Fabric Of The Balkan War Reli Essay

Fabric Of The Balkan War: Reli Essay, Research Paper

Fabric of the Balkan War: Religious Conflict

In America’s diverse culture, the notion of a civil war charged with religious conflict is hard to grasp. But religious identity is present constantly in the antagonisms that have fragmented the Balkans for centuries — setting neighbor against neighbor, Muslims against Orthodox Christians, and Orthodox Christians against Western Christians, who are represented, at least symbolically in the current conflict, by NATO. More than anywhere else in Europe, religion and nationality merge in the Balkans, making it possible to create potent propaganda and a unique mytho-history that can be used to inspire hatred. Yugoslavia sits on an invisible fault line between the Islamic Middle East and the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity. Over centuries, each faith has sought hegemony over the religious identity of the region. “In the Balkans, religious identification became part of national identity, as expressed through language and the communication of the national myth,” said Peter Black, a senior historian at the United States Holocaust Museum. “Thus, being Orthodox is part of being Serbian. Americans don’t have a single religion — being Catholic or Orthodox or Muslim isn’t part of our American identity.” Depending on which experts you talk to, you will hear about two conflicts now in the Balkans. In one view, the Kosovo war has historical and mythological roots in the long conflict between Ottoman Turks and southern Slavs, who are Orthodox Christians. The other war is being fought in the air by the NATO troops, who, by bombing the Serbs on the Orthodox Easter — just as the Nazis did in 1941 — have played into a view held by some Serbs that NATO is a force of Western Christianity attempting to crush the Eastern Orthodox underdog. “It really comes down to a war between Eastern and Western Christianity,” said the Rev. Alex Karloutsos, an Orthodox priest in New York. In the United States, the war’s religious undercurrents have gone largely unnoticed except in the religious communities — Muslim and Orthodox — who see the suffering of their brethren. Muslim relief groups have witnessed an extraordinary outpouring from the roughly 5 million to 6 million Muslims, who have collected more than $2 million to send to the Kosovo refugees as well as tents, food and medical supplies. “That is a lot of money for our community,” said Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “This is one of those situations that has really struck people.” Some Muslims in the United States voice the frustration that even when violence is targeted against Muslims, such as Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians, the United States refrains from tarring Serbs with the extremist labels that are commonly used when Muslims target enemies. Americans who are Orthodox Christians feel the public picture painted of the Serbs by the U.S. media and government officials has tarnished all Serbs — if not all Orthodox — with the same brush as Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, making them out to be a violent, cruel, barbarian people. Such images put American Orthodox Christians in an awkward position as they struggle to express their sympathy for ordinary Serbs, whose faith they share. “For a lot of Orthodox in this country . . . there’s great agony, really, as long as this misguided policy is pursued,” said Nicolas Gage, a Greek-Orthodox writer, about the NATO bombing. “We have no quarter for Milosevic, but this misguided policy is going to bring tragedy to a lot of people.” Gage was one of a handful of prominent Orthodox Christian Americans — including columnist Arianna Huffington and Plato Cacheris, the veteran Washington attorney who represented Monica Lewinsky — who took out a full page ad in The New York Times urging President Clinton to refrain from bombing on Orthodox Easter. The Clinton administration initially appeared deaf to the protests of the Orthodox community. A planned conference call before the Orthodox Easter between American-Orthodox priests and Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright was suddenly canceled. However, last Wednesday, President Clinton and the deputy director of the National Security Council met with a group of leaders from the Serbian community to attempt to reassure them that President Clinton views Milosevic, and not the Serbian people, as responsible for the crisis in Kosovo, said council spokesman David Leavy. The religious strife in the Balkans stems from centuries of turbulent history, including the arrival of the Slavs in the 7th century, the split between Rome and the Orthodox church a thousand years ago, and the later arrival of the Ottoman Turks, who rewarded those who converted to Islam. A number of scholars of the region, as well as Orthodox clergy, underscore that the Serbian Orthodox church is hardly monolithic in its support of Milosevic. On the one hand, Milosevic has relied heavily on Orthodox religious symbols to invigorate his political message and justify the persecution of the ethnic Albanians, who are predominantly Muslims. “It is the manipulation of the Kosovo religious mythology, which was taken over by the most radical elements of Serbian society, that is central to the breaking apart of Yugoslavia,” said Michael Sells, head of Haverford College’s religion department. A study by Sells traced how Milosevic adopted religious symbolism and language to unite the Serbs and incite hatred of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians. The pivotal event was a 1989 commemoration of the 600th anniversary of the battle of Kosovo Polje, in which Serbia’s medieval kingdom was defeated by the Ottomans, ushering in hundreds of years of Turkish domination. Kosovo was at the heart of that Serbian kingdom, and Serbs today still claim deep spiritual roots there. Many of the earliest Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries are located in Kosovo, and many Serbs vehemently oppose even the suggestion — made by some radical Albanian factions — that Kosovo become part of a larger Albanian state. “We cannot give up Kosovo because it is the Serbian Jerusalem, the birthright of the Serbian Orthodox church is in Kosovo and must remain there as part of Serbia,” said the Rev. Blastko Taraklis, a Serbian Orthodox priest in Mission Viejo, Calif. Despite the fierce sense of ownership of a land that has been occupied predominantly by ethnic Albanians, a number of the Serbian Orthodox priests in Kosovo, led by the Bishop of Kosovo, Father Artemjie, have been stridently opposed to Milosevic. The three dominant religions of the Balkans — Islam, Eastern Orthodox and Western Christianity — are not inherently at odds, said Paul Mojzes, a professor of religion at Rosemont College near Philadelphia, who grew up in Yugoslavia. “But the Catholics fought the Orthodox, each claiming they alone had the key to the kingdom of God, and the Muslims fought them both,” Mojzes said. “[Everyone is] afraid of their neighbors because their neighbors, in the past, have one way or another taken advantage of them.”



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