The demolition of an Orthodox church built illegally on the property of a Bosnian Muslim woman began on June 5 in the village of Konjevic Polje in the Serbian-controlled entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The removal of the church, built on land belonging to Fata Orlovic after she was forced to flee during the 1992-1995 civil war, was ordered by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in October 2019.
Serbs in 1993 expelled all Muslim residents of Konjevic Polje to Srebrenica, a UN safe area that they overran two years later, killing about 8,000 Muslim men and boys in what is seen as Europe's worst atrocity since World War II. Two international courts declared the massacre as genocide.
Orlovic's husband was killed by Bosnian Serb forces together with 20 family members in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. Orlovic, who is now 78, and 13 other members of her family, managed to escape the massacre, only to find a large church built just meters from their front door when they returned.
The ECHR ruled that the church construction in 1998 was illegal and ordered authorities to ensure its removal.
Orlovic's daughter, Hurija Karic, told RFE/RL on June 5 that the demolition of the church was "a victory for her mother and the whole family and the whole of Bosnia-Herzegovina." The family has been fighting in the courts to have the church removed since 2000, when she returned to Konjevic Polje in eastern Bosnia, some 20 kilometers east of Srebrenica. The region has been controlled by Serbs since the end of the war, when Bosnia was split into two entities -- the Muslim-Croat Federation and a Serbian-led entity known as Republika Srpska. Each has its own government, and the two are linked by weak central institutions. The family’s situation highlights one of the many issues faced by hundreds of thousands of people who fled ethnic cleansing during the Bosnian war but now are looking to return to their homes. In 2019, while welcoming the decision by the ECHR, Orlovic told RFE/RL that "I am not against [the building of a church], but those who want it should build it on their own property."
Orlovic said the case should send a message to everyone that they should continue to "fight for what is yours, and let go of what is not."