Kosova Takes a Lesson from Bosnia in Interfaith Relations [Excerpted]
by Jonathan Luxmoore
Leaders of Kosova's Muslim, Orthodox and Roman Catholic communities have set up a joint council to promote democracy and human rights, modeled on an inter-religious body in Bosnia-Herzegovina."With one united voice, we again strongly condemn all acts of violence and all violations of basic human rights," three religious leaders said in a declaration from Kosova's capital, Prishtina.
The declaration was signed by Kosova's Muslim Mufti, Rexhep Boja, by the Serbian Orthodox Bishop of Raška-Prizren, Artemije Radosavljević, and by the head of Kosova's Roman Catholic community, Bishop Mark Sopi.
The Inter-Religious Council of Kosova has been set up at a crucial moment in relations between the main faith communities of the region...
The decision to establish the council was taken after a visit to Kosova this month by an interfaith delegation from Bosnia, whose members explained the advantages of taking "concrete steps together."
"Together we support the building of strong local democratic institutions that will continue to ensure security, peace and well-being for all," the statement continued. "We look to the international community to provide necessary support for the inhabitants of Kosova to achieve this goal."
The declaration was issued on April 13, the final day of the Bosnian delegation's tour, which included visits to Prishtina, Peja and Prizren, as well as to the Orthodox monasteries of Deçan and Graçanicë.
Relations between Muslim, Orthodox and Roman Catholic leaders have been tense throughout the Balkans since the break-up of Yugoslavia at the beginning of the 1990s. However, in various regions steps have been taken to improve ties within the last three years.
Bosnia's inter-religious council was set up in 1997, and a similar committee incorporating all churches and faiths has been functioning in Croatia since March 1998...
Reacting to the news of the inter-religious council in Kosova, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Belgrade, Franc Perko, described it as an "important initiative." But he pointed out that the event had been "totally ignored" by pro-government newspapers in Serbia.
"That the three communities—Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic—have come together is clearly a good development since it will extend the communion and collaboration already underway in Bosnia," the archbishop told Ecumenical News International.
"But it's important to remember that religious communities have only a limited influence, and can do little in practice to bring about peace."A Muslim leader, Imam Muhammed Spahić, welcomed the council's formation as evidence of conciliatory attitudes within the Serbian Orthodox Church.
But he added: "Any initiative couched in such words is to be commended, but what counts is the practical intentions behind them."
In their declaration, the Kosova leaders promised "more active co-operation" in building a "stronger future" for Kosova's 2.2 million inhabitants, 90 percent of whom are ethnic Albanians.
"We appeal to the international community to work harder on resolving the situation of all the prisoners, missing and abducted persons whose unknown fate remains one of the deepest wounds of our recent tragic conflicts," the declaration continued."We commit ourselves to work together to rebuild the many destroyed and damaged religious buildings in Kosova, and we appeal to our friends and partners in various international agencies to assist us with the necessary resources to accomplish this essential task."The religious leaders said the new council would discuss ways to "develop our own structures and means of co-operation," adding that they had received "support and assistance" from the World Conference on Religion and Peace (WCRP) on how to help improve relations.
[Note: Stephen Schwartz, later to become CIP Executive Director, participated in the delegation that went from Bosnia-Hercegovina to Kosova to pursue this project.]