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
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...