Unorthodox approach

It is the shadows of a dark past that are currently emerging again in Croatia. In the predominantly Catholic Balkan state, the minority of Orthodox believers wants to reorganize itself – within the framework of its own national church. This had happened before.

At that time – in the years 1942 to 1945, at the time of the "Independent State of Croatia", a vassal of Hitler's and Mussolini's grace – the Orthodox Croats broke away from the Serbian Orthodox Church in order to support the nationalistic course of their compatriot Ante Pavelic and his Ustasha regime. Not only thousands of Jews and Roma, but also Serbs met their deaths under his rule in the Croatian concentration camp Jasenovac. Of course, the initiators of the new foundation do not want to have anything to do with such excesses. It is only a matter of preserving Croatia's state sovereignty in the ecclesiastical sphere as well. Such considerations are by no means unusual in Orthodoxy, which traditionally tends to adhere to political boundaries. In addition, they want to fill the houses of worship in Croatia that have been depopulated by flight and expulsion with new life, they say. According to media reports, several priests from other Orthodox countries have already announced their participation in the initiative.

"Anti-Serbian, nationalistic and, at its core, anti-Orthodox"

Nevertheless, the plan to establish a Croatian Orthodox Church has met with criticism from many – first and foremost, of course, from the Serbian Orthodox Church, which would be affected by a possible secession. The advance causes "unrest among the faithful and all Orthodox Serbs in Croatia", it is said in an official church letter. The signatories are bringing out the big guns. The initiative has an "obvious militant character" and is close to the ideas of the Ustasha regime. The Serbian People's Party (SNS) in Croatia has expressed similar views. It describes the project as "anti-Serbian, nationalistic and, at its core, anti-Orthodox". The Croatian Catholic Church, which represents more than 85 percent of the population, is keeping a tight lid on it. The bishops' conference could not comment on the case, its spokesman Zvonimir Ancic told the Catholic News Agency (KNA). In general, freedom of belief is enshrined in the constitution, and the admission of a religious community is regulated by law. According to it, for their registration the permanent presence of at least 500 members is necessary and a lead time of five years must be taken into account. In this case, according to the supporters of the project, the registration is expected within a year, because it is not a new but a re-admission. Meanwhile, the State Commission for Religious Communities in the capital Zagreb, which is responsible for Zulang, is trying to dampen optimism: it will not promote any community that is close to the ideology of the defunct Ustasha regime, says Commission Chairman Bozo Biskupic. This year, Croatia plans to conclude accession negotiations with the EU. And Biskupic knows what is at stake should the shadows of the past darken the country's image on the international stage: He is also Croatia's minister of culture.

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