Scorpions dressed as priests
by Mirko Ðordevic
One must admit that the pessimists were right. Not many had believed that the Serb Orthodox Church (SPC) was capable of doing anything new. However, when on 10 June 2005 the SPC made a public statement about Srebrenica, both the pessimists and the optimists in their different ways were taken aback. The Church’s lengthy announcement was in a sense ‘enforced’. They had no choice after the film was shown in which the notorious Scorpions were seen killing children, after having first been blessed by Father Gavrilo at the Privina Glava monastery near Š id [Vojvodina].
The SPC’s silence had been unbearable. For the last ten years Serbia has been living in the black shadow of the Srebrenica crime, the most monstrous since the end of World War II. A great proportion of lay opinion and probably of believers too has been asking the Church to speak up. Then again, the SPC was not actually silent: no one can say that bishops such as Filaret, Amfilohije and Atanasije have kept their own council. For these bishops, Mladić, Karadžić and Milošević are great heroes and worthy Christian warriors. Their declarations have been riding roughshod over the human and religious rights of millions of citizens who do not think like them. In the current alliance of church and state, few have dared to challenge them.
The bishops’ reply, borrowed from the Communists, was: ‘Those who disagree are nothing but slanderers and liars.’ Serbia overshadowed by Srebrenica became claustrophobic. Now, however, something is moving, albeit slowly and unsteadily. Wits have taken to talking about scorpions dressed as priests. Father Gavrilo - as the film clearly shows - was blessing the warriors with a branch of basil. This fact started a new round of misunderstandings. To begin with, he did not bless the army but Milošević’s notorious death squads. Moreover, he did so on the territory of FRY, which ‘did not take part in the war’. Furthermore, the names of the victims are known. Yet no one seems to care, at least for now.
Tapes as bombs
It is a centuries-old church practice, laid down in the Orthodox trebnik [book of ritual], to bless men and an army defending the state in time of war. This time murderers too were blessed. We knew then and we know now - at least those who want to know do - who has done what. It is good that - finally - the video tapes caused such consternation. Like exploding bombs, those tapes woke some people up.
The statement made by the Church indicates that someone there too has woken up: it represents a belated, albeit not over-loud, condemnation of a crime committed in our name. The text contains also the usual defensive provision, which by equalising everything voids the crime of its meaning. But we hope that it will now be possible to talk about the extent to which our church was a witness, or a collaborator, in Milošević’s cycle of Balkan wars. Historians are bound to continue to debate the nature of Milošević’s wars, but it is already clear that these wars were also waged by Amfilohije and Anastasije, and were spiritually fuelled by parts of the church hierarchy. Thus the SPC’s statement is a step, however small, in the right direction.
‘O Lord, let it not happen again’, the SPC spokesman said. We could add: let the Church’s silence never return either. At the law faculty of the University of Belgrade, seminarists from the Nomokanon organisation, with students and others close to them, celebrated ‘the liberation of Srebrenica’ with a good deal of noise. The Church remained silent on that occasion. Every Thursday in the great lecture hall of the engineering faculty, members of a certain Dveri Srpski [Serb Portal] continue to hold rallies in which these impassioned extremists hail such glorious spiritual leaders of the SPC as the aforementioned bishops.
An experience has been gained under the cross of war that could provide good seed for the future. If the SPC proved unable to draw a line and distance itself from the warlords, it would lose an opportunity to sow the field now being ploughed for the future. It should follow the path of Christ’s peace, in the spirit of the beatitude: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, since they shall be called children of God.’ Human hope cannot tell whether it is early or late.
Translated from Monitor (Podgorica), 17 June 2005