Serbian Church Takes On a Sausage

Bishop Irinej from the north-eastern Serbian province of Backa has threatened to excommunicate all those who join a festival for making the world’s biggest sausage.

In the southern province Mileseva, Bishop Filaret threatened to excommunicate anyone marrying or even attending a wedding these days.

The bishops said festivities like these should not be held during the ”holy fast” until Easter on April 11. The call by the two bishops, the first such in living memory, have provoked a fierce debate whether the church has crossed the thin line of involvement in private lives.

Inter Press Service

Church officials say it is their right to remind people of their sacred duties.

”The church has the right to teach and advise,” Radovan Bigovic, a leading theologist with the Church told IPS. Bigovic, former dean of the Theology Faculty in Belgrade, and now a priest, said this was a legitimate function because 95 percent of the Serb population of 6.5 million had declared in the last census that they were followers of the Orthodox Church.

”The big return of Serbs to their original faith was expected after decades of restraint,” Bigovic said.

Serbia was a communist country since the end of World War II until the fall of the regime of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. Many Church officials say believers were persecuted in communist days, despite the fact that Milosevic had very good relations with the Church.

Milosevic used good relations with the church to stay in power during the wars of disintegration of former Yugoslavia and the overall decline of Serbia. The Serbian Church never criticised the Milosevic regime.

Priests appeared to be warmongers, with open calls to Serbs to join the wars against Croats, Muslims and ethnic Albanians.

The first post-Milosevic administration caved in to the pressures of the Church and introduced religious teaching in schools in 2001. The move was widely criticised, because the Church is regarded as conservative and opposed to everything modern.

”It’s a shame that the church threatens people with excommunication now,” analyst Teofil Pancic told IPS. ”It never did the same against believers accused of war crimes.”

The Church celebrated its revival in Milosevic’s era. It became fashionable for middle-aged people to hold wedding ceremonies in churches after years of getting married in civil ceremonies. Church weddings became luxurious social events. The Serb tradition of celebrating a ”slava”, the patron saint of one’s family, was revived.

”It’s true that many Serbs tend to say they are Orthodox,” professor of psychology at Belgrade University Zarko Trebjesanin told IPS. ”But that is rather a national distinction, not the real religious feeling among them.”

Trebjesanin says the ”threats coming from bishops regarding excommunication are pure violence over people’s minds. The church is simply fighting for the souls of people and for a place it did not have even 60 years ago. But I would say the chances of the Church are small, because I would not describe Serbs as religious people.”

Recent opinion polls seem to confirm Trebjesanin’s view. Although 95 percent of Serbs said the last census survey that they belonged to the Orthodox faith, a recent survey by Markplan Agency indicated that only 21.6 percent considered themselves religious. Another 38.6 percent said they were not religious, while 39.8 percent were uncertain.

The survey showed that only 7.1 percent Serbs attended church regularly, while 45.6 percent never do. The rest said they went to church only on occasions like Christmas or Easter.

The Turija festivity meanwhile went ahead as planned. Twenty-eight pigs, each weighing about 300 kilos, ended up in a 2,200-metre long sausage.

”We have held this festivity for 20 years, each time at the end of February,” one of the event organisers Miroslav Meduric said. ”No one has complained or threatened us before. It does not seem that all those who came here and ate the sausage cared much about excommunication.” Eating of the sausage took a week.

Author: Vesna Peric Zimonjic

Vesna Peric Zimonjic writes for Inter Press Service.