Catholics feel threat from Muslims, Bosnian government, says cardinal
WASHINGTON - Catholics in Bosnia-Herzegovina feel pressure, threats and discrimination from an unfair political system and from Muslims financially backed by Islamic countries, said the head of the Bosnian bishops' conference.
Successful dialogue between Catholics and Muslims, which is solely "about coexistence," depends on the political situation, Cardinal Vinko Puljic of Sarajevo told Catholic News Service in a May 2 interview.
During the 1992-1995 war for independence and up to today, radical influences from Eastern Islamic countries infiltrated into Bosnia, the cardinal said through a translator during a visit to Washington.
Bosnian Muslims have access to funding and permits to build their mosques, but Catholics do not have access to either, he said. The cardinal said he has been waiting for a building permit for eight years, whereas "the Muslims, whenever desired, they get" a building permit.
In the Serb republic - one of the two Bosnian federations divided along ethnic lines since the 1995 Dayton peace accords - Orthodoxy is the state religion, so it is also financially and politically secure, the cardinal said. The other federation is Muslim- and Croat-controlled. The central federal government has a rotating presidency.
The plight of the country's Croatians -- most of whom are Catholic - is not really about churches, the cardinal said. Catholics in the country are not protected by the government and the police and do not have a voice in the media; they need employment and infrastructure, he said.
Because Catholics do not have access to the media, there is "no way to get our views across," so it seems like discrimination does not exist, the cardinal said.
Meanwhile, most of the Catholic refugees displaced during the war have not been able to return, he said.
To return to Bosnia-Herzegovina, refugees need to prove to the government that they own land, the cardinal said, "but on the other hand, everything was taken away from them. Documents were burned. ... It's an impossible situation ... it's easier to go to another country."
More than 10 years after the Dayton peace accords, "barely 12,000 of the 220,000 refugees" have returned, he said, adding that international funds designated to help the refugees have not been given to Catholic Croats. The cardinal also said that since Jan. 1 donations to Catholic agencies have been taxed 17 percent by the government.
"All we want is that which the other has," he said. "All we want is the same rights as Muslims and Serbs."
Cardinal Puljic said the Bosnian bishops' conference has proposed constitutional reforms that include multiethnic rights and would squash fears that rights would be "taken away even more."
Sometimes Catholics feel like "we are toys in the hands of great players," the cardinal said.
He said he is concerned with the country's youths, who "do not see any perspective regarding their political future."
Cardinal Puljic told CNS that the actual number of Catholics living in the former Yugoslav republic is unclear, although he estimates that 14 percent of the population of approximately 4.5 million is Catholic. The government has not held a census since before the war, the cardinal said, adding, "They don't want to do that because it (census) will make clear the ethnic cleansing."
While he was in Washington, the cardinal visited the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He also met with representatives of the U.S. Institute of Peace and discussed interfaith relations, the status of Catholics in Bosnia and constitutional reform.
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Copyright (c) 2007 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
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