Magazine article The Christian Century

Faith under Pressure in Bosnia

Magazine article The Christian Century

Faith under Pressure in Bosnia

Article excerpt

MUSLIM AND Roman Catholic leaders from Banja Luka in Bosnia have praised "the many Serbs" who tried to help Muslims and Croats during successive waves of ethnic cleansing. But the religious leaders also maintained that representatives of the local Orthodox church had failed to react to atrocities perpetrated in the city during the Bosnian war.

Banja Luka was a key administrative and military base of the self-declared Republika Srpska (Bosnian Serb Republic) after the start of the Bosnian war in 1992. The city is slated to remain in Serb control under the provisions of last November's Dayton peace accord.

According to the UN's former human rights envoy, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, who was refused access to Banja Luka during seven Balkan missions, Muslims and Catholics were targets of a "terror campaign" of retaliation after the Croatian army took control of Western Slavonia in May 1995. In an interview with Poland's Gazeta Wyborcza daily newspaper February 2, Effendi Halidovic, the Muslim chief imam of Banja Luka, said the city's 16 mosques had all been blown up, leaving only a small room for daily Muslim prayers. The imam told the newspaper that "a very large group of Serbs" would have preferred a change of leadership. "And even in the government there are honest people," he added. "Although many of those who wanted to protect us either couldn't or lacked the courage, there were also many Serbs who secretly helped Muslims."

The imam noted he had held prayers and signed joint appeals with Serbian Orthodox representatives when the Bosnian war started in 1992. "But later, when the mosques were smashed and Muslims killed, none of the church hierarchy even sent their condolences," he said, adding that he had remained in Banja Luka throughout the war while Muslim inhabitants were being expelled. He would now try to rebuild his community as refugees returned, he said.

In a separate interview with Gazeta Wyborcza, Franjo Komarica, the Roman Catholic bishop of Banja Luka, stated that all but 5,000 of the city's 80,000 Catholic inhabitants had been expelled by the Serb occupiers and had not returned. "I am certain we have been witnesses to a struggle between good and evil," the bishop commented. "But just as the spirit of evil was ever present, so was the spirit of good."

Bishop Komarica, who was released from house arrest after the Dayton accord, said he had also tried to maintain contact with Banja Luka's Serbian orthodox leader, Metropolitan jefrem. …

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