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Complicated dance between Orthodox Church, Serbian politicians

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.setimes.com/cocoon/setimes/xhtml/en_GB/features/setimes/articles/2011/05/30/reportage-01 Complicated dance between Orthodox Church, Serbian
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 1, 2011
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      Complicated dance between Orthodox Church, Serbian politicians

      By Bojana Milovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 30/05/11

      Analysts agree on one thing: the church maintains a connection with
      Serbian political parties.

      The real question, they argue, is which partner leads in this dance?
      Which wields more power over the other?

      Religion analyst Zivica Tucic believes the Serbian Orthodox Church's
      influence on politics is weaker than many assume, given the bishops'
      broad range of views.

      "The bishops have very different political orientations, from right-wing
      conservatism to closeness to the left, as in the Socialist Party," Tucic
      told SETimes.

      "However, the very 'top' of the church, that is the Holy Synod, respects
      the current government, which leads some to conclude the church leaders
      are close to [President Boris Tadic's] Democratic Party," he said.

      That conclusion is simplistic, Tucic said. In reality, the Serbian
      Church is more interested in advancing its own interests than in
      specific political affiliations. In particular, he explained, it is
      intent on securing the return of church property nationalized after
      World War II.

      The relationship is often one of mutual gain: the church seeks out
      politicians who are receptive to its concerns, while the politicians
      benefit from their perceived affiliation with the church. The debate
      over the church and politics reignited in mid-April, when opposition
      leader Tomislav Nikolic staged a hunger strike. He described his actions
      as a "Christian response" to the government's refusal to call early

      He ended the strike on Easter, at Patriarch Irinej's request and with a
      scolding, says Tucic. "The attempt to give a Christian note to his
      actions, to the strike, failed. The patriarch described it as
      un-Christian and suicidal."

      "The patriarch is adhering to the notion that the current authorities
      [president, government, parliament] are legal and legitimate and,
      according to Gospel, must be respected as the result of the will of the
      people," Tucic explained. "Patriarch Irinej has 'depoliticised' the
      church, since during the illness of his predecessor, Patriarch Pavle,
      some bishops had politically exposed themselves, which is now far less

      Historian Cedomir Antic maintains that throughout Serbian history, the
      state has always has more of an influence on the church than vice versa.
      "Certain governments and rulers dismissed church leaders," Antic tells

      Conversely, he notes, they have also tried to drag the church into
      politics. "In 1990, Slobodan Milosevic allowed his office to issue a
      news release saying that the patriarch had welcomed the victory of the
      left in the election, and the church had to deny that," Antic recalls.

      Milosevic's regime, he continues, was not the only one that took
      advantage of its relationship with the church. The reformist, democratic
      cabinet of Zoran Djindjic was the biggest donor to the construction of
      the St Sava Church in Belgrade and introduced religious classes in schools.

      "Parties that claim to be left-wing and want the separation of the
      church from the state for some reason they say are pragmatic, in reality
      wish to please the church. Another political structure seeking to take
      advantage of the church is the far right. There are right-wing parties
      that claim the church should be active in political events, citing the
      medieval symphony theory, according to which there should be harmony
      between the church and the state," Antic says.

      As for the Nikolic's hunger strike, Antic says the veteran politician
      put the church on the spot, forcing it to come out and take a stand.

      "That is when the bishops started visiting Nikolic, and Nikolic tried to
      use them to somehow get out of all that, while the government used the
      whole situation in its own way," Antic said.

      Tucic, meanwhile, emphasizes that the world of the church is
      fundamentally different from the world of politics, and many of the
      normal political categories do not apply. The church remains aloof from
      politics to a considerable degree – a stance which limits its
      involvement in civic life.

      "There are no clearly defined factions, there is no simple division into
      'progressives' and 'regressives', 'conservatives' and 'reformists'. The
      Episcopate lacks a clear political concept, a clear view of the state
      either in the country or in the world, and they are even insufficiently
      informed because they never tried to make it otherwise," he said. "They
      are not taking any particular stand on political issues at archbishop
      assemblies, and the internal rift is blocking the church from
      considering the important matters of ethics and internal missions."

      "Churches today want to influence legislation related to ethics, as well
      as [issues such as] homosexuality, same-sex marriage or abortion.
      Churches, including the Serbian one, no longer think they have the
      possibility of influencing foreign or internal policies. Patriarch
      Irinej, for example, has left the matter of Kosovo to the state, which
      is good," Tucic said.
      This content was commissioned for SETimes.com
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