SARAJEVO: The head of the Serbian Orthodox Church has warned that Christianity was under threat in Sarajevo, as Muslim and Christian clerics argued during talks meant to promote reconciliation. “Christianity is very threatened here,” Patriarch Irinej said in an interview with Bosnian Serb public television during his visit to Sarajevo, adding the Serb population “today does not live in the city”.
He was in Sarajevo to take part in an annual gathering of the Rome-based Catholic lay community of Sant’Egidio focused on reconciliation in the once war-torn Balkans region. “The most tragic (thing) is that many who might want to, do not have the opportunity to return (to Sarajevo),” Irinej said on RTRS television, calling on Europe to “put right a great injustice”. Before the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia, the scene of some of the worst atrocities committed in Europe after World War II, Serbs were the second largest community in the Bosnian capital after Muslims.
A 1991 census recorded 259,000 Muslims and 157,000 Serbs among Sarajevo’s population of 527,000. The majority of Serbs left Sarajevo, under almost four years of siege by Bosnian Serb troops during the war, for safer areas of Bosnia’s Serb entity. After the war the capital became part of the Muslim-dominated Muslim Croat Federation. Today Muslims represent the overwhelming majority, between 80 and 90 percent, of the population in Sarajevo. Sarajevo’s Muslim mayor Alija Behmen said he would not enter into a debate with the Serb Orthodox leader.
Some 100,000 people were killed in Bosnia’s war that involved the country’s three main ethnic groups-Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats and Muslims. Relations between the three main communities remain deeply damaged 17 years on and a dispute between Bosnia’s mufti Mustafa Ceric and Orthodox Bishop Grigorije erupted during Tuesday’s reconciliation talks. Ceric insisted that reconciliation was possible only when the Serbs apologize for the crimes committed during the war, while the bishop accused him of preaching for an “Islamic state” for Bosnia’s Muslims. “The concept of reconciliation includes the concept of forgiveness. But… to forgive one’s sins, one must recognize committing them,” said Ceric.
Without reacting to Ceric’s remarks, Grigorije recounted a meeting the two clerics had recently with New York’s rabbi Arthur Schneier during which, he said, Ceric called for the establishment of a state for Bosnia’s Muslims. “You said there was no Judaism without a Hebrew state, so there is no Islam without an Islamic state,” Grigorije said. Ceric condemned his claims as “lies”, insisting such “accusations led to genocide on my people, as anti-Semitism had led to the Holocaust”, referring to the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica by Bosnian Serb troops. The Sant’Egidio community, which was founded in the Franciscan tradition in Rome in 1968, has frequently acted as a mediator in international conflicts.
A three-day interfaith meeting in Sarajevo gathered representatives of Muslim, Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist communities who jointly called for peace and “spiritual” connection of the peoples in the world. “We speak in one voice, despite our different confessions and our histories. The voices emerging from a deep religious tradition (…) unite in a joint call for peace,” said Andrea Riccardi, Italian minister for international cooperation and integration and one of the founders of Sant’Egidio. The final ceremony was attended by around 1,000 people who walked to Sarajevo’s central square led by their religious leaders after simultaneous prayers.- AFP