News 29 Jan 15

Serbian Church Sparks Anger by Honouring Seselj

The awarding of a Serbian Orthodox religious honour to nationalist leader and war crimes defendant Vojislav Seselj was condemned as an insult to victims of the 1990s conflicts.

Ivana Nikolic
BIRN
Belgrade

 

Vojislav Seselj at the ceremony at Mileseva monastery.

Photo: Facebook.

“This is another slap in the face for war victims,” Dinko Gruhonjic, a member of the campaign to establish a regional post-war truth commission in the former Yugoslavia, told BIRN on Thursday after Seselj was honoured by the Serbian Orthodox Church.

The Serbian Radical Party leader, who is on temporary release from his war crimes trial for cancer treatment, was awarded the ‘White Angel’ medal at the Mileseva monastery on Tuesday.

In a video of the ceremony, one of the priests declares that Seselj is “a Chetnik [Serbian nationalist] duke and a victor over the Hague Tribunal”.

Seselj is being given the honour, the priest explains, “for his love for the Serbian Church, and especially for his love for the Mileseva monastery, which is celebrating its 800th anniversary”.

“This also represents another embarrassment for the Serbian Orthodox Church, which has never distanced itself from the actions of the ‘bishop with a machine gun’,” Gruhonjic said, referring to the controversial Bishop Filaret from the Mileseva monastery, who was photographed standing next to a tank with a Serbian flag and a machine gun in 1991 in Croatia.

Seselj is not the first controversial recipient of the White Angel honour. In 2011, Bishop Filaret awarded it to Bishop Pahomije, who was facing paedophilia charges.

The president of an association of parents whose children were killed during the siege of Sarajevo, Fikret Grabovica, said honouring Seselj was highly offensive.

“The award comes from the Serbian Orthodox Church, which is more proof that it was involved in the events of the 1990s and that it was supporting crimes,” Grabovica told BIRN.

“Seselj is a personification of everything that happened here during the 1990s,” he added.

The nationalist leader returned to Belgrade after his release by the Hague Tribunal in November 2014. He has since led nationalist protests and made a series of hardline statements angering war victims.

The verdict in his trial for wartime crimes in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia was scheduled for October last year, but was postponed after one of the judges in the trial was removed for alleged bias.

The new judge is expected to take until at least the end of June 2015 to familiarise himself with details of the case, causing yet another delay in the marathon trial.

Seselj has repeatedly declared that he will not return to The Hague for the verdict voluntarily.

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