SERBIA: 'Intolerance' Obstructs Activity of Vishnu Community.

by Branko Bjelajac, Keston News Service, 30 July 2001

Serbia's Vishnu faith community complains that it faces not just slanderous media coverage to which it cannot respond (see separate KNS article), but that popular sentiment against it has hindered other public activity.

Atmabhu, a spokesman for the Yugoslav Vishnu Faith Community Veda, who declined to allow his full name to be published, told Keston News Service in Belgrade on 25 June that such `intolerance' has on occasion hurt those in need. In 1999 his community contacted the Radinac refugee camp near Smederevo, a city 45 kilometres south of Belgrade. `We offered the Red Cross a gift of one thousand cooked meals and we agreed to hold an action day in the camp. Our members collected 1,000 US dollars, and for a day and a night cooked and prepared good quality vegetarian food and went to the camp. As soon as the food distribution started, someone called from the Smederevo municipal office and ordered a halt to the food distribution with no explanation. We were forced to throw the whole meal to fish nearby.'

He cited another instance earlier this year when, after ten months of meetings in a public restaurant in the former synagogue in Zemun, a part of Belgrade, the owner cancelled further meetings. `He said someone had called from Zemun municipal office and urged him to cancel our meetings. We heard that one political party, the DHSS [Demo-Christian Party of Serbia], was involved.' (The president of DHSS is the Minister of Justice in the new Serbian government.)

The Veda community has been registered as a religious community in Serbia since 1989, and was reregistered in 1995 when they changed the office address. After a 1993 incident when a group of young men entered their temple in Belgrade, beat ten members, destroyed the furniture and demolished the temple, Veda has been forced to rent space for their irregular meetings as they are unable to acquire a permanent meeting place. Recently, they registered a local community in the northern city of Subotica (near the Hungarian border), where relations with officials are `normal'.

According to Atmabhu, the Veda community in Serbia has about 400 members and up to 2,000 supporters and friends. No formal membership is needed. (END)