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World: Inspiring Examples Abound On International Tolerance Day

This story is one of many featured on RFE/RL's new Religion And Tolerance --> /specials/religion/ webpage, which highlights examples of religious tolerance in our broadcast region. Visit for insight into the roles of Islam and Orthodoxy, features on religious topics, an interactive map of RFE/RL's broadcast region, biographies of leading religious figures, and profiles of religious minorities.

While news headlines might give the impression that tolerance is in short supply these days, many examples of people of different backgrounds showing respect and appreciation for each other can be found. In honor of such efforts, UNESCO sets aside 16 November each year as International Day for Tolerance. The special day is to remind people that building tolerance is often a matter of community and individual work, and not just the responsibility of governments.

Prague, 15 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The Balkans and the Middle East are two regions of the world scarred by intercommunity violence, but both are also areas where remarkable people are overcoming their differences in a spirit of tolerance.

The Pontanima Choir from Sarajevo is one example. It was formed less than a year after the end of the Bosnian war, and invited people of all faiths to join its ranks.

The choir's name means "spiritual bridge," and its aim is to use music to heal ethnic and religious divisions.

In March, the Pontanima singers won an award from the U.S.-based foundation Search for Common Ground in recognition of their efforts. The internationally supported foundation tries to promote innovative ways to end conflicts and build peace.

In March, Macedonians said farewell to another of this year's personalities who received an award from Search for Common Ground -- Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski, who was killed in a plane crash in dense fog in southern Bosnia in late February.

Trajkovski was highly regarded both at home and abroad as a man of peace and tolerance in a region torn apart by years of bloody wars. In 2001, he helped negotiate an end to an ethnic Albanian insurgency that brought his country to the brink of civil war.

"An extraordinary person, he outlined the path we need to follow," one Macedonian said of Trajkovski in comments earlier this year.

"His priority was to bring Macedonia's [ethnic communities] closer," said another Macedonian man.

This year also saw Israelis and Arabs using music, sport, and exploration to promote cooperation and mutual understanding in their region.

One example can be found in Ofer Golany, a Jewish pacifist songwriter who performs with Arab Christian musicians to promote peace.

In another, a group of Israelis and Palestinians undertook a sea trip to Antarctica in January. The operation -- dubbed "Breaking the Ice" -- saw the team sail on rough seas, walk for days across ice, and scale a previously unclimbed mountain -- all to show how Israelis and Palestinians can live and work together in peace.

In another realm, the Israeli football club Bnei Sakhnin, composed of both Arab and Jewish players, brought cheers when it qualified for the UEFA Cup this summer.

Elsewhere, Kazakhstan also gave an example of inter-religious tolerance this year.

A Lutheran Christian church in Astana faced destruction to make way for new roads and apartments. Murtaza Bulutay, a Kazakh Islamic theologian, was among those who objected to the plan.

"It has never been in Islam's history that prayer buildings and churches of other religions were ever destroyed or damaged," Bulutay said. "Our religion gives the whole [of] human-kind freedom of faith. Our laws are the same. So, I think, if there is a community lawfully registered and existing without damaging our laws, without threatening Kazakhstan's sovereignty and its territorial safety, then it would not be right to destroy their preaching house. To destroy [the church] is against common international laws, our laws, our culture, our traditions and our religion."

And in central Europe, two television projects aimed to promote greater tolerance toward ethnic minorities.

In the Czech Republic, Czech Television has just begun broadcasting "Josef a Ly," a series about the friendship between a Czech boy and a Vietnamese girl.

And in Slovakia, plans are afoot for what could be Europe's first Romany soap opera, "Gypsies Come To Town."

The writer of the Slovak television program, Oleg Makara, said he wants to challenge widespread prejudices that see Roma either as thieves or a welfare burden.

And he said he wants to give Roma -- one of Europe's most disadvantaged ethnic groups -- a positive role model as well.