of victory of the “soft approach”, or “the new” is New Belgrade, which thus becomes an object of hatred.

“New Belgrade is the biggest Satanic experiment, the culmination of communist exhibitionism… as such, it is a tragedy, a spiritual gulag, a spiritual ‘Goli Otok’ (The Barren Island – a prison camp).” “The city of ‘the new’, new schools, new kindergartens, new shops, a new Student City, a new Sports Hall, new highway - for the new children, new students, new people. A city in the desert, the city without churches, without a family, without a history, the city of the Godless, unbaptized, de-Serbed, the city of dead souls… the city of the future ‘Aryans’… the city where evil culminates.”[31]

An undoubtedly patriarchal vision of the society promoted by the SOC is also vividly expressed in a book by patriarch Pavle “Some Questions of our Faith” illustrative of the rejection of “the new.”[32]


3. Perception of the Society and the State


Anti-Western feelings are followed by an adequate concept of the state and the society. Here the SOC remains within the concept known as the “new Serbian right,” which is, in fact, closest to organicism. Among Serbian theologians, this concept is most consequently developed in the works of Bishop Nikolaj and Justin Popović. In brief, this approach rejects individualism and embraces the principles of collectivism and mutual solidarity or, in the Serbian variant of the tradition, the “spirit of gathering” and the ethics pertinent to “a head of an orthodox family.” According to organicist theory, the society represents an organism – the “national organism,” individuals being nothing but “cells” that function to the benefit of this organism. An optimal solution is the “organicist-orthodox monarchy” based on the “God, the King, Family” triad.

This concept of society and state is explicitly professed as ideal by the head of the SOC, Patriarch Pavle. Besides the unity of the State and the Church (following the “symphony” model) he professes the unity between the society and the state (“society, that is state”), and thus negates any individualism. He also questions the value of the multiparty system by posing a rhetorical question, “Are political parties mature enough to secure an organic relation within the society, as in a body where each organ performs its own function, to the benefit of the whole organism? And, conversely, the organism has no other interest but the good of each of its organs… The Church always strives for such an organic relation within the society.”[33]

The Montenegrin Metropolitan Amfilohije Radović voices the same stand. “Since the beginning of time Serbs have been solving all their problems at gatherings… and thus it would be good that the spirit of people’s getting together is renewed today. Parties are of a newer date and imported to Serbs from the West, which may be dangerous to us, who approach everything from a metaphysical standpoint. Decisions have to be made in the head of the entire nation – only those decisions are farsighted and far-reaching.”[34]

Identification of the Serbian nation with the Serbian Orthodox Church serves to support the same vision of the society and the state, thus adding another link in the organic unity: state and church, society and state, nation and church.

“Since the beginning of time the Serbian Church is the pillar of the national being. This has been denied by communists,” that is by “international ideology”, which has “died away” – says an editorial run in Pravoslavlje.[35] Patriarch Pavle is even more explicit in his view that belonging to the SOC is a necessary condition for belonging to the Serbian nation. “They say ‘I am a Serb’, though if unbaptized, one cannot be a Serb,” says the Patriarch. This is yet another reason why atheism is unacceptable. Simply, because, according to Patriarch Pavle’s strict interpretation, a Serb cannot be an atheist.[36]

There are different opinions in the SOC when it comes to the above issue, though such individuals are in the minority. For example, professor at the Theological Faculty, father Vladan Perišić, Ph.D., believes that the fact that “we came to the point when nationalism became an affirmation of the Orthodox faith” is upsetting. “The Church has already paid a high price for having identified itself with the nation, and it will continue to pay the same price if it fails to eradicate the equality sign that is being put between the two.” The Church should free itself from this “embrace” and return to its “mission of witnessing the science of Christ, which does not know of nations” and where, as written in the Gospel, “no Greeks or Jews exist.”[37]


4. The Church and Politics


In view of the activity of the SOC in daily politics, its close connections with the institutions of power, both civil and military, as well as its promotion by the media – one could say that the conditions for the realization of strategic goals of the SOC have never been more favorable. After it managed to return, under the Milošević regime, to the political scene for the first time after forty years, the Church came into the position after October 5, 2000 to finalize its comeback by legalizing its new/old role. Significant multifold ties between the Church and politics, already a characteristic of the Milošević regime, are constantly growing stronger after the overthrow of October 5, 2000. The presence of the Church in politics was stripped naked in its most brutal and primitive form in the speech of Metropolitan Amfilohije Radović at the memorial service for the murdered Serbian Premier Zoran Djindjić. The Metropolitan abused his participation at the service to deliver a political speech dominated by the rhetoric of conflict and hatred, xenophobia and isolationism - the very opposite of the vision of modern, European Serbia the late Premier strove for.

An active role in politics is a constant of the history of the Serbian Orthodox Church. This fact is not denied even by the Church itself. “The Church is not going to determine who is going to rule this country, but it is going to support those new men who understand the moment, the situation the nation is in, and show a way out of the dead end” – this was how editors of Pravoslavlje rationalized the Synod’s decision of the summer 1999 to no longer support Slobodan Milošević, but back those supposed to succeed him after the loss of Kosovo and the signing of the Kumanovo Agreement that put an end to NATO intervention in Serbia.[38]

In an attempt to explain Serbs’ poor awareness about “the faith of their own,” Patriarch Pavle says that throughout the history the SOC has been less occupied by faith, and more by state and politics. Having no problems with this fact, the Patriarch states that the Church, during its whole history, including the 20th century, was forced to “leave behind its primary duties” in order to participate actively in the struggle for the unification of “Serbdom,” which was why “a priest had to be a teacher and a judge, and to pull a gun to defend himself and his family”. Legitimizing the neglect of spiritual matters by the urge to create a state, which needed fighting for, Patriarch Pavle implicitly legitimized the same behavior of the Church during the latest wars in the territory of the former Yugoslavia, namely the support the Church was giving to Milošević’s warring policy. Finally, such a perception of the role of the SOC implies that the Church will continue to consider “leaving behind its primary duties” legitimate and to engage in politics, and, if necessary, in a war.[39]

How powerful is the position the SOC holds after October 5 was demonstrated by the way religious instruction was introduced in public school curricula. The Serbian government, except for the Minister of Religions, was against the latter, in principle. Moreover, the Deputy Minister of Education threatened to resign, while the Minister himself, on several occasions, has expressed his negative stance on the idea. However, religious instruction was introduced by a governmental decree. This is only the most important in a series of concessions the Government made under the pressure constantly exerted by the Serbian Orthodox Church, that is, by political circles the interests of which intertwined with those of the Church. This primarily refers to closest associates of the president of the former FRY, Vojislav Koštunica. Thus, for example, the Minister of Religions, Vojislav Milovanović, by the end of last year announced incorporation of the Faculty of Theology in the Belgrade University, the restitution of property to “traditional churches and religious communities.” He also said that, at that point, over fifty major religious facilities were under construction throughout Serbia, and that the government had procured more than a hundred million dinars to that end.[40] As for the dispute on the youth summer camps whereby the SOC accused the government of “gerrymandering shamelessness and satanic immorality,” an end was put to it after a meeting between the Minister of Education Gašo Knežević and the Patriarch at the initiative of Bishop Atanasije Rakita, president of the SOC Committee on Religious Instruction. The meeting resulted by an agreement that the Church will join in the future operation of the camps. On that occasion the Minister of Education offered the program of educational reform in Serbia to the perusal of the Patriarch.[41]

The most important role of the Church as a today’s institution is the one of symbolizing the idea of pan-Serbian unity, whereby the Church attempts, after the military and political defeat, to round up spiritually, culturally and politically the territory, which, due to the military defeat, failed to be united in a single state or – as in the case of Montenegro – has not been united in the desired way. Thanks to its great influence on the people, the Church’s endeavor obtains heavy logistic support from the state and the Army.

The SOC has never recognized the borders of Serbia within Yugoslavia after the World War II. At the beginning of 1992, at the time when the war for reshaping these borders was already underway, the Congregation of the SOC issued a declaration saying it acknowledged not the borders set up by the AVNOJ, while Bishop Atanasije Jevtić qualified their revision as a question vital for Serbian people, which in itself justified the Church’s interference into politics. In the summer of 1995, the Patriarch signed that Milošević was entitled to negotiate the borders in the name of Bosnian Serbs in Dayton. However, after the Dayton Accords were signed, the Congregation of the SOC, dissatisfied with the solution reached, declared the Patriarch’s signature invalid.

The territory of Serbia as decided by the AVNOJ is twice smaller than “the historical Serbian region,” writes Pravoslavlje in 2002, naming Josip Broz as the prime culprit. Then who’s a quisling, asks Pravoslavlje, and concludes, “In any case, neither Milan Nedić nor Draža Mihailović are to be found in the ranks of the World War II quislings”.[42]

A national-political engagement was the most prominent activity the SOC pursued in 2002. The main problems were the so-called schisms – a term the SOC uses to qualify the Montenegrin and Macedonian Orthodox Church (MOC). Actually, the core of the problem in the case of Montenegro is the SOC’s attitude to Montenegrin authorities, which are being denied since the SOC considers Montenegro a Serbian ethnical territory without any hesitation. Consequently, it negates the very existence of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church (MOC). In the case of Macedonia, however, the SOC reopened a years-long and partially solved question of the autocephaly of the MOC, with the intent to deny its autocephalous status, but not the very existence of the Macedonian Church. In both cases the SOC acts with unquestionably political or, to put it more precisely, territorial and political pretensions – although openly and with greater ambitions when it comes to the former, and more modestly and in a concealed way in the case of the latter. Finally, in both cases, the Church is fully supported by the Russian Orthodox Church, which calls upon “respect for canonical norms.” This, and every other support to the Serbian Orthodox Church,[43] was expressed by the Russian Patriarch while bestowing the highest award of the Russian Orthodox Church on the Serbian Patriarch, “for his personal contribution to the strengthening of Christianity and the unity of Eastern Orthodox nations.” While expressing his thanks, the Serbian Patriarch said he was primarily grateful to the Russian leadership, then to the Russian Army, and finally to the Russian Orthodox Church for the help they gave to the SOC and the Serbian people with regards to Kosovo and Metohija.[44]

Serbia and Montenegro can part – says Amfilohije Radović – only against peoples’ will, by violence, theft, blackmail and threat. The SOC will, therefore, ignore Montenegro’s possible decision on independence. As to the Montenegrin Orthodox Church, it is the “child of Titoists,” who are “today continuing the violence against the SOC.”[45] This is the sum and substance of the SOC’s attitude regarding Montenegro’s state status.

 The main characteristic of the political engagement of Metropolitan Amfilohije Radović is radical nationalism and extreme hate speech, which often slips into elementary impoliteness, even vulgarity.

Another illustrious instance of overt political engagement of Metropolitan Amfilohije Radović united with hate speech is his appearance at the New Year celebration in Podgorica, in the night between January 13 and 14. 2002. On that occasion, in support of the continued existence of the common state, he exclaimed, “Let every Montenegrin nail with a hammer the damned emperor Dukljanin to the Vezir bridge.”[46] At that point the issue of Montenegro’s referendum on the state status was in full swing. Later “explanations” in which Amfilohije claimed that he had in mind Emperor Dukljanin as the legendary symbol of paganism were not only unconvincing, but also hypocritical, in view of the fact that Duklja (the medieval Montenegrin state) has become the symbol of Montenegrin state independence during the recent processes aimed at the realization of this goal.

The Serbian Orthodox Church pursues its strategy of ignoring Montenegrin authorities through attempts to impede the exertion of state authority on the land owned by the Church and thus build a state within a state. Refusing to act upon a decision of the Republic’s Bureau for the Protection of Cultural Monuments to cease the works on four monastery complexes on the Lake of Skadar, Amfilohije Radović warns the director of the Bureau that from now his office will not be allowed, without a written consent of the Diocese, to perform any works on the lands “owned’ by the Church, and that the SOC “does not accept to be a hanger to any necrophilic institution…with pagan spirit and petty-profit orientation.” (Qualifications pertain to Montenegrin authorities.) Reminding the director of the Bureau that the time when cultural monuments were protected “by commissaries” was over, he refers to the cultural project of the Cetinje biennial by saying, “The recent biennial turns the royal Cetinje into an ‘artistic’ doghouse, the entrance to the royal palace into an artistic 'ox-promenade' and other postmodern vulgarities, all of which humiliates the ancient city.”[47]

In its strategy of creating “a state within a state” the SOC is openly supported by the Army. On the eve of the cease of existence of the FRY, having in mind the fact that the Constitutional Charter of the new state envisages that all real estate of the Army that is not in a direct function of defense becomes the property of the two republics, the SOC and the Army hastily sign contracts by which the Army property was transferred to the SOC – huge complexes of land, army barracks, etc. Thus, for example, Metropolitan Amfilohije and the outgoing Minister of Defense Velimir Radojević signed a contract on December 12, 2002, by which the Army transferred to the Church the property of 10.000 square meters of land, with accompanying buildings, on the Flower Island, a first-rate tourist location.[48] By this openly political arrangement, this small public estate, as it already is, is to be divided between Montenegro state and the Serbian Orthodox Church, with the latter establishing its own authority on “its” part.

The opening of the “Macedonian question” in the spring of 2002 intensified to the extreme the bitter relations between the two churches. The conflict arouse upon the initiative of the SOC that the two churches come to an agreement on the canonical status of the MOC. The MOC separated from the SOC and proclaimed autocephaly back in 1967, but without canonical acknowledgment, which needed the consent of the SOC. The solution proposed in the spring of 2002 by the SOC (Metropolitan Amfilohije, Bishop Irinej of Niš and Bishop Pahomije of Vranje) was that the MOC should renounce autocephaly, while the SOC would grant it autonomy in return [49]. The MOC Synod, however, did not accept the offer by the SOC, and after that Patriarch Pavle, in the name of the SOC Synod, issued a public appeal for overcoming the “schism” and reestablishing the canonical unity of the Serbian Orthodox Church. By this appeal, he implicitly acknowledged that the SOC was ready to accept individual eparchies also.[50] Metropolitan of the Veleško-Povardarska Eparchy Jovan accepted the offer, which resulted in division within the MOC, that is, in the unification of one of its parts with the Serbian Orthodox Church. The ensuing dispute between the Serbian and Macedonian Orthodox Churches showed the same political matrix and political technology that was in the core of the conflicts in the territory of the former Yugoslavia. The head of the MOC accused the Patriarch of “unhidden appetites” for “usurpation” of the MOC and wondered when the SOC would put an end to its aspirations to “rule over what is not Serbian.” “You have to understand that this is ours and belongs to us only.” “It is more than clear that you intend to destroy the unity of the Macedonian Orthodox Church,” said the head of the MOC, adding that by these acts the Serbian Patriarch lost the respect of the Macedonian people.[51]

During 2002. the question of the autonomy of Vojvodina also became very acute. The position of the Serbian Orthodox Church on the issue was defined by Bishop Irinej of Bačka, one of major nationalistic hard-liners within the SOC, also known as the “red bishop” due to his close relations with the Milošević regime. Irinej is a member of the extreme nationalistic movement “Svetozar Miletić,” whose members are, among others, Kosta Čavoški, Vasilije Krestić and Smilja Avramov. The same as Amfilohije, Bishop Irinej of Bačka openly joined the political dispute. Though incomparably more moderate, his speech was not freed from explicit nationalistic intolerance.

In January 2002, Bishop Irinej of Bačka declared that the SOC was going to organize the annual commemoration for the victims of fascism in Novi Sad (the Novi Sad raid) separately from provincial authorities should Vojvodina parliamentary speaker, Nenad Čanak – an outspoken advocate of the autonomy for Vojvodina - take part in it. Čanak reacted by reminding Irinej of the tolerance the latter showed for former top people such as “Arkan, Perošević, Jugoslav Kostić and others” and warned him that after October 5 “the importance and participation of the SOC in public affairs has grown considerably, and the uninstitutional influence of the SOC dignitaries even more.” In its political rise the SOC came to the point when it starts to “rank state officials by their ‘suitability’,” said Čanak. The result of this conflict were two ceremonies held separately.[52]

By the end of the year Irinej engaged in yet another political battle, with his statement that the Assembly of Vojvodina “is not Serbian because Serbs are a minority in it.” Sharp political reactions of the Vojvodina’s DOS (the ruling alliance) ensued, calling this act a “distasteful accounting of the national composition of the Province Assembly” by the SOC.[53] A few days later, Irinej participated in the assembly of the “Svetozar Miletić” Movement in Novi Sad, where a demand for early provincial elections was made under the pretext that “the Assembly of Vojvodina does not have democratic legitimacy and mocks the citizens, and that even a minimal consensus between the Assembly and the majority of Serbian people in Vojvodina does not exist. The Assembly is acting openly against the Serbian state” or, as Irinej put it, against “Serbian unity and congregational spirit.” [54]

Active national-political, or, to put it more precisely, nationalistic engagement of the Serbian Orthodox Church was the foundation on which the unity of interests and conspicuously successful cooperation between the Church and the Army were developed after October 5. Apart from the aforementioned examples of direct cooperation (as in the case of Montenegro), the latter is also evident on the level of symbolism. Namely, a newly established rule provides that the highest representatives of the Army take part in all important ceremonies organized by the Church – from unveiling of monuments, through opening of temples, to enthronements of church dignitaries.

Some of these ceremonies are interesting as they indicate to this new union of interests. Thus, for example, Chief the General Staff General Pavković and his escort landed from a military helicopter to attend the ceremony of unveiling of the monument to Nikolaj Velimirović in the Soko monastery on March 24, 2002, the anniversary of the beginning of the NATO intervention in Serbia.[55] Also, general Pavković laid the first stone of facilities to be erected on the grounds of the Mileševa monastery, and according to the monastery journal Mileševac, two hundred soldiers were engaged in the works. A fish pond, stables, a poultry farm and a monument to “the victims of communist terror” were built on the terrain belonging to the monastery, the prior of which and the main entrepreneur of the works, father Filaret, is known for his unrestrained and bellicose mood at the beginning of the 1990s. The works on the monastery lands were undertaken without a permission of local authorities, which resulted in criminal charges against father Filaret “for drastic endangering of the Mileševa monastery area as an authentic spiritual and architectural whole in harmony with the natural environment.”[56]




Immediately after the change of the regime in Serbia on October 5, 2000 the Serbian Orthodox Church managed to impose the question of its institutional redefinition, which implied abandonment of the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state, as a priority, issue of strategic importance for the society and the state; and all that was done at the point when the citizens and the society as a whole found themselves at the brink of moral and material disaster, an outcome of the policy that has been abundantly supported by the Serbian Orthodox Church.

The past year is strongly marked by a vivid activity of the SOC, aimed at achieving the above goal. To that end, the Church fully cooperated with both federal and republic ministries of religions, enjoyed the support of the Yugoslav (Serbia and Montenegro) Army and a more or less benevolent attitude on the part of the majority of Serbian media.[57] The Church sought its main pillar among political and social structures, as well as among most fierce individual opponents of Serbia’s facing its recent past, i.e. the responsibility for wars and war crimes. These forces had based their legitimacy and social authority on ethno-nationalism and adherence to the project of pan-Serbian unification even before October 5, 2000. After the military defeat, the Church has been growingly unveiling itself as the main pillar for all those attempting to keep this project alive. By ignoring the issue of its own responsibility for wars and war crimes ever since October 5, the Serbian Orthodox Church, which had revitalized its political influence once Milošević came to power, today strives to secure for itself an institutional form that would boost its influence, and is obviously on a good road to success.





[1] Politika, December 2, 2000.

[2] Politika, March 4, 2002.

[3] See statement issued by the Information bureau of the Serbian Orthodox Church on November 24, 2000.

[4] Interview of Patriarch Pavle given to Danas, January 5-7, 2002.

[5] Blic news, February 2002.

[6] Nacional, September 23, 2002.

[7] Danas, January 18, 2002.

[8] Pravoslavlje, 847, July 1, 2002.

[9] Pravoslavlje, 813, February 1, 2001.

[10] See article on cults by Zoran Luković, captain in: Pravoslavlje, 847, July 1, 2002.

[11] Politika, January 4, 2002.

[12] The hard nationalistic strand gained domination in the SOC at the eve of Yugoslav wars. Pavle, the bishop of Raška and Prizren was elected patriarch in December 1990, although German was still alive, which was a precedent within the SOC. During the same Congregation Amfilohije Radović was elected metropolitan of Montenegro and the Coast and Irinej Bulović bishop of Bačka. In May 1991, Artemije was elected bishop of Raška and Prizren, and Atanasije Jeftić bishop of Banat. In his memoirs, Days-Remembrances, academician Dejan Medaković witnesses a great and in his opinion decisive influence of certain academicians on personal questions in the top hierarchy of the SOC during the last thirty years. According to his memoirs the election of Patriarch German was “directly influenced by Dobrica Ćosić”, while Medaković himself, as far back as 1976 tells the Patriarch that the aged Montenegrin metropolitan Danilo should be replaced, after he dies, by Amfilohije Radović, and that preparations for this change should start immediately. And all that in the context of expectations that after the death of Danilo “pressure” will come to grant independence to the Church in Montenegro. (See feuilleton Days-Remembrances, Politika, March 23, 2003).

[13] Vreme, March 28, 2002.

[14] See “Serbian conservative thought” (edited by Mirko Djordjević), Essays (Ogledi), vol. 4, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, Beograd 2003.

[15] News Radio B 92, March 21, 2003.

[16] Pravoslavlje also contributed to the encouragement of intolerance towards the Church of England, with articles on the support of this Church given to the NATO intervention in FRY in 1999. See e.g. the article “What the Head of the Church of England preaches on Easter”, Pravoslavlje, 773, June 1, 99.

[17] Statement of the Office of religious instruction within the Patriarchate, Politika, December 2, 2000.

[18] Statement of the Press service of SOC of November 24, 2000.

[19] Pravoslavlje, 813, February 1, 2001.

[20] Danas, January 12-13, 2002.

[21] Politika, January 5-7, 2002.

[22] Danas, December 17, 2002.

[23] Danas, December 17, 2002.

[24] Danas, January 12-13, 2002.

[25] M. Djordjević, op.cit.

[26] Danas, September 2, 2002.

[27] Nacional, September 3, 2002.

[28] From M. Djordjević, op.cit.

[29] Ratibor – Rajko M. Djurdjević, Pravoslavlje, 775, July 1, 1999.

[30] Pravloslavlje, 847, July 1, 2002.

[31] Pravoslavlje, 813, February 1, 2001.

[32] Thus the Patriarch teaches the believers that women should only exceptionally be allowed to wear trousers, and never for reasons of “fashion or an erroneous understanding of the equality of sexes”; further on, that they are not allowed to expose their hair, unless it is cut short. As to the prohibition to enter the church during their period, which was very strict before, the Patriarch says: As “modern hygienic devices are capable of effectively preventing... I believe that there are no obstacles for women to enter the church during their period, and with necessary caution and hygienic measures, kiss the icons, take the wafer and holy water, as well as participate in chants”. However, “in that condition she could not take the Communion or be baptized. Although, in case of deadly illness she could take the Communion and be baptized.” Vreme, December 19, 2002.

[33] Danas, January 5-7, 2002.

[34] M. Djordjević, op.cit.

[35] Pravoslavlje, 776, July 15, 1999.

[36] Vreme, December 19, 2002. (From the book by Patriarch Pavle, “Some questions of our faith”, Beograd 1998).

[37] Politika, March 4, 2002.

[38] Pravoslavlje, 776, July 15, 1999.

[39] Danas, January 5-7, 2001.

[40] Nacional, September 23, 2002.

[41] Svedok, September 10, 2002.

[42] Pravoslavlje, 843, May 1, 2002.

[43] The understanding between the two Churches was expressed in 2002 in the same attitude they shared towards the Vatican. In the whole Orthodox world these two Churches have the hardest stand on this issue.

[44] Novosti, January 22, 2002. On the same day the award for the contribution to the unity of Orthodox people went to Russian president Vladimir Putin, whom the Patriarch Alexei the Second called “the greatest orthodox statesman in the modern world”.

[45] Novosti, January 10, 2002.

[46] Blic, January 20, 2002.

[47] Nacional, August 12, 2002; Borba, August 16, 2002; Novosti, August 13, 2002.

[48] Blic, January 5, 2002.

[49] Danas, May 17, 2002.

[50] Novosti, June 22, 2002.

[51] Nacional, July 27, 2002.

[52] Danas, January 22, 2002.

[53] Novosti, December 20, 2002.

[54] Danas, December 23, 2002.

[55] Vreme, March 28, 2002.

[56] Danas, March 8, and April, 13-14, 2002.

[57] It is interesting, for example, that journalists who write about the Church in some daily newspapers contribute at the same time the SOC journal Pravoslavlje. (See e.g. the interview of the Danas daily journalist Jelena Tasić with Amfilohije Radović, Pravoslavlje, 844, May 15, 2002 and the article by the same journalist The Speech of Amfilohije Radović in Danas, March 22-23, 2003).