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Religion and Society

Interreligious unrest in forgotten Kosovo

The years leading up to the independence of Kosovo in February 2008 have long excited great interest for this region of the Balkans, until then practically unknown. The media, the international community and the historical and political analysts have dedicated various articles and studies to it. But, as always happens, once the facts have been analysed and examined, Kosovo once again fell into oblivion or at least into almost general indifference.

 

 

A country of 10,000 km2, Kosovo aspires to entering the European Union, but the question is how to build and develop the Kosovo identity within this project?

 

In this article we aim to offer some reflections on this issue, starting with a visual angle, ours, which is that of the Catholic communities situated in a Muslim majority context.

 

In the West, Kosovo is known above all as a country that has just come out of an armed conflict. Kosovo has a vast countryside, the land is fertile and farming very often constitutes the only resource of the Kosovars. Unemployment, according to World Bank estimates, affects 70% of the young people and almost one inhabitant out of two has no work.

 

 

The population of this country under full reconstruction is in search of its own specific identity, seeking inspiration from the past and aiming at showing Europe the permanence of its connection with Christian values and more specifically with Catholic ones. The relations with the few Serbs, who are usually Orthodox or Protestants, are in fact rather tense and distant.

 

 

Catholicism constitutes, at least at first glance, the resource at which Kosovo seems to be aiming in the reconstruction of its identity. It represents a cultural reference present both among the well-to-do part of the population, the elite, and in the totality of the population. In fact the huge cathedral being built in the capital, Pristina, comes into this logic perfectly. The three thousand Catholics living in the capital will never be able to fill the space foreseen for the religious ceremonies. It was the first president of Kosovo, Ibrahim Rugova, that wanted this gigantic project to be realised. Monsignor Dodë Gjergji, Bishop of Pristina and all Kosovo, sees a sign of hope, the symbol of the future, in the cathedral. For the Muslims it shows the opening of autochthonous Islam, which recognises its historical roots in Catholicism and is keen to distinguish itself from any form of fundamentalism.

 

 

The historical and anthropological legacy and the very mentality of the people are deeply linked to Christianity. With regard to Islam, it fosters the interior life of the Muslim believer but is not externalised.

 

In Kosovo Catholics and Muslims live in separate villages. The big towns and the capital are inhabited almost exclusively by Muslims. It is the Muslims therefore that easily get the key positions in the state and politics.

 

 

In the recent past the Catholic Church was the victim of persecution, an experience that made it stronger and more invigorated. The faithful, forced to stay in their villages, lived a unique experience of community. It is moreover evident that the persecution inflicted by the Ottomans and the Communist period are well embedded in people’s memories even now.

 

 

Kosovar Catholicism can therefore be entered into a nationalist and patriotic discourse, one that pervades the whole country. But the great challenge for the local church lies in transforming this cultural vision of religion into a spiritual itinerary. It will have to be capable of adopting a pastoral that answers the needs of the new evangelisation of those who want to leave the country. It will also have to adopt a pastoral in relation to mixed marriages and lastly will have to renew its vision of things towards converts.

 

 

An interesting proposal for the young is represented by the Don Bosco School. Run by two Italian priests, it aims to offer young people a solid education in different sectors so that, once they have their school diploma, they can work or set up their own firm in Kosovo. Besides professional training, the fathers offer catechesis to those who wish to do it. The catechesis began just this year, ten years after the school’s foundation. But, to use don Matteo’s words, the seed gives its fruits with patience.

 

 

If it is true that the construction of identity is fuelled by the traditions of the past, it must be recognised that the generational exchange and the present general tendency to migrate could one day cancel the contribution of the Catholic faith to the country from the individual and collective historical memory, substituting it with other references. At that point what value and what meaning would the splendid cathedral in Pristina have?

 

 

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