58675 3/30/2006 7:57 06SKOPJE289 Embassy Skopje UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY 05SKOPJE750 VZCZCXYZ0007 RR RUEHWEB DE RUEHSQ #0289/01 0890757 ZNR UUUUU ZZH R 300757Z MAR 06 FM AMEMBASSY SKOPJE TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4448 INFO RUEHTH/AMEMBASSY ATHENS 1642 RUEHBW/AMEMBASSY BELGRADE 1893 RUEHBM/AMEMBASSY BUCHAREST 1084 RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW 0352 RUEHSF/AMEMBASSY SOFIA 4965 RUEHTI/AMEMBASSY TIRANA 3385 RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL 0102 RUEHPS/USOFFICE PRISTINA 4033 RUESEN/SKOPJE BETA RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC RUEHSQ/USDAO SKOPJE MK RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE 2064 UNCLAS SKOPJE 000289
DEPT FOR EUR/SCE, DRL/IRF, AND DRL/CRA
E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: PHUM, PREL, KIRF, MK SUBJECT: MACEDONIA CHURCH DISPUTE: MOC PATRIARCH DECRIES SERBIAN "INTERFERENCE"
REF: A. 05 SKOPJE 750
B. SKOPJE 219 C. 05 SKOPJE 1150
1. (SBU) Summary: The Macedonian Orthodox Church (MOC) has reacted strongly to recent revelations that the Serbian government funds an affiliate of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) in Macedonia, calling that support an intrusion into Macedonia's domestic affairs. The MOC also has opposed international community pressure to liberalize Macedonia's law on religious groups, which has been used to deny registration to the SOC-affiliated group. Archbishop Stefan, the patriarch of the MOC, is pessimistic about chances to resolve the long-running dispute between the two churches in the short term. End Summary.
MOC OBJECTS TO SERBIAN "INTERFERENCE"
2. (SBU) The Ambassador met with Archbishop Stefan on March 16 at his request to discuss the case of Zoran Vraniskovski, a defrocked MOC bishop now recognized by the SOC as Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid (ref A). Archbishop Stefan said that revelations that the Serbian government provides subsides to Vraniskovski's Orthodox Archbishopric of Ohrid, an eparchy of the SOC, had "further complicated" the ongoing dispute between the two churches about the ecclesiastical status of the MOC. He predicted that the Vraniskovski case would remain in the spotlight despite the latter's release from prison in early March (ref B), given that one conviction for embezzlement was likely to be upheld on appeal and a second embezzlement trial was currently underway (ref C).
3. (SBU) Archbishop Stefan did not repeat MOC Bishop Timotei's criticism of the 2005 HRR for "interfering" in the MOC's dispute with Vraniskovski's group. Echoing some media reports, Timotei had criticized the HRR for "recognizing" Vraniskovski and his SOC-affiliated church. In a March 24 meeting with Poloff, MOC Bishop Naum apologized for Bishop Timotei's statement and said that Timotei was not speaking for Archbishop Stefan or the MOC. (Note: In fact, the HRR sidestepped the issue by referring to "Zoran Vraniskovski, whom the Serbian Orthodox recognizes as Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid.") Most press coverage, however, focused on the HRR's description of the GOM's treatment of Vraniskovski as a limitation of religious freedom, and highlighted our conclusion that Macedonia generally respected human rights despite shortcomings in the police and judicial system.
STATUS OF SOC-AFFILIATED RELIGIOUS GROUP IN QUESTION
4. (SBU) In response to the Ambassador's remarks on the importance of ensuring religious freedom for believers of all faiths in Macedonia, Archbishop Stefan defended the primacy of the MOC. He said that other ethnic and linguistic groups could still establish parallel Orthodox churches and serve in their respective languages, but such churches must recognize the ecclesiastical authority of the MOC on Macedonian territory. He pointed to similar restrictions in Serbia and other predominantly Orthodox countries as proof that this principle is widely respected. "Each country much protect its own interests," Archbishop Stefan said, asserting that for Macedonia this entails protection of its national church.
5. (U) The State Commission on Relations with Religious Communities is consulting with OSCE/ODIHR experts on a draft law that will determine the status of small religious groups, such as Vraniskovski's SOC-affiliated church. The experts note that widespread practices in the region notwithstanding, Macedonia is obliged by the European Convention on Human Rights and its OSCE commitments to protect such religious groups. In a February visit to discuss the draft law, the experts advised the Commission to remove a clause that would effectively prevent the SOC-aligned group from registering. (Note: The Macedonian government, by passing an Action Plan for European Partnership last December, has committed to
implementing OSCE recommendations on the draft law.)
6. (SBU) Backed by the MOC and other religious communities, however, the Macedonian government has so far resisted international experts' recommendations that Macedonian law be changed. In an early March meeting with the DCM, Commission President Cane Mojanoski acknowledged "tension" between international standards and practice in predominantly Orthodox countries, but said he was unwilling to provoke a confrontation with the MOC on the issue. The DCM replied that, although the legal changes required to meet international and European standards are often difficult, they were ultimately in Macedonia's interest as it pursues NATO and EU membership. (Note: The Commission plans to forward the draft law to the Justice Ministry for consideration no later than March 30; we do not expect to see further action on the law before this summer's parliamentary elections.)
NO MOC-SOC COMPROMISE IN VIEW
7. (U) Despite a January proposal by Russian Patriarch Alexei to resolve the long-running dispute between the Macedonian and Serbian churches, there is no indication that the two sides are seriously negotiating. In an interview with a Macedonian daily, Alexei proposed an "autonomous" status for the Macedonian church. That would represent a step short of autocephaly, preserving the nominal authority of the SOC over the Macedonian church but allowing the latter to choose its own bishops and manage its own affairs. The MOC roundly rejected that proposal. Archbishop Stefan told the Ambassador on March 16 that he was not optimistic that the MOC and SOC would reach an agreement in the short term on the status of the Macedonian church, adding that the MOC and SOC had only limited, informal contacts. He said he believed mediation by the Russian or Romanian Orthodox churches could be helpful in the long term.
8. (SBU) The dispute between the Macedonian and Serbian churches is likely to remain an irritant in relations between Skopje and Belgrade until the SOC-affiliated group's inability to register, the legal troubles of that group's leader, and the disputed claims of SOC authority over the MOC are resolved. In our discussions with Macedonian government officials, we will continue to emphasize the importance of protecting the SOC's right to organize and lead its adherents in Macedonia. At the same time, we will stress that no Orthodox church should use religious freedom guarantees as a pretext for attacking the legitimacy of another. MILOVANOVIC