[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 27 August 2007, 06:57 GMT 07:57 UK
Bosnian widow in church battle
A Bosnian Muslim widow's battle to remove a Serbian Orthodox church from her land is nearing its end. The BBC's Nicholas Walton visited Fata Orlovic in her village to find out more.

Fata Orlovic next to the church on her front yard, August 2007
Fata Orlovic was forced from her home during the war in the 1990s
Fata Orlovic's house is easy to find in the village of Konjevic Polje. It is the one with a large Serbian Orthodox church built in its front garden.

Fata herself is an irrepressible ball of energy, greeting me as she has greeted other journalists, with a long fusillade of invective about the building.

"I want them to remove the church and I want soil back on this plot of land," she tells me, furiously motioning towards what would have been her front garden.

"They can give me money and I'll do it myself," she explains, a smile breaking out across her wrinkled features.

I do not doubt that she would set about dismantling the church, brick by brick, were she given the go-ahead.

Tenacious fight

Like many Muslims in the hills of eastern Bosnia, she was ethnically cleansed from the village during the war in the early 1990s.

Her husband was killed and she was made a refugee by ethnic Serb military aggression.

When she returned to Konjevic Polje in 2000, she was outraged to find the church had been built on her land.

This was a common feature of the brutal ethnic cleansing that took place during the Bosnian war. Whole ethnic groups - Muslim, Croat and Serb - were forced from their homes, and their religious symbols were destroyed.

In their place, new buildings like the church in Konjevic Polje were erected, to emphasise that a new ethnic and religious group now owned the land.

At the time, Serb refugees from fighting in central Bosnia lived in the village, but now the original Muslim villagers have returned.

Since coming back, Fata Orlovic has fought tenaciously to have the church removed from her garden.

She encountered bureaucratic resistance and even intimidation, but stood her ground.

Empty church

For members of the powerful international community in Bosnia, Fata Orlovic's fight against the church is seen as a test case.

Serbian Orthodox church in Fata Orlovic's front yard - August 2007
The church is now empty awaiting relocation
"If she doesn't get the church off her land you will never have a society that is governed by the rule of law," explains James Rodehaver, human rights director for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Sarajevo.

"It would mean a constant process of dealing with political crises and changes of political will. The legacy of the war would never be resolved."

Now, with the church standing empty after her stubborn campaign, it looks like progress is being made.

Only the more nationalist Serbs still oppose Fata, and the government of the Bosnian Serb half of the country has said it will help find a solution.

The next stage will be to find a way to dismantle the church and move it elsewhere. The process will cost thousands of dollars, and Fata is waiting to hear when the work will begin.

"It doesn't bother me that it's a church," Fata explains. "It's where they worship and that is fine. I respect churches as much as mosques.

"But if they want a church they should just put it on their own land instead of mine. I respect all nations and religions, but I can't respect people building on my land."

Fata smiles at me again. She knows that her long battle is almost over, and that her front garden will soon be full of corn and vegetables. Fata's land will once again be hers.

Country profile: Bosnia-Hercegovina
31 Jul 07 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Bosnia-Hercegovina
27 Jul 07 |  Country profiles

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific