About Catholics and Muslims in the Balkans

The Peace Treaty of Dayton has failed

Wlodzimierz Redzioch talks to Cardinal Vinko Puljic, Archbishop of Vrhbosna (Sarajevo), about the difficult situation of Catholics in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Wlodzimierz Redzioch: - Your Eminence, what were the stages of the crisis in the Balkans after the fall of Yugoslavia?

Cardinal VINKO PULJIC: - In 1991 Slovenia and Croatia declared their independence. After the referendum of 3 March 1992 the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was also proclaimed. Then we hoped that after years of communism we would have democracy, which would bring freedom, equality and better life. But the war began because the Serbian rulers wanted to have power in all republics. One should openly say that the international community did not want Yugoslavia's division and therefore, it supported Serbs and Milosevic and then almost everything, commencing with the army, was in the Serb hands.

- We still remember the dramatic siege of Sarajevo by the Serbs...

- The siege lasted four years. During that period 12,000 people were killed in Sarajevo (in the entire Bosnia and Herzegovina the number was 200,000 although the data are uncertain). I was there all the time and saw many killed and much bloodshed.

- Finally, the international community forced the parties of the conflict to make a peace treaty. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the treaty in the small town of Dayton in Ohio (USA), the treaty was signed in Paris. Why have those treaties not solved the problems of Bosnia and Herzegovina?

- Thanks to the treaties of Dayton the war ended and it was a positive aspect. Unfortunately, after the war military actions ceased there was unjust peace because Bosnia and Herzegovina were split in two parts: the Serb Republic occupied by the Serbs and the Federation where Muslims and Catholics (Bosnians and Croats) live together. The problem is that it was the Muslims that are domineering in the federation and there is no equality.

- In the post-war period numerous Arab countries financed the activities of the Islam politicians and the construction of mosques, Koranic schools and charity centres. They did not hide that their aim was to make Bosnia and Herzegovina the first Muslim state in Europe. Muslim fundamentalists from all over the world began arriving in the Balkans (it is not a secret that there were training camps for Islamic fighters). Has the situation changed in the recent years, years of the war against terrorism?

- The enormous help, which the Muslim countries offered during the war and after the war, was only for the believers of Islam. All people knew that but nobody reacted. That was the case until 11 September 2001 when after the terrorists' attacks against the United States the alarm was raised. Earlier there had been no reaction when Islamic fundamentalists came to our country from all over the world, when they were given our citizenship and were allowed to marry local Muslim women. That's why, there is no equality in our state.

- Because the Muslims, richer and stronger than the Catholics, are domineering...

- Exactly. the problem is that earlier our Muslims were tolerant and now, being influenced by the Islamic countries that financed them (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait and others) they became extremists. For example, the Iranians published many books in which they portray Christ and Christianity in a false light. The attitude of the international community towards the Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina is ambiguous. Americans support them in order to get their sympathy, especially after the intervention in Iraq. On the other hand, we are criticised that we are building churches with crosses (we get good advice not to provoke the Muslims by exposing crosses).

- Before the war there were about 820,000 Catholics in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Today there remain about 460,000. Can we speak about persecutions of Catholics, which makes them leave the country?

- In my diocese there were 520,000 Catholics, today there are only 216,000. What is worse, people are leaving because their rights are not guaranteed, they cannot find jobs and they have lost hope.

- It seemed that the treaty of Dayton would let you to build a really democratic country. Has it happened?

- To tell you the truth, Bosnia and Herzegovina are under the international community's high representative. Two entities were created, with one big and very expensive bureaucratic organ but without real power. The ultimate authority is in the hands of the UN High Representative. How can we speak about a democratic country if our refugees cannot return to their homes that are in the Serb Republic? (Nothing can be done about this since France and Great Britain support the Serbs).

- Bishop Pero Sudar, your auxiliary bishop, often criticises the international forces, which are stationed in Bosnia and Herzegovina, since they give bias support for the Muslim community. How can you explain such activities of the international troops?

- The international troops and the EU High Representative have practically all authority in the country. The problem is that they treat all people in the same way: they are diplomatic with the strong and tough with the weak. They are especially tough with us, Croatian Catholics. They do not let us have media and schools and they do not let us speak our mother tongue. Additionally, the EU officers often care for their interests and act in accordance with their political line.

- What can be done to protect the right interests of the Catholics in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

- One should put pressure on the United Nations in order to make Bosnia and Herzegovina a normal state (the present division of the country into two entities made on the ethnic basis has failed). One could for example split the territory into four multi-ethnic regions with capitals in Banja Luce, Sarajevo, Tuzla and Mostar. Such a multi-ethic and multi-religious state would have to respect the identity of all people.

- Who does not want Bosnia and Herzegovina become a normal state?

- Both the Serbs and the Muslims do not want that. It seems that the international community does not want it, either.

- Who can do it then?

- The same countries that organised the conference in Dayton. The treaty of Dayton has failed and a new treaty should be concluded.

- Thank you very much for the conversation.

"Niedziela" 50/2005

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl