Is hate speech back in FYROM?

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Strange as it may sound, the head of the (unrecognised) Macedonian Orthodox Church (MOC), Archbishop Stefan lashed out in a Christmas interview for the media at young mother Spaska Mitrova, who has been harassed by the Skopje authorities for taking Bulgarian citizenship. Lazar Mladenov, president of the Bulgarian Cultural Club in Skopje, looks into the matter. 

This commentary was sent to EurActiv by Lazar Mladenov, president of the Bulgarian Cultural Club in Skopje.

"As if this was the most important moral issue for the people of his country, Archibishop Stefan said that Spaska Mitrova belonged to the 'dregs of society, traitors and freaks'.

This came against the background of a decision by the Sofia Appellate Court to release the arrested Orthodox bishop Jovan Vranishkovski, a dual Macedonian and Serbian citizen, thereby rejecting FYROM's demand for his extradition because of alleged financial misuse. The Court's decision in Bulgaria was grounded on the political repressions expected if Jovan returns to FYROM.

'Не [Priest Jovan Vranishkovski] has long been, in his own way, Spaska for the Macedonian Orthodox Church (MOC), and what the Sofia Appellate Court decided only confirms that garbage, traitors and freaks always receive support,' Archbishop Stefan stated.

Some of my nationals said that since the times of the Inquisition, such un-Christian words have not been uttered by a priest, and still less by a head of church and spiritual shepherd.

Others considered that the outrageous speech of Archbishop Stefan is further proof that FYROM continues to be dominated by a post-Yugoslav totalitarian socio-political system where dissenting opinions are punished by imprisonment, dismissal from work, public anathema, physical and psychological abuse. I think those opinions are correct.

During the last couple of years Spaska Mitrova has become a symbol of courage and human dignity in the fight against ethnic discrimination suffered by the Bulgarians in FYROM.

The saga of Spaska Mitrova, a young Bulgarian mother from the Republic of Macedonia, begаn in 2009 when she was jailed behind the bars of the sinister Idrizovo prison, near Skopje, under the ridiculous pretext of not providing her ex-husband with lodging in her parents' home whenever he came to visit their little child.

Furthermore, Mrs. Mitrova's little daughter was forcibly taken away, followed by an endless series of court trials for custody, accompanied with malicious threats, public anathemas in the media – all because she publicly announced her Bulgarian ethnicity.

The Macedonian authorities badly oppressed many other dissidents and civil society activists because they have publicly spoken of their Bulgarian national feelings. Public expression of Bulgarian ethnicity has always been incriminating in this country (from the beginning of the Yugoslav era until today).

As an example, two such cases, which have happened to leaders and active members of the Bulgarian Cultural Club – Skopje in the last few years, can be mentioned. Engineer Miroslav Rizinski was sentenced in 2007 to a three-year prison term, following an opaque and highly politicised trial, after he refused to serve FYROM's intelligence services, who tried to sign him up to become their agent and spy on his colleagues and friends.

The most recent violation is that of Mr. Mile Yovanoski (a social worker at the Daycare Centre for Children in the city of Prilep) who was arrogantly fired from work in 2010, even though he was amongst the very few employees whose educational background and professional skills perfectly match the job requirements.

The scandalous behavior of Archbishop Stefan comes after he unceremoniously appropriated the blessed name and historical heritage of the Bulgarian Patriarchate and Archbishopric of Ohrid to the canonically unrecognised MOC and personally usurped the sacred title of the Archbishops of Ohrid, conveniently omitting the last part of the true title 'and of Bulgaria'.

Тhe foundation of the MOC is likely the only case in the world where a religious institution was established by a Communist Party decision (in 1967). Since then, the MOC has remained unrecognised by all of the Christian Orthodox Churches worldwide.

This is very unlikely to change soon as the MOC is an active promoter of many ridiculous projects by the Macedonian authorities to claim inheritance of an ancient civilisation with natural superiority to countries around it.

In 2008 the MOC Archbishop personally blessed an unusual delegation from northern Pakistan – the Muslim Prince Ghazanfar Ali Khan, his wife Princess Rani Atiqa and their entourage.

As the Financial Times pointed out, the members of the Hunza tribe, who are mostly Muslim, had never heard of modern Macedonia until 14 years ago. However, they were invited and euphorically met by Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and accorded the highest honours as descendants of Alexander the Great and rulers of present day Macedonia.

Simultaneously, the MOC supported a scandalous racist video called 'Macedonian Prayer' (broadcast on national TV), which claimed that the human race originates from so-called 'Macedonoids' who inhabited the planet between the Atlantic Ocean and the Sea of Japan.

To help the authorities resolve the ethnic identity crisis and provide 'history-based' arguments for the name dispute with Greece, the MOC promotes non-Christian pagan symbols and rituals (e.g. the Vergina Sun and the Rosetta Stone) in Orthodox Churches in Macedonia, while numerous cemeteries, fresco inscriptions and artifacts, which have belonged to the Bulgarian heritage of these lands since the early Middle Ages, have been totally ruined and abandoned.

As recent European reports point out, so-called 'antiquisation', which the authorities forcibly impose on the population in a top-down manner, creates internal divisions within society and threatens regional stability.

Recent sociological exit polls reveal a huge number of Eurosceptics in FYROM, numbers of which are increasing as a result of the endless nostalgic pro-Yugoslav propaganda carried out by direct heirs of the late dictators Tito and Milosevic.

However, there are still a substantial number of Macedonian citizens who admire Euro-Atlantic integration. We shall see which group prevails in the very near future.

While the MOC has been approaching its sister Orthodox Churches around the world in its attempts to receive canonical recognition, observers ironically mention that the latest examples of base hate speeches by Archbishop Stefan suggest a closer relationship to the Ku Klux Klan than to any other Christian denominations worldwide."

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