Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Perspectives on Building Trust among Communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina: The Challenges and the Role of Faith Communities

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Perspectives on Building Trust among Communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina: The Challenges and the Role of Faith Communities

Article excerpt


In 2009 a small interfaith conference was organized in Bosnia by joint efforts of Bosnian religious communities and British Christian and Muslim activists. The purpose of the conference was to explore ways in which faith communities can help to sustain civil society and promote social cohesion in both countries. According to the report that was later issued, summarizing their observations and recommendations, the participants pinpointed three major obstacles that religious communities and their leaders are facing in a meaningful reconciliation process in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina. First, "the post-Dayton constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the way politics operates within that constitution, make it very difficult to put an end to the divisions and mistrust created by the war, and to create a shared vision of the future of BiH." (2) Second, on the basis of a number of formal and informal discussions with religious leaders, the participants found that "there is a real need for reconciliation after the war, but the constitution and the way politics operates do not encourage it." The report points particularly to "conflicting accounts of Srebrenica and conflicting views about the legitimacy of Republika Srpska" as major "obstacles to communal reconciliation and personal healing." Third, it reaffirms that "local faith leaders could do much to promote the growth of understanding and trust among Bosnjak, Serb, and Croat communities." However, as in the previous point, "the political culture of BiH does not allow faith community leaders a distinctive place in public debate."

These main points clearly indicate that the current political structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), along with the political elite, makes it more difficult for the country's faith leaders to engage actively in reconciliation and interfaith work. The aim of this essay is to examine further the relationship among the political, national, and religious aspects of Bosnian society in order to discover whether this relationship contributes to, encourages, and facilitates a meaningful reconciliation process. It therefore attempts to answer the following questions:

* What has been the level of interfaith collaboration among religious communities in the last few decades?

* Are the religious communities willing and capable of participating actively in the reconciliation process?

* What are the main obstacles facing religious communities in their interfaith and reconciliation work?

I. Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia was the most western province of the great Ottoman Empire for 400 years. As with other provinces in the Empire, it was administered through a strict feudal system and class order. The social order of the Ottoman Empire was regulated through laws that relied on Islamic understandings of society and state. While Islamic culture and civilization flourished in Bosnia at that time, other cultures--including Catholic, Orthodox, and Jewish--also existed in the country, alongside the Islamic.

At the Berlin Congress of 1878, BiH was conceded to Austro-Hungarian rule. "The occupation by Austria-Hungary changed the spiritual, economic, and political status of Bosnia and the Bosnjaks." (3) The arrival of the Austro-Hungarians signified a change from one civilization to another with a completely different culture and way of life. (4) The occupation was a "cultural shock" for its inhabitants--Croats (Catholics), Serbs (Orthodox), and Bosnjaks (Muslims) alike. The Bosnian Muslims, who had enjoyed a privileged status in the Ottoman Empire, were now in the most difficult position as their privileges gradually disappeared and their economic and religious status was endangered. (5)

The First World War only worsened the position of Bosnia. Immediately after the end of the war, Serbian paramilitary forces intruded into the various regions of Bosnia and committed multiple crimes. …

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