Release Date: April 23, 1999
Eric Margolis, c/o Editorial Department, The Toronto Sun
333 King St. East, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5A 3X5
Fax: (416) 960-4803 -- Press Contact: Eric Margolis

Religion's at the Root of Balkan Evil

by Eric Margolis

NEW YORK - Serbia's savagery in Kosovo has finally exposed one of Europe's darkest and dirtiest secrets: the long racial and religious war against the Muslims of the Balkans.

Hatred of Muslims is the 1990's version of the anti-Semitism of the 1930's that led to the extermination of Europe's Jews. Just as many Europeans were overtly or secretly happy during the Nazi era to be rid of the Jews, so today, some modern Europeans actively or tacitly support the latest campaign by Serbia's Muslim- hating racist regime to impose a `final solution' to the `problem' of the Balkan Muslims.

After the Ottoman Empire in Eastern Europe collapsed in 1912, hundreds of thousands of Muslim Turks were slaughtered or driven out. At the end of Turkish-Greek war (1920-1928), 400,000 Turks were expelled from the Balkans; simultaneously, one million Greeks were driven from Aegean Turkey. From 1912-1928, large numbers of Slav and Albanian Muslims were expelled from Bosnia, Kosovo, and Serbia. Today, there are almost 2 million people of Bosnian descent and some 1 million of Albanian origin living in Turkey.

These vast expulsions still left some Turks, and millions of native Balkan Muslims, the descendants of Serbs, Albanians, Greeks, and Bulgarians who had voluntarily converted to Islam in the 15-16th Centuries to escape fierce religious persecution by the Catholic or Orthodox Churches, or to avoid a head tax on Christians levied by the Ottomans.

Today, there are some 10 million Muslims in the Balkans: nearly 3 million nominal Muslims in Albania; 2.3 million in Kosovo and Sanjak; 2 million in Bosnia; 2 million in Bulgaria; 180,000 in Greece; and 600-700,000 Muslim Albanians in Macedonia.

In the 1980's, Bulgaria expelled 300,000 Muslim citizens and forced the remaining Muslims to Slavicize their names and adopt Orthodox Christianity. A few years later, Serbia began attempts to exterminate or drive out Bosnia's Muslims.

France and Britain, nervous over their own large Muslim minorities, and traditionally anti-Muslim because of their colonial past, thwarted US efforts to halt ethnic warfare against Bosnia's Muslims. Greece, Bulgaria, and Macedonia gave the Serbs economic and diplomatic support. The west's tacit approval, or ineffectual opposition, to this ethnic-religious warfare opened the way for Serbia's `final solution' in Kosovo.

Today, there is wide support among Orthodox nations of Eastern Europe for Serbia's merciless campaign to eradicate its Muslim and Catholic Albanian minority. What we are seeing is not just a war over land, it is an eruption of the most vicious medieval hatred against non-Slavs and non-Orthodox people, encouraged and enflamed by demagogue Slobodan Milosevic and some extremist elements of the Orthodox clergy. Slavs in Bulgaria, Macedonia and Russia, and, sadly, some Greeks, are cheering on this massive pogrom, just as Europe's Catholic right applauded Germany's `purification' of Jews from their midst.

Serb propaganda paints Albanians and Muslims as `dirty, violent Turks,' who `breed like rabbits,' `run drugs,' and flood Slav lands with their alien offspring, the vanguard of a vast `Islamic horde about to invade Christian Europe.' Orthodox priests preach revenge for events 500 years past, even urging a new crusade to `liberate Constantinople (modern Istanbul) from the Turks. Milosevic began the horrors of ethnic warfare, vowing, a decade ago, `we will send all the Muslims back to Mecca.'

Ironically, Albania was always renowned for religious toleration. Muslims drank and celebrated Christmas and Easter; Catholics often observed Ramadan; Muslim, Orthodox, and Catholic Albanians mixed freely and without the slightest rancor. Every member of Albania's small Jewish community was hidden from the Nazis and Italian fascists.

Yet the easy-going, unreligious Albanians and other Balkan Muslims now are paying a terrible price for long past centuries of religious and racial hatred. They have become scapegoats for the frustrations, economic ruin, and low self-esteem of the failed, only semi-Europeanized nations of the darkest Balkans.

[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster based in Toronto, Canada.]

Copyright © 1999 Eric Margolis - All Rights Reserved
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