ISSN 2330-717X

Serbia Blesses Church-Run Drug Rehab Centres

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While the government gives seal of approval to Serbian Orthodox Church programme to treat drug addicts, some Serbs still have fresh memories of brutal beatings at a clerical-run rehabilitation centre.

By Bojana Barlovac

Serbian Orthodox Christian ChurchSerbia marked International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking with a cooperation agreement between the Health Ministry and the Serbian Orthodox Church on treating drug addicts.

In the agreement, the Church pledged to continue implementing a programme called “Zemlja Zivih” – “land of the living”. This therapeutic programme, running since 2005, comprises seven centres, which the Church says are treating some 20 to 30 addicts at the moment.

The programme aims to treat and rehabilitate addicts and help them develop a healthy lifestyle, the Ministry of Health said.

Although some 84 per cent of the people of Serbia are Orthodox Christians, and the Church enjoys much trust among Serbs, the news has come as surprise.

This is because in 2009 TV clips revealed the brutal methods being used to treat drug addicts in a Church-run camp at Crna Reka, which shocked the public.

Footage showed patients being assaulted with shovels and punched in the face in the clerical rehab centre.

Marko Karadzic, former deputy human rights minister, said the state needed to keep an eye on the acitvities of alternative health institutions, so that the events in Crna Reka were not repeated.

He asked why the recent memorandum had been signed only with the Orthodox Church, when other religious communities also ran similar centres.

Karadzic said the text of the agreement needed to be made available to the public, as many things remained unclear.

These included how the state would exercise overall control. “How will it [the state] assist? Do certain religious communities and churches have the capacity and knowledge to deal with the [drug] problem?” Karadzic asked.

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The Balkan Insight (fornerkt the Balkin Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN) is a close group of editors and trainers that enables journalists in the region to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social themes. BIRN emerged from the Balkan programme of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR, in 2005. The original IWPR Balkans team was mandated to localise that programme and make it sustainable, in light of changing realities in the region and the maturity of the IWPR intervention. Since then, its work in publishing, media training and public debate activities has become synonymous with quality, reliability and impartiality. A fully-independent and local network, it is now developing as an efficient and self-sustainable regional institution to enhance the capacity for journalism that pushes for public debate on European-oriented political and economic reform.

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