Fabric of the Balkan War: Reli

Fabric of the Balkan War: Religious Conflict
In America’s diverse culture, the notion of a civil war charged with religious conflict is hard to grasp. But religious identity is present constantly in the antagonisms that have fragmented the Balkans for centuries — setting neighbor against neighbor, Muslims against Orthodox Christians, and Orthodox Christians against Western Christians, who are represented, at least symbolically in the current conflict, by NATO. More than anywhere else in Europe, religion and nationality merge in the Balkans, making it possible to create potent propaganda and a unique mytho-history that can be used to inspire hatred. Yugoslavia sits on an invisible fault line between the Islamic Middle East and the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity. Over centuries, each faith has sought hegemony over the religious identity of the region. “In the Balkans, religious identification became part of national identity, as expressed through language and the communication of the national myth,” said Peter Black, a senior historian at the United States Holocaust Museum. “Thus, being Orthodox is part of being Serbian. Americans don’t have a single religion — being Catholic or Orthodox or Muslim isn’t part of our American identity.” Depending on which experts you talk to, you will hear about two conflicts now in the Balkans. In one view, the Kosovo war has historical and mythological roots in the long conflict between Ottoman Turks and southern Slavs, who are Orthodox Christians. The other war is being fought in the air by the NATO troops, who, by bombing the Serbs on the Orthodox Easter — just as the Nazis did in 1941 — have played into a view held by some Serbs that NATO is a force of Western Christianity attempting to crush the Eastern Orthodox underdog. “It really comes down to a war between Eastern and Western Christianity,” said the Rev. Alex Karloutsos, an Orthodox priest in New Yo…