Patriarch backs party led by war-crimes suspect

Patriarch Pavle, aged 90 but still active in politics, was photographed at a weekend gathering of hardliners at Belgrade's Sava Centre watching a film compiled by the Radicals entitled Istina (Truth), which shows footage of atrocities allegedly carried out against Serbian soldiers and civilians during the Bosnian and Croatian wars in the early 1990s. The bearded church leader watched impassively during the gruesome hour-long video, which included shots of the decapitation by Bosnian Muslim forces of Rade Rogic, a Serbian soldier, and footage of the bodies of Serbian civilians allegedly murdered by Croatian forces in Gospic.

The Patriarch 's acceptance of the Radicals' invitation represented unprecedented moral support by the Orthodox Church for Tomislav Nikolic, the former municipal undertaker who has led the Radicals since Mr Seselj unexpectedly gave himself up to the International Tribunal for War Crimes in The Hague, to stand trial for ethnic cleansing of Croatian civilians in Vojvodina and other crimes carried out by the Radicals' chetnik militia men when Yugoslavia disintegrated in the early 1990s. By attending the film showing, the Patriarch, the highest moral authority in Belgrade, also gave credibility to Mr Nikolic's insistence that he is innocent of persistent charges that he also took part in atrocities by Serbian forces in Croatia, political sources say.

The liberal newspaper Vreme has carried a photograph of Patriarch Pavle seated next to Mr Nikolic at the rally, describing the film shown as "similar to the early work of Leni Riefenstahl", Hitler's film-maker. Mr Nikolic told the crowd that the bizarre movie was "an attempt to respond to further demonisation of the Serbian people and charges that only Serbs carried out war crimes".

Vreme said the film was edited hurriedly "to help the Serbian public feel better about ceremonies to mark the 10th anniversary of Srebrenica".Bosnian Serb forces led by Ratko Mladic massacred up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys in July 1995.

Patriarch Pavle this month paid lip service to political correctness by sending condolences to the families of the dead at Srebrenica. But his association with Mr Nikolic evidently means the church wants to curry favour with the Radicals, who are Serbia's largest party, according to recent opinion polls. Mr Nikolic is the troubled Balkan nation's most popular politician, just ahead of Boris Tadic, the pro-Western Serbian President.

The Patriarch's hobnobbing with the Radicals not only makes them seem respectable but also apparently lends credibility to Mr Nikolic's attempts to defend himself against charges that he also was personally involved in war crimes as a member of Serbian units who shot some 50 unarmed, elderly Croatian civilians at the village of Antin in eastern Slavonia in late 1991.

He denies the charges, made by Natasa Kandic, head of Belgrade's Humanitarian Law Fund. Mr Nikolic says that he was "just a sentry" when serving with Mr Seselj's volunteers at Antin and that he arrived there a month after the killings of civilians. Mr Seselj at the time conferred on him the Order of Chetnik Knights, citing his henchman's "personal courage in defending the fatherland".

The Radical film, said Vreme "showed that Serbs were killed, and that if they killed it was only in response to war crimes against them or in self defence". The film also was intended as a counterpoint to a video of Serbian paramilitaries shooting unarmed Muslims at Srebrenica that was aired on Serbian television this year. It was finally made available for broadcast through the efforts of Ms Kandic, who has campaigned tirelessly for the victims of war crimes.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003