Boston College’s Institute for the Liberal Arts hosted Bosnian scholar and writer Alen Kristic on Thursday to give a lecture on the challenges facing religion in Southeastern Europe. He spoke of the need for religious change in the region, particularly in Bosnia and Herzegovina after the horrors of the Bosnian War.
Kristic is an editor of several political, Catholic, and cultural magazines in Croatia, as well as an academic with a focus on religious dialogue in the region and post-socialism religion. The lecture titled “On the Ruins of Communism: Faith Communities and Postwar Challenges in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia” was the second installment of the Institute’s three-part “Faith Communities & Civil Society During and After Conflict” series.
“The revival of the ideology of the religious nationalism was one of the main causes of the wars in which Yugoslavia broke apart,” Kristic said.
As he uses it, the word “nation” corresponds to an ethnic group rather than a country. With Bosnia and Herzegovina split between the Muslim Bosniaks, the Catholic Croats, and the Serbian Orthodox Serbs, each group sought to tie religion and nation together for more powerful motivation in the 1992-1995 Bosnian War.
The religion, ethnicity, and cultural plurality of Bosnia and Herzegovina has been damaged, he said.
“Religious leaders enthusiastically put themselves at the service of their national parties, legitimizing the usurpation of religious resources by national ideologies,” he said. “They naively believed that national renewal would automatically guarantee genuine religious renewal.”
He believed the alliance of the political and the religious for violent purposes created a “nationalized faith” that ruined religion.
“[Religion] must learn from the victims of war and postwar traumas about its true mission in Southeastern Europe if it does not want to be a factor in the creation of war horrors again.”
—Alen Kristic, Bosnian author and scholar
“A war-like atmosphere does not allow the essence of the religious to take root—the commands of dialogue, non violence, forgiveness, and reconciliation,” Kristic said.
The goal of this new faith was not God, but the creation of an ethnically and religiously pure state. The religions of the country, Catholicism, Islam, and Serbian Orthodoxy, complied with national leaders and supported the conflict and policies of ethnic cleansing over seeking peace.
Even though the war has ended, Kristic still believes religion is tied to nationalism in the country. He is pushing to end that connection so that religion can return to seeking God over a country. The first step he proposed was an admission of guilt.
“The basic prerequisite for the behavioral change of [the] religions of Southeastern Europe—but it is also the central postwar challenge—is a public admission of their complicity in the last war and the evils arising from it,” he said. “Without a merciless truth about themselves, they cannot reclaim their lost credibility.”
As a Catholic scholar, Kristic focused the changes that all the religions need to make through a Catholic lens. He argued that the Catholic Church in Bosnia and Herzegovina should move away from nationalism. He wants them to turn to listen to each other and to serve those who are suffering from post-war devastation.
Central to this is the adoption of the principle of “transnational and transreligious solidarity with the oppressed people” put forth by the Second Vatican Council. In doing this, the Church in both Bosnia and Herzegovina can return to true Christianity as a servant of the people and not the state.
Kristic believes education of both the common people and those in spiritual positions within the religions is the key in moving away from nationalized faith and further conflict. With an education for a new culture of memory, he argues people and religions would admit guilt for the atrocities that occurred during the war and end the biased memory of their own particular group’s innocence during it.
This education must promote peace and nonviolence as a means of ending conflict. It must promote dialogue between the different ethnic and religious groups to end the desire for an ethnically and religiously pure nation. It must emphasize social justice, he said, because people who aren’t socially satisfied are more likely to fall prey to nationalist-political manipulation.
Gender equality must be taught to bring women into the dialogue of peace and reconciliation, he said. Kristic noted that women were almost always the first ones seeking peace during the conflict and after.
Finally, this education should promote the common good of all people, and not just an ethnic or religious faction.
“[Religion] must learn from the victims of war and postwar traumas about its true mission in Southeastern Europe if it does not want to be a factor in the creation of war horrors again,” he said.
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor