Balkan na­tion­al­ists block co­ex­is­tence, say re­li­gious lead­ers

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

SARAJEVO: Bos­nia’s re­li­gious lead­ers say politi­cians are stand­ing in the way of peace­ful co­ex­is­tence be­tween Mus­lim, Jewish and Chris­tian com­mu­ni­ties try­ing to for­give and for­get af­ter the atroc­i­ties of a dev­as­tat­ing 1990s war.

Hun­dreds of churches, mosques and syn­a­gogues bear wit­ness to more than five cen­turies of Bos­nia’s mul­ti­faith past, and the cap­i­tal Sarajevo is known lo­cally as a “small Jerusalem” with its main eth­nic groups – Ortho­dox Serbs, Catholic Croats and Mus­lim Bos­ni­aks – all wor­ship­ping within me­tres of each other.

But Mufti Hu­sein Kava­zovic, head of the Is­lamic com­mu­nity in Bos­nia, says peo­ple of faith can­not achieve peace alone.

“It is up to po­lit­i­cal elites to do more.

“For a start, it would be good that they stop their ide­o­log­i­cal ma­nip­u­la­tion of re­li­gion for their own po­lit­i­cal goals.

“It is up to us, of course, not to al­low them to do that,” he said.

Even though na­tion­al­ists from all three eth­nic groups still in­sist on ex­clu­siv­ity for their own groups, re­li­gious lead­ers are keen to heal rifts af­ter the 1992-1995 war in which about 100 000 civil­ians were killed and mil­lions dis­placed.

Friar Zeljko Br­kic at Kral­jeva Sut­jeska – among the old­est Fran­cis­can monas­ter­ies in Bos­nia and dat­ing back to 1385 – said: “Bos­nia can only sur­vive as a multi-eth­nic state, no mat­ter how much politi­cians try to con­vince us that this is not pos­si­ble.”

His Ortho­dox, Jewish and Mus­lim peers agree.

“It is very im­por­tant that we have here dif­fer­ent cul­tures and re­li­gions, and that based on that we can eas­ily build and ver­ify our own iden­ti­ties,” said Nek­tar­ije, a dea­con at the Ortho­dox monastery Zit­o­mis­lici in what is now the Catholic Croat-dom­i­nated south­ern part of the coun­try.

Jakob Finci, the pres­i­dent of the Jewish com­mu­nity in Bos­nia, gives Sarajevo as an ex­am­ple of close co-op­er­a­tion, cit­ing Mus­lims there help­ing Jews to hide dur­ing War World II and Jews pro­vid­ing food for peo­ple of all faiths in the three-year siege by Bos­nian Serb forces.

“Sarajevo is the best proof that liv­ing to­gether is pos­si­ble and that it rep­re­sents the only way of life for us,” he said.

This week, about 120 lead­ers from 27 coun­tries ar­rived in Sarajevo to take part in a meet­ing of the youth­led Mus­lim Jewish Con­fer­ence, founded by Ilja Sichrovski in Vi­enna in 2010.

“We feel at home here,” Sichrovski said.

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

The Sarajevo Ashke­nazi Sy­n­a­gogue was built in 1902. Re­li­gious lead­ers in the city seek an end to the na­tion­al­ist ma­nip­u­la­tion of re­li­gion.

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