The leaders of the three main religious communities in Kosovo discuss joint issues.
By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 14/08/13
Uniting the ethnic groups in Kosovo could be assisted by inter-faith dialogue. [AFP]
Religious communities in Kosovo can play a significant role in bringing the country's interethnic fractions closer together, but more work needs to be done before religious dialogue is a main contributor to the reconciliation process, officials said.
"There is the potential to work and affirm the inter-faith dialogue, but challenges remain due to old prejudices," Kosovo Deputy Foreign Minister Petrit Selimi told SETimes.
"Unfortunately, frequently, messages through the media are given that hinder reconciliation, such as the proclamation as a treacherous act from the Serbian Church of the agreement between Serbia and Kosovo for normalisation. Therefore, there is potential to work and affirm inter-faith dialogue," Selimi said.
Clerics in the three main religious communities play an important role in this process, Selimi said, referring to Don Lush Gjergji, vicar general of the Catholic Church in Kosovo; Serbian Orthodox Church Bishop Teodosije of Raska-Prizren and Xhabir Hamiti from the Islamic Community.
"We are deeply aware that the painful events of the last decades and the atmosphere of animosity between the Serbian and Albanian communities in Kosovo, but we also believe that the power of forgiveness and reconciliation is stronger and we have to find the way out of the vicious circle of hatred and prejudices," Teodosije told participants at a May inter-faith conference in Peja.
For two years, the leaders have met on a regular basis to review joint issues.
"From that experience, councils and commissions of the three religious communities have been established, which continue the work started by the people in charge," Gjergji told SETimes.
Gjergji said the Catholic Church supports the reconciliation "with every means and possibility."
"Inter-ethnic and inter-religious co-existence is a consequence of that; there is no life without it, or as Mother Teresa would say, it is 'a culture of life and a civilisation of love'," he said.
"Islam sees as important the development of dialogue with the followers of the earlier heavenly books because of the presence of many common things, be it in the sphere of faith or in the meaning and development of life in general," he said.
Belul Beqaj, a political commentator and university professor in Kosovo, noted that the influence of the religious communities in Kosovo, and especially of the Islamic religion, has grown recently.
For the first time, Islamic parties, such as LISBA and the Islamic Movement for Unification, have joined the political landscape. And official requests to have Islamic education at schools have been received.
"The reasons for that are many, but one of the main ones is about the fact that there is a considerable fall of the values coming from the institutions, justice, trust in the institutions and leadership," Beqaj told SETimes.
Petrit Zogaj, the executive director of Fol, (Speak up) Movement, supports the idea of continuous dialogue as a tool for reconciliation.
"There have been recent attempts to create relations by organising some conferences and debates and this, I believe, plays an initial, acceptable role. Such communication should proceed," Zogaj told SETimes, adding that the mission of religion, by definition, is "to serve people and humanity."
Kosovo President Atifete Jahjaga said at the May conference that Kosovo's tradition of religious co-existence is shown through the history of the orthodox monasteries protected by Albanian clans against the Ottoman occupation, joint celebrations of Christian and Muslim feasts and religious rites and exchange of mutual visits in their feasts to show respect for each other's religion.
"Faith was an issue of belonging that has held the communities together," Jahjaga said.
She added that Kosovo leaders have approached the duty of rebuilding the connections between the communities with the view that "our co-existence is longer than the period of the disagreements between us, that peace and stability cannot be built with threats and pressures, that economic prosperity and values and ideals of democracy cannot come alive without the interruption of hostilities."
How can religious co-existence help reconciliation in the region flourish? Tell us in the comments.