SLOBODNA BOSNA: Professor Cvitkovic, what's your comment on the fact that the visit of Pope John Paul II to Bosnia-Hercegovina will cost taxpayers 5 million euros?
CVITKOVIC: The Roman Catholics in Banja Luka's bishopric will certainly be thrilled about the pope's visit, but imagine their joy if that money went instead toward the restoration of their homes or toward their return [to the region of Banja Luka, the capital of Bosnia's Serb-dominated entity the Republic of Srpska]. I wouldn't want to seem to disagree with the visit, on the contrary, but I feel that the pope is late, because the only Roman Catholics in the bishopric will be traveling there by bus. It might provide moral support for Bishop Franjo Komarica, but it won't have any significant impact on the return of Roman Catholics to that region. I think Bishop Komarica did everything he could to enable the return of those who had escaped or were expelled from their homes, but there were those who opposed him. The bishopric is about to disappear, like it or not.
Why did the coupling of politics and religion occur in the Balkan region, or to apply your terms, the "ethnization of religion" or the "religionization of politics"?
That process isn't only characteristic of Bosnia-Hercegovina, but of all other post-socialist countries that are undergoing a transition. The political elites wanted to "take advantage" of their "national churches" to preserve their private political positions. The coupling of politics and religion, of church and state, occurred in those communities and can be seen in the legislative and legal field; In all those countries, the preference is given to "national churches," so that international charters on freedom and rights of all people are being neglected.
How was their legal status regulated during the Socialism, which is denounced as "the dark era" by religious leaders of all three confessions in Bosnia-Hercegovina?
I have read works of well-respected Western authors who believe that the period of Socialism provided better solutions for religious communities in the legal sphere, and I repeat, the legal sphere, and this especially applies to the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. According to them, no legal discrimination was made between religious communities, despite their status as minorities or majorities, as "traditional" or "nontraditional." One could still question why the church was not allowed to act in the public sphere, why it had a civic-legal status, but no discrimination was made against any particular religious community.
Given the positive democratic experience of Western Europe and the United States, why are current representatives of religious communities so fanatically opposed to the secular society?
The problem is rooted in their desire to claim for themselves the social status that will prevent appearance of any new religious communities or the spread of religious pluralism. It seems as if they are trying to create a new model of the so-called "acceptable religions," so that "traditional" religions have a special status as opposed to minority religions. But that is a problem in all of Europe. Everyone is talking about religious rights, but few talk about the religious rights of others, especially of those who represent a minority.
It's not easy to answer that question. One can't place the blame for war on religious communities and their representatives, but it also wouldn't make sense to ignore the fact that religion was misused frequently and without any connection with the leadership of religious communities. The fact remains that the three national leaders in Bosnia-Hercegovina abused religion to plant the seed of inter-ethnic hatred. Unfortunately, the result of their engagement is catastrophic. When a crime was committed, one could hear the cry of religious leaders, especially when it was committed against "our" people. Since the crime was significant, the cry had to be even more significant, more urgent and stronger, especially in those cases when crimes were committed against "them" and in the name of "us" and "our" religion. That does not mean that criminals would respect these calls, but at least the moral standing of religious communities in wartime would not be compromised.[...]
Does the call for hatred and the use of force against followers of another religion even exist in the holy books?
Holy books can be interpreted in many different ways. Accounts of violence can be found in them. Besides, both Jesus and Mohammed felt violence personally. Nevertheless, holy scripts also contain parts that clearly refer to the love of peace and can be instructive regarding the establishment of coexistence, tolerance, and peace. It all depends on the interpretation of those sources.
Does that mean that the use of brutal methods such as suicidal acts of terrorism are justified in scripture?
I wouldn't say that. However, throughout history and today, we can note different kinds of violence in the name of religion: violence that involves words, silence, symbols, as well as extreme terrorism. If terrorism "in the name of faith" isn't understood as wrong, the comprehension of one's religious belief is certainly questionable. It is difficult to find justification for such acts in holy scriptures. It doesn't matter if one is talking about "Islamic" or "Roman Catholic" or "Orthodox" terrorism, one has to emphasize that it's not about religion anymore, but about the abuse of religion. When mosques were being destroyed during the past war "in the name of Christianity," it also happened in the name of treacherous terrorism.
However, globally, the prevailing image is that of exclusively Muslim terrorism, based on numerous prejudices in connection with Islam.
It is true that there are numerous prejudices, on the one hand of the so-called Islamic world with respect to the Western European values, and on the other hand, even stronger, prejudices of the West with respect to Islam. For the most part, these prejudices are the result of a lack of knowledge regarding Islam, or the knowledge of Islam acquired through the lens of authors who are not exactly favorably inclined towards (and sometimes openly dismissive of) Islam. One of these prejudices is that Islam is supposedly an intolerant religion, religion spread "with fire and sword". Honestly, through history, unfortunately, all great world religions were spread with fire and sword, but that is not their major characteristic.
Why hasn't Islam been reformed with time, as happened with Christianity? Am I wrong in stating that such a status quo has led to the creation of terrorist groups such as, for example, Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Islamic Salvation Front in Algiers or Taliban and Al Qaida in Afghanistan?
The development of the West had a different pace from the development of the Arab world. The West went through renaissance, reformation, enlightenment, industrialization, and urbanization. All these processes prompted secularization of the society. The Islamic world hasn't experienced similar changes. Only in the modern times there has been a clash between modernists and traditionalists. Authors from Islamic countries point out that similar changes in the West produced numerous "isms" that ensured that the last century will be remembered as the bloodiest in the history of humankind. Consequently, it is possible to understand a certain fear in the Islamic world in connection with the adoption of Western values. But, in no case does that imply that anyone has the right to support terrorism, whose roots, rather than in religion, should be sought in the sphere of economics and politics, the attitude of the rich countries towards the poor.
Representatives of the so-called "historically founded religious communities" tailored that law according to their needs, and my main objection is regarding civic freedom in general, and especially the freedom of minorities. Namely, when there is any talk about the establishment of new religious communities, I think that one is heading toward greater restrictions than during the time of the Socialistic Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina. In that time, a newly established religious community only had to submit a registration to the relevant body and it could automatically function. It immediately became a legal entity. However, now they propose registration, that may, but also may not, be approved.
In addition, a condition is that a new community must have at least 1,000 followers. That means that Jesus and Mohammed can call themselves lucky not to have lived in a post-socialist society where their legal status would have been regulated by the Inter-Religious Council, because neither of them would have been able to act. Jesus started out with 12 apostles, and not even Mohammed had 1,000 followers when he started out. If, according to that criteria, [Bosnia's] Jewish community wanted to register, it wouldn't be able to do so because it doesn't have 1,000 members, according to available data.
The proposal that a new religious community must submit documents about the foundation of its faith is also problematic. This indicates that the state decides if a community is a religion, and what kind of religion it is. That's nonsense. Or, according to this proposal, "[verbal] attacks or insults aimed at a religious official" are considered a crime. [...] It would make more sense to classify such acts as rudeness rather than as a crime. [...] The status of a religious minority also poses a problem. I would like to hear what Jehovah's Witnesses, for example, or Adventists, Baptists, and the followers of any other new religious project in Bosnia-Hercegovina, have to say about that.
What the representatives of all four confessions in Bosnia and Herzegovina agree upon is the pitched battle against "mixed marriages" and the public degradation of the offspring of such marriages. How do you comment upon such monstrous remarks?
"Mixed marriages" used to be looked upon as a way to reduce ethnic and religious distance, but it is unfortunately completely different today. Religion traditionally doesn't support such marriages. They all plead for religious endogamy (marriage within the same religious community), and I don't oppose their right to act among their own followers in that sense. I oppose their right to publicly make negative and offensive judgments about people in these marriages, and especially children from such marriages.