Serbia and Montenegro: Religious Fundamentalism - the birth rate and reproductive rights

The Serbian Orthodox Church, as the religious community that constitutes the majority in Serbia and Montenegro insists on the need for increasing the birth rate and diminishing reproductive rights (particularly abortion).
At the same time, it pursues an active pro-life policy. At the very beginning of this year, it was announced that the Bishop of Milesevo (South Serbia, one of the proponents of the radical - fundamentalist wing of SPC) had made the decision that the church in his eparchy would from now on stimulate the birth of the fourth child in every family with 1,000 euros.
This stimulation refers exclusively to Christian families, which in practice means that the families of the minority ethnic or religious groups cannot count on it, nor does it include atheists and agnostics. The motivation for such a decision was found in the results of the recent demographic study, according to which the Serbs are among eight nations in the world whose death rate is higher than their birth rate.

Some non-clerical figures have also acted as propagators of the policy pledging for increased birth rates on behalf of SPC. For example, Marko Mladenovic, a lawyer and intellectual close to the most reactionary circles in the Church, pointed out in his statement for the newspaper Arena (27th Feb. 2004) that only the fourth child policy can save Serbia from extinction: if the current trends continue, the Serbs will become a national minority in fifty years' time. The most important cause of this, according to him, is the so-called auto genocide, which is also reflected in the massive number of abortions ("At least three Serbias have been killed in gynecological clinics over the past fifty years"). Therefore, Mladenovic pledges for a ban on any legal abortion that would be justified by social, family, personal or intimate motives. The sovereign right of the woman to decide on abortion ought to be abolished, whereas the right of the state should be increased and the right of the father to decide about his posterity should also be introduced. Gynecologist Stojan Adasevic speaks in the same spirit and has also published a book called The Sanctity of Life, with the financial support of SPC. According to Adasevic, the problem lies in the moral and ideological approach to childbearing and sexuality. The concept that the aim of the sexual drive is reproduction, not pleasure, ought to be firmly established, as well as the notion that this drive is closely bound to an ultimate duty towards oneself, one's environment, one's nation and the state.

The latest session of the Holy assembly of archbishops of SPC (the SPC supreme body, made up of all the archbishops) that was held in mid-May this year resulted in calling to attention all the problems that Serbia is confronting nowadays, where "abortion and infanticide" are at the top of the list. It is realistic to expect that the new Serbian government, headed by Vojislav Kostunica - in view of its markedly conservative character - will show more understanding for the suggestions coming from the Church, directed at the limitation of existing reproductive rights.


The new government has given new momentum to the Church aspirations toward imposing an ideological and moral monopoly in the society and in the state. These pretensions are reflected in Patriarch Pavle's Christmas Epistle that was made public on 6th January this year and that, among other things, contains the following: "It is time we admitted, before God and before ourselves, that our way of living, undeserving of our glorious Christian name, has contributed to the crises that befell us". The solution is in repentance that means nothing else but "finding the right way and goal", of course, under the moral guidance of the Church. Let it be said that, on the eve of latest parliamentary election, the Church lent its open support to the right option, which led to the formation of the new conservative government, believing - rightfully, as it seems - that it would help it to realize the above mentioned pretensions toward achieving an ideological and moral monopoly.

In order to arrive at such a monopoly, the Church takes advantage of the popularity of prominent sportsmen. Basketball player Dejan Bodiroga, captain of the state representation of Serbia and Montenegro and member of the American MBA League, was awarded the highest church decoration, the Order of Saint Sava of the first degree, because he publicly exercises the Orthodox religion, lives in accordance with teachings of the Church and supports the Church (explanation of Bishop Grigorije, who proposed him for the award). In his interview to Politika (6th -7th January 2004), Bishop Grigorije openly admitted the marketing character of this move of the Church, as well as the fact that his marketing model had been that of the Catholic Church. However, in spite of such sophisticated marketing approach, the SPC also resorts to oppressive measures against undisciplined followers. The case of the traditional folk manifestation The Sausage Feast, in the village of Turija in Backa is only seemingly funny. This year, this manifestation (a competition in the preparation and sampling of traditional meat products) coincided with the first week of the holy Easter fast. After the SPC did not succeed in banning this manifestation, the local Bishop Irinej ordered that the local church be closed during The Sausage Feast, with the bells tolling every fifteen minutes. All the participants of the Feast and the members of their families were punished with one year of banishment from church events (except from christening of newborns). Even more radical was the above-mentioned Bishop Filaret, who pronounced the same kind of punishment for all those who organized weddings or other festivities during the fast.

Bishop Artemije of the Raska and Prizren district (head of the SPC in Kosovo) gave a very indicative interview (Danas, 6th-7th January 2004), in which he said that Serbia had wasted the entire twentieth century. That is, primarily, the consequence of the forceful abolition of the monarchy and installing of the republic. Serbia has forgotten its genuine symbols and has been deprive of its soul. The solution lies in the following "The young generations should pace together into a better future, headed by Crown and the Church, because the state of Serbia used to be very prosperous and developed in all spheres while it stood on two solid pillars - the Church and the Crown." In accordance with this, the Tchetnik movement should also be rehabilitated (monarchist collaborationists with the enemy during the Second World War, infamous, among other things, for conducting ethnic cleansings against the Muslim population). The dialogue with the other churches should be restricted, in accordance with the canonic truth that only the Orthodox Church is genuine, whereas all others are heretics. Common prayer with those who are not members of the Church and with heretics is inadmissible, even in the privacy of the home, warned Archbishop Artemije.

The tragic events in Kosovo on 17th and 18th of March provided the Church with yet another pretext for emphasizing its leading role in the so-called spiritual renewal. Together with the new government of Vojislav Kostunica, SPC organized combined religious and political manifestation (processions and public prayers in front of the basilica of Saint Sava) in Belgrade, headed by the Montenegrin Metropolitan of the Serbian Orthodox Church Amfilohije Radovic. On that occasion, he called on the people to intensify their prayers and fast in order to be purged and enlightened and to return to their tradition values in repentance. Otherwise, one of the first moves of the Kostunica government was the publication of the legal draft on the relations between the state and religious communities, guaranteeing a series of privileges to SPC and also providing state funds for the clergy and monastic order in Kosovo. Each priest will be receiving a monthly salary in the amount of 250 euros, while the disciples of SPC religious schools in Kosovo will obtain grants. Elaborating on these proposals, Milan Radulovic, Minister of Religions, pointed out in his statement for the daily Danas (31st March 2004) that the budget was being filled by the citizens, 95 % of whom are, allegedly, believers, therefore, it was only natural that allocations for the Church and the so-called traditional religious communities be augmented ("each traditional religious community will be allocated financial means corresponding to its participation in the total population in Serbia, which can precisely be defined from the latest census). At the objection of NGO-s and their questioning state assistance to the church in Kosovo, Radulovic retorted with the accusation that they were advocating the discrimination of the believers.

Publicist Mihajlo Mihajlov remarked that such manifestation were indicative of a systematic attempt aiming at the SPC acquiring a similar role in the state and in the society as the Communist party used to hold at the times of Tito, i.e. to create an integrative social force whose leading role will be guaranteed (Politika, 5th Jan. 2004). Invoking Metropolitan Amfilohije and the historical figure of SPC in MONTENEGRO, Archbishop Peter of Cetinje, deputy of the ruling DSS party in the Serbian Assembly, Rados Ljusic, emphasized the need for the renewal of a unified Serbian State that should comprise Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, all that in the context of the request for the beginning of the renewal of the Serbian people (htpp:// Therefore, with the help of SPC - with no discordant voices from within the church, and with the seemingly unanimous support of its hierarchy, the program of the re-establishment of Greater Serbia is being renewed, a program that was at the root of the post-Yugoslav wars of the 1990's.

The public appearance of Archbishop Atanasije Jeftic, on 7th April in Celije near Valjevo, was remarkable, on the occasion of the 110th birth anniversary of theologian Justin Popovic, ideologist of the new Serbian Orthodox fundamentalism (his students, some of whom occupy the highest posts of SPC, such as Amfilohije, Irinej, Atanasije and Artemije, are called the Justinians). Having accused all the critics of SPC (individually, especially the theological writer Mirko Djordjevic) of being concealed communists, Atanasije presented his program of spiritual renewal: in his opinion, nationalism is not only justifiable, but also indispensable: those who are not nationalist have betrayed their people and lineage and advocate alienation. It is in the spirit of SPC to oppose this and to be aware of the fact that our people contributed greatly to the history of humanity (magazine Vreme published the integral text of Jeftic's homily, which was reported by many other newspapers).

Critical analysts are warning that this is by no means the activity of some extremist wing within the SPC, but is a systematic church policy, which is particularly encouraged by the shift of government. Unlike those who consider Patriarch Pavle a moderate Church figure, one of the greatest living intellectuals, Desimir Tosic, warns of the following: "I think that the Serbian Orthodox church has never been so reactionary over the past two hundred years as it is today… The bishops have become very aggressive, and what Archbishop Atanasije was saying is so shameful that every Orthdox Serb should be ashamed… It abhors how the Patriarch, who is pretending to be an apostle and saint, condones and justifies all this. In my opinion, the image of Patriach Pavle that is projected in our media is rather fake if somebody ought to say that. The politicians are under populist and reactionary pressures and they are avoiding to say that we have a completely new problem: ...completely autochthonous forces that are at the head of the Serbian Orthodox church and broad circle of intellectuals" (htpp://www.b92. net.). The fact that Patriarch Pavle is extremely conservative and that he could be regarded as a fundamentalist, even according to very strict criteria is obvious from a recent interview, where he boast that he has never taken part in elections, as a matter of principle, nor does he possess a TV or radio and never reads the press.

The leading critical Orthodox theologian Mirko Djordjevic warns (Republika, May 2000) of the danger posed by the growing fundamentalism, such as advocated by the afore mentioned Atanasije, pointing to the fact that this represents an attempt to annul two hundred years of modernity in Serbia on one hand, and on the other, to directly rehabilitate the war crimes criminal Radovan Karadzic (who, in Atanasije's opinion, is a "man whose hands are clean"). The same author goes deeper into analysis of the SPC policy in a treatise with an indicative title "Serbia between the throne and the altar" (Republika, January 2004). The support of SPC for the restoration of the monarchy represents the expression of the church teachings about symphony (one God in heaven, one ruler in the state, one father in the home, while god's representatives on earth and the king harmonize the absolutistic monarchy with the interests of the church, with the ruler abiding by the theological principles proclaimed by the leading church figures, whereas they bless him in return and demand unconditional obedience to the state authorities by their followers ). SPC is, obviously, afraid of democracy and therefore takes part in a systematic dissemination of chaos, including Patriarch Pavle himself. Vuk Stambolic, Professor of the Medical Faculty, warns (Danas, 14th May 2004) of the strengthening of clerical tendencies that faith should become the standard of behavior and reasoning, not only in the state, but also in science. The state and science are public concepts and it must be made clear that "religion in public affairs paves the way to fundamentalism".


After religious education was introduced into the schools some time ago, at the beginning of this year, the government of Serbia adopted the decision that the Theological Faculty of the Serbian Orthodox Church be returned into the framework of Belgrade University and that it should receive compensation for the damage incurred by its exclusion from the University in 1952. This faculty awarded the first doctorate of honor to Patriarch Bartholomew of Istambul, at the beginning of May this year.

According to the assessment of Mirko Djordjevic (Republika, February 2004), the events related to the return of the Faculty of Theology to Belgrade University indicate that it is no longer clear whether the church is still separated from the state or not, but it is absolutely clear that a strategy of permanent serialization of the educational system is at work. A rightist totalitarian ideology is entering Belgrade University openly, best represented in the figure of Metropolitan Amfilohije Radovic, who is himself a professor of the afore mentioned faculty (in an ironic comment of the decision to return it to Belgrade University, Danas, 27th Jan. 2004, professor Ljubisa Rajic proposes Amfilohije as the new Rector of the University). Even the term "Biology in the spirit of Saint Sava" is being mentioned, a subject that was introduced at Belgrade University during the German occupation in the Second World War that represents the Serbian-Orthodox variant of an Anti-Darwinist racist and nazi biology.

In mid-May, the government of Serbia submitted a legal draft to the Assembly containing amendments and annexes to the Law on Education. These amendments and addenda will adapt the schools system to the authoritarian model of education, the main idea of the school being to discipline the children and the youth. There is no doubt that these changes have also been inspired by the dominant ideology of the Serbian Orthodox church and that their application will open new space for church influences in the school. This, combined with the fact that military priests are being introduced into the military units of the Army of Serbia and Montenegro (who have to be graduated theologians and be appointed to their posts in the Army by the church), clearly reveals that the process of fundamentalist clericalization of the state and the society is proceeding unimpeded, in spite of (unfortunately, feeble and insufficiently visible) protests of the civilian society and liberal intelligentsia.

Belgrade, end of May 2004; Prepared by: Stasa Zajovic