The bishops of Yugoslavia’s biggest church, the Serbian Orthodox Church, have called on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to hand over power to a transitional government, which they hope will restore the country’s economy and hold extraordinary elections.
The demand by the church follows a call in June at the end of NATO’s 11-week bombing campaign against the Belgrade government, for President Milosevic’s resignation.
The church plays an important social and cultural, as well as religious, role in Serb society. In the early 1990s, the church was often criticised by the West for allegedly supporting the Serb military cause. But in recent years its leaders have become prominent opponents of the policies of President Milosevic’s government.
According to reports from the BBC and other international agencies, the head of the church, Patriarch Pavle, met opposition leaders on Aug. 9. The next day, the church’s bishops appealed directly to the president, asking him to hand over power to a transitional government.
Archbishop Artemije of Kosovo, who has been highly vocal in his criticisms of the government, appeared on television to read out the statement by the church’s bishops. He repeated the church’s appeal to Milosevic and to the president of Serbia, Milan Milutinovic, to resign and make way for new leaders. He also called for extraordinary early elections.
However, President Milosevic has branded demands by his critics for his resignation as part of a Nato plan to undermine the country. According to a Swiss news agency an ultra-nationalist Serb leader, Vojislav Seselj, warned the Orthodox Church against collaborating with the “flunkeys of the United States” in Serbia ? referring to opposition politicians.