Balkanalysis.com

The Holy See

Capital Vatican City

Time Zone CET (GMT+1)

Country Code 39

ccTLD .va

Currency Euro

Land Area 0.44 sq km

Population 836

Language Latin, Italian

Major Religion Roman Catholicism

Key Data

Notable Public Figures

Francis I - Jorge Mario Bergoglio,
Pope

Pietro Parolin,
Cardinal Secretary of State

Giovanni Angelo Becciu,
Substitute for General Affairs

Paul Richard Gallagher,
Secretary for the Relations with States

Antoine Camiller,
Undersecretary for the Relations with States

Luciano Suriani,
Delegate for Pontificial Representations

Peter Brian Wells,
Assessor for General Affairs

José Avelino Bettencourt,
Head of Protocol

Domenico Giani,
Chief of Vatican Gendarmerie

Luxembourg and The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

The wealthy tax haven of Luxembourg, the world’s last-surviving grand duchy, has played an important – though discreet – role in financing Catholic Church activity and development in the Balkans.The Vatican challenges in the Balkans Bolstering the Catholic Church in 2015 and beyond Its peculiar politics, deep Catholic roots and development funding programs all combine to influence Catholicism in the contemporary Balkans.

Summary

Luxembourg has been vital to the Catholic development agenda in the Balkans, through its LuxDev state agency. As revealed for the first time in the book, Luxembourg’s donation of millions of euros in aid since the late 1990s has been influenced by the Catholic orientation of the country’s leaders and influential persons.

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Luxembourg has concentrated its aid on Muslim-majority areas that include Kosovo, Novi Pazar and the Serbian Sandzak, and neighboring northeastern Montenegro. The Western concern for poverty and low education creating the conditions for radical Islamist development are seldom articulated, but Luxembourg’s financial donations speak louder than words in affirming the theory.

Much of the Luxembourg financial aid has been routed through the Catholic charity, Caritas Luxembourg, which itself cooperates on ground level with other foreign Catholic NGOs and grass-roots organizations. Evangelization and education in a Catholic mold are associated with some of these. In the final analysis, it is clear that the ultra-wealthy statelet wedged between Germany, France and Belgium has played a crucial – though totally overlooked – role in funding important social and religious development projects in the Muslim Balkans.

Other important Luxembourg-related issues discussed in the book include the relationship between the Vatican and Grand Duke Henri, the Juncker government, and the general orientation of Luxembourg diplomacy towards EU, NATO and US interests.

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Hungary and The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

As Balkanalysis.com has revealed for the first time, Hungary is playing a key, though secret role in advancing the strategic policy and intelligence-gathering of the Holy See in the Balkans. This is centered particularly on Montenegro, but includes other locations as well, and echoes the historic role of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire in the region. The Vatican challenges in the Balkans Bolstering the Catholic Church in 2015 and beyond

Summary

Hungary has had an intriguingly complex relationship with the Holy See. After, and perhaps because of its close relations under the Dual Monarchy, it was selected by the Soviets as the prime Eastern-Bloc actor for carrying out espionage against the Vatican.

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Budapest did this with some success, in fact predicting the rise of Pope John Paul II several years in advance and the momentous geopolitical changes that would result. Among these changes would be the return of warm relations between post-communist Hungary and the Holy See, now manifesting in the Balkans where Budapest has multiple objectives.

The role of Hungary as a front for Vatican intelligence in Montenegro is discussed for the first time in the book, where the reader gets an intimate look at the world of contemporary Balkan espionage and diplomacy. Along with its assistance to the Catholic programme in the Eastern Adriatic state, Hungary has a keen interest in the affairs of ethnic Hungarians in states neighboring it; these include Serbia, where the Vojvodina region has a Catholic Hungarian population.

Additionally, Budapest is also an important diplomatic center and a hub of Catholic entities, among many others, geared towards contemporary Balkan politics and social life.

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Turkey and The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

Turkey has a historically complex relationship with the Holy See, and its small Catholic community has come under threat in recent years, including attacks on parishioners and murders of priests.The Vatican challenges in the Balkans Bolstering the Catholic Church in 2015 and beyond

On a state level, relations are however fairly good, with Pope Francis making the trip to Ankara and Istanbul in late November. He visited with both top Turkish leaders and with the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos, thus using the opportunity to highlight both inter-religious dialogue and Christian unity.

Summary

In Turkey, the Holy See’s mission will continue to require deft diplomacy and an above-average consideration for domestic politics. While the Catholic religion is formally allowed in Turkey, it is not encouraged by the state, and discrimination in local areas is common. Catholics are required to indicate their religion on ID cards, and do not have the same institutional protection as do Greek, Jewish and Armenian minorities.

The pope’s legates thus tend to take a much lower profile than in other Balkan countries, and not get involved in politics. It is clear that Pope Francis took the opportunity to visit Turkey, however, as a symbolic message to Islamic extremists – the same ones who had recently called for bringing Sharia law to Rome – to indicate that co-existence between the West and a Muslim state like Turkey was indeed possible.

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After the visit, of course, the lot of Turkey’s tiny Catholic population did not suddenly improve, but the Vatican at least could say that its leader had been well-received and managed to communicate his message of peace. Most significantly, however, was the continued cooperation with Bartholomeos indicated by the visit. It should not be forgotten that the latter had been the first Patriarch of Constantinople to attend a papal inauguration in a millenium, when he made the trip for Francis’ elevation in 2013.

Today, with the Middle East descending even further into anarchy, the Holy See will use the relative stability of Turkey as a place to continue monitoring the security situation, and working towards Church re-unification- something that, as Francis’s papal predecessor said, is ‘what everyone longs for.’

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Serbia and The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

Serbia has long had a difficult relationship with the Holy See, and the Catholic Church in general. However, in recent years this relationship has shown some signs of improvement.The Vatican challenges in the Balkans Bolstering the Catholic Church in 2015 and beyond The Vatican’s decision to not recognize Kosovo’s independence in 2008 gratified Serbia. However, popular anger at the Church’s decision to sanctify WWII-era Croatian Cardinal Stepinac has manifested among ordinary citizens- one of several reasons stated for why a papal visit to Belgrade remains unlikely.

Summary

The Vatican maintains good relations with largely Orthodox Serbia, particularly in comparison to the 1990s, when it clearly supported Catholic Croatia and Slovenia against Milošević’s Yugoslavia. The break-up of the latter has also changed the Vatican’s structural diplomacy, with the last constituent member (Montenegro) now being overseen not by the nunciature in Belgrade, as was the case previously, but by the Holy See’s legate in Sarajevo, Bosnia. This indicates that the Vatican considers both Bosnia and Montenegro to be ‘works in progress’ requiring a special approach, whereas Serbia is more stable.

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As mentioned, the Vatican has admitted it has understanding for the Serbian Orthodox Church’s historic presence in, and orientation towards Kosovo, and this is why it has not recognized the new state. Of course, this will change in the future, but Rome would like to see a recognition facilitated by mutual agreement between Belgrade and Pristina. Pope Francis has made Church Unity a major point of policy, and Serbia’s particular local realities indicate a case where the Holy See is trying to take a diplomatic approach.

We expect that the Catholic Church will increase schooling and charity activities in Serbia, particularly in the northern Vojvodina region, where live a notable minority of Hungarians (and others, such as Rusyns). The Vatican’s interest is partially due to traditional flock-tending, but also due to an increased Catholic exodus, as ethnic Hungarians are using their EU passports to seek greener pastures elsewhere in Europe.

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Montenegro and The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

Tiny, mountainous Montenegro, independent since only 2006, is currently the scene of an intelligence and diplomatic drive by the Vatican – reported for the first time by Balkanalysis.com – that aims to fundamentally reshape the region’s balance of political and religious power.The Vatican challenges in the Balkans Bolstering the Catholic Church in 2015 and beyond

Summary

According to tradition and recent statistics, most Catholics inhabit the central coastal region of Boka Kotorska (Kotor, Tivat and Herceg-Novi) running up to the Croatian border, with the diocese seat at Kotor’s famous 12th-century Cathedral of St Tryphon.

Other Catholic populations include an Albanian minority in the south, near the border with Albania and Kosovo. It is this population that, all relevant sources claim, is the current focus of interest for the Holy See and partners such as Hungary and Germany. Revealed for for the first time in the book, the Vatican’s cooperative intelligence-gathering and diplomacy initiatives here are of the utmost importance to future regional outlooks.

Montenegro also has problems involving the Knights of Malta (who desire ancient religious relics they believe to be theirs) and its other Christian denominations. Chiefly, these involve the Serbian Orthodox Church, which has traditionally administered the country, and the upstart, so-called ‘Montenegrin Orthodox Church’ which currently claims the support of 30 percent of the population. An operation with decidedly dubious origins, the MOC is going to play a key role in enhancing Vatican influence on both churches. Like Pope Francis himself, both the Serbian and Montenegrin churches have strong connections with Argentina.

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All in all, little Montenegro constitutes the key link along the Adriatic between solidly Catholic Croatia to the north, and religiously-mixed Albania to the south, and can be heavily influenced by goings-in Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo along the eastern flanks. When adding in the interests here of Russia, the US, EU and international finance and criminal groups, it is clear that Montenegro will be at the center of the action – in both diplomacy and espionage – when it comes to Vatican activities in the Balkans.

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Macedonia and The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

Macedonia is a state of limited importance for the Vatican, owing to the very small number of Catholics, but its strategic geographical placement at the very center of the Balkans and its ethnic and religious balance have made it of keen interest to Catholic policy-makers. The Vatican challenges in the Balkans Bolstering the Catholic Church in 2015 and beyond

Summary

Macedonia has had good relations with the Vatican since declaring independence in 1991. However, it is not considered significantly important to warrant its own nunciature (it was previously overseen by other nunciatures, currently, by the one in Sofia, Bulgaria). This is significant because it indicates that much of what the Holy See learns about Macedonia runs the risk of being ‘filtered’ by influencers in Bulgaria, which has its own historic interests in its western neighbor.

Nevertheless, the Catholic Church has made some inroads with charity activities and church-building. In recent years, the Holy See has attached more importance to Macedonia, with Kiro Stojanov becoming the first ethnically-Macedonian bishop of Skopje in over a century.

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The Catholic identity here is also colored by the odd historical phenomenon of the ‘Byzantine Rite’ worshippers of the southeast. Ultimately deriving from the Byzantine Orthodox populations that accepted the rule of the pope during the failed Church unification program in the mid-15th century, this population actually comprises the majority of Macedonian Catholics. Unlike in other countries, it is hierarchically administered by the country’s bishop.

Macedonia has attempted to market itself to the Catholic world through not only the annual veneration of the relics of Ss Cyril & Methodius in Rome (jointly with Bulgaria), but also with inter-faith dialogue events and the creation of a House-Museum for Mother Teresa, who was born in Skopje.

While the latter has become a much-visited tourist attraction, it is not enough to bring great interest from the Vatican. Indeed, despite repeated invitations, we expect that Pope Francis will not visit Macedonia any time soon. This owes partly to the low number of Catholics in the country, and partly to the pope’s desire to not make problems for the new government of fellow-traveler on the Left, Alexis Tsipras in Greece. In fact, considering that the Vatican does not even recognize Macedonia by its constitutional name, it is unlikely that it will do anything that could be presented by Greek nationalists as disrespectful to their claims.

Thus, the Catholic Church will continue to take a medium interest in Macedonia, and will continue to monitor it mostly in regards to political stability and signs of political and religious involvement from outside countries, particularly Turkey.

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Kosovo and The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

Kosovo is one of the most important and sensitive countries for the Catholic Church in Europe. Since it remains unrecognized by many important world countries, the Holy See has chosen to preserve good relations with Serbia by not recognizing it- while at the same time moving vigorously to increase Catholic conversions and promote pro-Catholic leaders in a Muslim-majority country that has, since 2012, seen hundreds of locals volunteer for Middle Eastern jihads, a consequence of long-term poverty, low education and ideological and financial activity from foreign Islamists.The Vatican challenges in the Balkans Bolstering the Catholic Church in 2015 and beyond

Summary

Since the NATO bombing of 1999, the Holy See and its allies have moved to make inroads in this predominantly Muslim country of two million. The Vatican had supported Ibrahim Rugova and his LDK party in their attempt to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. Rugova would become one of the major pro-Catholic politicians in the early period of Kosovo’s post-Serbian existence.

The erection of a cathedral (named after Mother Teresa, the ethnic-Albanian nun with Kosovo roots) in Pristina deeply angered Muslims, as have other Church activities, even in the partially Catholic-populated the west of the country. The perception that the Church has given special privileges, favors and even wealth to pliant politicians and people who convert has sparked a heretofore unseen religious rift, with Islamic leaders and young Islamists continuing to criticize the Catholic Church in Kosovo.

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The Vatican’s efforts to convert Muslim Kosovars has been noticeable since at least 2008, when post-independent media PR campaigns began to highlight the phenomenon. The Holy See’s approach to Albanians here is part of a larger, cross-border initiative to consolidate Catholicism in northern Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro. As such, we expect a concerted and continuous increase in Vatican diplomatic, ecclesiastical and social outreach in Kosovo.

This is being enhanced by widespread charity activity and even the opening of Catholic schools, where a ‘new elite’ is being educated, in an attempt to influence the future orientation of the country. While it is too early to know whether the Holy See will prevail, it is all but certain that the increasing Catholic challenge will exacerbate lingering resentment among young Muslims, who have their own foreign backers and are similarly well-organized.

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Bulgaria and The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

Bulgaria has played a role in the Holy See’s Balkan diplomacy for over 1,200 years. In the time of the medieval Bulgarian Empire, papal legates came close – but ultimately did not succeed – in winning the allegiance of the country’s rulers. Their decision to embrace Byzantine Orthodoxy instead would have momentous consequences for future European geopolitics.The Vatican challenges in the Balkans Bolstering the Catholic Church in 2015 and beyond

However, as an EU and NATO member in the modern world today, Bulgaria is of less vital interest to the Vatican. Nevertheless, the Holy See does maintain good diplomatic relations with Sofia and uses its operations there to track developments elsewhere in the region.

Summary

Bulgaria resumed good relations with the Holy See with the fall of communism. The country has less than 50,000 Catholics, but has an important focus on Rome at least once a year, when the relics of Ss Cyril & Methodius (saints beloved by both Macedonia and Bulgaria) are venerated at the Vatican. This event draws top delegations from both neighboring states.

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Additionally, after nunciature reforms in recent years, Sofia’s nunciature also oversees Macedonia and thus is the prime communication channel between the Vatican and Macedonian leaders and clergy. It should be noted that the Sofia nunciature has a bit of prestige associated with it, owing to the 1930’s presence there of the recently consecrated Pope St. John XXIII.

Papal nuncios have taken an increasingly active role in Bulgarian politics and public discourse since 2013. We expect this trend to continue, as the country grapples with political instability and remains under pressure from both the EU and Russia. Some recent nuncio speeches have been directed both at Bulgaria’s small but active Catholic community, and at the larger political and ecclesiastic community there.

An unusual fact is that a number of Catholics in southeastern Bulgaria ultimately descend from forcibly-resettled Paulicians (a heretical Byzantine Christian sect that battled the empire in Armenian Anatolia in the Middle Byzantine period).

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Croatia and The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

Croatia has long been known as the bulwark of Balkan Catholicism. The Vatican challenges in the Balkans Bolstering the Catholic Church in 2015 and beyondIt is only here among regional countries that churchmen have very significant influence in state affairs and political life, though the fact that the Holy See has tried to rein in the kind of ultra-nationalism that blighted its image in WWII and in the 1990s wars will remain a sensitive issue as local political dynamics change.

Summary

The country’s predominantly Catholic make-up and ethnic homogeneity, as well as its generally Western culture, insulate it from many of the problems that ethnically- and religiously-mixed Balkan neighbors have. As such, Croatia’s current reality offers challenges to the Vatican that are very similar to those encountered in Western countries.

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Intriguingly, the new worldwide rift in the Catholic Church between the liberalizing strategy of Pope Francis and the residual conservatism of many bishops and priests has been witnessed in Croatia too. Conservative clerics actively encouraged a successful referendum banning gay marriage in December 2013, and grassroots pressure groups continue to call for a ban on abortion. The (albeit razor-thin) defeat of liberal President Ivo Josipovic in early 2015 to an HDZ candidate, and the expected return of the conservative party in upcoming elections, means that the traditional conservative Church power structures may be resurrected. This would lead to increasing tension between conservatives and Pope Francis.

Other challenges in Croatia that again resemble those encountered in Western countries include low mass attendance, a declining birth rate, and general secularization. Nevertheless, the country’s historic Catholic identity means that the Vatican sees it as a strategic pivot for execution of a larger Western-backed policy to strengthen Catholicism all the way down the Adriatic littoral.

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Bosnia-Hercegovina and The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

Bosnia-Hercegovina plays a pivotal role in the Vatican’s overall strategy when it comes to the Balkans.The Vatican challenges in the Balkans Bolstering the Catholic Church in 2015 and beyond This fact was reaffirmed in January 2015, when it was announce that Pope Francis would visit the country in June of 2015.

Summary

The ethnically-divided country’s Catholic Croat population has fallen by half since the wars of the 1990s, but the Holy See is very sensitive to its needs and holds its leaders, particularly Cardinal Vinko Puljic, in high esteem.

Because the Catholic Croats do not enjoy the entity-level autonomy of Bosnia’s Orthodox Serbs, they are much more vulnerable to the whims of Sarajevo and Church leaders in recent years have complained of persecution and threats from local Islamists.

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In addition to this, a decline in mass attendance, poverty and youth unemployment and a general population loss have been singled out by Catholic leaders here. The Vatican is expected to develop plans to tackle these issues, and at the same time has the important issue of the Marian shrine of Medjugorje to contend with.

The saga of Medjugorje is examined in detail in the book. While the Vatican has concluded its investigation into the site’s allegedly miraculous nature (as of January 2014) the promised result of the investigation has not been divulged. We expect that Pope Francis will give a moderate evaluation, stating that the decision to believe in Marian miracles here is one of personal choice. This is because Medjugorje since the 1980s has pumped untold millions into the local economy (and beyond); indeed, the site remains an important pilgrimage point and the Vatican is not going to do anything that would disturb this state of affairs.

All in all, it is clear that Bosnia is considered as being of vital importance to the Church regionally. This has been indicated by the fact that Pope Francis will follow in the footsteps of his predecessors by visiting, in June 2015, making it the third Balkan country within a nine-month period to be visited by the charismatic new pope.

This is particularly importance because the Church must compete for attention and influence with Turkey, which is sure to be very active in 2015- both the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre and the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, which Pope Francis has recognized despite Turkish anger. As such, Bosnia is a key country for not only Balkan but larger Vatican policy.

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