June 10, 2011
Senior figures in the Serbian Orthodox Church are to be questioned over allegations that the former general Ratko Mladic, who is suspected of war crimes, was sheltered by the Church during his nearly 16 years on the run.
General Mladic is currently in prison at The Hague, facing charges of orchestrating the massacre of 8000 Muslims in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in 1995 — the worst civilian massacre in Europe since the Second World War.
The President of Serbia, Boris Tadic, has said that Church officials will be questioned as part of the investigation, after reports in the Serbian press suggested that General Mladic was nursed by nuns through a stroke while he was supposed to be on the run.
The St Melania Convent, which is 40 miles north of Belgrade, is said to have been one of a number of secret refuges provided by the Orthodox Church.
The Church has not made any comment on the allegations, or on the arrest of General Mladic.
Drasko Djenovic, who runs Centaur 9, an organisation set up to monitor religious freedom in Serbia, said that there was, as yet, no proof that General Mladic had been harboured by the Church, as Radovan Karadzic had been. He said that priests had joined in demonstrations against Mladic’s arrest, however, and a demonstration in Lazarevo, the village where the General was arrested, was led by the local priest.
Mr Djenovic said: “For most believers, priests, and bishops, he is still a national hero, and his extradition to Hague court will just mean that more people will vote against pro-European parties in favour of nationalist parties.”
The Very Revd Aleksandar Zebic, of the Serbian Orthodox Church of St Lazar in Bourneville, Birmingham, told Premier Christian Radio this week that General Mladic was now “answerable to God”.
The Bishop of Hereford, the Rt Revd Anthony Priddis, has welcomed the arrest and trial. On his blog, he contrasted General Mladic’s treatment with the discovery and shooting of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
“Putting someone on trial matters because the truth matters. Trial is not about revenge but about justice. There may have been very good reasons why Osama Bin Laden, too, could not have been arrested and put on trial for his crimes, but we are not told them in any clear or persuasive way.”