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The destruction of Serbian religious art and its historical and national heritage has virtually never ceased since 1941. During the Second World War, in addition to more than a million Serbian lives, over 400 Serbian Orthodox churches were destroyed. In the Diocese of Gornji Karlovac alone, out of 203 churches and chapels, 116 were destroyed and 39 heavily damaged during World War II. In the Diocese of Slavonia, 54 churches were destroyed and 21 seriously damaged. On the territory of the Diocese of Banja Luka, 64 churches were casualties, 21 damaged. Three monasteries were heavily damaged and one completely destroyed. One chapel and 38 parish homes were destroyed, 12 parish homes damaged. In the same Diocese, 98 monasteries and parish libraries perished forever, as well as 94 archives. One half of all the Serbian churches destroyed during the Second World War were located on the territory of these three Dioceses.
After the War, the Communist regime, supported by latent nationalist forces, made the restoration and protection of Serbian churches and monasteries impossible, in some cases even explicitly forbidding it. In the former Republic of Croatia, institutions for the protection of historical monuments: the Regional Institute of Osijek and the Republic’s Institute of Croatia, deliberately neglected the Serbian religious and historic heritage. An example is how the Regional Institute of Osijek behaved regarding the restoration and protection of Orahovica Monastery, one of the most significant monuments of the Serbian people in Old Slavonia (Podravina). The present Monastery church was built in 1592, and decorated with frescoes in 1594. During the Second World War, the Monastery treasury was looted and carried away to Zagreb (it was only in 1985 that the surviving portion of the treasury was given back to the Diocese of Slavonia); the Monastery residences were burnt down on 19 August, 1942, at the orders of Janez Grga and Karlo Mrazovic Gaspar, Commander and Party Commissar of the Third Operational Zone of the National Liberation Army and Partisan Units in Croatia, respectively. After the War, Croatia’s institutions for the protection of monuments (after many promises) did nothing to protect and restore this religious and cultural center of the Serbians in Croatia.
This state of affairs eventually led to a much worse situation, more dangerous, more inhuman; i. e., a state of total spiritual genocide. This most recent war (1991–1995) has taken what was most valuable; beside innocent lives, it has destroyed shrines, cultural, artistic and material goods. The war, forced upon the Serbian people, has brought the Serbian Orthodox Church and its faithful in that area to the verge of annihilation.
Serbian churches and other elements of the religious and historical heritage of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the former Yugoslav Republic of Croatia, which includes five Orthodox Dioceses (Osek Polje and Baranja, Slavonia, Zagreb-Ljubljana, Upper Karlovac and Dalmatia) were the first to suffer. This was done deliberately, the purpose being to destroy authentic testimonies and the spiritual heritage of the Serbian people in the areas of Baranja, Slavonia, Lika, Banija, Kordun, Dalmatia, and elsewhere. These churches, all architectural monuments, represent the religious and national identity of the Serbian people in these regions. By razing, desecrating and damaging in other ways Serbian churches and cultural monuments, the enemy seeks, besides wiping out all traces of them, to spiritually maltreat the Serbian Orthodox. The newly elected Bishop of the diocese of Osijek cannot renovate his Residence in Osijek. The Bishop’s Residence in Pakrac (built in 1732) was plundered, shelled and devastated. The Bishop’s Residence in Zagreb was damaged by explosives. The Bishop’s Residence in Karlovac was plundered, damaged and dynamited on Roman Catholic Christmas in 1993. None of the Orthodox Bishops from the former Yugoslav Republic of Croatia may return to their residence for two basic reasons: either the residences are damaged, or, primarily, Croatian authorities do not allow it.
The attitude toward Serbian churches, monasteries and other church buildings is almost the same in Bosnia and Hercegovina. In that former Yugoslav Republic, there are also five Serbian Orthodox Dioceses (Banja Luka, Bihac-Petrovac, Zahum-Hercegovina, Dabar-Bosnia and Zvornik-Tuzla). Diocesan residences have been destroyed or damaged in Sarajevo, Mostar and Tuzla, while Bishops reside temporarily in other places.
The Museum of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Belgrade, alongside rescuing liturgical and other sacral and art objects, is making a complete list, a Diptych of the new victims of Croatian and Muslim destruction. The number of demolished, damaged and desecrated Serbian holy sites is enormous, and it is not yet completed because Serbian shrines and other historical monuments on territory controlled by Croatian and Muslim forces are not accessible and their fate is uncertain, so that the number of 212 destroyed and 367 damaged churches is still incomplete.
Of the ten Serbian Orthodox Diocesan Sees in the former Yugoslav Republics of Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina, seven have been shelled or devastated. The cathedrals in Pakrac, Karlovac and Mostar have been destroyed. The old Bishop’s Library in Pakrac, one of the most valuable of Serbian libraries, was plundered, its ancient books scattered and sold all over former Yugoslavia and Europe. This venerable Library was founded by Patriarch Arsenije III Carnojevic, and each of the Bishops of Pakrac, i. e., Slavonia, bequeathed his own personal library to this central Diocesan Library. In the Library, alongside old manuscripts, there were 112 Serbian medieval church books, the largest number preserved in a Serbian library. The same fate befell the Diocesan Libraries in Zagreb, Karlovac and Mostar. The one in Sarajevo was burnt down.
It was only in 1985 that church valuables and works of art, plundered during the last World War, were returned to their owners: diocesan, monastery and parish treasuries. They have been plundered again now or, which is even more tragic, destroyed. The treasury of the old Pakrac Diocese, where precious icons and other liturgical and art objects (e. g., vessels, vestments) from the Monasteries of Orahovica, Pakra and Saint Ana, as well as from numerous churches, were safeguarded, was mercilessly plundered and destroyed. The Diocesan Church Museum in Zagreb, located in the Metropolitan’s Residence, was dynamited; the Bishop’s Residence with its treasury in Mostar was dynamited; and the fate of the treasury of the Diocese of Upper Karlovac, in the Bishop’s Residence in Karlovac, is unknown (because the Residence itself was completely devastated); uncertain also is the fate of valuables belonging to the Diocese of Zvornik-Tuzla, which is under Muslim control.
Unfortunately, numerous historical and cultural monuments of the Serbian people have disappeared forever. In addition to precious sacerdotal objects, whole galleries of icons on iconostases were destroyed, the work of the most famous icon-painters and secular artists from the 16th to the 20th centuries. The number of icons on a single iconostasis varies between 20 and 50, and even to 70. The lowest average would be 35 icons on an iconostasis, not including the other icons in the church. When this lowest average of only 35 icons per iconostasis is multiplied by 210 demolished churches, a total of about 7,000 destroyed icons is obtained. Such a great number of lost works of art would represent a catastrophe for any nation. Those are entire Louvres, Hermitages, Prados and other great national galleries. This is inflicting a genocide of art and spirit against an entire nation, its culture and heritage. Sadly, the Serbian spiritual heritage is being destroyed by people who are close to this ecclesiastic and artistic heritage, either through a shared Christian faith, cultural tradition, or territory.
This Survey of Destroyed, Damaged and Desecrated Churches and Monasteries has been compiled on the basis of authentic reports which Bishops and Priests have submitted to the Holy Synod of Bishops, i. e., to the Serbian Orthodox Museum in Belgrade. Expert committees, appointed by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Serbia, that is to say the Republic’s Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments, have where possible inspected the sites. Reports from observers from the European Union and Serbian refugees who have testified to the demolition or damaging of their churches, monasteries and other church buildings, are an important source of information as well.
Certain churches and sacral buildings were dynamited several times until they were completely destroyed. This happened to churches in Petrinja, Nova Gradiska, Mostar and many other places. On numerous sites of churches, razed during the last World War, new ones had been built in the post-war period. These new churches in Petrinja, Nova Gradiska, Slavonski Brod, Trnjani, as well as Monastery Zitomislic and in many other places, have again been destroyed.
A large percentage of Serbian places of worship were damaged outside the zone of combat. Some Serbian churches located more that 100 kilometers from the front lines were demolished. Especially to be condemned is the deliberate destruction of a heritage which is of exceptional architectural and artistic value. Croatian nationalists have thus burnt down two unique monuments of Serbian architecture: the old wooden churches in Rastovac and Donja Rasenica; the former, dedicated to Saint Demetrius, built in 1730, and the church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of god in Donja Rasenica, from 1709. The wooden church in Buzeta (16th century), near Glina, was also burnt to the ground. These no longer exist—not even their foundations.
Even the most sacred of Serbian shrines are being destroyed in a brutal way, such as the Memorial Chapel in Prebilovci (Hercegovina), where thousands of Serbian martyrs were put to death in World War II, older men, women and children from Prebilovci and neighboring Serbian villages in the majority. These relics, removed a few years before (1991) from the Hercegovina karst pits and buried in a newly built Chapel in Prebilovci, were again set upon in the most barbaric way. This holy site was completely destroyed, and the bones of the martyrs set afire. History does not record that even the worst of criminals ever killed their victims twice, and that within a 50-year period!
One of the first reports on the damage inflicted upon Serbian Orthodox churches, monasteries and other church buildings on the territory of the former Yugoslav Republic of Croatia appeared, in installments, during 1991 in "Pravoslavlje" ("Orthodoxy"), the official newspaper of the Serbian Patriarchate, under the title A List of Orthodox Churches and Cultural Treasures Damaged or Destroyed in Wartime Fighting on Serbian Territories in Croatia in 1991. Many of these reports were included in Wartime Destruction of Orthodox Churches on Serbian Territories in Croatia in 1991, Belgrade 1992, published by two Ministries and two Institutions of the Republic of Serbia: the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Culture, and the Institute for International Scientific, Educational, Cultural and Technical Cooperation and the Republic’s Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments. The publication was reprinted in 1992, and also translated into English.
The Museum of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Belgrade has released two publications on the destruction of Serbian Orthodox churches on the territory of ten Dioceses of the Serbian Church: S. Mileusnic, Spiritual Genocide 1991–1993, Belgrade 1994 (two editions), and S. Mileusnic, Spiritual Genocide 1991–1995, Belgrade 1996 (with a catalogue for and exhibition under the same title). In addition to these testimonies, also of importance are reports made by the European Community Monitoring Mission, Cultural Heritage Report: No 1, December 12, 1994; No 2, April 20, 1995; No 3, July 21, 1995; and No 4, February 15, 1995. These reports contain numerous facts concerning destroyed and damaged Serbian and Croatian churches and Muslim mosques.
As regards the fate of churches and other buildings belonging to the Serbian Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church in Croatia, one should also mention reports made by the Croatian authorities and the Roman Catholic Church. In September 1995, soon after the Croatian aggression ("Storm") on the Republic of Serbian Krajina in August, the Serbian Patriarchate in Belgrade received a report entitled The State of Orthodox Churches and Monasteries in the Liberated Area of Former Sectors North and South. According to this report, on the territory of six "police districts" (Sibenik, Split, Zadar and Knin, Lika and Senj, Karlovac, Sisak and Moslavina), out of 121 Serbian churches which had been inspected, only two were destroyed in the 1991–1995 war (Glinska Poljana and Staro Selo); 16 Serbian churches were damaged, six still showing damage from the Second World War; and three simply deteriorated from the passage of time.
A report from the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Croatia, No 511-01-22/2-VT-512/2-96, forwarded to the Government of the Republic of Croatia (Office of the President) on 1 April 1996 (a copy sent to the Serbian Orthodox Church), lists as damaged Serbian churches in: Blinja, Mecencani, Kukuruzari, Zivaja, Bolc, Nova Kapela.
A monograph entitled The Wounded Church in Croatia – Destruction of Church Buildings in Croatia (1991–1995), Zagreb 1996, contains a chapter heading Damaged Church Buildings of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the Republic of Croatia (416–426), in which only 28 destroyed and damaged Serbian churches, monasteries and other church buildings are listed. In the Forward to this section, it states that the text was prepared "according to available information". However, the authors of this monograph "forgot" that the Museum of the Serbian Orthodox Church of the Diocese of Zagreb-Ljubljana in Zagreb, i. e., the Residence of the Metropolitan of Zagreb and Ljubljana in the very center of Zagreb (Dezliceva 4) had been damaged by explosives on 11 April, 1992. Also dynamited and razed to the ground during the 1991–1995 period were Serbian churches in Vinkovci, Slavonski Brod, Stupovaca, Sirac, Kucanice (the church in which the present Serbian Patriarch Pavle was baptized); also destroyed were three wooden churches, unique examples of building construction: the Church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God in Donja Rasenica, dating from 1709, and the Church of Saint Demetrius in Rastovac, from 1730, both near Grubisni Polje, as well as an 18th-century wooden church in Buzeta, near Glina; and many others.
At the end of the monograph is a section entitled Undamaged Church Buildings of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the Republic of Croatia in the Area Liberated during the "Lightning" and "Storm" Operations (427-439), which represents 100 churches belonging to the Serbian Orthodox Church in Croatia as being without damage. According to information received by the Museum of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Belgrade, among these 100 Serbian churches supposedly "intact" are 35 heavily damaged and devastated ones. For the majority of these churches, confirmation of this is found in reports made by the European Community Monitoring Mission, particularly No 2, December 30, 1994, and No 4, July 21, 1995. Moreover, the authors of this study also had the two above-mentioned reports from high-ranking institutions of the Croatian Government. The afore-mentioned report The State of Orthodox Churches and Monasteries in the Liberated Areas of Former Sectors North and South, sent to the Serbian Patriarchate by the representative of the Bureau of the Republic of Croatia in Belgrade in September 1995, lists destroyed and damaged Serbian churches in the following places (not mentioned in the monograph): Kistanje, Knin, Monastery Krka, Josani, Vrhovina, Skare, Glavica, Raduc, Perjasica, Plasko, Licka Jasenica, Kostajnica, Dubica, Slabinja, Zivaja; and only two churches as destroyed: in Staro Selo and Glinska Poljana.
A special curiositzy in the monograph is portrayed in two photographs on page 88, the legend under which states: "Catholic church in Pakrac during repair work in 1991, before the begining of the war", and "Catholic church in Pakrac – with devastated interior". The truth is different: the pictured is the Cathedral Church of the Nost Holy Trinity in Pakrac (exterior and interior), destroyed and set afire numerous times by Croatian military and paramilitary forces; the last time being the most loathsome, never even noted thoughout history, committed before Orthodox Christmas in 1996 when within the ruins of this Cathedral the grave of the Bishop of Slavonia of blessed memory Emilijan (Marinovic), who passed away in 1981, was dynamited. In all truth, mistakes are possible, that is, photographs being mixed up; but two photographs, and then saying yet that the church is under reconstruction – while it is well known that the restoration of Holy Trinity Church in Pakrac was begun before beginning of the civil war, is truly not feasible, and looks more like some type of cynicism.
It is also interesting that some of the photos of damaged Serbian churches in the monograph were taken in the early phases of their devastation. Saint Demetrius’s Church in Batanjani, near Pakrac, is shown without its belltower, but with its roof only damaged. Yet almost half of this cemetery chapel, dating from 1738, no longer exists, according to pictures taken in 1993. Of the Church of Saint Panteleimon in Toranj (1931), near Pakrac, though damaged and depicted in its entirety, only parts of the walls remain standing.
In this war (1991–1995), Croatian and Muslim places of worship also suffered. But if we are charged with the task of reporting the devastation wreaked upon churches and other religious buildings and art treasures during the war (1991–1995), then let us do so truthfully and with dignity, as true believers and descendants of those who created all this and, together with other peoples who have lived in this region, bequeathed it as a spiritual and cultural heritage.
In lieu of a conclusion, let us remember recent events (September-October 1996): the Church of Saint Nedelja in Karin was dynamited and razed to the ground; the Serbian Church in Obrovac was devastated; a grenade damaged the Orthodox Cathedral in Dubrovnik; the remains of the Church of the Holy Cross in Veliki Zdenci were demolished (having been already damaged during the Second World War); Monastery Orahovica was plundered… Where does this all end and who are the perpetrators? Is the war, as regards Serbian Orthodox churches, monasteries and other church buildings, truly over?
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