Friday, 25 March 2016

Radovan Karadžić's Faith-Based Initiative

Radovan Karadžić. Genocide for Jesus.
Radovan Karadzic's road to the International Criminal Tribunal - BBC News

It was almost prophetic!

The day I was making the very last edits to my new book, Ten Reasons To Lose Faith, as though to reinforce one of the central messages in it, the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague announced the conviction of Radovan Karadžić for genocide. Karadžić's crimes were committed during the 1992-95 Bosnian war as Orthodox Christian Serbian forces led by Karadžić attempted to impose Serbia's traditional hegemony over neighbouring Bosnia, following the collapse and break-up of former Yugoslavia.

The Balkans is a patchwork of different ethnic and rival religious groups, often speaking the same language but insisting on writing it in either the Cyrillic script (Orthodox Christian) or Latin script (Catholic Christian). There are also Muslim people of Turkic origins (Albanians) and Slavic Muslim converts (Bosniaks) from the time of the Ottoman Empire.

In Early Medieval history The Balkans sat geographically between the Catholic-dominated Christian tradition centred on Rome and the Orthodox-dominated Christian tradition centred on Byzantium (formerly Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire). Catholicism was able to exert an influence across the narrow Adriatic Sea and into the northern Balkans via the North Italian Plain. Later, Venetian sea power down the Adriatic coast reinforced Catholicism in the north and west. Meanwhile, the Orthodox Christian tradition, reinforced by its Russian version, was able to exert an influence in the south and east Balkans.

The picture was given another layer of complexity when Muslim Turks succeeded in smashing the last vestige of the Byzantine Empire and captured Byzantium, renaming it Istanbul. This allowed the Ottoman Empire to expand across the Bosphorus into Greece and up into the centre of the Balkans while a tribe of Muslim Turks migrated into what was to become Albania. Later the Balkans became the frontier country between the (Catholic) Austro-Hungarian Empire and the (Muslim) Ottoman Empire, with Russia trying to maintain an interest in the East.

Underlying all this was a struggle between different religions and between different versions of the same religion which were almost as hostile to one another as they were to Islam. About the only major religion not to achieve much in the Balkans was Protestant Christianity which came late to the party. The result is a mosaic of different faiths, cultures, languages and even alphabets imposed onto which are national borders having little to do with ethnic, linguistic or faith groupings. These were often imposed by empires centred in remote capitals for their own administrative convenience or imposed by conquest and annexation. No single Balkans country is now free from one or more significant ethnic or religious minorities. Even the minority areas often have minorities within them. Most of these will have allegiance to a neighbouring country and a tradition of dissent.

The Balkans only really ever managed to put aside these difference for a short time following World War II when the Communists who led the anti-Nazi liberation struggle were able to impose control over the whole of the 'Southern Slavs' of Yugoslavia. This control was based more on the personality of Tito than on any desire to put aside historical differences and look forward rather than backward. Despite many centuries of living side by side and for some fifty years in a single state, religion had managed to keep all the different peoples living in mutual distrust and hostility. Only in a few places such as Sarajevo was there any semblance of peaceful coexistence. As soon as the central authority that had been established by the Communists under Tito at the end of World War II collapsed, the different ethnic groups resorted to their traditional faith-based, murderous hostility and pursued vendettas going back to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

The culmination of this was a concerted attempt by Serbia to expand into Bosnia to form a 'Greater Serbia' which was to be ethnically purified and cleansed to remove the Muslim Bosniaks who rejected Bosnian hegemony. To this end, probably on the orders of the Serbian president, the late Slobodan Milošević, and led by Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić, a combined Bosnian and Greek volunteer militia rounded up some 9000 men and boys from the town of Srebrenica, marched them into the nearby woods and executed them. Their only 'crime' had been to be Muslims living in an area the Orthodox Christians believed they were entitled to have for themselves.

This has been described as the worst genocide in Europe since the Catholic-inspired genocide of six million Jews, Romanies and other assorted minorities in an attempt to ethnically cleanse Europe in the middle of the last century.

Radovan Karadžić has been sentenced to 40 years in prison. A verdict is still awaited on his right-hand man, Ratko Mladić. Slobodan Milošević died during his trial for war crimes before a verdict had been reached. The Greek volunteers who participated in the genocide went back to Greece where they founded the openly fascist Golden Dawn party which enjoys the support of a number of Greek Orthodox bishops and priests.

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