News from Serbia:
A Serbian Orthodox bishop who has been barred from Montenegro on suspicion of aiding war crimes fugitives pitched a tent at the border on Tuesday and said he was going on hunger strike in protest.
The United Nations tribunal in The Hague has put Bishop Filaret on a list of people suspected of helping four ethnic Serb suspects from the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s evade justice.
…When Filaret tried to enter the country again on Tuesday morning, he was stopped by some 20 policemen. He returned at noon, pitched a tent on no-man’s land, complete with a power generator, and put up a banner saying “Hunger Strike Day 1″.
“I will stay here until my requests are fulfilled, or until my life ends,” Filaret said, sitting on a wicker armchair at the Rance crossing, a few metres from the Montenegrin border sign.
Filaret wants to enter the country as part of his diocese is there; without his presence, he fears that the rival Montenegrin Orthodox Church and Jehovah’s Witnesses will make headway. Filaret has been dogged by allegations of helping war-criminals for several years – he argues (a) that he’s innocent and (b) that it wouldn’t matter if he were guilty. As he explained in 2003:
“I will file a suit before the international court against them (the European Union). I did not provide shelter to anyone, and they should prove when Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic were at my place,” he told Bosnian Serb news agency SRNA.
“I would have been happy to host them and help them, because they are brave sons of the Serb nation, whom I love and respect,” Bishop Filaret, whose secular name is Jelenko Micevic, added.
A recent BBC Monitoring report has further details:
Bishop Filaret is remembered…for welcoming Vojislav Seselj in Mileseva Monastery in the past and for giving his blessing to Tomislav Nikolic [deputy chairman of the Serbian Radical Party - SRS] to win an election. There were many who reproached the bishop of Mileseva for openly supporting Milosevic in the run-up to the elections of the year 2000, of which he repented at the SPC Congress and begged forgiveness from all those whom his statements had offended or saddened.
Selelj is currently at the Hague awaiting trial, and he has asked for Filaret to be allowed to come to him to administer communion. Selelj founded the Serbian Radical Party, and he has enjoyed links with Jean-Marie Le Pen. Critics allege that Filaret’s rise to the episcopate was due to his political connections:
Until early July (1999) Filaret was a low ranking priest in a Belgrade church in Zemun municipality. The Serbian Radical Party of Vojislav Seselj, coalition partners with Milosevic, hold power in Zemun. Then out of the blue Filaret was appointed an episcope (Bishop?) of Milesevo at a ceremony attended by Patriarch Pavle and, very unusually, by high- ranking state officials. The presence of government figures at the ceremony was interpreted as a sure sign the regime was working to strenghten its influence in the Church.
Since has appointment, Filaret has “advocated” on behalf of the Milosevic regime in the state controlled media, praising the present authorities for their good government.
In the early nineties, Filaret was something of a media star pushing his extreme Serbian nationalist views. On one occasion he appeared on television holding a skull in his hands, which he claimed belonged to the Serbian child killed by Croats. He also liked to pose for photographers in his priestly attire, but sporting a rifle.
Filaret also has a good line in sarcasm (at least, we hope it’s sarcasm). Back to that BBC report:
When they asked him where the most wanted fugitive war crimes indictees were hiding, the bishop of Mileseva replied that “Karadzic was most probably in Iraq and he believed that Mladic was with [Osama] Bin Ladin, keeping himself fit to defend Kosovo, God willing.”
The current stand-off with Montenegro may take some time to be resolved: reports describe the bishop as “portly”.
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