SERBIA: Police ban Romanian Orthodox commemoration
When ethnic Vlachs led by a local Romanian Orthodox priest tried to hold a religious commemoration at the abandoned monastery of Koroglas in eastern Serbia on 21 May, they faced not only an alleged "spontaneously-organised" group of Serbian Orthodox who had pledged not to allow the commemoration to proceed but a ban by the local police. "When I requested them to show me an official document forbidding the procession and commemoration, the police did not have one," organiser Dusan Prvulovic told Forum 18 News Service. The commemoration had to go ahead at a cultural centre in a nearby town. Police have refused to tell Forum 18 if the commemoration at Koroglas had indeed been banned and if so why, and why Prvulovic was charged with inciting religious hatred (the court that convened the following Sunday morning acquitted him). The authorities have meanwhile held off from the threatened demolition of a Romanian Orthodox church in a nearby village which they claim was illegally built.
The police at local and regional level have refused to tell Forum 18 whether the Romanian Orthodox commemoration at the monastery had indeed been officially banned, and if so why, and why the police charged the organiser with promoting religious hatred. The regional police in Bor told Forum 18 on 16 June that all enquiries about the banned commemoration should be referred to the local police station in Negotin. On 17 June the deputy commander of Negotin police referred all enquiries back to the regional chief in Bor, declaring that his station is just a local police station and that Bor is where the commissioner is based. At the Bor police, the person who answered the phone referred Forum 18 to their press officer, but the phone repeatedly went unanswered.
The service at the monastery was to have commemorated Serbian and Romanian soldiers who died in the 1395 battle of Rovine against the Turks and was to have been led by sub-deacon Bojan Aleksandrovic, a local cleric of the Romanian Orthodox Church (who has since been made an arch-priest).
Prvulovic said that the Vlach Federation did not ask for police approval, arguing that the procession and commemoration were religious events. According to the law, all public activities need police permission. But in practice no-one seeks police permission for processions, weddings and birthdays – or for Orthodox religious processions, as they form a regular feature of Orthodox religious life.
Prvulovic reported that when the procession approached the monastery, a group of people from neighbouring villages, who identified themselves as members of the Serbian Orthodox Church, barred access. Some shouted: "This is a Serbian Monastery - go to Romania!" Prvulovic told Forum 18 that when he asked Serbs why they were there, some answered that they had been encouraged to attend by local Serbian Orthodox bishop Justin (Stefanovic) of Timok.
As tensions were high amid fears that a fight would break out, Negotin police commander Slavoljub Colic asked both sides to disperse, declaring that neither side had registered a meeting, Prvulovic reported. The commemoration was later held at the Vlach-Romanian House of Culture in Negotin.
The following morning, Sunday 22 May, Prvulovic was summoned by phone to the district court in Negotin for an 11:30 am hearing. However, the court rejected police accusations that he had provoked ethnic, racial and religious intolerance. "It is quite unusual," Prvulovic declared, "for a Serbian court to work so efficiently that they even meet on a Sunday morning."
The Committees for Human Rights in Serbia (CHRIS) helped Prvulovic with a team of lawyers, "but we have no information whether the court also summoned the other group which gathered in front of the monastery," Dragan Djordjevic of CHRIS told Forum 18 from Nis.
The Romanian Orthodox Church has 39 parishes in Serbia, but the government does not recognise the Romanian diocese in Serbia, recognising it only at the lower level of vicariate, with Vicar Mojse Janesh as head. The Serbian authorities have taken their lead from the Orthodox understanding of canonical territory, under which only one Orthodox bishop is responsible for a particular geographical area.
"There is a mismatch between civil and church law, between the modern understanding of human rights and church canons," Serbia's religion minister Milan Radulovic told TV Bor at the dedication of a Serbian Church in the Vlach village of Urovci on 28 May. "The whole problem is that sub-deacon Bojan Aleksandrovic has pretensions to lead services among the Vlach population in eastern Serbia without agreeing this with the canonical bishop Justin. As soon as he harmonises his activities, as soon as he gets the blessing of Bishop Justin, he will of course be able to lead services in Vlach, Serbian or any other language."
So far the local authority has held off from its threat to demolish the Romanian Orthodox church recently completed in the village of Malajnica near Negotin (see F18News 15 March 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=523). "We still have not received any official document relating to the demolition of our church except that the religion minister Milan Radulovic promised it will not be demolished," Archpriest Aleksandrovic told Forum 18 on 8 June. "Of course, the question arises what will happen when one day a new minister comes to power." However, Aleksandrovic also told Forum 18 that, when he visited a police station in early June to apply for permission for a proposed 9 June procession, he was treated politely unlike on previous occasions.
A regular meeting of Serbian Orthodox bishops in Belgrade in May expressed its "regret over the uncanonical actions of certain representatives of our sister Romanian Orthodox Church on the canonical territory of the Serbian Orthodox Church" and called on such actions to stop.
Serbian Bishop Justin insists that according to church canons, the Romanian Church cannot function in Serbia without agreement from the Serbian Patriarchate. "Romanian bishop Daniil has invaded the Timok diocese, which belongs to the Serbian Church," he told Forum 18 on 10 June. "According to the church's canons, the response to such an action is defrocking." He said that, had the Vlach Federation invited a Serbian priest to lead the commemoration at the Koroglas monastery, no problem would have arisen.
Janesh, who heads the Romanian Orthodox Vicariate of Banat, told Forum 18 on 9 June that a joint committee of the Romanian and Serbian Churches met in the Serbian city of Novi Sad to try to resolve their differences.
For a personal commentary by a religious freedom lawyer arguing that Serbia should not follow Austria's system of dividing religious communities into different categories with differing legal rights, see F18News
For more background, see Forum 18's Serbia religious freedom survey at
A printer-friendly map of Serbia and Montenegro is available at
9 June 2005
Last year saw an upsurge in attacks on religious minorities, ranging from slander and vilification in the media to physical attacks on places of worship and individuals, with such attacks continuing at a high level into this year, Forum 18 News Service reports in presenting the results of its investigation into religious intolerance in Serbia. More than 100 attacks took place on Protestant, Catholic, Jehovah's Witness, Jewish, Muslim and Romanian Orthodox targets in 2004, with more than 25 such attacks between January and May this year. Religious minorities complain the authorities are failing to take action to punish the perpetrators. Incidents range from an attack on a mosque in Presevo with a hand-held rocket launcher last February to graffiti "Death to Adventists" written on the walls of the Adventist theological college in Belgrade in March. Numerous Catholic graveyards have been desecrated, while the media constantly speak of Protestants, Old Calendarist Orthodox and Mormons as "dangerous sects".
8 June 2005
When the Serbian Orthodox Church granted its embattled branch in Macedonia full autonomy in late May, the Macedonian prime minister rejected the move "with indignation". The government has stepped up its hostility to the Church and reaffirmed its support for the rival Macedonian Orthodox Church, which is not recognised by the rest of the Orthodox world. Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid – who heads the Serbian Church in Macedonia – complained of a new state-backed media campaign against his Church. "They are creating an unstable, explosive atmosphere among the population and are virtually inviting people to lynch us," he told Forum 18 News Service. The government has denied his Church registration, attacked its places of worship and launched two criminal cases against him. Macedonian government leaders have been unable to tell Forum 18 why they are interfering in the dispute between the Macedonian and Serbian Orthodox Churches in Macedonia and why they are denying full legal rights to Serbian Orthodox believers.
1 June 2005
As participants prepare for the forthcoming OSCE Conference on Anti-Semitism and on Other Forms of Intolerance, Forum 18 News Service notes that religious believers face intolerance in the form of attacks on their internationally agreed rights to religious freedom – mainly from their governments – in many countries of the 55-member OSCE. Despite binding OSCE commitments to religious freedom, in some OSCE member states religious communities are still being vilified, fined and imprisoned for peaceful exercise of their faith, religious services are being broken up, places of worship confiscated and even destroyed, religious literature censored and religious communities denied state registration and hence the domestic legal right to exist. Events in Uzbekistan offer one warning of what the persistent intolerance of religious freedom and other internationally agreed human rights can lead to.