By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Macedonian police on Monday arrested Jovan Vraniskovski, a wanted Macedonian Orthodox priest convicted for embezzlement, who defected to the Serbian church.
The police told Balkan Insight that Vraniskovski was arrested at the Medzitlija border crossing with Greece, where he entered the country. He is currently in detention in Skopje.
Vraniskovski is to serve a two-and-a-half-year jail sentence handed down in absentia by a court in Bitola in October 2009 for embezzling money while serving as a cleric in Macedonia. The sentence was confirmed by a higher-instance court in July 2010.
Vraniskovski ’s arrest comes just two weeks after Macedonia and Serbia signed an extradition treaty in late November. The treaty aimed to put an end to the practice of evading justice by people who hold dual citizenships.
For almost a decade Vraniskovski has been the focus of a dispute between Macedonian Orthodox Church, MPC and its Serbian counterpart, which does not recognise its ecclesiastical independence. The more influential Serbian Church refuses to accept this and offers only autonomy.
Macedonia accused Vraniskovski who previously served in MPC, of inciting religious and racial hatred by setting up a parallel Orthodox church in Macedonia loyal to Serbia, later called the Ohrid Archdiocese.
The Macedonian Church saw this as a Serbian attempt to undermine its authority while the Serbian Church complained that the Macedonians were persecuting one of its priests.
The Serbian Church, which has close ties with other Orthodox churches, has blocked the recognition of the Macedonian Church by other Orthodox churches ever since it declared its “autocephaly”, or independence, in the late 1960s.
According to a written statement on Monday coming from Vraniskovski ‘s Ohrid Archdiocese, their leader will demand a re-trial in Macedonia. The Archdiocese says the sentence against him is “illegitimate” and expects him to be released from detention in the coming days.
In December 2010 Bulgarian authorities temporarily held Vraniskovski as he was transiting the country. Despite Macedonian hopes that he will be then handed over to them, Vraniskovski was released the next month and he returned to Serbia.