22 July 2004, Volume 6, Number 24
RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE: PEOPLE OF FAITH DO NOT DESTROY MOSQUES AND CHURCHES.
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.
Grigorije Duric: Many [Serbs] left their homes thinking that they would return in a couple of days. This is how our priests left, too. Otherwise, they would have never left their churches; they would have rather stayed there to be burned [with the building].
It was a kind of fear that made them go. The mufti says that they were not forced to leave by the Muslims. I might reply that the Muslims and Catholics together made them leave.
However, it is true that people were prompted to leave by the many wild rumors making the rounds at the time. But there was a real danger, too.
I know a well-respected doctor who had no intention whatsoever to leave Mostar. He saw through the rumors and did not believe the tales spun by the politicians, even the Serbian ones. However, when a tanker exploded in Mostar, he changed his mind.
What I am trying to say is that there were stupid things on all sides, but the most stupid thing of all is to be loyal to mad people. Do you remember how stupid it was to make the Serbs leave Sarajevo after the Dayton peace talks? Whose idea was it?
Some 200,000 Serbs left Sarajevo. In essence, it means that Sarajevo, the heart of this country, its capital city, is now monoethnic. Some 3 or 4 percent of its population are Serbs or Croats, the rest are Muslims.
The Serbs used to be a significant part of the prewar population in both Sarajevo and Mostar, and, God willing, they will return and be so again.
We will return to Mostar, in peace and with dignity. The Serbs were very well accepted in Mostar. There were so many of them among the respected businessmen and men of culture, whose legacies cannot be erased.
The Serbs have a tendency to move toward the Neretva River, and that cannot be stopped. However, this movement should develop naturally, organically. They should be accepted in a natural, civilized, tolerant way [by the Croats and Muslims]. Whether 5,000 or 50,000 Serbs will return is not important for me right now. What really matters is the quality of their lives.
Seid Effendi Smajkic: I must say that I am sincerely happy to hear the bishop's words. As much as I can, I will support their return. The [Croats and Muslims] can scarcely solve their problems in this inferno of Mostar without the third neighbor who used to form our community. I think that it would help stabilize Mostar and the region [if the Serbs would return].
RFE/RL: My impression is that the religious communities spoke louder in condemning the crimes committed by members of other religions than those committed by their own believers. What do you think?
Smajkic: We...must tell nothing but the truth. Nothing should be kept secret. If we try to do so, sooner or later we will have to face the truth, and it might be even worse then.
Duric: As far as I am concerned, I do not recall that I have ever condemned a crime committed by the other side. It was never my job to do that. I always condemned our side's crimes, because that is exactly what hurts me the most, the crimes committed by the people I love so much, the Serbs.
Let me give you an example from the war, which made a strong impression on me. A young man in Trebinje lost his life trying to protect a [Muslim] bullied by a group of drunken hooligans. It was such a tragedy for his family and all of us. However, it made us all feel so proud, because he was the one who displayed true human qualities. His name was Srdjan Aleksic.
Two other crimes took place in Trebinje, and both were robberies. A [Muslim] family was killed, two men and a woman. I heard that their children, very young children, were in Gomiljani. It is a village between Trebinje and the Tvrdos monastery. I was a priest at the time, and my bishop gave me some food and money to bring to those children, to show them love, because they were deeply hurt.
I arrived there, I was in their yard. Try to imagine how shocked those people were to see me there, and how difficult it was for me to go. An old woman, mother of the slain family, was crying. I took a 4-year-old boy on my knee and I thought: "How can this child ever be a friend? He will always be an enemy, since one morning he got out of his bed and stepped into his parents' blood."
It was one of the saddest events of my life. But the fact that he agreed to sit on my knee showed me that the innocence of a child has no boundaries.... I just wanted my heart to tell to his heart that I am a Serb who loves him, and that I am not the same as those who killed his father.
He must now be a boy growing up in sadness. At the time he asked me why they hurt his parents. He thought that they were in a hospital; that is what he was told. I could not say a word, I did not know what to say, my heart was so pained.
And he told me: "It was such a mess; they must have been looking for money." That was the right answer for me. Probably his grandmother told him so. I remember it so vividly, she was just crying and asking, "What had they done wrong"?
I hadn't the strength to say a single word; I just sat there, silently suffering with them. And, let us be frank, there were similar events on every side. Those are the things that provoke greater evil.
Who knows what sort of maniacs do such things; maybe hardened prisoners. But let me say once again, I am not competent to talk about other nations' crimes. I can only talk about the crimes committed by those with the same name as mine: the Serbs. Some might call them Orthodox, but I would not.
RFE/RL: And, finally, after all the traumatic experiences, what needs to be done in order to reestablish religious tolerance and the traditional respect for each other's religions? I remember that, when I was a child, the Muslims used to visit their Orthodox and Catholic friends for Christmas and Easter, and the Christians were guests in Muslim homes during Bajram. Everybody's religion was respected, and nobody would have dared break that rule.
Smajkic: We know what it was like before, how we all participated in the construction of both churches and mosques, how we all attended their opening ceremonies. Religious holidays were celebrated by all of us.
But then other forces took over from the forces of good. Now the forces of good should reassert themselves and reaffirm true religious faith, which would bring about the easing of tensions and promote the return to normality that we all need so much.
Duric: I can confirm that there were people who lived the way you just described. The best friend of my grandfather Petar was Osman, while my grandmother's best friend was Jela, a Croat. Life like that really existed.
But in order to make it exist again, we need people who have respect for others. Today it has become so hard, especially when it involves people of other religions. We must now teach people how to love in the wake of a moral collapse. We must teach love for one's fellow man to whoever is willing to listen.