Disagreements between Serbian government and the Church will grow

Disagreements between Serbian government and the Church will grow


IBNA INTERVIEW / Živica Tucić, editor-in-chief of the Religion Information Agency 

By Miloš Mitrović – Belgrade

“History showed that the church had been always losing in its conflicts with the state, not only in Serbia”, Živica Tucić editor-in-chief of the Religion Information Agency from Belgrade said in the interview for IBNA. “In the end of the day, Church has to accept the state decisions, because it does not have the other choice”.

Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) Patriarch Irinej, as well as several bishops has just finished their visit to Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. What is the importance of this visit, both for the visitors and for the hosts?

“It is difficult to assess the visit at this moment. The visit was organized on the occasion of marking the 1025 anniversary of the Russians christianization. During the celebrations organized by both Russian state and Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) the absolute concordance between Russian Church and state was promoted. The visit was also marked by controversies; such was criticizing Serbian government due to both its pro-Western and Kosovo policies by patriarch Irinej and ROC patriarch Kiril. In my opinion, Serbian patriarch should not criticize the government while he is not in Serbia. At the same time, patriarch’s position, which suggests that Serbia should “bind its little boat to big Russian ship” is strange and represents giving up from national sovereignty. His statement that God had died in the Europe is also strange. Nevertheless, I don’t believe that patriarch Kiril will attend the celebrations in Serbia on the occasion of the 1700 anniversary of the Edict of Milan.”

During his visit, patriarch Irinej said that Belgrade “is under the strong Western influence” and that the more Russian engagement is needed. Subsequently, he announced that he was misinterpreted. Do you think that patriarch created confusion in this regard and practically confuted his own words?

“Statements by patriarch reflected the situation inside the SOC. More or less, all the bishops share the same position, but some among them are eager to say it openly and loudly. Certainly, the Church has both the right to take its position and to express it. However, Church cannot criticize some other opinions as illegitimate or unpatriotic, neither to accuse the government for “selling” Kosovo. Patriarch’s denial of his own words was grotesque; SOC obviously had not been aware that Moscow Patriarchy uploaded the integral speech on its web site. I think that this was just another episode with regard to relations between church and the state. I expect that disagreements will grow, and it is normal. The Church overestimates itself, believing that its voice is of the great importance. At the same time Serbian government’s Kosovo policy had been approved by the majority of citizens. However, Serbian government does not want to harm its relations with the Church. It would rather ignore its remarks.”

Do you expect that the divisions within the Church on Kosovo issue will continue, especially with regard to further negotiating rounds between Belgrade and Pristina?

“SOC will be included into the Brussels negotiations rounds that will tackle the preservation of the religious objects. However, Church has not clear position in this regard. When it comes to the Serbian government position towards Kosovo, only few bishops have an extreme approach; the most of them are quiet, and part of them accepts the government policy. SOC Metropolitan of Montenegro and Cetinje Amfilohije has an extreme stance and he cannot be underestimated, nor ignored.”

Do you find that 2012 change of the Serbian government had influenced the SOC position in Montenegro?

“The improvement of the relations between Serbia and Montenegro is very important to both, new Serbian government and the President. President Nikolić is aware both that Montenegro is sovereign state ant that many citizens of Montenegro consider themselves as Montenegrins, not Serbs; at the same time, he knows that the religious organization which calls itself Montenegrin Orthodox Church also exists. All of this is more or less unacceptable for SOC. Metropolitan Amfilohije cannot rely any more on Serbian government, as it had been the case in the past. SOC does not want to register itself in Montenegrin state institutions. I think this is mistake, although it might be that I’m not informed good enough. SOC in Montenegro should regulate its status in Podgorica, not in Belgrade.”

What are the chances for the long-lasting dispute between the SOC and canonically unrecognized Macedonian Orthodox Church to be resolved?

“At this moment, chances are slim. SOC does not show the interest for resolving the dispute. At the same time, the issue of the autocephaly of any orthodox church is the domain of all canonical orthodox churches. Additionally, the imprisonment of the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric (OOA) metropolitan Jovan Vraniškovski by Macedonian authorities represents the important obstacle for the resolving the dispute (OOA is canonically united with SOC). The imprisonment of metropolitan is harmful both to the national and ecclesiastical interests of Macedonia. Macedonians are stubborn with regard to the name of both their state and the church. The adjective “Macedonian” is unacceptable to Greece, as well as to the half of the orthodox churches.”

Do you think that Serbia has any right to demand from Skoplje to change its position regarding metropolitan Jovan?

“No, because metropolitan is citizen of Macedonia and he had been sentenced in Macedonia. Serbia cannot do anything about this, and it should not interfere. President Nikolić had offered his help, but SOC refused it. The resolving of the dispute is in the interest of the both countries. The releasing of Vraniškovski from prison – because the charges are disputable – would be precondition for the good start. Nevertheless, the dispute between Skoplje and Athens should be resolved first. Both sides are very stubborn, but I think that the names such as “Upper Macedonia” or “Northern Macedonia” are realistic and inoffensive. I don’t understand suspiciousness in Skopje in this regard. Skoplje cannot monopolize the name Macedonia.”