Zagreb, 08.04.2021 - Nastavak 7.sjednice Hrvatskog sabora. Na fotografiji Marijana Petir. foto HINA/ Edvard ŠUŠAK/ es

Exploiting the persecution of Christians as a covert lever to spread hatred

Author: Gordan Bosanac

During the discussion on the Croatian budget for 2021, the amendment of the ruling majority MP Marijana Petir attracted public attention, proposing the opening of a new item within the budget of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs (MVEP) – the part intended for international development cooperation. She called the item “Help for persecuted Christians and other people in need”, and the estimated amount is HRK 1,500,000. As in accordance with the Budget Act, the proposer of the amendment must say from which item they would withdraw funds when they open a new item, MP Petir proposed to reduce the item “current donations” within the development cooperation department from 4,500,000 to 3,000,000 kuna. In this way, de facto, the money reserved for development cooperation projects was directed to a specific thematic area: “helping persecuted Christians”.

In her explanation of the amendment, Petir states that these funds would enable young people who have been persecuted for their faith and have been denied education to study in Croatia. She also expects that this program will work on “the development and building of destroyed Christian communities.” She goes on to explain that “Christians bear the burden of persecution around the world”, citing the figure of 300 million Christians who are “at risk of various forms of persecution”. She also emphasizes the declining trend in the number of Christians in Syria, but also in other parts of the world – primarily due to persecution by jihadists.

The government accepted this amendment, and a number of media outlets reported on the acceptance of the amendment as news from the parliamentary debate – without investing too much in the value orientation of the said amendment. CROSOL, a platform for civil society organizations working to monitor policies and implement activities in the field of international development cooperation, also spoke out, and strongly condemned such an amendment, warning that “selective granting of aid on religious, ethnic or racial grounds is contrary to the principles of international development cooperation. constitutes discrimination against all vulnerable groups not covered by this measure. “

At the end of April this year, the amendment was operationalized in the form of a joint public tender of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Science and Education (MZO), and invites young Christians from the Middle East, Asia and Africa to apply with a local parish certificate. The competition is open until May 17, 2021.

Although the amendment has attracted public attention, there has been no in-depth discussion on why this measure is extremely problematic. The associations gathered in the CROSOL platform recognized the discriminatory potential of the measure well, but a counter-argument emerged on social media that Christians were indeed severely persecuted and that a measure of positive discrimination could be applied, as is sometimes applied to women, LGBTIQ persons, national minorities, etc. The problem of persecution is placed within the framework of human rights.

There is no doubt that today there is a serious persecution of people on religious grounds. But not only on Christian, but also on other religious grounds. Well, let’s just look inside our own European backyard at how much Islamophobia has taken off and the same is reflected in migrants trying to enter EU territory. I have personally witnessed examples of migrants and refugees putting rosaries around their necks at the border, so that someone would take pity on them to enter the EU. This borderline self-baptism out of despair is an example of how all faith-based prejudices affect people’s lives.

I will try to argue that this measure is embodied in religious fundamentalism and intolerance towards other religions.

Although at first glance, helping persecuted Christians seems completely fair and justified, this measure needs to be put in a broader context. The discourse of persecuted Christians has long been taken over by radical right-wing and religious-fundamentalist circles and serves primarily to strengthen hatred towards other religious communities, with a focus on Islam. Speaking dominantly about the persecution of Christians by radical Islamists, the radical right deliberately ignores the fact that Muslims themselves are persecuted by religious Islamist fanatics, as are all those people who disagree with radical Islam. The fact that some Christians are also persecuted by radical-fundamentalist Christian groups is also ignored. The topic of “persecution of Christians” was strategically and insidiously chosen as well as the topic of “protection of the family” to mobilize as many people as possible within the Christian majority states and to portray their persecution as evil by another religion. Thus, it is a de facto showdown between Christian fundamentalists and Islamic fundamentalists, in which as many citizens as possible are being drawn through the human rights discourse. The institutions of the Republic of Croatia got involved in this dirty game by accepting the amendment of MP Petir.

This is not the first time that Christian religious fundamentalists have used the discourse of human rights (against which they are otherwise ardently fighting) to covertly spread hatred towards another social group. The best example of this was the referendum on marriage, which resulted in the spread of hatred towards sexual and gender minorities, and on the wings of the success of that referendum, the same people started spreading hatred towards other (national, more precisely Serbs) minorities. Fortunately, over time, at least in Croatia, they were notorious and lost their mobilization potential.

Because of all the above, it will not be surprising that one of the leading spokesmen on the topic of persecution of Christians in Europe is Viktor Orban. His government regularly organizes international conferences on the persecution of Christians. The same Orban who, based on the spread of fear and prejudice, mobilized the citizens of Hungary and beyond to accept the policy of wire and myth to defend Christian Europe from the barbarians who attack it. It did not take long for Orban to be joined by the radical Polish right, permeated by Catholic fundamentalists, which currently rules Poland. The topic has become so mainstream within radical right-wing circles that even their leading think tanks in charge of obstructing human rights policies in the EU have set out to publish manuals on the persecution of Christians. As expected, the former Trump administration has also embraced this topic.

There is no doubt that people of the Christian faith are intensely persecuted in certain parts of the world. A number of well-documented cases and reports speak for themselves. From a human rights standpoint, persecution based on religion is completely unacceptable. But the key question is how to approach solving this problem. Certainly not in a way that problem solving generates intolerance towards other religions nor does it leave others suffering who are persecuted and do not belong to a particular group we want to protect. In this sense, both in Africa, Asia, the Middle East – and in Europe or America, we need prevention projects against religious fundamentalism – related to any religion. Religious fundamentalism has caused incalculable damage throughout history to people, and unfortunately – it is present today, everywhere among us. This is a danger that must be constantly fought, and in the forefront of that struggle must be the believers themselves because fundamentalism works precisely against them.

I regret that our two ministries MVEP and MZO got involved in this hidden network of fundamentalism. It is still not too late to reformulate the competition and open it to all those young people who cannot study because their religious fundamentalists are forbidding it or because they and their families have been persecuted.

P.S. At the time of the pandemic, the phrase “persecution of Christians” began to be misused even when public services were working to combat the pandemic, implementing measures prescribed by epidemiologists and in Catholic churches in Ireland. In this benign video, you can see how even in such cases the “persecuted Christian” positions himself in relation to the “non-persecuted Muslim” (which of course is not true).

This material was created with the financial support of the European Union within the project “Towards an open, fair and sustainable Europe in the world – EU Presidency Project 2019 – 2021”. The author is solely responsible for the content and cannot be considered the official position of the European Union.