Patriarch Paul - high priest of hypocrisy

Author: Hariz Halilovic
Uploaded: Tuesday, 08 December, 2009

A Bosnian assessment contrasts sharply with the airbrushed obituaries published in such mainstream Western media as The Guardian of London..

SPC andfriends A strong explosion resounded through the town in the dead of night, causing a veritable local earthquake and shattering the windows of flats and houses in a wide circle. Prijedor, 30 August 1992.   Subjected to daily terror that had been going on for months, the Bosniaks and Croats of Prijedor - those imprisoned in the overcrowded camps dotting the town’s periphery as well as those awaiting a similar fate in their homes - hoped, once the first shock was over, that ‘allies’ might perhaps finally have dropped a sizable bomb on the city that would end their suffering and punish their torturers. During the previous four months, the tempo of crimes committed in this place had been too rapid for the normal mind to be able to follow or grasp its scope. The born optimists nevertheless hoped that some ‘higher force’, if not God, would sooner or later put an end to the evil and madness that had taken over their town. Alas, Prijedor was not liberated either that night nor at any time later, by God or by the people. But the deity proclaimed as the ‘Serb God’ did indeed play a crucial role in what was happening to them at that time, and in what would continue to happen to them over the next four years in Prijedor. For the ‘Serb God’ tolerated only the Serb version of piety, as a result of which tens of thousands of those outside this Serb world-view were to experience the ‘wrath of God’.

Thirty two mosques and six churches

On that morning of ‘war’, following the nocturnal explosion, the skyline brightened over central Prijedor bereft of the very last minaret and thee very last Catholic church steeple. There had thus been not one but two explosions that had shattered the last non-Orthodox places of worship in the town: the Catholic parish church of St Joseph and the mosque in the suburb of Donja Puharska. The Serb Radio Prijedor, the Srpski Kozarski Vjesnik daily newspaper and the SDS [Serb Democratic Party] media commissars had already prepared fantastical reports about Green Berets and HOS [a Croat paramilitary formation] having committed this diversion and promptly evaporated under cover of darkness. The people of Prijedor had by this time got used to such lies, and to the systematic destruction of Muslim and Catholic religious buildings and property in their town. Following the detonations, those Bosniaks and Croats who had not yet been incarcerated in Omarska, Keraterm, Trnopolje or Manjaca sought to make themselves even more invisible, while some Serbs protested to the SDS authorities - about the excessive amount of explosives used. Another thing that was surprising, other than the strength of the explosions, was that the ‘sacrifice’ of those two houses of God had not occurred on some important Orthodox saint’s day. For most other Muslim and Catholic places of worship had been brought down in spectacular displays of demolition and arson precisely on Orthodox religious feast days, and torture and killings in the camps were particularly brutal on Orthodox holidays. Those occupying Prijedor - and much of Bosnia-Herzegovina at that time - were clearly in a hurry to finish off the job that summer, because destroying the thirty-two mosques and six Catholic churches present in the municipality of Prijedor was a demanding task. The demolition squads were evidently aided also by ‘the human factor’, and the fact that - following the disarming and ‘cleansing’ of Stari Grad, Kozarac and Hambarin - the ‘war’ in Prijedor was a one sided-affair, with the Serb army and armed volunteers battling unarmed non-Serb civilians. The bellicose Serbs and their leaders interpreted this advantage in terms of God being on their side. SPC andfriends

The wife and son of the Prijedor imam, Osman Kusurana, were killed as ‘collateral damage’ in the blowing up of the above-mentioned mosque. The Prijedor parish priest, Tomislav Matanovic, survived that night, only to be swallowed up by another dark Prijedor night. In 2001, his and his parents’ mortal remains were discovered, thrown into a well that served as a mass grave in the burnt-out village of Bišcani. Between 1992 and 1995, in the darkness of Prijedor, hodžas and Catholic parish priests held top places on the hit lists. One of the rare non-Orthodox clerics to have survived Prijedor is imam Adil Solo: tortured and ill, he saw out the end of the war in a concentration camp at Doboj. A cross carved on his forehead with a knife remains his permanent - and holy - memory of the ‘war’. ‘Christened’ in this fashion, the imam nevertheless returned to his village of Cela. In this previously majority Muslim village near Prijedor, which had been completely ‘ethnically cleansed’ during the war, he and other returnees were met by the ruins of their homes, the empty field where the mosque had once stood, an imposing freshly-built Orthodox church, and a new, Orthodox name for their village - Petrovo. An essay on the recently deceased Patriarch Paul, and on the institution he led during the time when it acted as the axis of Serbian expansion by way of war crimes, might be based on many similar wartime and post-war snapshots of the towns and villages which during the war came (and for the most part remained) under the control of various Serb armies, paramilitary formations, police forces, the SDS, the SRS, the SNSD ... and, of course, the SPC [Serb Orthodox Church]. All those who have seriously researched the religious aspect of the Greater Serbian project and aggression against Bosnia-Herzegovina found that the SPC, as the highest national-religious Serb institution, and its head Patriarch Paul remained throughout the unchallengeable authority for all Serb armies and policies involved in that ‘joint criminal enterprise’: i.e. genocide. (See, for example, Norman Cigar 1995, Michael Sells 1996, Scott Davis, ed., 1996, Boris Anzulovic 1999, etc.). They have shown that the SPC and its bishops, including the primus inter pares Patriarch Paul, were next to the army and the generals the key actor in the Bosnian genocide.

Primus inter pares

Since this text is not a hagiography but a reminder of a tiny part of the evidence concerning the patriarch’s role in the ‘wartime events’ in B-H, it will not dwell on such trivial biographical information as the fact, for example, that as a schoolchild he did badly in scripture, or that he was a poor and puny orphan. It is more relevant to mention here the patriarch’s great contribution to the fanning of religious hatred; his support for, and justification of, religious intolerance and violence against members of other religions. This high priest of hypocrisy - who knew what he wanted, and pretended not to know about what did not please him - while occasionally and purely rhetorically speaking of peace and condemning war crimes, was all the time actively engaged in offering not only spiritual but also concrete political support to, and legitimation of, every major Serb war criminal: from Arkan, who acknowledged him as his ‘supreme commander’, to Miloševic and Karadžic, Mladic and Plavšic. That the patriarch was primus inter pares in this company too, and even ‘more equal’ than the rest, is attested by the fact that Miloševic had to obtain Paul’s signature and blessing before presenting himself as advocate of the interest of Serbs on both sides of the Drina.

This strongly suggests that, during the war against Bosnia-Herzegovina, Patriarch Paul was not just Arkan’s supreme commander, but superior also to Miloševic. On Miloševic’s return from Dayton, however, the patriarch, dissatisfied with his ‘dishonourable’ peace agreement with Tudman and Izetbegovic, started to distance himself from Miloševic, and as that distance increased Miloševic’s power declined. Finally, in 1999, when it became clear that the imperial wars had been lost, and that the Greater Serbian project had failed once again, the patriarch publicly turned his back on Miloševic, calling him Anti-Christ and traitor. There followed Miloševic’s accelerated political downfall, until on 28 June 2001, worn out and erased by the patriarch, he was delivered to The Hague. The fact that the patriarch publicly washed his hands of the now useless Miloševic gave him overnight the status of a peacemaker in the West: of someone who had supposedly always fought against rather than alongside Miloševic. While accepting this new and undeserved peacemaker’s halo, the patriarch nevertheless resisted being fully seduced by the West, and stood by Karadžic and Mladic to the end, demanding that the Hague Tribunal withdraw its charges against the two war criminals. The patriarch thus remained faithful to his and the SPC’s policy towards these criminals and the crimes with which they were charged, including that of genocide.

This is why the absolution of Patriarch Paul and the SPC for their role in the Bosnian genocide - confirmed by such judicial rulings as that pronounced by the French courts in 1995, in a case brought by the SPC against leading French newspapers - should be placed in the context of compromise, and a selective closing of eyes before evidence of the responsibility of those ‘less’ guilty, and untouchable (also older and weaker), in order to be able to press charges against those most responsible: Miloševic, Karadžic and Mladic. The war criminal Biljana Plavšic also profited from such compromises and selective justice, as did many other war criminals who made plea bargains with the Hague Tribunal.

While (with some honourable exceptions) the word genocide has been largely omitted from the mass of tepid texts published over the past few days in the regional media, it is essential that - instead of a last farewell to Paul - we reflect critically once again on the first and most active period of Paul’s patriarchy, during which ‘unfortunate events’ were unfolding, such as those described at the start of this text. It is obvious that no mosque or Catholic church in B-H could have been destroyed, nor any Orthodox church be built, without either public or tacit knowledge and approval of the SPC and its bellicose bishops, including the SPC’s spiritual leader Paul. As Gojko Beric, writing on this theme in Oslobodenje, has noted, they all upheld to the end the idea that ‘wherever there is a Serb church, there is Serb land’; or, as Snežana Cogadin and Matja Stojanovic put it on Pešcanik: ‘In any place that the military conducted operations, the holy SPC arrived soon after.’ All this shows that the crimes were part of a plan, of the Nacertanije which Patriarch Paul invoked in Glas crkve [Church Voice] in 1991. And that ‘plan from above’ is precisely what makes mass war crimes into genocide. For genocide is not an individual crime, an unpremeditated murder, or a murder committed for material gain, but a crime ‘planned from above’, aided and abetted by social institutions: the state apparatus, the church, the intelligentsia, the army, the political elite. It is most unlikely that the genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina would have taken place - or at least been legitimized and contested - without the support of the Serb Orthodox Church, which is why it is necessary when clarifying the crime of genocide to connect all the links that led to the crime, both the direct perpetrators and the institutions along with those who led them. At the very minimum, the SPC is guilty of not preventing the crime.

Muddying the waters

However, even if the crimes were less than genocide - isolated acts of destruction of non-Serb places of worship, the torching of a few remote non-Serb villages, the chance killing of a number of non-Orthodox priests, the obliteration of a Muslim quarter in some minor township- and that all this was done by a handful of wild youths who, intoxicated by the ‘opium of the masses’, engaged in such ‘incidents’ in the name of Serbdom and Orthodoxy, nonetheless human and divine laws alike obliged Patriarch Paul to speak up, and to seek ways to stop such crimes. He could and should have done that. Unfortunately, as Vuk Bacanovic wrote in the last issue of Dani [no. 641], the patriarch ‘never pointed to specific crimes and their perpetrators’. How could he have done so, when as early as in August 1991 he was inciting his flock: ‘If it is God’s will that we go to war, then every Serb must fight gallantly and heroically, loyal to the historical spirit of the Serb people.’ So according to Patriarch Paul the war was God’s will, and he - as God’s representative on (the Serb) earth - was in its chain of command Arkan’s and Mladic’s supreme commander. Thanks to this rhetoric, the altars of the homeland and of the church fused, on which victims and spoils of war were sacrificed, especially on the occasion of Orthodox festivities. One of the last sacrifices of the many offered on this alter was Mladic’s special St Peter’s Day gift to the Serb people on 11 July 1995: Srebrenica. Neither then nor at any subsequent time did Patriarch Paul or his local bishops, such as Vasilije Kacavenda, renounce either the gift or the donor.

Bearing in mind these and many other facts, backed up by tens, thousands and tens of thousands of pieces of evidence, living and dead, all those paeans of praise, all those attempts to muddy the waters by identifying the crimes with the struggle for Orthodoxy, and all those honours bestowed by Russia and Greece on Patriarch Paul, Radovan Karadžic and all the other leading lights, are shameful indeed. It is even more reprehensible posthumously to call Patriarch Paul a ‘Serb Gandhi’. Patriarch Paul was neither a Gandhi, nor a martyr, nor a ‘living saint’. The policy which the patriarch ardently supported has destroyed too many holy places in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and created too many saints and martyrs: people who were murdered, deported and killed because of their faith. One such living saint, one who underwent a real Calvary and stoically bears to this day a cruciform scar on his forehead, still walks, lives and tills the land in his village, under an Orthodox church that he says does not bother him. I have had both the honour of meeting the saintly imam Adil Sola, and the misfortune of having lived at the time of Patriarch Paul.

Translated from the independent Sarajevo weekly Dani, 27 November 2009
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