Following the unfortunate event of the Serbian Orthodox Church removal in Bosnia, near Srebrenica in Konjevic Polje, I want to turn my attention to a few fundamental issues and questions we all should be considering, and how SAVA PAC can play a key role in protecting our interests, here and abroad.
Empathizing and feeling deep sadness and pain along with all our Serbs, and then reading and hearing frenzied celebratory, hate filled jubilation of Bosnian Muslims, I cannot help but wonder: does Bosnia and Herzegovina have any realistic joint future? Even after more than 25 years since the war, the polarization, ethnic division and animosity is so prevalent, that the only seemingly legitimate way into the future could be a peaceful dissolution.
I often view a nation through the prism of marriage. If the partners are not compatible and suffer from irreconcilable differences, the union cannot stand. So cannot a nation, Bosnia and Herzegovina, or any other. (This may slowly become the case in the United States as well, and we may be heading towards balkanization.)
Going back to the issue of the demolished church, and realizing that it was located on the territory of the Republic of Srpska, the first thing that came to mind was how is it possible that none of the Serbs came to oppose, protest, or defend their Church? But upon examining the area a bit further, I also wondered how the Church came to be in Konjevic Polje?
It was built in 1998, and the land on which it is located encroaches 3 meters into a private property of a Bosnian Muslim woman named Fata Orlovic (pictured below). Ironically, Orlovic surname is one of the oldest Serbian noble names, that this woman carries. Could the government of the Republic of Srpska handled this differently? Probably yes, but now, the ultimate epilogue to the property encroachment problem, ordered by the European Court of Human Rights, was the already executed demolition.
For some historical context, before the Bosnian war, Konjevići was a multiethnic village beautifully positioned near the highway, on the border of Zvornik, Milić and Bratunac. Orthodox Serbs from that village belonged to the Church some 6/7km away. As we know, all wars bring destruction and migration, and this part of Bosnia was no exception. In a whirlwind of war, Bosnian Muslims from Konjevic Polje went into exile, expelled and ethnically cleansed Serbs from Sarajevo came to their homes. There is no exact list of how many families moved to Konjevic Polje at that time, but their number was great enough to build a church, together with the Serbs who already lived there, as evidenced by the number of baptized and dead, and whose place of birth was Sarajevo or surrounding areas. To understand the context, the war has just stopped, there is general chaos and hopelessness at every level, there is no functional country, rule of law or clear regulations of property lines. Those people who fled from Konjevic Polje did not know if they will ever return to their homes, those Serbs who came there also did not know if they will ever return to theirs.
But life continues to flow, and the need of these people for their own Temple was justifiably real. The construction of the Church, on the foundations of the tower where the Serbs were previously killed and tortured by the Ottomans, along the road, on the then almost nobody's land, or partly someone's who is not there, partly state-owned, is difficult to understand if the broader context is not understood. It was not out of spite that the Church was built, or to hurt the old woman who, when returned from exile claimed that it was partially her land. Why the Church encroached upon those three meters must be closer understood knowing that it happened less than two years after the end of the war, which in real life was not even completely over.
As Americans we very much cherish and deeply value the importance of private property rights, and the devastation of war is not an excuse to build something on even one meter of someone else's land. But to invoke the pursuit of cadastres and private parcels in a war-torn country such as Bosnia, with people who fled saving their lives, and rebuilding everything from scratch, is a gross misunderstanding and disregard of the time in which it happened.
There were numerous mosques built on private plots of Serbs, only in another part of Bosnia. One of them was removed, the others still stand today. Nine mosques were built on the property of the Serbian Orthodox Church and land owned by Serbs after the last war. But the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Serbs never asked for those mosques to be demolished, just to acknowledge where they were built. And that is the difference between us and them!
The King Fahd mosque in the Sarajevo settlement of Nedžarići, as well as the mosque in the Mojmilo settlement, was built on the land of the Serbian Mladjen family. Another mosque was built on the property of the Serb Momo Despić in Rakovica near Sarajevo, and one on Serbian land in Sanski Most. There is a mosque in the Mostar settlement of Vrapčići, built on the property of the Serb Andjelko Loza, and in Križevići near Olovo, a mosque was built on the property of the Serb Ljubomir Divljanović. In the village of Noćajevići near Stupar, a mosque was built on the land owned by the Serb Vlado Đerić. Furthermore, a mosque was built in Bosanski Petrovac in the Park of People's Heroes, from where 22 busts of fighters of the People's Liberation War were removed, on the land of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which was nationalized and usurped. A monument from WWII was demolished in Kljuc, across from the Orthodox Church, and a mosque was erected at that place, which was nationalized and taken away from the Serbian Orthodox Church. This unfortunately has been a permeating trend for us Serbs, both in Bosnia and in Kosovo and Metohija, but more importantly it is a disturbing habit across the globe, as Christianity continues to be under a brutal attack. Think back to Hagia Sophia, and what is being done to it.
But back to Konjevic Polje. A few years after the construction of the Church, the issue of refugee return began to be raised. Republic of Srpska worked very hard on creating the conditions for all to return to their homes, unlike the Muslim/Croatian federation part of Bosnia, where Serbs are still unwelcome and are offered no conditions to return to their ancestral homes.
The Serbs who settled in Konjevic Polje received evictions and moved some 20-40 kilometers to the north. New refugee settlements were being built for them, and they received plots of land and all assistance to remain in these newly erected homes. There is no reciprocity for the Serbs to return to Sarajevo, or elsewhere outside of the Republic of Srpska.
Bosnian Muslims who were expelled from Konjević Polje have also returned to their houses, and their financial situation has been resolved. This includes the above-mentioned Fata Orlovic. The last remaining Serbs in the area were displaced in the past few years, and the issue of land on which the Church was built became a problem.
All proposals to purchase the disputed parcel of the property, and all other possible compensation and solutions offered to Orlovic, that do not imply demolition, were vehemently rejected. She demanded demolition, and that will be something she carries on her consciousness, if she, or those who put her up to it have any. Meanwhile, worship services stopped due to the dispute, and the number of Serbs in the last 5-10 years was only three. Since last year, there is 1, in words, one man. So this answers the question why Serbs did not gather to defend and protect their church.
In the end, the court decision from Strasbourg ordered the removal, and with the blessing of the Serbian Orthodox Church, hopefully a new Temple will be built in Bratunac, from the parts that were taken out before the demolition.
But more importantly, what was further demolished was the pipe dream of certain individuals that Bosnia and Herzegovina, unified, with Serbs, Muslims and Croats living in brotherhood and unity can simply exist. Because this example is not only about 3 meters of land. That would be an easily resolved issue. It is about much more, and something much deeper, and more sinister, that has not healed after the Ottoman occupation, after WWI, WWII, after the 1990s, where the victims were turned into the aggressors, and the aggressors went completely unpunished, in some cases rewarded, becoming even more entitled and emboldened.
I read someplace, that this picture of the falling demolished church will stay deeply engraved in the hearts and minds of the Serbs, and someone will pay dearly for it in some future war. As though it is not a question of if, but only of when. It disturbed me, but knowing the history, and understanding the turbulent times we live in, it comes as no surprise.
Therefore, Serbs finally need to learn some lessons, interpret and take a stand on what we collectively need to do. Which brings me back to our SAVA PAC.
We should be extremely proactive in pointing out these issues, educating the candidates and elected leaders who represent us, seeking their alliance and support and making these burning questions matter, as they are not exclusively reserved for the Balkans. One of the candidates whose campaign we are closely watching, and whom we already profiled and develeped a relationship with had this to say on the subject:
And these are the kind of allies and representatives we need. Those who can sympathize and understand the plight of the persecuted; those who will stand up for justice, as the same problems are knocking on our American doors, and we all have our work cut out for us.
There, we have to make sure that the Serbs can survive and prosper, and here, where we are still on our own and seemingly carefree, we must ensure that our way of life, our rights, liberties, and our country is not compromised. We must fight, as not fighting is not an option!
Remembering Operation Overlord or D-Day.
More than 150,000 Allied troops landed on the beaches code-named Omaha, Utah, Juno, Sword and Gold, carried by 7,000 boats. This year on June 6, the beaches stood vast and nearly empty as the sun emerged, exactly 77 years since the dawn invasion.
As Serbian-Americans we also honor one of our own, Mike Klaich, who served with the First Infantry Division as a combat Engineer in the U.S. Army. Mike handed the Lights on Omaha Beach on D-Day, leading the invasion.
In the early hours of the morning Mike swam ashore dragging a small raft with a light, battery pack and stand. Upon his arrival to shore, he signaled to the ships with a green light and proceeded to clear the way for his comrades in service.
Mike was awarded a Presidential Citation, Good Conduct Medal, Distinguished Unit Badge with two Oak Leaf Clusters, Liberation of France Medal and European African Middle Eastern Service Medal with eight Bronze Stars. He was wounded in Belgium in 1944 which earned him a Purple Heart.
May God rest his, and the souls of those who gave their all!
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