Serb Nationalist Branches Out

The Anomalist links to a Reuters report about yet another Jesus simulacrum:

SARAJEVO (Reuters) – Christians are flocking to a northwestern Bosnian town to view an image of Jesus Christ that allegedly appeared in a section of a cut tree branch two days ago, Bosnian media reported on Friday.

The image resembling Jesus’ face cannot be seen from a close distance but only from a few metres away. The branch in the town of Bijeljina was cut about a year ago, said Oslobodjenje daily.

…The region’s Serb Orthodox bishop Vasilije visited the site and said church officials would discuss the phenomenon and advise believers how to behave. He appealed to visitors not to destroy the tree and not to leave money at the site.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any actual picture of the “phenomenon”. However, while Jesus appearing on a Texas frying pan or an Ohio door can be taken as just a bit of fun, in Bosnia this kind of thing could have a rather worrying political aspect – especially given the involvement of Bishop Vasilije, a noted Serb nationalist who has a history of using the Serbian Orthodox church to bully local Bosnians (The state known as Bosnia and Herzegovina consists of two parts: (1) a federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina; (2) the Republika Sprska, or “Serb Republic”, which should not be confused with the neighbouring Republic of Serbia. Bijeljina is in the Republika Sprska.) Back in 2003 a report from the Bosnian Institute asked:

Will the Orthodox Church leaders ever be able to explain why Bosniak houses and other buildings in Bijeljina’s centre had to be destroyed so that, on the land ‘liberated’ in this manner, their Bishop Vasilije Kacavenda could build his residence?

…At the time of the signing of the Dayton Agreement, there were 1,800 Bosniaks living in Bijeljina, which is something of a record for Republika Srpska. That provided the basis and encouragement for a massive return of Bijelina refugees in the afterwar period, so that today some 7,000 Bosniaks live in the town. This, and the fact that a similar number of Bosniaks has returned to the nearby town of Janja, has upset the guardians of Serb supremacy in this ‘suburb of Belgrade’, as the town is now known. Among these, key roles are played by the town mayor Dragutin Ljuboviæ and Bishop Vasilije Kacavenda of, who has chosen Bijeljina for his new residence. As a result of their efforts Bijeljina has became the site of a fierce anti-Bosniak campaign that has included an explosion on the premises of the Islamic Community and the demolition or closing down of several Bosniak shops and restaurants, among them a café owned by Jusuf Trbiæ, the most popular Bijeljina journalist in the prewar period.

Bijlelina appeared on British television in 1993, when Gaby Rado of Channel 4 news reported on the night dynamiting of five mosques in the town. Vasilije has opposed the rebuilding of one of these:

…The strongest resistance comes from Bishop Vasilije, who claims that, if rebuilt, the mosque would spoil the view of his residence, including the courtyard and the church, which he has erected on land seized from Bosniak families.

More generally, the bishop is breaking all records in implementing a great Orthodox revolution. Among the new street names, and in heavy competition with various tsars, vojvode, princes and kings, a significant number has gone to Orthodox Church dignitaries. The city hospital is named after the Holy Magi, while every institution in the town boasts its own Christian slava [saint’s day], including the library, the police station, the electric power station, etc.

And just why is the bishop of “Zvornik and Tuzla” based in Bijeljina anyway? Victoria Clark explained in The Tablet in 1999 that Vasilije:

had abandoned his diocesan seat in Tuzla and been branded a war criminal by the Muslims of the town. Even the Serbs of Tuzla did not want him back, so he had built himself a new palace in Serb-controlled Bijeljina. He blamed the United States for starting the Yugoslav wars and then suggested that Britain would soon be doing its own ethnic cleansing of coloured minorities.

Vasilije would also appear to be a bit of a hypocrite. While he objects to the possibility of a mosque blighting his view, Bosnians complaining about an illegal church on their doorstep get short shrift. Back to another report from the Bosnian Institute:

A battle over a church in Konjevic Polje, in Bratunac, in the east of the Republika Srpska, is threatening to ignite a new inter-ethnic and religious conflict in the region, pitting Serbs against Bosniak returnees. The Serb Orthodox church was built there illegally in 1996 on the private land of a Bosniak, Fata Orlovic, after she had been expelled from the village along with other local Bosniaks in the war. After Orlovic returned and got her property back, she asked the church and civil authorities to remove the building, which stands in front of the family home.

…Radio Television Republika Srpska (RTRS)…carried an interview with the local bishop, Vasilije of Zvornik-Tuzla, describing moves to close the Konjevic Polje church as ‘genocidal’. The bishop claimed Orthodox people in the area had been ‘deprived of the right to their religion. Relocation or destroying the church is out of the question.’

Given the strife that can be stirred up by a church, imagine the impact of a holy place where Jesus himself appeared in the form of a tree branch to give his blessings to Serbian nationalism.

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