Speed Reads

one sick serb

Serbian Orthodox patriarch tests positive for COVID after attending outlawed nationalist celebration

The patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church, whose predecessor died after contracting COVID-19 in 2020, has tested positive for the virus, The Associated Press reports.

Patriarch Porfirije, age 60, reportedly has very mild symptoms that have not prevented him from carrying out his duties as he self-isolates. His predecessor, Patriarch Irinej, died in November 2020 at age 90 after contracting the virus.

According to Reuters, in Porfirije's 2021 Pascha (Easter to most English-speaking Christians) address, he stressed the importance of "respecting the recommendations of medicine."

AP suggests Porfirjie may have contracted the virus during his Sunday appearance at a Day of Republika Sprska event, where few attendees wore masks while gathering for the national holiday celebrated by Bosnian Serbs.

Bosnia and Herzegovina banned the holiday in 2015 because its association with Orthodox Christianity was considered discriminatory against the country's majority-Catholic Croats and majority-Muslim Bosniaks. The Day of Republika Sprska is also closely associated with the nationalist movement that contributed to bloody ethnic conflicts in the 1990s, AP reports.

Bosnian Serbs largely ignored the ban and continue to celebrate their national day, featuring a military-style parade and nationalist songs.

Last week, the U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions against Republika Sprska leader Milorad Dodik, accusing him of "corrupt activities and continued threats to the stability and territorial integrity." Dodik has publicly called for total self-government for Bosnian Serbs, and cultivated close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Bosnia and Herzegovina remains one nation but is divided into two enclaves: the ethnically Serbian Republika Srpska and the ethnically Croat and Bosniak Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The nation's presidency is constitutionally required to be made up of a Croat, a Bosniak, and a Serb — currently Dodik.

Despite his attendance at the celebration, which reportedly heavily conflated Orthodoxy with nationalist rhetoric, Porfirjie has been described as moderate. In 2016, he received an award "for his contribution to the reconciliation of the people in the Balkans," Religion Unplugged reported.