Chapter-1: Would You Kill a Serb?

April 17, 1996

By Indradyumna Swami

I begin this volume of Diary of a Traveling Preacher in Split, a former resort on the coast of Croatia. H.H. Guëagrahi Maharaja, Sri Prahlada dasa, and I are traveling throughout the region with a team of twenty-five international devotees, holding festivals in the major cities.

The people of Croatia have recently concluded a war with their Serbian neighbors, a war that engulfed the Balkans after the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in 1992. As we pass through the villages, one senses a relief among the people that the brutality of war is over. The thought always crosses my mind that war is a reaction to sinful activities, and only when these cease will it stop.

In a room conversation in Paris on June 11, 1974, Srila Prabhupada said that one cause of war is the mass slaughter of cows, one of the sinful activities mentioned in the Vedic scriptures: “We want to stop these killing houses [slaughterhouses]. It is very, very sinful. Therefore, in Europe, so many wars. Every ten years, fifteen years, there is a big war and wholesale slaughter of the whole humankind. They do not see it. The reaction must be there. You are killing innocent cows and animals. Nature will take revenge… They  will fight among themselves, Protestant and Catholic, Russia and France, and France and Germany. This is going on. Why? This is the nature’s law. Tit for tat. You have killed. Now you become killed.”

That war has ended in Croatia simply means that the previous stock of people’s sinful reactions has been depleted. But if in ignorance they continue to kill cows and abort children in the womb, war will come again. For this reason the Krsna-consciousness movement is important, for we are educating the people in this knowledge.

We have been successful in that endeavor on our present tour. In Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, more than 3,000 people came to our program a few days ago. During my lecture, I talked about the need for spiritual education in society, and touched on karma and how the problems we face are a result of our sinful acts in the past. As I spoke, I felt the potency of our philosophy, and I ended with the solution for this age of Kali: the congregational chanting of the holy names of the Lord.

Krsna inspired me, and at the conclusion of the lecture there was a loud and long-lasting applause. I reminded myself that it was not for me the audience was applauding but for the perfect, concise truth of Bhagavad-gita. A preacher must be careful not to take credit for his success in devotional service. If he does, it will be the beginning of his end. “Pride goeth before destruction and an haughty spirit before a fall.”

While I was taking prasadam with the guests at the Zagreb program, a well-dressed man approached me. He introduced himself as a United Nations peace worker from the United States and shook my hand. “You people are actually accomplishing what the UN has tried to do for fifty years,” he said. “You have my deepest respect.”

I thought how happy Srila Prabhupada would have been to hear such a comment.

This afternoon we went on Harinama in Split for the second day in a row. We chanted near Saint Domnius church, one of the oldest churches in the world. It is said that thousands of years ago it was a demigod temple and that the early Christians converted it into a church.

As Sri Prahlada played his accordion and thirty devotees chanted and danced to the holy names in happiness, we drew a crowd of onlookers. They simply stared at us. I noted the difference between the atmosphere here and in Poland, where our kirtans bring out an appreciative mood among the people instead of a mood affected by war.

In my talk I mentioned that devotees are vegetarian, and supported the fact by saying that Hare Krsnas practice ahimsa, or nonviolence, and wouldn’t hurt an ant.

Suddenly a man from the crowd shouted out. “Would you kill a

Serb?” he yelled.

It became tense as everyone looked at me for my answer. To say no would turn the crowd against us, as many had lost family members in the war. But to say yes would immediately be a contradiction and compromise what I had just said. So I did something I rarely do. I simply ignored the question and started to speak on another subject.

The tactic seemed to work until suddenly a powerfully built man in his twenties started screaming at me. We sometimes get drunks trying to shout us down during Harinama, but this young man seemed particularly angry. I concluded the talk quickly and told Sri Prahlada to start singing.

As he sang the man came forward and demanded we leave immediately. “Croatia is a Christian country,” he shouted, “and you are not welcome here!”

I looked at the crowd and saw that they were not prepared to defend us in any way. Suddenly, the man leapt up and tried to kick Sri Prahlada in the head, missing him by inches. Then with two more kicks he smashed the accordion, and was ready for more when two of our local brahmacaris, in normal dress, beat him back.

The man’s companion then pulled a knife and urged him on. Even angrier than before, the man moved forward again. At this point two members of the Friends of Krsna group confronted the pair and dragged them away from the crowd.

The incident polluted the atmosphere and agitated some of the other young men, many of whom had recently returned from the war. As we sang again, a few of them threw rocks and threatened to beat us. Everywhere I looked I saw faces full of hate and envy. This seemed beyond anything we could be responsible for, explainable only by the fact that the men were still in the mood of war.

We left as fast as we could, with the men following us, shouting obscenities. I led the chanting of the Nrsimha prayers, and the Lord protected us until we reached our vehicles. We didn’t have enough cars because some devotees had come by bus, so first I sent the matajis, then the smaller men, and finally I boarded the bus with a few strong brahmacaris.

Preaching is not always easy, and one must be prepared for the worst in some situations. The most important thing is to remember the Lord and depend on His mercy.