Two topics animated most of the presentations and discussion. One was a certain anti-Communist tone, expressing satisfaction that the time of oppression and control of religious communities, as well as the recent wars, is over. There seemed to be less consensus as to what is to follow. A number of the Serbian Orthodox participants, including Bishop Lavrentije, placed all the blame for the [Balkan] wars on atheists, maintaining that religious people did not contribute to the war--an allegation refuted several times by non-religious, or less-religious, academics. Likewise, the large religious communities, both Orthodox and Catholic, expressed concern over sectarianism, with little clarity as to what this term subsumes. And one of the influential Orthodox academics was quite emphatic that pluralism in Yugoslavia ought to have limits and that mixed marriages ought to be discouraged. The Serbian Orthodox participants tended to stress return to past, pre-Communist traditions, including those of gender relations.
The second major topic was catechism in public schools. The Serbian government adopted rather hastily a law that introduces catechism into the schools--at this point as an elective subject--along with education for citizenship, likewise elective. Students can choose one or the other, both, or neither. Representatives of the Orthodox, Catholic, and Muslim religions all urged catechism as an obligatory subject, whereas a number of academics preferred the academic study of all religions. No real opposition to catechism in schools was expressed, although minority church representatives were silent on the subject.
There was much ambiguity about the U.S., the western world, and NATO. One can definitely feel resentment because of the NATO bombardment. On the other hand, there were many who boldly, even haughtily, pressed for changes in the name of joining Europe and the West.
Let me conclude with a brief summary of statements by Dr. Chedomir Chupich, professor at the School of Political Science, Belgrade University, who urged that a radical break be made with the tradition in the Balkans that teaches revenge to each new generation. It is destructive as well as an impossible moral burden to require that each generation avenge or right the injustices of the past. Injustices should not be forgotten, but they should not become the task for today, because then one looks only toward the past rather than toward a better future. He also explicitly stated that he is ashamed as a Serb for what was done in their collective name by "Milosevic and Co." If views such as Dr. Chupich's were to become common, one could expect a dramatic improvement in the cultures of the Balkan people.
Paul Mojzes is professor of religious studies at Rosemont College, Rosemont, PA, and author of The Study of Religion in an Age of Global Dialogue (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000) and Pluralism, Proselytism, and Nationalism in Eastern Europe (Philadelphia: Temple University, 1999).
Edited excerpts reprinted with permission from CAREE Communicator (Winter 2002).
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