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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a leading...

Recruitment Genius: Dialler Administrator

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Main purpose: Under the directi...

AER Teachers: SEN Teaching Assistant - London - September

£65 - £75 per day + competitive rates: AER Teachers: This central London prima...

AER Teachers: Graduate Primary Teaching Assistant

£65 - £75 per day + competitive rates: AER Teachers: A good primary school in ...

Day In a Page

A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

Are you a 50-center?

Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

Hollywood's new diet trends

Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
6 best recipe files

6 best recipe files

Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works