BALKANS: Church Hands Out Shock Treatment

  • by Vesna Peric Zimonjic (belgrade)
  • Tuesday, June 30, 2009
  • Inter Press Service

The methods used at the Crna Reka monastery and its rehabilitation centre, some 300 kilometres southwest of capital Belgrade, had been secret for years until the weekly Vreme placed two cellphone videos made by a former patient on its website.

The videos show head priest Branislav Peranovic and an employee repeatedly beating patients with shovels, and kicking them inside a room decorated with icons. The patient who made videos told the weekly he witnessed at least 40 to 50 such beatings.

The authenticity of the videos was confirmed by Peranovic, who told Serbian media that the methods were 'used only occasionally.' He denied participating in them, although the videos show him severely beating up a young man.

The SPC has removed Peranovic as head priest at the Crna Reka monastery and appointed a successor. Bishop Artemije, in charge of the Rasko- Prizrenska diocese that the Crna Reka monastery belongs to, said he has ordered an inquiry into the activities at the centre.

'We will shut down the facility if the reports about beatings and violence persist,' Artemije said in a statement. The bishop said he had decided against shutting down the centre 'after numerous pleadings by the patients and their parents.'

Before these revelations, the public believed that dozens of similar church- run centres were bringing drug addicts back to normal life by traditional methods such as cultivating land, and a return to religion. The success of several centres was widely praised in Serbian media.

'This is one of the most shameful incidents for the Church, but also for Serbian society and the Serbian state,' analyst Mirko Djordjevic told IPS. 'The Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) should re-examine its attitude towards the so-called 'treatment' applied at several of its centres of this kind.'

A survey by the Strategic Marketing polling agency indicated that some 59.7 percent of Serbs believe such church centres should be closed down. The study of the sample of 1,400 suggested that trust in the church has fallen from 46 to 39 percent.

The Crna Reka centre is known to have treated more than a thousand young men over the past five years. It currently has some 200 patients. A patient has to pay between 150 and 400 euros (195-520 dollars) a month for treatment.

The methods used have sparked wide controversy over ways to treat drug addicts. Recent police statistics say that some 500,000 euros (650,000 dollars) a day are spent in Serbia on drugs. The police believe there are between 60,000 and 100,000 addicts, in a nation of 7.5 million.

'The battle against drug addiction is a long and demanding process, and anyone who promises easy rehabilitation is simply lying to patients and their family,' Jasna Daragan Saveljic, head of the Special Hospital for Addiction Illnesses told IPS.

'All state-run specialised hospitals and clinics in Serbia of this kind have adopted methods and standards recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for treatment of patients. There are no mysteries, secrets or special recipes for success.

'Treatment of addiction can be compared to the treatment of some grave chronic disease, with adaptation of specific treatment for each of the patients,' she added.

There are some 29 facilities at general hospitals all over Serbia for treatment of drug addicts, but the temptation of quick recovery has drawn many to private institutions (seven hospitals and 57 psychiatric centres), or alternative methods.

Former patients at Crna Reka centre and their parents are reluctant to speak. They insist on anonymity for many reasons - public castigation, missing the opportunity to join either hospitals or church centres in case they need help again, or simply out of shame.

The mother of 'D.J' (26) told IPS that her son 'was let down by all, except his immediate family. We didn't know where else to go - he's been in many hospitals, went to different treatments, such as psychotherapy, re- socialisation etc., with no positive results. That is when my husband and I thought the church-run centre might help; we saw it as the last option for D's way out.

'As for beatings - I don't know. He did not have that experience. But I'd rather see him beaten than find him dead from an overdose one morning.'

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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