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Lines between faith, ethnicity often blurred in the Balkans

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.scrippsnews.com/node/35127 Lines between faith, ethnicity often blurred in the Balkans Submitted by SHNS on Wed, 07/30/2008 - 15:22. * By TERRY
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 31, 2008

      Lines between faith, ethnicity often blurred in the Balkans
      Submitted by SHNS on Wed, 07/30/2008 - 15:22.

      * By TERRY MATTINGLY, Scripps Howard News Service
      * religion

      For a dozen years, they hunted Europe's most notorious war criminal.

      Investigators knew exactly where they thought they would find former
      Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, the man accused of
      masterminding the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica.

      After his July 21 arrest, most media reports echoed vague statements
      in The New York Times in which unidentified voices said Karadzic
      "eluded arrest so long by shaving his swoopy gray hair and disguising
      himself as a Serbian Orthodox priest. He reportedly hid out in caves
      in the mountains of eastern Bosnia and in monasteries."

      "Of course they were wrong," said Metropolitan Christopher, leader of
      the Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America. "It was not
      true, to say that the Serbian church was hiding him. It appears that
      he was living right there in clear view, practicing alternative forms
      of medicine in front of everybody."

      The Times updated its first report, adding that for "some of those
      years" the fugitive lived under an assumed name in Belgrade. A
      second-day report conceded that Karadzic "was not in a distant
      monastery or a dark cave when caught at last, but living in Serbia's capital."

      Instead of shaving his photogenic silver hair and pretending to be a
      priest, the former president of the Bosnian Serb mini-state had built
      a new identity based on his career as a psychologist -- becoming Dr.
      Dragan David Dabic, expert on meditation, unorthodox therapy
      techniques and herbal treatments from the East. He was, observers
      said, a self-made guru with dashes of Freud, a Bohemian poet who
      resembled Santa Claus, complete with a bushy white beard and long
      hair, including a ponytail. He published journal articles, gave
      public lectures and lived with a young mistress.

      Blend all that together and, according to ABC News, what you get is
      an "Orthodox mystic."

      "It's like that old saying that you can't fight city hall," said
      Metropolitan Christopher, in frustration. Journalists and outsiders
      "want to link all of this to the Serbian Orthodox Church. And they
      want to say that all Serbs, everywhere, are guilty of the actions of
      these violent men and that, most of all, the Serbs are the only
      people who have ever done these terrible things to their neighbors. ...

      "They forget that men like Karadzic and Slobodan Milosevic were
      enemies of the church and used violence against the Orthodox, too.
      Our bishops were jailed and beaten for opposing the regime behind
      this violence."

      As the Serbian Orthodox bishops proclaimed, at one of the worst
      moments in the fighting, the "way of non-violence and cooperation is
      the only way blessed by God in agreement with human and divine moral
      law and experience."

      There was also an interfaith appeal for peace in 1999, signed by
      Orthodox Patriarch Pavle, Catholic Archbishop Franc Perko, Mufti
      Hamdija Jusufspahic and Rabbi Isak Asiel. It called for a total
      cease-fire and the return of all refugees -- Serbs, Albanians and
      Croats -- to their homes.

      "Even as evil cannot be overcome by evil, so peace and harmony cannot
      be attained by war," said that statement from Belgrade. "To be a
      peacemaker is the greatest duty and most noble obligation of every
      man. That is why we are not afraid to be the first to extend the hand
      of peace to one another."

      Hardly anyone was listening.

      Truth is, Orthodox Christianity does play a major role in defining
      the history and identity of the Serbs. It is also true that Orthodox
      leaders have opposed the breakup of their homeland and, in
      particular, the loss of Kosovo -- a state containing more than 1,000
      historic churches and monasteries. Serbs have pleaded with Western
      officials to intervene and stop the destruction of many priceless sanctuaries.

      The lines between faith and ethnicity are often blurred in the Balkans.

      In this violent, splintered and ravaged region, Karadzic -- who
      remains a hero to Serb radicals -- may have found refuge for some
      period of time with the help of some priests or monks, acting on their own.

      "We hear accusations against Orthodox people, but we never seem to
      hear who, what, when and where," said Metropolitan Christopher. "If
      it's true, we need to know facts. But it is wrong for the media to
      keep making vague accusations against our whole church in this way,
      which only makes things worse for those who have endured so much."

      (Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the
      Council for Christian Colleges & Universities. Contact him at
      tmattingly(at)cccu.org or www.tmatt.net.)
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