MONDAY
January 17, 2000
volume 11, no. 11
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NEWS & VIEWS     Acknowledgments
Articles provided through Catholic World News and Church News at Noticias Eclesiales and International Dossiers, Daily Dispatches and Features at ZENIT International News Agency. CWN, NE and ZENIT are not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provide this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.

IN YUGOSLAVIA, REFUGEES ARE "PLAYTHINGS IN THE HANDS OF THE POWERFUL"
Rampant Unemployment and Low Wages Combine to Make Life Miserable
    NOVI SAD, JAN 14 (ZENIT-FIDES).- After the bombing stopped, the West forgot about the people of Serbia, according to Fransiscan Fr. Karoly Harmath. "The majority of the refugees are innocent victims, playthings in the hands of the powerful," he told "Fides."

    According to the priest, unemployment has risen to 50%-60%. "Even those who do work find life difficult: half the labor force is paid a set minimum wage and public servants' salaries are delayed for months. Pensions are low and paid 6 months late. Daily life is a struggle, the black market flourishes and the cost of living skyrockets in response to galloping inflation. After virtually 10 years of war and constant defeat, people are unmotivated. Fear of civil war has closed them in on themselves -- all struggle to survive."

    Fr. Harmath is a native of Vojvodina in Hungary. At present, he is Superior of a Franciscan convent in Novi Sad. He founded and runs AGAPE, the only Catholic publishing house in Serbia. He is also director of the Theological-Catechetical Institute of the diocese of Subotica, where he is a professor of theology.

    Questioned by "Fides" on the state of the Kosovar refugees, Fr. Harmath replied: "Most of the Serbs who fled Kosovo have settled in central or southern Serbia. However, the regime is pressuring them to return to Kosovo. For example, schools in the towns where they are at present have been told not to accept the refugees' children. A few Kosovar refugees went to Vojvodina. They are mostly Romany -- Gypsies -- who receive assistance from the Red Cross, Caritas, and the Ecumenical Humanitarian Fund. The majority have been taken in by local people, family or friends. Their status is that of refugees 'non grata,' and hard to bear."

    "Nothing is ever solved by violence; the problems have only increased," asserted the Franciscan, "The NATO bombings did not lead to expected political changes. At first the people hoped NATO's measures might bring a change for the better. But today they are all deeply disappointed. There is political apathy and a daily struggle to survive. Many people have lost their jobs because the factories were bombed. I often wonder how families manage when the parents are out of work, children must be sent to school, and the cost of living is similar to that elsewhere in Europe."

    "The Western media try to separate the Serb people from their political leaders, but this is impossible. There are nations, such as Serbia, which cannot exist without a 'leader.' This strong tie between the people and the leader has historical roots," explained Fr. Harmath. "During the Ottoman occupation, the Vozd were the people's heroes: they led them to freedom and organized resistance. The Serbs cannot do without their Vozd, this must be understood and accepted. Peoples must be respected as they are. Only sincere and patient dialogue can bring results. But, in order to dialogue, we must know one another: from a distance things are not clearly seen."

    As to the future, the publisher sees the need for social change. "Nationality and religion have gone hand in hand for centuries in the Balkans. Here a Serb can only be an Orthodox -- Catholicism is the prerogative of the Croats, etc. In the Balkans, even Serbs who are atheists are considered Orthodox, without being baptized. Ecumenism is extremely arduous. Here Orthodox Christianity is identified with nationality, and the other religions are only 'second class.' " ZE00011403

          

January 17, 2000
volume 11, no. 11
NEWS & VIEWS

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