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How could the Serbs forgive Vatican

Slovene historian Joze Pirjevec:

Ustashi crimes in Croatia during World War II are a dark spot on the Catholic church which has not been erased.

Pope John Paul II should be more explicit and say that it is the Serbs who should pardon their torturers.

Where will the self-chastising action announced by Vatican until the end of this millennium lead?

According to some agency news, Pope John Paul II will soon, once again visit the territory of the former Yugoslavia. After Zagreb and an aborted visit to Sarajevo, he has now scheduled a trip to Split and Slovenia.

Since he has started making rounds, the question is when will he be coming to Belgrade?

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In an interview recently given to the Italian daily Il Giornale, Vladislav Jovanovic, head of the Yugoslav diplomacy has made the clearest public statement on that visit, at least as far as Belgrade is concerned, saying that "we have nothing against it". But, he has also mentioned the key condition: namely that the Pope should first visit Jasenovac, the place where the Croats killed at least 700,000 Serbs. They were lead by a part of the catholic clergy, and what is more, one of the most highly responsible people in this terrible concentration camp was a Franciscan. "The Pope should ask forgiveness for these dead, just as Willy Brandt once did in Auschwitz", is the message of Vladislav Jovanovic.

However, when absolution is concerned the Pope has, in a way, already stated his view during his visit to Croatia. Addressing the believers at the Zagreb racetrack last autumn he said that to forgive and ask forgiveness is necessary, as those who are not capable of forgiving should not say the Lord's prayer... Judging by the series of news articles and TV panels with catholic prelates, we in Yugoslavia hear, not infrequently condescending, wishes that the Pope should visit Belgrade, even if it meant hushing up of grave scars and wounds of the past. A warning that it is not all that easy comes all the way from Trieste, in an article by Joze Pirjevec, published in Primorski Dnevnik, the journal of Benes Slovenes.

This well-known historian does not conceal how impressed he was with the manifestation in Zagreb, but neither does he hide his great need to express some of his "earthly thoughts". These thoughts, as he says, keep darting back to 18 May 1941 when the Pope Pius XII, in his private library, received Ante Pavelic, the infamous "chief", thus whether consciously or unconsciously, supporting the Ustashi regime. "It is true that the Holy See denied any official importance of this audience, let alone that is should account for recognition of the independent state of Croatia." Despite that, I could not but consider this impression justified, as best formulated by a British diplomat: "It is unprecedented that so high a spiritual leader should receive an internationally acclaimed murderer".

The cruel "antimurale" of Christianity

It is impossible, continues Pirjevec to shake off the impression that Zagreb has, once again, requested "investiture" for its regime, although it cannot really be compared to that of the Ustashi... Pirjevec has still larger dilemmas as concerning rehabilitation of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac and his relations towards the Ustashi and their bloodthirsty violence against the Serbs in Croatia, a third of which, according to the then established genocidal ratio, were to be killed, the other third banished and the remaining third converted into Catholicism. "I do not wish to say that Stepinac gave his blessings to these horrible and blasphemous plans (which have been implemented to a substantial degree). But none of the discourses written about him was convincing enough to persuade me that he disassociated himself from Pavelic's Independent State of Croatia sufficiently decisively and that he, moreover, did not support it as an "antimurale christianis", towards heretic and barbarian Serbs". Pirjevec also recalls some of the things Stepinac undertook to ensure achievement of the "Croatian centuries long dream", e.g. when he justified the Ustashi crimes by invoking "God's hand". He vigorously fought for the survival of the Independent State of Croatia, sending emotional, or more precisely desperate appeals to the Pope to support it, as it was linked to the destiny of Catholicism in the Balkans?

Absolution by the year 2000?

All that, concludes Pirjevec, is a dark spot on the Catholic Church (not only in Croatia) which has not been removed yet.

Serbs, paraphrasing Patriarch Pavle, must forgive but cannot forget. Ever since 1900 and the All-Catholic Congress in Zagreb, when the guidelines for the Balkans were formulated the Vatican has stuck to its antiSerbian concept. That has been quite obvious since the times of the Balkan wars and invasion on Serbia in 1914 when the Archbishop of Zagreb, Bauer, blessed the army setting out against Serbia. The Vatican heartily welcomed the disintegration of Yugoslavia in 1941 and especially in 1991, thus contributing to the outbreak of the war which is still going on.

Dragoljub Zivojinovic, author of a number of books on the recent political history of the Balkans, has recently pointed out that on the occasion of the great anniversary of the 2000 years of the birth of Christ, the Vatican is announcing a major action for absolution from the sins of the past. The intention of the church is, as the Pope has said, to deeply repent for the weaknesses of its many sons" who disgraced the church. The nice wish is there, but the Vatican has to prove itself in practice.

Radovan Kovacevic