Bosnia's Unhealed Wounds

No matter what religious tradition one is part of, the grim cycle of violence and counterviolence that has gone on for more than three years in the former Yugoslavia indicts us all, but I sometimes think it is especially grim for those of us who are Orthodox.

On the one hand, unless we look at the Serbian side with the thickest rose-colored glasses, we are painfully aware that many (according to the Western press, most) war crimes have been committed by Serbs; and we know that among the Serb fighters there are those who regard themselves as "defenders of Orthodoxy."

On the other hand, we are constantly aware of a double-standard at work in the West. Whatever evils are committed by Serbian forces tend to become banner-headline news, while the war crimes committed by non-Orthodox tend to receive little press attention or may even be described in sympathetic terms. In the course of several years of journalistic efforts to simplify a complex event, the mass media have gradually created the stereotype of the Serb as savage.

Beneath this one-dimensional rendering of civil war in the Balkans, one discovers old but still unhealed wounds in the flesh of Europe. One factor is the ancient struggle between Islam and Christianity. Another is the millennium-old division that cut Christianity along East-West lines, Roman Catholic and Orthodox. Few of us could write a 500-word essay about the causes and consequences of that schism, but it has shaped and limited the churches in both East and West.

Christians on the Western side of the divide tend to feel little understanding or sympathy for the Orthodox Church (the word "orthodox" is in the West not quite a swear word), while Orthodox believers dwell on sins committed against them by Western Christians from the Crusades to the latest bombing raid. If the present war is not a religious war, it is certainly a war that draws on religious passions.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1995
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