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Abstract

Extremely complex historical circumstances and modern political manipulations have caused in the Balkans three major waves of genocides during the twentieth century. The conflicts were so varied and widespread that it will not be possible to provide an adequate overview in this paper. The first one took place during the I and II Balkan Wars in 1912-1913, in which genocides occurred in the effort of four allied countries (Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro, and Serbia) to liberate themselves from the Ottoman Empire. Then the second war broke out leading to genocidal ethnic cleansing as the embattled nations of the Balkans attempted to delineate ethnic borders. The second great wave of genocides took place during and right after World War II (1941-1948). The Holocaust practically exterminated the Jewish population but genocide was also carried out against Romas (Gypsies), Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia, and in some localities against Muslims. After the end of the war in 1945, retaliatory genocide took place against the German minority and politicide against the former pro-Nazi allies. During the wars of the dismemberment of Yugoslavia in the 1990s genocides and massacres occurred again, of which the most publicized was the Srebrenica genocide of around 8,000 Bosnian Muslims. Retaliatory genocidal ethnic cleansing also took place as in previous wars. War crimes and crimes against humanity were also carried out in other regions of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina as well as in Kosovo and a similar conflict was barely averted in Macedonia. After the first wave of genocides early in the twentieth century no one was punished for their crimes, which may have given the impression to future perpetrators that they would not be facing justice. After World War II, however, there were trials of war crimes, but no thoroughgoing discussion took place to resolve the chaotic situation of WWII. Interreligious dialogue—in fact any kind of dialogue—did not take place as this approach was not as yet practiced or even known in the region. During and after the wars of the 1990s that caused the break-up of Yugoslavia into seven small independent countries the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague and local courts grappled and continue to do so with the genocides and other war crimes attempting to single out individuals responsible for the worst slaughter in order to prevent later accusations of collective guilt. In addition numerous regional and local interreligious and interethnic dialogues are being promoted and practiced. The dialogues range from large international conferences on interreligious and intercivilizational issues at which top leaders and heads of states as well as scholars participate; to establishing national and local interreligious councils consisting of religious leaders; to workshops on how to deal with loss and pain caused by the violence, how to do conflict resolution and build trust, how to promote tolerance, respect, and mutual understanding. Publications and websites have been produced. These dialogues are not yet embraced enthusiastically or widely because the historical traditions favor confrontation and suspicion. But dialogue is certainly a better alternative to hatred and desire for revenge.

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