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October 20, 2011

Serbian Patriarch "Most Vocal Opposition" To EU Integration

October 19, 2011

The SPC patriarch has emerged as the most vocal opposition to the government on the issue of the EU and the conditions for continued integrations, says a daily.

Belgrade-based Danas newspaper is writing that Patriarch Irinej's strong statements about the EU and Kosovo are more radical that those voiced by most opposition parties, with the exception of the SRS, and that he stresses more forcefully the need to give up on Serbia's European road.

The head of the Serbian Orthodox Church said in the town of Jagodina last weekend that Serbia was facing a great temptation, being offered to join the EU but with a horrible price - to renounce Kosovo and Metohija.

"If we should sacrifice Kosovo and Metohija in order to join Europe - then let's thank them for their goodness and love. Let them leave us alone, let them not do again to us what they've done recently, let our Kosovo remain ours," the patriarch said after a service dedicated to the fallen Jagodina residents,who took part in liberation and unification wars waged from 1912 until 1918.

In mid-September, the patriarch was in Kosovoska Mitrovica, where he told Serbs at the barricades: "If you are harmed, you know why you will be harmed, if you must spill your blood, you know why you'll do it. That is holy martyrdom and defense of the holy land. That is the message of our Church and those who care about you."

In early October, while visiting the SPC monastery of Mileševo along with Russian Ambassador Aleksandr Konuzin, the patriarch said that the Serb nation has had "many friends - at least that's what we thought - many of whom sided with those who do not like us, and who hate us."

"We stand with few friends now, but we have our greatest friend, the Russian people," concluded Irinej.

Religious affairs analyst Živica Tucić spoke for the newspaper to say that Serbia is divided over EU integrations, and asserted that "some 50 percent are in favor, while others are undecided or against".

He noted that there were Orthodox Christians "among those 50 percent", and added that "what the patriarch is saying is not in their interests".

"Still, the patriarch's words will not carry great influence on their opinion, because the Church is seen here in a more traditional sense, as a place to get christened, married and buried. In that sense, the political influence of the SPC is limited," Tucić believes.

He noted that churches and religious communities said in an official statement, amde when the Law Against Discrimination was adopted, that they would "not stand in the way of European integrations, and would aid it".

Asked by the newspaper "what happened in the meantime to make the SPC reach a position that could be interpreted as 'anti-European'," this analyst said that "euroskepticism" was on the rise in the society as a whole.

Still, Tucić advised the Church to "leave the issue of Kosovo to the state to solve", and to "bear in mind not its wishes, but the realistic situation".

Political analyst Dušan Janjić said the patriarch's statements can be interpreted as "announcements of very serious, dramatic events, and the Church's concern for its members".

"The government has reached a complete dead-end. There's not one person in Serbia who's satisfied with it. Even its members are behaving like they were never in power. That's a sign of a profound crisis. The Serbian Orthodox Church would not have left the confines of its role had it not heard the call of its people. If there were no believers there would be no Church, and that is the realistic concern that the SPC has," Janjić said.