Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Bosnian widow wins her battle to have church removed from her front yard

The Associated Press Published: October 9, 2007

KONJEVIC POLJE, Bosnia-Herzegovina: The eight-year battle of a Bosnian Muslim widow to get a Serb Orthodox church removed from her front yard may be coming to an end after the government promised to relocate it by the end of the year.

"My persistence paid off," Fata Orlovic, 67, told the Associated Press on Tuesday.

She has been fighting the authorities since 1999. The Bosnian Serb government has now said the church will be gone by the end of the year. "Now I hope it really will be," she said.

Orlovic discovered the huge church had been built on her property when she returned to her home in 1999 following Bosnia's 1992-95 war.

Orlovic's family — like the rest of the Muslims in Konjevic Polje, some 100 kilometers (65 miles) northeast of Sarajevo — was expelled during the Bosnian Serb ethnic cleansing campaign at the beginning of the war.

Their homes were burned down or occupied by Serb refugees from elsewhere and the town's two mosques were destroyed — a message to the Muslims they should not consider coming back.

The peace agreement that ended the war divided the country into a Bosnian Serb republic and a Bosniak-Croat federation but required authorities to allow refugees of all ethnic groups to return to their homes and take back their property. Konjevic Polje, which was a predominantly Muslim Bosniak town before the war, ended up in the Serb republic.

Orlovic's husband was killed during the war and four of her children live abroad and the other three with their families elsewhere in Bosnia.

Since her return, she has fought tenaciously to have the church removed. Despite what she claimed was bureaucratic obstruction and intimidation, she persisted with her lawsuit against the Bosnian Serb republic.

"This is my land, this is my house and this is the Serb church in the middle of my land," she explained, standing on the balcony of her renovated home.

"I want this church off my land. All this you can see here is my land," she said. "The church should be taken away. I just want my land and my front yard to be like it was before the war."

On several occasions, Orlovic has prevented believers from entering her land to attend a Mass and, because of the quarrel, no Masses have taken place here for quite some time and the church remains empty.

After a number of meetings between the Bosnian Serb government and the Serb Orthodox Church, the government decided last month to relocate the church.

It has been decided that the church must go. It will be a speedy process," said Milorad Dodik, prime minister of the Bosnian Serb Republic.

During her quest, Orlovic said she was offered large sums by authorities in exchange for her property or for dropping the lawsuit, but she remained defiant.

"I don't want any money. I just want what is already mine and that's the land," she said.

Vasilije Kacavenda, the head of the Serb Orthodox Church in Bosnia, who approved the building of the church on Orlovic's land during the war, recently claimed that before it belonged to the Orlovic family, the plot was owned by the Serb Orthodox Church.

However, Orlovic says she has all the ownership papers.

Orlovic says she does not have any problems with the Serbs, just with their Church.

"I did not create the problem but if they want problems, then they will have them," she said.



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