“There is still no peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina”, Sarajevo cardinal Vinko Puljic has lamented.

Driving the news

“When I say that there is still no peace, I mean that little is done to create an atmosphere of reconciliation”, Puljic explained December 30 to Italian Bishops’ newspaper Avvenire.

That “reconciliation”, the cardinal said, “has a precise foundation: the equality of every person within the country. Which does not exist here. For example, we Catholics experience different forms of discrimination”.

“If equal rights and possibilities are not guaranteed to all three peoples, it is difficult to speak of peaceful coexistence”, Puljic denounced.

The cardinal was referring to the Catholic Croats, Bosnian Muslims and Serbian Orthodox that share power in Bosnia-Herzegovina under the provisions of the 1995 Dayton Accords.

Those agreements put an end to the Bosnian War, but left ethnic tensions in their wake.

“Here the rule of the supremacy of the majority over minorities applies, which also translates into the lack of just laws”, the cardinal deplored.

The big picture

Puljic insisted that the “most serious problem” facing the ever-declining Catholic population in Bosnia-Herzegovina is that “we are not all equal before the law”.

“Most of our people left the country for the horrors of war”, the cardinal explained, decrying the fact that “once the conflict ended, neither politicians nor the international community supported their return home”.

So it is that of the 800,000 Catholics in the country before the war, “today we wouldn’t reach 450,000”, affirmed Puljic, adding that “in Sarajevo we have one of the most dramatic cases: we went from 528,000 to 180,000”.

On top of that “the remaining Catholics found themselves to be second-class citizens”, the cardinal denounced.

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As concrete examples of discrimination against Catholics in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Puljic cited first “the lack of work”.

“The economic situation is terrible. And widespread corruption contributes to unemployment, which hinders the search for employment. A work culture is in fact absent. And the mirage of high earnings pushes people to go abroad”, the cardinal decried.

As for Sarajevo, “the city should be a meeting point between East and West”, Puljic said.

“Unfortunately, the Bosnian-Muslim ‘nation’ that holds the levers of legislative power and the media dominates today. So the others, including us Catholics, are left on the margins. It is not acceptable”, the cardinal rued.

“In the face of public opinion, there is always talk of harmonious coexistence, but nothing is done in everyday life to make it happen.

“All this happens before the eyes of the great people of the world who are indifferent to this situation and who, on the contrary, are almost pleased with the exodus of Christians from the country”, Puljic deplored.

Why it matters

As for what the Catholic Church in Bosnia-Herzegovina is doing to promote reconciliation, Puljic pointed to his personal and institutional “multiple and profitable relationships” with non-Catholics, including an “interreligious council which has the task of bringing us together in our differences”.

“The first step is to promote a culture of dialogue that encourages mutual knowledge and acceptance of the other while respecting differences”, the cardinal explained.

“In addition, the Church, through Catholic schools, educates young people in harmony, also through path of charity that teach closeness to everyone who needs help regardless of religious or ethnic belonging”, Puljic added, before warning: “but we cannot replace the State”.

The other problem for the country, the cardinal recalled, is the migrant crisis, given that Bosnia-Herzegovina is a hotspot on the so-called ‘Balkan route’ into Croatia and the EU.

“There is more talk of migrants than of the causes of migration. Whoever comes to us is first of all fleeing from war and misery”, Puljic insisted.

“This is why a special sense of solidarity should be encouraged. The doors cannot be closed and reception must be assured.

“Of course, behind the needy there are also human traffickers who profit off people. This worries me a lot”, the cardinal affirmed.

What’s next

As for the best solution to the persistent ethnic tensions in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the cardinal insisted that “for us [in the Church] there is no other way forward than European integration”.

“The country needs to join the EU”, Puljic said.

“But Europe does not know what to do with us. And it seems that particular interests prevail”.

In the meantime, then, the Catholic Church in Bosnia-Herzegovina is pinning its hopes on other initiatives that promote peace and harmony, such as the “Mediterranean, frontier of peace” meeting convened by the Italian Bishops for February in Bari over which Pope Francis will preside.

“I consider any initiative that favors fraternity and justice in the region to be positive, especially in a complex moment like the present one. Concrete action is needed”, Puljic insisted.

“However, we cannot forget that everything starts from prayer. Because God is the true architect of peace”.

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