Former Yugoslavia: Will Croatians Welcome Serbian Baptists Home?

Serbian Baptists Hope for Return to Croatia

Serbian Baptists, now refugees in Belgrade and Novi Sad, Serbia, are hoping to return to their war-torn villages in the Krajina section of Croatia. However, their fellow Baptists from Croatia view the return of Serbian refugees with great caution.

Hundreds of Serbian Baptists were among 250,000 Serbian war refugees who fled in 1995 from the Krajina region along Croatia's long border with Bosnia. A year after the war in the former Yugoslavia ended, Krajina remains largely uninhabited. Last year's crops have rotted on the vine, and the fields are infested with mines. Only 9,000 mostly aged people remain, while but 3,000 have been allowed to return since the cessation of hostilities.

Virtually all Catholic churches in the Krajina region were destroyed during Serb rule, beginning in 1991. Today, thieves are reselling in western Europe art stolen from abandoned Orthodox churches.

"In 1990 we had one hundred and fifty Orthodox priests working within all Croatia," says Jovan Nikolic, a retired Serbian Orthodox priest in the Croatian capital Zagreb. "Today we have fifteen. None of them are active in Krajina, and no Orthodox services are being held there." Eastern Slavonia remains the last segment of Croatia still controlled by Serbs.

David Ogrizovic, pastor of the now-Croatian congregation in the city of Petrinja, concludes, "It was a dirty war, a very dirty war."

The remains of farm dwellings, many of them destroyed only after the attack by Croatian troops in August 1995, are falling prey to scavengers and looters. Mile Vidovic, a Baptist farmer from Grabovac, 40 miles south of Zagreb, says, "After a rocket landed on the kitchen table of my brother next door, we decided to flee."

POLITICAL OBSTACLES: Croats are less optimistic than Serb ...

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