Bosnia Herzegovina: ethnically and religiously motivated hate crimes still occur
On 30th of July this year, five unknown persons entered Atik mosque in Bijeljina in eastern Bosnia-Herzegovina, verbally attacking the prayers. This incident is one of many against this mosque, as well as against other holy sites in the country. In Sarajevo, the Orthodox Church Hram Preobraženja Gospodnjeg has been exposed to numerous attacks since the war. In Banja Luka, the Sefer Bey mosque has recorded 50 attacks since 2004. These attacks targets minority communities; both the Islamic community in Banja Luka and the Orthodox community in Sarajevo find themselves in a minority position in their locations. Regrettably, these incidents show that ethnically and religiously based hate crimes towards minority communities are still an ongoing problem in the Bosnian society.
In November 2010, the Oslo Center started a pilot project in cooperation with the Inter-religious Council (IRC) in Sarajavo. The overall goal of this pilot project is enhanced trust and improved relations across religious and ethnic communities, while the main objective is to improve the protection of religious objects and holy sites in the country. The pilot project is being monitored and evaluated by the Nansen Dialogue Center in Sarajevo.
The first year of the pilot showed that there is indeed a need to respond to ethnically/religiously-based hate crimes in Bosnia Herzegovina. A total number of 56 incidents and attacks towards churches, mosques and synagogues were reported to the IRC. Multi-religious responses by local imams and priests were facilitated at the site of the crime, providing the public with a joint condemnation of the attack. All incidents that took place during the first year of the project period were directed towards communities that constituted a minority in their area.
The project continued for a second year, which ended October 2012. The results from this period are not finally analyzed yet, but will be ready in the beginning of 2013. It will be interesting to see to which extent the joint public condemnations made during the first year have affected the situation in the local community in the second project year. Results from the first year has shown that inter-religious contact were stimulated between religious and ethnic communities and several indicators of improved protection of holy sites has been identified: increased sensitivity in the police by increased police patrolling around minorities’ religious sites, as well as media demonstrating a more balanced reporting on the nature of hate-based crimes.