Throughout history the Balkan region has been known as a crossroads of various cultures. It can indeed be considered as a part of the Bible lands (Roman provinces Iliricum and Macedonia are mentioned several times in Pauline epistles and Acts). Later on it has been a juncture of Orthodox and Catholic Christianity, as well as the meeting point between Islam and Christianity. As the frontier between East and West Europe the Balkans have been fought over or through many times, so the tensions have always been great. In 20th century alone the area saw 5 wars in its territory, always leaving the peoples of the region suffering severely in casualties, dislocation, famine and mass mobilization. This was especially so during the series of wars, fought at the breakup of the former Yugoslavia between 1991 and 1995. The wars were complex: characterized by bitter mass ethnic cleansing among the peoples of the former Yugoslavia, they are often described as Europe’s deadliest conflicts since World War II. The aftermath shows that in the wars in Croatia and Bosnia over 100.000 people were killed and over 2.5 million people were misplaced.
Today’s Christianity in the Balkans
Many of the people belonging to the traditional Churches are merely cultural Christians without a personal faith in God. Their Bible reading habits and understanding of the Bible are very poor. Due to 50 years under Communism and the lack of evangelism efforts by traditional Churches our countries are left with a very strong secular influence which creates a political and cultural divide between the Christian and the non-Christian part of the population. In the general media Christians are often viewed as hypocritical and too politically motivated. Christian testimony to the increasingly secular public in our countries is thus impaired. This is why the Bible societies of the West Balkan partnership believe that a renewed Biblical mission, conducted together with local Churches and mission partners in all our countries, is essential. Christians need tools and encouragement for fresh Bible missionary activities in an environment where basic acquaintance with Bible and Christianity is disappearing. The whole Balkan region is becoming a mission field in the classical sense of the word – an area needing carefully planned, coordinated and long term missionary effort to (re)introduce the Christian message. There is a great need to recast the Biblical message in a new language and into new cultural expressions, reopening the treasures of biblical spirituality, and clearly detaching oneself from the perceived abuses of the historic Christendom, which has often been misused even for the purposes of nationalistic promotion during the war at the breakup of former Yugoslavia.
The Bible Societies of the West Balkan Partnership believe that such efforts will bring true reconciliation to the nations of the region and will also help bridge the gap between the secularized general public and Christians. We affirm that our Bible societies can indeed serve as a good catalyst for such a mission, but the extent to which this is going to be possible is dependent on the question whether our operations can be revived and even increased.
Currently we are operating at the “bare necessities” level and are witnessing many challenges that need to be addressed but unfortunately have to remain unanswered. We would like to kindle a new passion for the region that has lost a lot of its “attractiveness” to the western media (and donors) after the wars were officially over. Now the people of the region are left with inflictions that should be properly mended or they might have the capability of starting new conflicts in the area. We see the Bible and the message of God’s love for all as the “ultimate cure” for the people of our region.
The currently presiding country of the EU is Hungary. In an April 14th 2011 meeting regarding the Balkans its Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said the Western Balkans constitute “a sort of enclave within the territory of the European Union. We have the sense that they constitute unfinished business.”