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Trials without end for Serbian Orthodox

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    2005.09.29 F18: This article was published by F18News on: 29 September 2005 MACEDONIA: Trials without end for Serbian Orthodox? By Branko Bjelajac, Balkans
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 2, 2005
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      2005.09.29 F18:

      This article was published by F18News on: 29 September 2005

      MACEDONIA: Trials without end for Serbian Orthodox?

      By Branko Bjelajac, Balkans Correspondent, Forum 18 News Service

      Just days after being handed an extra two years in prison for
      "embezzlement" for holding church funds in a private bank account for
      two days three years ago - bringing his total prison term to four and
      a half years - the fourth trial for Archbishop Jovan, head of the
      Serbian Orthodox Church in Macedonia, began in Veles on 29 September.
      "It is ridiculous that I am accused of embezzling the funds that I
      spent on the life and work of my diocese," Archbishop Jovan told
      Forum 18 News Service before his recent imprisonment. Eleven church
      members who attended a service he conducted in a private flat in
      January 2004 now face court summonses. Goran Pavlovski, spokesperson
      for the cabinet of ministers, refused to explain to Forum 18 why his
      government is so hostile to Macedonian parishes of the Serbian
      Orthodox Church and declined to say if Macedonian citizens are
      allowed to belong to the Serbian Orthodox Church. It has called its
      followers to a week of fasting in response to the third sentence in a
      row against Archbishop Jovan.

      In the wake of the additional two year sentence on Archbishop Jovan
      of Ohrid, head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Macedonia, handed
      down on 23 September and a further trial begun today (29 September),
      as well as summonses to eleven participants in a Serbian Orthodox
      service held in a private flat, Macedonian government officials have
      refused to explain to Forum 18 News Service why the Serbian Orthodox
      Church in Macedonia has been denied registration, why its communities
      have been attacked and why Macedonian citizens cannot belong to the
      faith of their choice. Goran Pavlovski, spokesperson for the cabinet
      of ministers, refused to explain why his government is so hostile to
      Macedonian parishes of the Serbian Orthodox Church. He insisted that
      the Church is not recognised in Macedonia, but refused to respond
      when Forum 18 observed that this was because the government has
      repeatedly rejected its registration applications. He repeatedly and
      pointedly declined to say whether Macedonian citizens are allowed to
      belong to the Serbian Orthodox Church or not.

      On the case of Archbishop Jovan, whom he referred to by his secular
      name Zoran Vranisskovski, Pavlovski insisted that he has merely been
      punished for his crimes. "You think you know very much about this
      case, but you know very little," he told Forum 18 from the capital
      Skopje on 29 September. "Mr Vranisskovski committed a crime with
      money and that's why he's in jail." He declined to say what
      information he believes Forum 18 is unaware of.

      Borce Pesesvski, spokesperson for the interior ministry, also
      maintained that "Mr Vranisskovski" has been punished for fraud he
      committed when he was a bishop of the Macedonian Orthodox Church and
      referred all enquiries to the Justice Ministry. He declined to
      discuss why his ministry has played a part in suppressing the Serbian
      Orthodox Church in Macedonia, including by attacking and demolishing
      places of worship.

      Likewise Tomislav Dopuzovski of the government's Committee for
      Relations with Religious Communities refused to explain the official
      determination to crush the Church's activity. "We do not have the
      Serbian Orthodox Church here," he told Forum 18 from Skopje on 29
      September. Told that the Serbian Orthodox Church in Macedonia had
      applied to his committee for registration and been refused, he
      declined all further discussion.

      The prosecution of Archbishop Jovan at the court in the town of Veles
      south east of Skopje came on the prosecutors' third attempt after two
      earlier attempts failed. On 23 September the court found him guilty
      of embezzling 57,180 Euros (448,541 Norwegian kroner or 68,725 US
      dollars) donated for church reconstruction when he was a bishop of
      the Macedonian Orthodox Church. In the same case, his former clerk
      Toni Petrusevski was also found guilty and sentenced to fifteen
      months in prison.

      Archbishop Jovan's two year sentence will be in addition to the
      sentences he has already received (see F18News 20 September 2005
      <http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=655>). As he is
      already serving a combined sentence of two and a half years from two
      earlier trials, this new sentence will now require him to stay in
      Idrizovo prison in Skopje for a total of four and a half years.

      The Serbian Church in Macedonia has dismissed the case as a "set-up".
      It pointed out on 24 September that the two defendants were sentenced
      for holding the money for two days between the time it was withdrawn
      from a private account to the moment it was deposited with the court
      in Veles in November 2002. At the time the money was in a private
      account, no religious organisation was permitted to hold a bank
      account with foreign currency. The Church has called its followers in
      Macedonia to one week of fasting, from 26 September to 2 October, in
      response to Archbishop Jovan's third sentence in a row.

      "What was shocking at this trial," abbot David (Ninov) of the
      Monastery of the Dormition of the Mother of God told Forum 18 from
      Skopje on 29 September, "was that the same court which acquitted our
      bishop twice, and the same judge who judged the second of these
      trials - without any new evidence and merely at the request of the
      Appeal court to repeat the trial, and this for the third time - now
      finds Jovan guilty, sentencing him to two years in jail as a
      criminal. We, who seek only a democratic trial, honouring the facts
      and respecting human and religious rights, find this
      incomprehensible." He claimed Archbishop Jovan's human,
      constitutional and internationally-guaranteed rights have been
      violated.

      On 29 September, the court in Veles began a new, fourth trial against
      Archbishop Jovan on charges of embezzling 600,000 Euros (4,706,150
      Norwegian kroner or 721,104 US dollars) from church funds, also while
      he was still serving as a bishop of the Macedonian Orthodox Church in
      Veles. His lawyer, Vasil Georgiev, told the Belgrade daily Danas on
      28 September that Archbishop Jovan is being accused of embezzling
      "all that his diocese spent during seven years of his service, for
      all the salaries, bills, material costs, purchases, and other
      expenses, for all priests, clerks, churches, monasteries, petrol,
      etc."

      Archbishop Jovan rejects all the new accusations. In his last
      interview to Forum 18 before being sent to prison in July, he
      complained that attempts are underway to put him on trial "for all
      the expenses since the days of Adam". "It is ridiculous that I am
      accused of embezzling the funds that I spent on the life and work of
      my diocese."

      Sister Olimpijada of the Ohrid Archbishopric reported that she was
      among 70 church members denied access to the Veles courtroom today,
      although the trial was billed as "open". "We complained to the
      president of the court, who ordered that our two bishops and one monk
      should be permitted to enter the courtroom," she told Forum 18 from
      Veles on 29 September. "Previously, the judge permitted only members
      of the schismatic Macedonian Orthodox Church to enter, and some
      journalists, but not us. But, when the presiding judge saw it, he
      ordered the court police to remove our bishops, but since they had
      permission from the higher authority, the judge cancelled the
      proceedings and set a new date." She said the proceedings were over
      within half an hour and the trial is due to resume on 25 October. She
      says they have asked for a larger courtroom so that all the church
      members who wish to attend can do so.

      Abbot David likened the continuing moves against his church to "the
      best years of Bolshevism". He reported that all the monks and nuns
      arrested in January 2004 for attending the liturgy led by Jovan in
      his father's flat in the south-western town of Bitola have now been
      summoned for trial. The prosecutor's office appealed to the Appeal
      Court after they were freed. "They will pursue this until we are all
      in jail," he told Forum 18. "Most of the summonses were sent already
      in September, but they were not delivered to us, since we were all
      expelled from our monasteries, so they do not know our present
      addresses."

      He added that a priest who was badly beaten last year when their
      church was demolished now stands accused as the originator of all of
      the troubles. "It is getting worse, and worse, day by day, and we do
      not know what to do, except to pray and to fast," Abbot David
      observed.

      But he expressed his admiration for the way Archbishop Jovan is
      bearing the repeated legal cases. "We saw him today in court and his
      face was beautiful. He faces trial after trial, but does not lose his
      spirit and you can see joy in his face. His trials are a new
      testimony of faith - he stands there for his religious convictions."

      A printer-friendly map of Macedonia is available from
      <http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=europe&Rootmap=macedo>

      © Forum 18 News Service. All rights reserved. ISSN 1504-2855
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