Balkan religious leaders vow to fight hatred

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Date: Mon, 12 Jul 1999 10:28:25 +0300 (EET DST)
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Subject: Balkan religious leaders vow to fight hatred

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Balkan religious leaders vow to fight hatred

Balkan religious leaders vow to use their voice to fight hatred
By Ruth E. Gruber
BUDAPEST, July 7 (JTA) -- Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders from
the former Yugoslavia and other Balkan countries have set up a
permanent interreligious committee to instill reconstruction efforts
in the war-torn region with a spiritual dimension.
Following a one-day meeting here on Tuesday, they stressed that
education was needed to prevent "religious and cultural hostility."
Citing "the power of religious leaders through the 'word' spread to
the faithful," they called upon "the integrity of the religious
leaders throughout the region to speak with courage to their fellow
believers, to turn the grief and feeling of loss into a catalyst which
will heal what has been hurt and build what has been destroyed."
The Budapest meeting - the first such conference since the Kosovo
conflict - was sponsored by the European Jewish Congress, the
Conference of European Rabbis and the European Council of Synagogue

"We hope that the steering committee will convene in September," said
EJC Secretary-General Serge Cwajgenbaum. "We hope that this endeavor
will help reinforce the religious leadership to counter extremist
The meeting brought together leaders from Catholic, Eastern Orthodox
and Protestant churches, as well as religious and lay leaders of
Muslim and Jewish communities, from Yugoslavia, Bosnia-Herzegovina,
Croatia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania. Representatives
from several other European states also attended.
Participants included the president of the Islamic community in
Macedonia, the Roman Catholic vicar-general of Sarajevo, Serbian
Orthodox bishops and the rabbi of Zagreb, Croatia.
"This was one of a series of meetings not just of religious leaders,
but of non-governmental organizations and businesses trying to explore
the possibility of cooperation in southeastern Europe," Jakob Finci,
president of the Jewish community in Bosnia-Herzegovina, told JTA.
"We Jews are trying to play the role of honest broker," he said.
"We're the only ones without territorial or power claims. Having been
victims so many times in our history, we know how difficult and
important it is to forgive and to create normal relations, especially
in a region as fragile as the Balkans."
The past decade of nationalist conflict in the former Yugoslavia has
had strong religious overtones.

Religious faith is deeply associated with national or ethnic identity.
Serbs follow the Serbian Orthodox faith, Croats are Roman Catholic,
Kosovars are mainly Muslim - and the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina are
divided among Serbs, Croats and Muslims.
Religious shrines and places of worship, including monasteries,
mosques and churches, have been deliberately targeted by warring
Hamad Mustapha, secretary of the faculty of Islamic Studies in Skopje,
Macedonia, told JTA that political tensions surfaced during the
meeting but "we found common language that we should start to know
each other better and work more for peace and tolerance. Our region
needs this obligation more than ever before."
The object of Tuesday's meeting was to discuss the role and
responsibility of religious leaders in promoting dialogue and
cooperation against this poisoned background.
The participants agreed that religious groups should speak out against
violence aimed at other religious groups and should support victims of
such aggression.
"Religious communities in the Balkans have a very great influence, not
only among believers, but in the larger sense of society," said Irinej
Bulovic, the Serbian Orthodox bishop of Backa. But, he added, "There
has been a misuse of religious feelings."
(c Jewish Telegraphic Agency Inc.)

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