07 May 2013, 17:28
Serbia must not loosen ties with Russia in seeking to join EU - patriarch
Belgrade, May 7, Interfax - The primate of the Serbian Orthodox Church has insisted that Serbia must not loosen its ties with "great Russia" in pursuing its bid to join the European Union.
"I hope that our political leaders know how to find a bridge into Europe that would guarantee peaceful and stable development for our society and nation. On the other hand, there exist old bridges to our brothers, the Russian people, and to great Russia, and, thank God, these bridges, which have been there for many centuries, are always open to us," Patriarch Irinej told the Serbian newspaper Vecernje Novosti.
He complained about alleged discrimination of ethnic Serb populations in the neighboring former Yugoslav countries of Montenegro, Croatia and Macedonia.
He cited a 1909 census as showing 90% of the population of Montenegro being Serb and said that in 2011 Serbs made up less than 29%. "That is 'political and cultural engineering,' but, to put it in a straightforward way, it's brutal coercion," he said.
In Croatia, a Catholic bishop was against a proposal for allowing the Cyrillic alphabet to be used in Vukovar, a city where Serbs make up a large proportion of the population, Irinej said.
The patriarch also accused Croatian politicians of encouraging alleged discrimination against Serbs, including their being unjustly denied jobs and their problems recovering property taken away from them.
In Macedonia, the local Orthodox clergy and community are persecuted "just for not wanting to live in schism," he said.
In talking about Serbia, he cited the latest census as showing 95% of the country's population being believers and 85% of them being Orthodox Christian.
Nevertheless, the restitution of church property that was nationalized a long time ago remains a major problem, according to the patriarch.
"Symphony between state and church is, unfortunately, not what exists today," he said.