In addition to the four largest religious communities (Jewish, Catholic, Orthodox and Islamic), there are communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina that number only a few tens or hundreds of people. Domestic laws guarantee equality and prohibit discrimination against them but the general atmosphere is that they are unwelcome.

Written by: Vanja Stokić; Photo & Video: Ajdin Kamber

Members of the Hare Krishna movement live in several Bosnia and Herzegovina towns. In informal conversation, some of them tell us to hide their beliefs from the environment. Due to previous bad experiences, they think it is better not to talk about it. They don’t want to stand in front of the cameras. They do not know exactly how many of them there are in Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to records from several years ago, about 500 BiH citizens celebrated Krishna. In the meantime, many of them have moved away.

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Samir alias Shimiketa Das, as is his spiritual name, joined the Hare Krishna movement 30 years ago. He says the movement members are well accepted in Sarajevo, without any problems.

‘People like us, we often sing across the town. We dance, give away cookies and our literature. It’s spiritual literature about the inner Self, our true Self. How to get to know yourself? Who are we? How to establish contact with Supreme divine personality? It is a process that we practice and want to share with our fellow citizens’, explains he as we sit in his apartment very reminiscent of a temple.

Šimiketa Das; Foto: Ajdin Kamber

Krishna followers are vegetarians and avoid gambling, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs and sex other than the one that aims to conceive.

‘You definitely change your life when you get those things out of your life. It’s a clean life without addiction to poisoning, drugs or gambling. These are all addictions that are problems in society. Therefore, our serious members avoid those four unfavourable principles and want to live a clean life because that brings natural happiness,’ Shimiketa Das points out.

Their leading principle is that one can be happy only if one connects with oneself. That spiritual process is known as self-awareness or yoga.

‘Bhakti yoga, which we practice, is an ancient, thousands of years old process. The given variant that is the most favourable and simplest for the people of this age is the chanting of the Maha mantra. Maha means great, and mantra means that which frees the mind from material attachment. The Maha mantra is: ‘Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hare, Hare, Hare Rama, Rama, Rama, Hare, Hare. By chanting this mantra during this life, a person can reach self-realization and perfection in life’, he states.

Krishna followers believe that the soul moves from one body to another. By your behaviour in this, you create your body in the next life. They call it karma.

Hare Krišna figurice; Foto: Ajdin Kamber

Isolation from the family

While there are about 16 million Mormons in the world, there are just under a hundred in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Their church is officially called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and their missionaries travel the world at their own expense and preach the faith. That’s how Austin Thomas Blanchard came to Sarajevo from the United States.

‘I believe that Jesus Christ is our Saviour and I have come on my mission to teach other people that as much as I can. To be an example of Jesus Christ. We learn in the gospel that we should do our best to live as He lived. To serve others and help others’, says he.

Austin Thomas Blanchard; Foto: Ajdin Kamber

He says people sometimes call them names in the street but this is nowhere near to what other members experience.

After they joined the Church, the members of their families refused to keep contact with them. It might be more difficult to find a job. I know a person who could not find a job after joining the Church’ says he shortly.

Foto: Ajdin Kamber

Domination of main religions

Unfortunately, the Christian Adventist Church in Banja Luka has experience with breaking windows and stoning buildings. The offender is never found but they do not blame the whole community. They see it as acts of individuals. However, the problems they face are much deeper.

‘Small religious communities are seen as a socially negative phenomenon. However, it should be quite the opposite according to the Constitution. Right, there have been some problems since the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina because there are three major religions dominating and constantly pushing small ones aside, which indeed are smaller in terms of their membership. Nevertheless, they exist globally without any problems. They are seen by the general public as equal in participation in society. Nobody questions it nor makes problems out of it, says theologian and a Christian Adventist Church priest’, Bojan Topić.

Adventists believe in the Ten Commandments, and the fourth of them says that Saturday is the Sabbath, a day for family and prayer. This creates problems for believers at work, with employers demanding work on Saturdays.

‘Everything we do comes from the values of Christ. We wouldn’t do any of that if we weren’t firmly anchored in His teachings. Because the point is not to be an Adventist, it is not the point to be an Orthodox or a Catholic. The point is to be a disciple of Christ. And when we are disciples of Christ, the Church has certain importance but the first sense and essence of Christianity is to learn from Jesus. And when we learn from Jesus, from his values, which are all recorded in the Gospel, then we spontaneously raise the issue of humanitarian work’, he explains.

Bojan Topić; Foto: Vanja Stokić

Small religious communities do not receive even approximately the same time in the media as the four large ones. Therefore, citizens cannot be acquainted with their activities or form their attitudes about them.

‘I would call for a little more attention when certain people appear in front of their church and label other small religious communities.  If we talk about someone, I think it’s fair, correct and moral to invite this person, to present his/her story without judging something we are totally unfamiliar with. And sects are so often discussed today. People haven’t got a clue what a sect is nor do they know the etymology of the word. It always has a negative connotation but it shouldn’t! I’d like we started breaking the wall between the unfamiliar and gave people the opportunity to understand that there’s such a diversity in this world and lots of alternatives and differences. To understand there’s nothing they should be afraid of’, explains he.

The Law on Freedom of Religion and the Legal Status of Churches and Religious Communities in BiH stipulates that everyone has the right to freedom of religion and belief, including freedom of public confession or non-confession of religion. In addition, everyone has the right to accept or change their religion as well as the freedom to perform religious activities publicly or privately. Churches and religious communities must not spread intolerance and prejudice against other churches and religious communities and their believers. This also includes non-religious citizens.

The Ministry of Justice of BiH lists 50 entities in its Registry of New Churches and Religious Communities, Alliances of Churches and Religious Communities. At the same time, 120 Islamic, 400 Catholic, 540 Orthodox and eight Jewish entities are registered.

Contacts to confront prejudices

Alen Kristić, theologian and the founder of the Centre for Peace Education, explains that the negative attitude towards smaller religious communities comes from fear and ignorance because we encounter something different and unknown. Based on that, prejudices and stereotypes are formed. He sees the solution in meetings so that we can see that these are people like us, who have the same pains, fears and hopes.

‘In essence, that should be the fundamental task of religion.’ To create oases and platforms where we can meet and learn from each other. Just as we have open nights of museums, it would be good to have open nights of religious communities, especially small ones. To present themselves to others so that others can get to know them better,’ suggests he.

However, he sees the reasons for the negative attitude in religious conceit and the attitude that God is only ours. There is also the dominant position of main religious communities.

‘Whether we belong to certain religious community or not, it mustn’t be the basis for discrimination. This gives nobody an exclusive right to humanity and morality. So, this is the call to be moral and compete in good deeds. If we manage to instil this into young people, if it becomes a part of our general culture, we won’t discriminate against each other for believing or not believing, or this or that religious affiliation. Instead, we’ll pull together to bring more goodness and humanity to society. In the end, it is a right measure for every religious community.  It’s not about whether it’s large or small, whether it has a big or small budget, large or small places of worship but how much good they bring to society’, says Kristić.

Alen Kristić, Foto: Ajdin Kamber

Different religious communities have the same guiding principles. One of those is goodness. What Kristić recognizes as a difference is the way of belonging to large and small religious communities Most people get religious affiliation by birth to families belonging to large religious communities. For them, this is the inheritance they do not question.

‘This is something people take for granted and that’s the very reason why traditional religion is so prone to nationalism. To nationalist abuse as it is used to make our religion, i.e., our nation stronger than others, to intimidate others and to draw lines between people. My experience tells me that many people have joined small religious communities because they were repulsed by nationalism in the major ones. Those people are of a mixed origin and are aware that religion and nationalism have nothing in common. People belonging to (new) small religious communities do so after their personal spiritual quest. This makes their faith more aware, more critical and they live their faith more dynamically. This is something large religious communities should learn from small ones. To learn how to resist (religious) nationalism more resolutely and turn to humanity’, says he.

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