Geelong residents have shared their hurt and outrage after anti-Serbian graffiti was spray-painted on the walls of a Geelong church.
Churchgoers were greeted by a swastika and other offensive slurs when they arrived at the Serbian Orthodox Church in Geelong on Sunday.
Churchgoer Lily Stefanovic said her initial response to the graffiti was despair.
“I happened to be there and watch some of the elderly walk up, and they just stood with their hands against their hearts in shock,” Ms Stefanovic said.
“It was like no one spoke, no one said anything.”
The messages were scrawled on the outside walls of the church and were written in Serbo-Croatian, a southern Slavic language spoken in Serbia, Croatia, and elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia.
One inscription "Srbe na vrbe" directly translates to "Serbs on willows", a call for the hanging of Serbians on willow trees.
This message, and other neo-nazi symbols spray-painted on the building, pointed to atrocities carried out against Serbian populations during World War II.
The timing is particularly upsetting for members of the church who are preparing for Patriarch Irinej Gavrilovic, their equivalent of the Pope, to visit in coming weeks.
When Priest Petar Bozic saw the graffiti he immediately notified police. He is urging Serbian communities not to retaliate.
“There are certainly some young delinquents who are perhaps a little worse behaved in this crazy time,” he said.
"Our job is to forgive and to move on, to spread peace, love and harmony.”
Member of the Geelong Serbian community Tommy Nestorovic said the graffiti is not symptomatic of a divide between members of Serbian and Croatian communities in the region.
"We play soccer together on a Wednesday night. We are friendly, and this won't change that," Mr Nestorovic said.
Geelong residents took to Facebook to express their disappointment over the graffiti.
“This has no place in our community, our people came to this country for a better life to escape this kind of persecution and this is a great example of how some people are still being brought up with the racist views of their elders and to embrace neo-nazi ideals," Nikola Arsenjevic wrote in response to a post by the Geelong Advertiser reporting the incident.
Adam Smith summed up his feelings by writing: “That is just plain disgusting.”
The matter is being investigated by police.