In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, along with the rise to power of Slobodan Milosevic, the process of de-secularization and clericalization of society began in Serbia. The Serbian Orthodox Church backed the hegemony project of Slobodan Milosevic and his belligerent campaigns. However, it was only after the downfall of Milosevic that clericalization reached it full swing, first during the government of Zoran DJindjic, and afterwards when Vojislav Kostunica took office. The Church became visible in the domain of public policy and state affairs, and all the proponents of state power as of the 5th October have manifested an inadmissible continuity with the regime of Slobodan Milosevic.
In this way, the “birth of freedom” turned into a general clericalization of the state institutions and organs.
First of all, the Serbian Orthodox Church disputes the secular principle of society and state order, thus, at the same time, disputing the principles of religious freedom and equality of religions. The SOC has classified numerous churches and denominations as sects. Its greatest resentment is directed towards Protestant denominations, but also towards the atheists (The Christmas epistle of Patriarch Pavle, where atheist parents were accused of having “pushed their own offspring down the road of fake happiness and fake freedom” and of having “ruined their children’s lives”). The Minister of Religions then in office (daily newspaper Politika, 5-7 January 2002) said: “Atheism is the culprit for the wars and poverty and the moral downfall”.
I will now try in brief to give a chronological overview of how Serbia lost its secularity, through what I consider to be indicative examples:
1. December 2002. The Department for Morale of the Headquarters of the Army of Yugoslavia organized a round table discussion where they pledged for “the introduction of faith in the Army”, insisting that Orthodox priests should be introduced because “the religions in our society, in spite of having equal legal treatment, are not equal in the face of our national culture and history, i.e. they have not given equal contributions to the national culture and the preservation of national identity and statehood of the Serbian people”.
2. After the session of the Holy Synod on 4th July 2001, Zoran DJindjic announced, on 5th July 2002, that religious teaching courses in state schools would start on 1st September 2001.
3. In June 2001, activists of the rightwing youth organization “Obraz” (Face/Honor), led by priest Zarko Gavrilovic, were the chief breakers of the Gay Parade in Belgrade. The Church never officially distanced itself from those events.
4. In March 2004, the Ministry of Religions announced that 2.1 million euros was to be allocated to religious communities, i.e. that in Kosovo and Metohija the priests and monk ere to receive monthly salaries in the amount of about 250 euros.
5. In the spirit of the fundamentalist dispute against the Theory of Evolution and affirmation of Creationism, the Minister of Education attempted to remove by decree the Darwin Theory from school syllabi, that same year.
6. The pinnacle of absurdity of democracy in 2005 was certainly the joint visit to Moscow paid by President Boris tadic and Patriarch Pavle, which was referred to as a church-state visit, as it was announced from the President’s cabinet.
7. In 2006, two key laws were adopted: “The law on Religious Communities” and “The Law on Restitution of Church property”. Thus the clerical community obtained a legal framework for their activities, as their work was facilitated and protected by law.
The clericalization of Serbia, as well as the fundamentalist tendencies within the SOC, are also recognizable in the permanent church campaign against women in Serbia. Just like in all the movements that we label as fundamentalist, the SOC disputes the right of women to their own choice, their right to be in control of their own bodies and to be full-fledged members of the society.
Their first target is surely the still valid article of the Constitution, dating back from 1951 in the former Yugoslavia, that legalized abortion. The campaign against legal abortion, disguised as concern for “the rights of the unborn child” and also concern for “the survival of the nation” – infamous formulae reminding of Hitler’ time, which dehumanize the women of Serbia, turning them into childbearing machines.
Also, the Patriarch of SOC, in his publications for the faithful, allowed himself to prescribe the dress code for women, to speak about the “the impurity of menstruation” etc. Such campaigns and publications by the clergy, but also of the rightist elites in Serbia, have produced equally permanent campaigns, protests of women in Black.
It is only in the strict separation of the church and the state and on the secular principle that a democratic state and society can be founded. That is why for me, a peace activist from Vojvodina (a province with more than ten denominations and 22 nationalities) the anti-fundamentalist engagement has become one of the most important activist engagements.