Balkan religious leaders call for harmony

ROME, June 17 (JTA) — Jewish leaders have joined other religious leaders in calling for peace and dialogue in two Balkan states — Macedonia and Bosnia.

Religious leaders from Macedonia issued a statement late last week expressing their “commitment to the One God for peace for our common country” and urging international support for peace initiatives.

Izhak Asiel, the chief rabbi of Macedonia and Yugoslavia, and Viktor Mizrachi, the president of the 200-member Macedonian Jewish community, signed the statement along with leaders of the Catholic, Muslim, Methodist and Macedonian Orthodox faiths.

The move came against the background of tensions between the Macedonian government and ethnic Albanian rebels that have threatened for weeks to explode into full-scale civil war.

The statement — months in the making — was released at the close of a three-day meeting of Macedonian religious leaders organized in Switzerland by the World Congress of Churches.

In the statement, the leaders acknowledged — but at the same time sought to distance themselves from — the strong role that religious identity plays in ethnic conflict.

“Our churches and religious communities are not involved in the conflict, and we strongly reject any effort to allow ourselves to be involved and to be manipulated, as well as any misuse of religious symbols and language for the purposes of violence,” it said.

Calling for dialogue, the statement said peace “is too important to leave only to the efforts of politicians. Peace is also a responsibility of the churches and of the religious communities.

“We call on religious communities around the world to pray with us and to support our efforts for peace.”

The statement was issued just days after religious leaders from Bosnia, meeting in Rome, called upon people of faith to help consolidate the peace and reconstruct that country, which was wracked by ethnic warfare in the 1990s.

The Bosnian statement, signed by Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and Orthodox representatives, urged world leaders to “help the human and moral reconstruction” of the country by taking steps to rebuild the numerous churches, mosques, cemeteries and other religious sites that were damaged or destroyed during the bloody Bosnian civil war.

“There is nothing in the Balkans that does not include both political and religious components,” Mizrachi told JTA before the Macedonian statement was signed.

“Our situation is very different from that in Bosnia,” he said. There, he noted, the interfaith initiatives were happening in a “postwar, post-bloodshed” situation.

In Macedonia, he said, interfaith actives are aimed at “preventing a situation such as happened in Bosnia from taking place.”

“We feel that the only way to prevent intolerance or conflict is education,” Mizrachi said. “If everything one group does is perceived as a mystery to another group, it could also be perceived as a threat, and politicians can manipulate this.”

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