Bishop of Bihać and Petrovac Sergije is one of few people in the Serbian Orthodox Church who is willing to address any topic in public, from issues of religion to the political situation.
In his interview with Kurir, he openly said that the political elites in Bosnia and Herzegovina were used as vehicles of the powers that wish ill upon the country, adding that there were some who would like to stir trouble in these parts yet again. He also pointed out that Serbia was making considerable progress under President Aleksandar Vučić, and that some people could not, as he put it, forgive him for the fact that Serbia was now back on its feet, rising from the mire of self-pity.
Touching on the Kosovo issue, Bishop Sergije averred that Kosovo and Metohija would never be lost if we did not renounce it first.
You can tell us first-hand what the co-existence of three nations – Serbian, Bosniak, and Croatian – looks like in Bosnia?
"People work with each other, live side by side, and spend time together. Other than sporadic, increasingly rare incidents, there really aren't any problems in that micro-domain. Having said that, the incessant politicising of just about everything under the sun, incited for the most part from outside Bosnia and Herzegovina, brings a sense of unease to people. As a result, driven by fear and reasons of personal safety, people turn to their own ethnic groups. It's a pattern that this country has been in for over 30 years. As long as the political elites are vehicles for the powers that don't wish to see peace and stability in this country, the interethnic relations will remain strained too. It seems to me that if it were up to the citizens, this country would fare much better, but as soon as any sort of progress is made, the media and the elites raise tensions. This then affects the people and results in distrust, fear, and a sense of threat from each other. Sadly, we haven't been able to break out of this vicious circle yet."
Recently, you openly warned that "someone has apparently grown weary of peace and prosperity," and that they wish "to dismantle the Dayton Agreement, open old wounds, and dash the little hope left to the local Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks." Who were you referring to?
"I was referring to the same people who 30 years ago ardently supported the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia, those who offered progress to the citizens of their own countries, and war, blood, and years of poverty to us. Such people have not yet stepped away from the scene of their crime, wishing instead to keep stirring up trouble in this region. When the representatives of all three nations realize that we are closest to each other, that we depend on one another, share the same tract of land, and speak the same language, then our future too will be more certain, calm, and stable. There is a saying that's been around since ancient times – divide et impera (divide and conquer), which has been proven true time and time again in this country. As long as others divide us, it's a sign that we haven't yet become politically aware."
In your opinion, how much have foreign elements in the Balkans been pulling the strings from the background?
"Bosnia and Herzegovina has for the last two centuries been a region where the great powers are pitted against one another. Since the Turkish Empire and the Habsburg Monarchy to the present day, this region has been a meeting point of three monotheistic religions: Orthodox Christianity, Roman Catholicism, and Islam. This is where Serbs meet Croats, Croats meet Bosniaks, and Bosniaks meet Serbs, in every sense of the word. As the westernmost point of Slavic Orthodox Christianity, it was precisely in Bosnia that the westward expansion of Islam stopped. In addition, Roman Catholicism in the Slavic South hasn't made any significant further inroads east of Bosnia. This is where the West has met the East, the South has met the North; where Serbia has met Croatia, and Islam Christianity. I say this in order to point out the geopolitical complexity of this wonderful country, which belongs to everyone and – in actuality – no one, given that it and its peoples have been manipulated for centuries, as a result of which Bosnia and Herzegovina isn’t allowed the sort of life that is lived by any other country. The wish for permanent protectionism has a negative impact on the interethnic relations. As long as there are foreign busybodies around, Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats won't be able to take responsibility for this country and all its peoples and citizens. To be clear, no foreign protector has come to Bosnia for Bosnia's sake, but solely for the interests of those who don't really care about Bosnia."
You have also touched on the attacks against the Serbian president, Aleksandar Vučić, saying that "as long as he is getting crucified, I know that we're on the right track and doing well, that we are where we are," and that "Vučić's crucifixion is our resurrection."
"Whether you want to admit it or not, Aleksandar Vučić is a statesman of high calibre, and this is best seen in the fact that he has taken Serbia out of the mire of self-pity. He has replaced the narrative of hopelessness with the narrative of success, building bridges, highways, and factories all across Serbia, creating thousands of jobs taken by people who until recently wanted to leave the country in search of work. Owing to President Vučić, we have finally completed Saint Sava's Cathedral Church, and we – Serbs outside of Serbia – feel at long last that Serbia sees us as its own people, as its very next of kin. In under a decade, President Vučić has done what generations of his predecessors hadn't, because they put personal or party interests over Serbia and the Serbian people. This is why President Vučić is attacked by those who wish ill upon Serbia, and we recognize them easily when they attack him because they cannot accept the fact that Serbia is being built and developed, and that its influence and power at the international scene are growing. All Serbs, wherever they may be, can be proud of Serbia, although substantial progress still lies ahead, on condition that it continues on this path. This is why it is important to stand by those who bring us good and put aside personal vanity and party interests so that our mother country, Serbia, could move along the highway of progress as fast as possible, after decades of faltering. It may be needless to say that President Vučić's policies have strengthened Serbs outside of Serbia and the Republic of Srpska, but it does deserve a special mention. It is precisely because of this sort of approach, which we have spent centuries waiting for, that President Vučić will have our immense gratitude, as he has raised the bar of national responsibility by, among other things, heeding and helping his compatriots, who everyone had given up on."
The reactions to this statement of yours were divided…
"There's a popular belief that our brothers will forgive us for everything but success. Those who cannot forgive President Vučić for getting Serbia back on its feet hold against me the fact that I have spoken the truth publicly, that I didn't ignore all the good that he has brought to us, caring as he did about those of us who were forgotten, abandoned, and left to fend for themselves. If we turn a blind eye to good deeds, we commit a grave injustice, and I have chosen the truth over injustice. And I would, and will, do it again. This is why it's important to use the yardstick of the truth, to get out of the party trenches, not judge by prejudice, and see things as they really are. Parents never notice their children growing because they see them every day, but those who visit them every three months can see the actual progress that they have made. Whenever I come to Serbia, I see progress, true, actual progress, and that gives me a sense of pride and satisfaction because my Serbia, the country where I was born and raised, looks at long last like any other developed country. If I were to turn a blind eye to that, I would be guilty of a grave sin, but – 'being silent isn't a Serbian thing to do.' "
Have the Serbian wounds of the 20th century – from World War I and Jasenovac, to the 1999 NATO bombing and the events of the 1990s – healed, and to what extent?
"It's a well-known fact that wounds don't heal in the Balkans, as they keep getting re-opened. That’s why they keep hurting and tearing us apart, even as they invoke new evils. No historical consensus has been reached on the times of suffering – abundant in these parts – and as a result, we keep reliving the past, counting our dead and opening old wounds. Serbian tears don't carry as much weight as the tears of others, and each Serbian victim is worthless compared to other nations' victims. That much is abundantly clear, as it has been decided somewhere that Serbs must be labelled as the culprits and atone for the wrongs they haven't done, in order to appease the conscience of those who are truly guilty of the evil of the Balkan wars. We know the victims from our own nation, we know their names and the sacrifices that they have made on behalf of all of us. This is why we remember them, in history and prayer, in legend and living memory. In a similar vein, we remember the victims in other nations, with a sole wish to ensure that evil doesn't happen again, that we forgive each other, and journey on through history side by side."
Are you optimistic regarding the resolution of the Kosovo issue?
"In order to resolve a problem, what is needed is an agreement, and there can be no agreement without compromise. We see no willingness to compromise on the Albanian side, and as long as things stay that way, a resolution won't be in the works. That said, I think that the Albanian political position is shaped far away from Priština, making the Serbian position in the negotiations all the more difficult – what's known isn't the actual negotiator, but the representative of the self-proclaimed Kosovo state, an authorized representative of sorts. It's a big political equation with many unknown variables, but as long as every Serb keeps Kosovo in their heart, as an integral part of their own spiritual and national identity, Kosovo and Metohija will never be lost for us, because what gets lost is what we have renounced ourselves."
On the Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church
'Porfirije – the best among us'
Six months ago to the day, the Church got a new patriarch. How happy are you with the work of Patriarch Porfirije?
"I think it behooves us more to ask how happy Patriarch Porfirije is with us. I say this because I know the kind of man of god that we have as the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church. I think that his election and activities as Patriarch will change each and every one of us for the better, as the best among us has been chosen to lead the way. Students always look up to their teacher, and – if we have the Christian peace of mind and spiritual wisdom – so will we look up to our Patriarch in order to become better ourselves, with every new day and every new month. That is precisely the meaning of a life in the spirit – to look up to those who themselves look up to Christ."
On vaccination against the coronavirus
'People get confused by an abundance of information'
What is your position regarding the vaccination against the coronavirus?
"Human beings strive for freedom, and each person should decide for themselves and do what they think benefits them and the community they belong to. There is a great deal of disinformation and half-truths that get released into the poisoned mediasphere and, as a result, the people of today are confused by an abundance of contradictory claims. Nonetheless, the information reaching us ought to be filtered, and true experts ought to be distinguished from the confirmed busybodies. Once we do that, we will know what to do next."