Thursday, June 10, 2010

Balkans: Bosnian Serb government praised for role in restoring Mosque

At a ceremony on Tuesday, June 8, leaders of Bosnia's Islamic community praised authorities in the Republika Srpska (RS), the Serb entity within Bosnia and Herzegovina, for their assistance with the reconstruction of the Ferhad Pasha Mosque in the RS capital, Banja Luka. The RS government has pledged 700,000 euros for the reconstruction effort. In recognition of this commitment, the Islamic community presented RS Prime Minister Milorad Dodik with a letter of gratitude during Tuesday's ceremony.

This was Dodik's first official visit to the mosque since the beginning of the reconstruction. Mustafa Reis Ceric, the head of Bosnia's Islamic community, said, "Dodik's visit has confirmed that authorities in the Serb republic have a long lasting relationship with Ferhadija [Ferhad Pasha] and respect for different religions."

The Ferhad Pasha Mosque is the main Islamic shrine in the RS. Constructed in the 16th century, it was a UNESCO heritage site until it was blown up by radical nationalists during the 1992-95 war.

"The Government of RS is resolute in its decision to help with the reconstruction of the mosque because it is one of the key cultural symbols of Banja Luka. The Government has supported the reconstruction [of Ferhadija Mosque] with 1,400,000 KM, [700,000 euros] and will keep supporting the effort," Dodik said. "This Government wants to provide a peaceful and stable life for all residents of RS, regardless of their ethnic or religious background," he added.

The majority of Bosnians residing in the RS are Orthodox Christian Serbs. Tuesday's peaceful scene was a sharp contrast to a June 2001 event at the site, when a nationalist attack marred the ceremony marking the laying of the cornerstone for the reconstruction site.

Mustafa Reis Ceric said that better times have come to Banja Luka and Bosnia. "I want to underscore today that the reconstruction of Ferhad Pasha's Mosque began with 150,000 euros from the Serb republic government. Today, the situation in Banja Luka is much better than a couple of years ago, and I hope the mosque will be completed in a year. There were 16 mosques in the Banja Luka area before the war. They were all destroyed during the war, but 14 of them have been reconstructed. Today, we are also laying a cornerstone for the new university building in Sarajevo, which means that the building the university uses today will be returned to the Serb Orthodox Church."

The Mufti of Banja Luka, Edhem Camdzic, said the meeting of top Islamic clerics and Bosnian Serb authorities under the roof of the reconstructed ancient library sends a powerful message. "From this holy place we are sending a message of peace and tolerance," he said.

Source Mr. Gordan Milosevic, Government of the Republika Srpska