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Religious Fundamentalisms and Repression of Reproductive and Sexual Rights

Tendencies after October 5th, 2000

Friday 19 October 2007, by Stasa Zajovic

Milosevic used nationalism as a means of maintaining his power. The interests of the nation and fatherland served not only as a means, but also as a cover-up for the criminal character of the former regime, which was marked by pillage, abductions, murders, and death squads. After 5 October
2000, an ’authentic nationalist’ came to power, Vojislav Kostunica. Not only did Ko.tunica fail to breach with the policy of war and war crimes of the previous regime, but, during his term in office (October 2000 to February 2003), nationalism was ’normalized’ and even proclaimed to be a democratic attribute. Kostunica and his numerous supporters created a spiritual and cultural climate of a normalized (i. e. anti-communist) nationalism, as one of the major objections against Milosevic was that his nationalism was of a communist and atheist nature.

During this period, in order to achieve as high a degree of legitimacy as possible, this ’nationalism without Milosevic’ was embellished with a host of affirmative attributes; it was now positive, democratic, civic, evangelistic, moderate, civilized, authentic, etc.

What are the main features of such an “authentic nationalism” ?

Clerical nationalism: as early as December 2000, President Kostunica visited the monastery of Chillandary in his capacity as president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) and not as a private individual; thus marking yet another episode in the project of establishing the new wave of nationalism, where more and more political leaders are trying to win the favor of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC).

Theocratization of the state/de-secularization of society: the political influence of the SPC has been on the rise, bringing into question the basic democratic principle and foundation of the modern state - the separation of church and the state. Many of the state.s actions (e. g. the introduction of religious teachings in the schools) are a direct consequence of the theocratization of the state.

The introduction of religious teachings in state schools: as of the 2001/2 school year religious teachings were introduced in state schools. From the formal and legal point of view this was an illegal move, because the church is separated from the state; from a spiritual and cultural perspective this is
devastating because the Orthodox religion reproduces the pattern of submission of women, while the models of upbringing that are promulgated by the church draw a distinction between men and women. In addition, religious teachings aggravate ethnic divisions by favoring one church (SPC), and discriminating against other denominations, especially the less numerous ones. Religious teachings are actually a training course in church rites and tenets, instead of serving to disseminate knowledge about all religions. Furthermore, clerical . fascist organizations such as Obraz (Face) and Sveti
Justin Filozof (Saint Justin the Philosopher) hold panel discussions at the state university and, under the pretext of freedom of speech, propagate misogyny.

Clericalization of public life: religious rites are frequently exercised in state institutions. For example, Milan St. Proti}, FRY ambassador to the U.S.A., had the embassy building consecrated without consulting the competent ministry. Vladeta Jankovic, FRY ambassador to Great Britain, hung a picture
of the patriarch in the reception hall, the customary place for a picture of the head of state. Moreover, all these officials represent only one denomination (the Orthodox Christian), thus marginalizing and insulting members of other denominations who live in this country, as well as atheists. Nevertheless,
the consecration of party premises, state buildings, schools, and hospitals has, for a long time now, been regarded as a desirable .democratic. ritual.

The strengthening of clerical . fascist tendencies: with the support of one part of the SPC, the Yugoslav Army (VJ), as well as the State Security System (MUP), clerical-fascist organizations such as Obraz, Krv i cast (Blood and Honor), etc., as well as numerous para-religious organizations, conduct their activities unimpeded. For example, in late 2002, Women in Black received several messages of anti-Semitic and fascist character, glorifying Hitler, Mladic, Karadzic and similar “fighters for the purity of the white race and the Serbian nation”.

Media attention: the media devotes much more space to the above-mentioned tendencies than to their opponents. In this way, the media encourages clerical-fascist and clerical-nationalistic tendencies; instead of diminishing the vilification of the ’other’ and those deemed different, it is being advanced.
Resultantly, in many communities the majority of citizens still regard groups in the NGO sector as sects.

The language of hatred and exclusion of others: many DOS politicians (the most clamorous being Velimir Ili} whose party Nova Demokratija was, until recently, part of the coalition that took power after 5 October 2000) keep records of people of different national and religious affiliation, thereby implicitly attaching less social value to them. Instead of deconstructing the language of war, it is being perpetuated.

Revision of history: Characterizing as equivalent the World War 2 fascists and antifascists . the Chetniks and the Partisans - is pushed one step further by permanently relativizing the crimes that were committed in the name of the entire nation (the Serbian nation) during the 1991-1999 wars.

Religion is preached as the only form of spiritual culture: this tendency is becoming particularly alarming among the young, who are the predominant victims of various types of frustrations and, with no other options before them, fall easy prey to the fanatics within the Orthodox Church and para-religious organizations.

What is fundamentalism?

In order to understand the meaning of the tendencies that have been outlined here, drawing a parallel with Islamic fundamentalism seems to be justified. An analysis that was carried out by Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) will be used for this purpose. WLUML is one of the largest and most powerful anti-fundamentalist networks; Women in Black are members of this network. WLUML opposes not only Islamic, but all forms of religious fundamentalism. In their analysis, of practices that abuse religion and cultural heritage for political aims, WLUML provides an up-to-date definition
and valorization of fundamentalism. Only some of the elements that we consider to be symptomatic of our situation will be mentioned here:

•The fundamentalist movement is an intertwined action of retrograde conservative rightist forces (so-called shadow fundamentalism) and religious fundamentalist leaders (flagrant fundamentalists);

•Fundamentalism is based on the growing power of conservative forces in the world and their mounting influence on public policy (e. g. attacks against women in many Islamic countries and attacks against abortion clinics in the USA);

•Retrograde forces exert a tremendous influence on public policy and public opinion;

•The interdependence and interconnectedness of fundamentalist tendencies: fundamentalism in one country is related to changes in another one;

•Fundamentalists allegedly hate one another, but they form strategic alliances and coalitions, both on the national and international plane. Islamic fundamentalists, Vatican hard-liners, Jewish fundamentalists, etc., enter transnational strategic alliances against abortion and women.s rights.
In our country, the most radical currents of the Islamic community and the SPC have been quite convergent as their opposition to sexual and reproductive rights has gained momentum;

–•Some international nongovernmental organizations support and legitimize fundamentalist projects: USAID, for example, is forced to implement the Law on Global Obstruction passed by the Bush administration soon after President Bush took office, and is therefore not allowed to fund any organization or program that commits itself to abortion as a right. Furthermore, hidden behind some nongovernmental organizations, Islamic fundamentalist organizations (particularly those from Saudi Arabia) finance some of the most extremist fundamentalist tendencies, for example Wahhabism in
Bosnia and Herzegovina and also in Sand‘ak (south western Serbia). The fundamentalists. main objective is to gain political power in order to control women’s lives. Fundamentalists, not only the Orthodox ones but all others as well, prefer to conduct their activities in the sphere of intimacy,
morals, the family, sexuality and reproductive rights. Over the past two years, one of the spokesmen for the SPC, Ljubivoje Stojanovi}, professor at the Department for Pastoral Theology of the Faculty of Theology of the SPC and editor-in-chief of Pravoslavlje (Orthodoxy), the publication of the Serbian
patriarchate, has appeared relentlessly in all the media, printed and electronic preaching strictly prescribed roles for women (as mothers and wives), premarital sexual abstinence, and denouncing adultery as the greatest sin, the equality of men and women as a manifestation of .ideological
obstruction. and so on.

The representatives of the Islamic community are waging a similar battle: “The society is increasingly confronting its own impotence to solve the problems of marriage, family, morals, drug abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, sects and other deviations through its secular mechanisms. This is bound to open up space for religion”.

Educational summer camps and the Mobile Cultural Container: a thorn in the eye of the guardians of chastity, virtue and morality

Within the framework of the education reform that is being conducted by the Ministry of Education and Sport, programs using interactive and participatory methods are also being introduced in the form of summer camps. One of these camps was organized in Sremska Mitrovica in the summer of 2002.
Unfortunately some of the teachers, predominantly teachers/guardians with conservative morals, who were accompanying the students during their stay in the camp, expressed their ’astonishment at the methods aimed at breaking away from authority’ and their bitterness over the ’sexual harassment’ that ’our children’ were exposed to. What did this ’harassment’ consist of? ’Sexual harassment’ allegedly occurred when, during a game of breaking loose, two boys and a girl briefly stripped their clothes. However, no one had forced them or talked them into doing this, according to Sanja Pejin, director of the camp. Conservative teachers at the camp also accused the educators of being ’sectarian’, and asked that the workshops on sexually transmitted diseases be discontinued and that educators from JAZAS (Yugoslav Anti-AIDS Association) be dismissed. However, 132 of the 133 students who were attending the camp in Sremska Mitrovica signed a petition threatening to leave the camp if the JAZAS educators were removed.

These .shadow fundamentalists. were joined by open fundamentalists from the SPC. Prompted by the .shameless scandals. in this and many other summer camps, the SPC Synod made a public announcement on 1 September 2002: ’The modern education and the development of a new consciousness that is taking place in educational workshops is submitting the children to perfidious brainwashing’. We are witnessing, unfortunately, a marriage of post-communist atheism and western capitalist hedonism ’such a monstrous marriage can only breed monsters’.. The Synod asked the Ministry of Education, but above all, the parents of these children, ’not to allow anyone on anyone.s behalf to pervert the children.s innocent souls, and therefore to bury the legendary dignity of the Serbian people’ (as though there had not been students of other religious and ethnic affiliations in the camp) and to ’stop undermining the spiritual and cultural values of their people’.

For years, workshops and other participatory educational methods have been cited as evidence by fundamentalists of all hues that nongovernmental organizations are a sect and part of an anti.Serb conspiracy. This is a permanent tendency, both in the Church and in para.religious, clerical-nationalistic organizations. One of them has characterized the school syllabi as .a hunt for children.s souls., spreading the belief that psychological workshops and psycho.techniques are .a form of manipulation in order to recruit victims of totalitarian and destructive sects.. The alleged proof that
this is all a conspiracy against the Serbian people is that that the author of the program on nonviolent communication for the subject called .civic education . is of Jewish origin: .Marshal Rosenberg is not Christian, which seems to be the most important fact..

An ethnocentric, xenophobic, paranoid and anti.Semitic disposition is the chief element of clerical.fascist organizations, and this can easily be perceived from their publications and manifestations. All these organizations, both those belonging to the Church and para-religious groups, continually and unanimously demand the introduction of religious teaching in schools as the only way to fight against what the SPC Synod characterized as .apelike shamelessness and Satanist immorality., claiming that religious teachings are the only way for parents .to save their children from atrocious desecration.

The Mobile Cultural Container

The case of the Mobile Cultural Container in Novi Pazar (Sanddzak, Serbia) serves as an example of the practices of Islamic fundamentalists. The Mobile Cultural Container is a European Union project aimed at fostering cultural integration and establishing links among the young, especially in multiethnic
communities. The project consists of knowledge acquisition in various areas such as film direction, photography, journalism, and other creative activities. It usually remains in one place for several weeks and was installed in Novi Pazar on 12 October 2002. However, the problems began as of 15 October, when condoms were being distributed following a panel discussion on AIDS that was facilitated by JAZAS educators. MOK (the Muslim Youth Club) which works under the auspices of the Islamic community of Sand‘ak, denounced this action and the entire project of the Mobile Cultural Container as follows: –•The Mobile Cultural Container injects harmful ideologies into the subconscious of the youth in this area, while the distribution of condoms represents the legalization of debauchery.. MOK claims
that what the Container has to offer is .contrary to the morals, religious principles and tradition of the people., because .what Bosnian or Islamic elements can be found there?., and such programs and projects encourage –•lesbianism, homosexuality, drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, and pornography.
–•In their opinion, the workshops teach the young .disrespect for their parents and repudiation of faith..

MOK further demonstrated its role as an instigator of cultural racism, illustrated by the following statement made by its president Midhat Mujovic.The programs brought by the Mobile Cultural Container are not for us, but for African tribes.. MOK continuously obstructed the Container.s activities, turning the youth against the project so that some workshops that began with 70 participants ended up with no more than three, after the MOK offensive. MOK also organized a stoning of the Container on 12 November. After this incident, the Mobile Cultural Container was closed down in Novi Pazar.

MOK’s campaign was successful primarily because Muamer Zukorlic, mufti of the Islamic community of Sand‘ak, is a declared enemy of the Container project. Mufti Zukorlic has long been leading a campaign against those committed to intercultural and interethnic solidarity and sexual education.
URBAN-IN, an organization which works with youth in Novi Pazar, has been the target of many attacks by the Islamic community: ’During prayers in several mosques in Novi Pazar, lies are being spread about the activities of our organization and about the people who work in it. These lies range from
the accusation that we are all Jewish and American mercenaries (which means enemies of all Muslims) to claims that we are narcotic dealers, drug addicts and homosexuals.’

The fundamentalists resort to various strategies and mechanisms in order to disseminate their ideas, one being the adoption of human rights rhetoric in the name of ’expressing cultural identity’ and ’freedom of speech’’. In their November announcement, URBAN-IN stated that: ’Unfortunately, the
Sandzak mufti appears to have a very tolerant attitude and uses his young, well-instructed followers to exert this type of influence’. In addition, a large number of followers are involved in these perfidious games because they are privately connected with the personal businesses of Mufti Zukorlic and
the Islamic community. The increasing numbers of Wahhabis, the most militant Islamic sect, is a cause for serious concern. It is through them that the leaflet of the Organization of Active Islamic Youth (OAIO) from Sarajevo, with pro.fascist content, was distributed.

Mufti Zukorlic enjoys the support of the authorities for pragmatic reasons and with the aim of satisfying the requirement for multiculturalism according to the models and demands of the worldwide centers of power. According to URBAN-IN, an even greater danger than the fact that organizations like OAIO are lavishly financed by the most aggressive Islamic countries is the ’support that the Sandzak mufti is receiving from the highest repre sentatives of the authorities of the Republic of Serbia and of FR Yugoslavia and from the representatives of important international institutions and diplomatic
missions’. Aida Corovic, coordinator of URBAN.IN, complains of ’the indifferent and restrictive attitude of international organizations and diplomatic missions towards us. I do not have in mind only financial support, but all kinds of public support for our efforts to build civil society’

It is worth mentioning that Mufti Zukorlic is also rector of the newly founded private university, which is strongly influenced by retrograde Islamic tendencies; he was also a member of the Serbian state delegation that visited several Arab countries. These various forms of support make it possible
for the mufti, as well as other declared and undeclared fundamentalists, to succeed in expanding the range of their influence. Of course, similar tendencies within the Orthodox Church have never been in collision with the tendencies of the Islamic community (and vice versa), which confirms the thesis of strategic alliances.

Guardians of chastity, virtue and morality - rapists and pedophiles

Let us go back to the Serbian Orthodox Church. The crime of pedophilia has often been covered up by silence, but nevertheless, over the past few years several cases have come to light. One of them troubled Serbia for months. In January 2003, a boy accused Bishop Pahomije of Vranje of sexual harassment. The bishop immediately pressed charges against the local newspaper Vranjske Novine, claiming that they were fabricating ’a sex scandal’. Two more boys came forward with the same accusations of sexual harassment by Bishop Pahomije and filed criminal charges against him. After a three-month investigation, in April 2003 the court in Vranje indicted the bishop for ’debauchery’, which does not seem to be a source of concern for the SPC: far from distancing itself from this high.ranking representative of the Church, it has been showering him with praise. The latest instance of this
was in the Easter epistle, in April 2003, i. e. after the bishop had been indicted. So frequently did the SPC bless Serbian patriots/ warriors/murderers/ rapists during the wars of 1991.1999, that this attitude towards Pahomije can be considered run of the mill.

Conclusion

The influence of retrograde para-religious forces in the SPC and other religious communities has not diminished since 5 October 2000. On the contrary, they have been allowed more public space and are being treated (especially by the Serbian Orthodox Church) as equal political collocutors, whose views must be taken into consideration. The Church can try to gain a monopoly over morals, and to exert influence on public opinion, but the civic authorities (politicians and state institutions) are accountable for the adoption or rejection of such attempts and tendencies. If the separation of church and state is to be fully respected, church teachings must not have a bearing on public policy, on political processes and decision.making. SPC and its representatives will continue to hold a monopoly over the spiritual life, chastity, virtue and morality as long as the civilian authorities and the civil society in particular allow them to do so. They will continue to influence public affairs as long as they are allowed the space to do so. And this space must not be provided for them not only because they do not deserve it in the least, but because it is incompatible with the secular state and the principle of separation of the church and the state.

Notes

1.Mufti of the Islamic community in Sand‘ak, Danas, 7-8 July 2002.

2.Blagovesnik Despot Stefan, one of the numerous para-religious organizations that
are ever more aggressive in their agitation and propaganda.

3.Danas, 9 October 2002.
Zajovic, Stasa. (2005). Religious fundamentalisms and repression of reproductive and sexual rights. In S. Zajovi (Ed.), Women for Peace (pp. 300-307). Belgrade: Women in Black.