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South Slavic: July 15, 2004


15 July 2004, Volume 6, Number 23

RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE: PEOPLE OF FAITH DO NOT DESTROY MOSQUES AND CHURCHES

Part I.

A program of Radio Most (Bridge) by RFE/RL's Omer Karabeg with Grigorije Duric, Serbian Orthodox bishop of Zahumlje, Herzegovina, and Primorje from Trebinje; and Seid Effendi Smajkic, mufti of Mostar

RFE/RL: How do you explain the destruction of churches, mosques, and other places of worship during the recent war, which never happened before to such an extent in the history of the region?

Grigorije Duric: The commanders of the three armies all served as officers under Tito and hated religious faith and everything connected with it.

Not long before the war, I was doing my military service in Croatia. I heard an officer talking openly about religion with so much hatred, saying that the solution for all problems would be to destroy all the churches and mosques.

What he said I later saw borne out. You know, those churches, monasteries, and mosques could not have been destroyed by ordinary people. It had to be organized; someone had to order them to do it.

The army was the only one with the power to do it. Destroying houses of God, they actually wanted to destroy other people, following the logic that one's identity can be bolstered by the destruction of another person's identity.

Churches and mosques represent the very heart of one's identity. If I want to destroy someone's church, monastery, or mosque, I am actually tearing out his heart or his roots, and wiping him out.

RFE/RL: But many of those involved in the destruction invoked the name of the church.

Duric: No, they did not. Certainly not here. For instance, in Trebinje a mosque was destroyed, and I know that the then Bishop Atanasije was outraged and shocked. The mosque was destroyed while we were celebrating mass in the Tvrdos monastery.

Those who destroyed the mosque did not belong to the church. They were disrespectful towards our mass, as well as to the other religion. They did not act in the name of the church or out of love for their own people; they did it in the name of the hatred for others.

Seid Effendi Smajkic: The churches and mosques shared the fate of those who identified with them. If there was a political and military plan to eliminate a part of the population in some part of the country, the most cruel means were used to achieve it: expulsion, torture, and killings.

Mosques and churches were destroyed just like people belonging to another religion, since they did not fit into plans for an ethnically pure region.

RFE/RL: You think that the aim of the destruction was to eliminate those not belonging to the nation or religion claiming a certain territory?

Smajkic: That is quite true. By the way, I am convinced that a believer cannot do such a thing. A real believer cannot destroy, desecrate, or in any other way violate a house of God.

However, I could see during the war, here, in Mostar, people who were certainly not believers, but were decked out with religious symbols. It was a reprehensible way of expressing one's religious affiliation, thinking that by destroying others' places of worship, one is pleasing God.

RFE/RL: Why is it taking so long to rebuild the mosques? As far as I know, very few of them have actually been rebuilt in the Republika Srpska.

Let me just remind you how strong the resistance was against laying the cornerstone for the reconstruction of the Ferhadija Mosque in Banja Luka. Or let us recall the unrest in Trebinje during the laying of the cornerstone for the local mosque. How do you explain it?

Duric: My explanation is that it reflects a situation brought about by the war. Blood has been shed, and that has led to hatred and a sense of injury. A wound can be treated with both strong and mild medicine. I am an advocate of the mild treatment.

As you might know, the mosques in Trebinje are being rebuilt without any problems. Thank God for that. It makes me so happy.

But the reconstruction of the Orthodox cathedral in Mostar has not started yet. I am not saying that the mufti or his believers are fighting it, or even the politicians. What I am talking about is a feeling of powerlessness.

Let me put it this way: why rebuild the Orthodox cathedral in Mostar if the Serbs have not returned to their homes there? Instead of some 25,000-30,000 Serbs before the war, there are only 4,000-5,000 left, most of them jobless. There is no normal life for them there.

It would create a false image of the situation in Mostar if the church were rebuilt while people failed to rebuild their lives. I think that the two things should go hand in hand.

For instance, as I have just said, the mosque in Trebinje is being rebuilt, but the Muslims are returning only very slowly, which is a painful fact. The point is: what is a church good for if there are no believers? What is a mosque good for if there are no believers?

My house in Mostar was destroyed, to the disgrace of the city and state. I am a bishop, but my house was destroyed. I want to have it rebuilt but am having a lot of trouble getting it done. If the state does not want me to live there...people should be aware of it.

Smajkic: I agree that we should avoid being euphoric about the reconstruction of churches and mosques, but I certainly think that they should be rebuilt.

Let us agree first that every town should have a religious symbol. For instance, there were some 10 mosques in and around Trebinje, and they were all destroyed.

People living in exile in Scandinavia told me how they witnessed with their own eyes the destruction of the very last mosque. It made them realize that they cannot live in Trebinje anymore.

A mosque is being built in Trebinje, which means that there is good will there. If religious symbols are revived in the places from which people had been previously expelled, that will be a positive sign.

Two mosques were rebuilt in Gacko. It means so much, at least for the few [Muslims] that have returned. It will certainly encourage more returns and the restoration of confidence.

RFE/RL: What about the reconstruction of the Orthodox cathedral in Mostar?

Smajkic: As far as the reconstruction of the Orthodox cathedral is concerned, neither the authorities, nor the Islamic Community with its believers are against it.

As far as I am concerned, I expressed my support for the reconstruction of the Orthodox cathedral and also participated in some fund-raising activities for that purpose.

I think that the skyline of Mostar needs a monumental Orthodox cathedral. There is a plan to construct three major religious buildings in Mostar -- one for each of the three main faiths there -- but we are having trouble raising money.

But let me just comment on what Bishop Duric has just said about the number of the Orthodox believers in Mostar. It is true that there are only several thousand Orthodox believers in Mostar.

However, let us be frank. The Orthodox people were not expelled by the Muslims, and I do not know whether they were expelled by the Catholics. Certain [Bosnian Serb] political forces, however, had a plan, and persuading the Serbs to leave Mostar and go elsewhere was part of it.

In a way, the Serbian people has paid the price for obeying its political leadership, and we can see now to what extent the leadership's projects were damaging not only to the others, but also to the Serbs themselves.

Duric: I think that the Serbs were deceived. It seems to me that the respected mufti wanted to say that they were deceived.

Smajkic: Exactly.

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