AIM: start

FRI, 10 AUG 2001 20:14:26 GMT

Church against Tribunal

AIM Zagreb, July 26, 2001

The Hague tribunal's indictments have driven the Catholic Church in Croatia completely mad. Most of its dignitaries are today at the helm of the anti-Hague tribunal movement. Initially it appeared that the U.N. court had only divided the bishops who, at their special meeting held last week, convened to debate the current situation in Croatia, could not reach a unified position. Namely, it has been announced that they will make a joint statement regarding the extradition of Croatian generals to the Hague-based tribunal. But the Bishops' Conference left the making of statements on "the current situation in the nation, society and the state" to its junior Justitia and Pax Commission.

The fact that there are great political differences between the bishops, and that some consider matters of the faith of secondary importance, is no novelty. But the rift has become so deep that it may be irreconcilable. Thus the Zagreb archbishop, Josip Bozanic, in a recent meeting with Croatian Foreign Minister Tonino Picula, timidly expressed his understanding for government decisions made in relation to the Hague court and its indictments. Simultaneously, the bishop of Gospic, Mile Bogovic, told the government and Parliament to "beware lest they find their seats up in the air," because, as he put it, "he who undermines the former president, generals and defenders of Croatia, undermines the very foundations of the Croatian state." Bishop of the Army Juraj Jezerinec is visiting Gen. Mirko Norac, who is on trial for the crimes in Gospic and detained in the Rijeka prison, and has enthusiastically joined all rightist rallies organized in support of Gen. Gotovina.

In the absence of an official agreement, the rightist part of the Church, however, has been more active on the ground. Well-informed observers say that, in this light, the only joint decision of the bishops -- to serve a mass for the fatherland in all Croatian churches on Aug. 5 -- will certainly be abused. This date, marking the anniversary of the date Croatia's army entered Knin, is celebrated as Croatia's Thanksgiving Day. It is very likely that the church services will be used in many places in Croatia for political speeches, and, in any case, for spreading the anti-Hague tribunal sentiments that are dominant among the clergy.

That such a mood is widespread in the Church is confirmed by articles published in the Roman Catholic Glas Koncila weekly, which from one issue to another is blasting the current government. In one of its latest issues, the paper outdid itself. First in an editorial it declared Croatian politicians completely incompetent and irresponsible (which is not entirely wrong), to immediately conclude that Croatia "is deprived of political leadership." The claim that the country lacks political leadership despite the existence of a democratically elected president and government, the latter having its confidence confirmed in Parliament a few days ago, is working in favor of extremists and their attempts to impose someone else as the country's leader. And that without elections and contrary to the legally appointed government!

The campaign against the government culminated this week thanks to a statement by the Justitia and Pax Commission. This elite group composed of bishops, theologists and Catholic journalists in an extensive and actually incredible announcement gave its version of the state of affairs in Croatia, which it described as close to warranting the introduction of a state of emergency. Croatia is rift by tensions and divisions, the process on national reconciliation has been defeated, and "in addition to the crisis in relations with international factors, the most serious crisis is in relations existing in the country, so that it can be concluded that there are two Croatias and that the Croatian national being has been cut asunder," the statement said.

It is shocking that the statement, prompted by two Hague indictments, that is, Croatia's cooperation with the Hague-based court, does not even mention the crimes and the need to punish them. True, Commission secretary Josip Grbac said in a newspaper interview that in the draft document the fact that Croatia was "late in perceiving and dealing with certain negative manifestations and crimes" was mentioned as one of the reasons for the grave state of affairs in the country. But he failed to mention how come this important observation never made it into the final version of the document.

What is also shocking is that the statement suggests the existence of an anti-Croatian, almost planetary conspiracy in which the international community and domestic traitors are acting in cahoots. "We cannot but notice that there is joint action by foreign power-mongers and their collaborators at home" who are acting against Croatia's independence, provoking political crises and obstructing "the attainment of full sovereignty." The Church dignitaries have not offered any proof to corroborate their paranoid claims. They have not mentioned a single name. But they have launched their campaign, albeit only on the basis of impressions, which is what they specifically said themselves.

>From such a viewpoint they are speaking out against Croatia respecting its international obligations, against it observing international law, which is both irresponsible and dangerous. They refer to officials of international institutions of justice with extreme disdain labeling them "third-rate civil servants." If it were to observe this "holy" nonsense, Croatia would go to war with most of the international community, and would exclude itself from the community of nations as Serbia did under Milosevic.

The commission of the Croatian Bishops Conference thus made a statement entirely political in nature. Its members have taken stances which in the past used to come from the Croatian Democratic Union, other rightist parties and extremist veterans' organizations. This is why they immediately accepted the statement, turning it into their banner. The important part of the problem is that they have taken a stance in regard to a political topic in a fashion otherwise solely applicable in matters of religion. When they speak of politics, the bishops expect the same treatment as when they speak of matters of religion. They see their political views not as one voice among many, but, at least as far as the church-goers (and not only them) are concerned, as the undeniable truth.

Instead of helping to calm the tensions and achieve reconciliation in the nation and the state, the commission's statement was but a contribution to making Croatia more hysterical and divided. It should therefore be expected that the statement will be at the core of the mass for the fatherland that will be served throughout Croatia on Aug. 5.

Jelena Lovric (AIM)