It has long been a common place of Balkan Studies and historical writing about the Balkans to state that religion is often a major factor in conflicts. Some contemporary authors have seen it as the decisive factor. In the context of the bloody debacle of the wars of the 1990’s in ex-Yugoslavia which was analysed as a conflict between Roman Catholic Croatia and Orthodox Serbia, or the Bosnian war in terms of re-emerging Islam. The longstanding reputation of Albania and Albanians for tolerance in religious matters is important, and deserves scholarly study and debate. In the period of the emergence of Albania from the chaos and turmoil of the 1989-1992 period and the end of the one-party state, the main priority for Albanians was the reestablishment of religion in Albania after the years of enforced atheism under the Hoxha regime. In the main this process went very well, with a successful programme of church and mosque construction taking place. This publication illuminates the background to this emerging and complex religious culture in Albania and also touches upon subjects of importance in relevant neighbouring nations (Greece and Montenegro). It includes papers by a number of prominent local scholars, and invited foreign experts on Albania and its history.
The NATO Advanced Research workshop “Strengthening and Promoting religious tolerance and co-existence in the Balkans and beyond” that was held in Tirana Albania in September, October 2006, brought together researchers and academics, politicians and theologians from different parts of the Balkans and the world at large. The lively and constructive debate brought a number of new key elements and ideas to the table. Albania and its intereligious relationships and experiences were presented as positive examples of religious co-existence. These and other positive experiences were compared and discussed in relation to other developments in the region and the world.
It was a privilege of the Millenium Club Center and myself personally as its Executive Director to have been part of this amazing group of people and discussion. I wanted to give a big heartfelt thank you to all the participants and contributors to the workshop. Without your participation, your insight, and contribution, the workshop would not have been the success it was. I hope that this publication will bring through the fundamental issues and topics discussed at the workshop. Due to the editorial and publishers restrictions, we could not fit all the presentations in the book. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the presentations given at the workshop in Tirana, and this book, will further encourage discussion and debate on what has become one of the most sensitive issues of our time.
Mentor Nazarko, Executive Director, Millenium Club Center, Co-Director NATO Science for Peace Project, Advanced Research Workshop
The author beliefs that religious tolerance among the Albanians is an internal outcome, imposed by historical circumstances and not by government laws and customary laws. The author stresses the importance this fact represents today when we are faced with phenomena quite opposite of the historical tendency. Since the circumstances have changed, it is important that the current negative tendencies are controlled by a set of laws and regulatory system.
The author analyses the current risks that the positive experience of religious co-existence in Albania is facing. After identifying the main problems and issues that have risen due to the opening of Albania after the collapse of communism, the author offers several perspectives of solution.
Starting from a simple paradox, the author stresses the importance of inclusion rather then exclusion in the relations between civilizations. According to the author, it is the principle of the exclusion in the base of the theory of “clash of civilizations”, and the main obstacle to the tolerance between different religions and cultures. Finally, the author analyses the place and the global importance of Albania's positive example of religious tolerance and its successful implementation of the inclusion principle.
Albania's religious revival has not been without divisions and controversies, but these have all stemmed from foreign influences. The great challenge for Albania's religious leaders today is to try and maintain the independence of their respective faiths in order to revive the unique form of Albanian Catholicism, Albanian Orthodoxy and Albanian Islamism.
Albania has no religious conflict. However the presentation raises the question, whether by stressing and discussing how to avoid conflict, paradoxically, one might be contributing to the idea that existence of conflict is the norm and co-existence is an exception. The author makes a point that, it is actually the fact that it has never been questioned, discussed or used politically that has kept Albania free of conflict from different religions.
The following presentation covers the differences between secularism and secularization, and the effects that social pluralism has in the religious tolerance. The need for dialogue between the religious leaders and the civil society to avoid the danger of conflict and terrorism are also discussed.
The author makes a comparative analysis of the relationship between the state and the religious communities in Albania and other former communist countries. The analysis is concentrated especially during the transitional period between communism and democracy. Faced with the problems of the transition, the need for a new cooperation from the state away from the old atheist mentality is discussed, with the final conclusion that better support from the state is needed to keep the religious communities independent from outside influences.
The author explores the spiritual vacuum created in the former communist countries in the Balkans, during the post communist transition period and the crises of values this vacuum has caused, by using religion as a source of conflict rather than love and tolerance. The author stresses, the need to promote love and respect for the other religions and nations. Positive examples are there, but we need to explore and encourage new initiatives of cooperation between different religions and communities.
It is somewhat ironical that, at the very time globalization – with the interdependence and increased exchanges it entails – is shaping more and more the lives of people around the world, propagation of religious beliefs by missionary groups arouses suspicions in different areas and varied religious environments across the world.
The purpose of the paper is not only to provide some examples of the dynamics leading to such conflicts over proselytism, but also to understand the underlying issues and to observe similarities in different contexts. Indeed, if one looks at the reactions of Buddhist activists in Sri Lanka, Christian believers in post-communist countries, Hindu nationalists in India, Muslim militants in the Middle East, there are some common features in concerns which are expressed. Missionaries are not just seen as carriers of other beliefs, but also as people with a hidden agenda. Reactions actually reveal as much on hot issues in societies where such reactions are observed as on missionary tactics. When speaking on religious coexistence, there is often a natural tendency to focus on major players, i.e. on “traditional religions” in one area. While such a focus is legitimate, one should not forget that smaller groups will increasingly come into the scene and may sometimes act as “irritants” not to be overlooked. The purpose of the paper will be to bring an awareness of those elements and show how such controversies are not specific to one area or one religious tradition.
Placing God in the epicenter of everything, and concentrating into the spiritual dimension of men, is one way to serve Gods’ truth and not the truth that meets a persons needs. Despite the diversity of the different religions, this is the way we can find common ground between religions despite whether they are positive or negative.
Through an analyses of the philosophy of the leaders of the Albanian Muslim community during 1912–1920, the period when the community in question separated from the Kalifat, the author offers ideas and ways, how the Muslim community today can face the challenges they are struggling with, ever since the fall of communism and its contact and influences from the outside Islamic influences, that often are not very healthy.
The paper concentrates in the observation of the religious realities, mainly Muslim in different Albanian inhabited areas in the Balkans, such as in Kosovo, Montenegro, Greece and Macedonia. Areas which the author simply refers to as “the Albanian Periphery Lands”.
The paper analyzes the opening of the Greek society to a single common religion of a minority group (the Muslims of Thrace's) and of the majority of the foreign workers, at a time when the Orthodox religion is the state religion in Greece. It also gives a comparative analysis of the relationship between state and religion and its dynamics, from an historical and legal point of view.
Appreciating the role of inter-group difference within minority religious and ethnic groups is central to understanding how minorities interact with other groups and the state. Divisions between moderate and more extreme elements within a population affect the ability of these groups to negotiate over their relative status and work towards peaceful relations. This presentation will address the role that internal divisions play in the politics of difference within states.
The concealed return of the divine appears not only in the Islamic world, but also in other religions. What is more important, it appears to be a general occurrence. An author finds the beginnings of this restorative trend in the '70s. What are the effects in the economic and democratic trends of the countries whose religious population is diverse? The following paper attempts to answer this question.
This work will explore the effects of democratization on the tendency of groups to compete for power violently. Due to intense periods of political competition, extremist groups tend to choose violence to express their preferences, in efforts to outbid more conventional interest groups for power and influence. This dynamic occurs even in fully-developed industrial democracies, although religious elements can increase the lethality and indiscriminate nature of the violence. Although this dynamic exists, there may be creative ways that democracies can undermine the attractiveness of religious extremism while accepting that democracy comes with inherent risks.
In what is mostly an historical overview, the author offers analysis as to why the Albanians (but also their occupiers during 1939–1944), had a very positive attitude and acceptance towards the Jews in Albania. A number of examples, such as the religious diversity, the nationalism of the traditional religions, freedom of religion and many others, to mention a few, are given and discussed.
As the example of the monks of Grottaferrata illustrates, Albanians and Italian-Albanians or Arberesh of Italy have a tradition of co-existence and a dialogue of life with other religious traditions. This community and especially the Bazilian community of Grotaferrata have been between East and West; between the Orthodox and the dominant Catholic community, creating as such a unique reality. Nevertheless, it did not succeed to communicate this unique form to the rest of nation that populated Albania.
Religious tolerance in Montenegro is a positive example that has contributed to the National Security of Montenegro and its new state in the Balkans. The challenges exist as a result of its geographical position, the diverse population as well as some unique characteristics that are analyzed in the following paper.
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