In the historic place of Ohrid/Macedonia a meeting of 500 political and religious leaders from 30 nations took place from May 6-9, 2010. This Conference was sponsored by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Macedonia, by UNESCO as well as by the Government of Spain and by a Jewish anti-Holocaust organization. It was the follow-up of a tradition which was initiated by the late President of Macedonia, Boris Trajkovski, who died 2004 in a crash of the presidential aircraft.
In 2001 Macedonia was very close to a civil war between Albanian Muslims and Orthodox Macedonians. Till today the civil society of Macedonia is experiencing a critical tension between the different ethnicities, the minority of Roma people included.
The bigger frame of a World Conference allows the religious leaders of Macedonia and the Balkans to meet and listen to one another.
Among the delegates were 15 United Methodists (UMC) under the leadership of Bishop Heinrich Bolleter, Geneva Secretary of the World Methodist Council. The UMC is active in various Balkan States but is a small minority everywhere. However, according to the new law of 2008, the UMC and 12 other Churches are registered with and officially recognized by the Republic of Macedonia – as the Islamic Community and the Jewish Community are, as well.
The Conference was organized in a way that the leaders of the religious communities were invited to present a longer statement on the theme «Religion and Culture – Substantial Relations among Nations». Among these statements was also a Methodist address delivered by Bishop Heinrich Bolleter. Other participants had the opportunity to share a short statement with the plenary. But there was no organized real interaction between the different religious and ethnic communities. It was very positive that the various participants really had to listen to one another, the weak side of the conference, however, was the fact that the protagonists and academics were not pushed to talk together. Reading the flow of the conference it became evident that the majorities and minorities in Macedonia are still far away from overcoming the tensions between their communities.
The Government of Macedonia, represented by the President of State and the Prime Minister, was inviting the officially registered religious communities one by one to a meeting in the Premier’s Cabinet. This shows the readiness of the government for a respectful dialogue and for peaceful cohabitation of the different communities. But there is still a long way to fulfillment.
The next World Conference will be prepared by a committee of 23 representatives – among them are the Methodist Professors Dr. Michael Nausner (Germany) and Dr. Paul Mojzes (USA).
Sources: Prof. Dr. Michael Nausner (Germany) and Bishop Heinrich Bolleter (Switzerland)
Date: May 17, 2010