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Kosovo celebrates diversity and Jewish heritage; brings together leaders together to reflect on the importance of interfaith dialogue

Pristina, 12 December 2013 – As part of Interfaith Kosovo Initiative, Kosovo’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs celebrated Kosovo’s long Jewish heritage with a film screening and panel discussion.Jakov Sedlar, a renowned Croatian director and producer, premiered his documentary film in Pristina. Entitled “Fate did not let me go,” the film illustrates the true story behind a Jewish mother’s letter to her son written just days before her death in a concentration camp in 1942.
Inspired by Valli Ollendorff’s letter to her son Ulrich, the story for Sedlar demonstrates “a mother’s unconditional love for her child, but also forgiveness and faith in God.” Jakov Sedlar is accompanied on this visit to Pristina by Valli Ollendorff’s grandson, Mr. Stephen Ollendorff, who is also the Founder and Director of the Ollendorff Center for Religious and Human Understanding in the United States.

To coincide with this event, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the support of the British Council, also hosted a panel discussion on “Jewish Heritage in Kosovo and the Importance of Interfaith Dialogue.”  Panelists included Mr. Sedlar and Mr. Ollendorff, alongside Kosovo’s Deputy Foreign Minister Petrit Selimi, Croatia’s Chief Rabbi Luciano Moshe Prelevic, and Rabbi Yeshayahu Hollander, who is editor of the online “Easy-to-Read Talmud” - Judaism’s revered scriptures.

Rabbi Hollander, who is visiting Kosovo from Tel Aviv said: “Religion is a major factor in the motivations of Peoples; hence religion must be a major factor in making peace. Governments can arouse people to wage wars, and governments can sign peace treaties, but just as people have to be convinced that it is right to wage war - so must people be convinced that it is right to make peace …that it is against the wish of God to wage war. Thus interfaith understanding and cooperation is an indispensible element of 21st century diplomacy.”

Deputy Foreign Minister of Kosovo, Petrit Selimi, who is the architect of Interfaith Kosovo noted the importance of  hosting events  which openly appreciate and acknowledge diversity, thereby contributing towards an inclusive and open Kosovo. During the panel discussion, Deputy Foreign Minister Petrit Selimi said: “Kosovo is one of the most open countries in the world respecting the rights religious and non-religious people.
Although over 90 per cent of the population are Muslims, Kosovo consists of a diversity of cultures whose members have lived for centuries in peace. Moreover, Albanians in Kosovo and Albania have been universally commended for their nobleness in saving Jews during World War II. There were more Jews in Albania at the end of the war than beforehand.”

Speaking at the panel discussion, Croatian filmmaker Jakov Sedlar said: “The world should hear more about the Albanian heroism in defense of Jews during the Holocaust. Albanians have much to export around the world regarding tolerance and interfaith dialogue. We all need to promote new ideas, young people and solidarity among ourselves . Also, through arts we can put a small stone of peace within the interfaith dialogue.”

During his visit in Pristina, Jakov Sedlar also announced his intention to make a documentary film on the Jewish people and their heritage in Kosovo.
The untold story of the rescue of the Jewish people during World War II by Albanians in Kosovo and Albania is become increasingly well-known; it has been recently featured in the documentary film, “Besa: The Promise,” depicting Albanian courage and interfaith cooperation.  

Regarding his Kosovo project, Sedlar added: “Kosovo is a new country and the world still has to learn a lot about you. It is important for you to talk about traditional Kosovar hospitality and about Kosovars who welcomed many people throughout centuries, including Jews.”

Finally, Croatia’s Chief Rabbi Luciano Moshe Prelevic focused on the need for the wider Balkans region to follow Kosovo’s example of promoting interfaith dialogue and cooperation. Croatia’s Chief Rabbi said: “Religion consists of moral, responsible representatives of the society, believe in God and worship the Lord. Religious leaders should stay away from politics and they must oppose extremism. All in all, I agree with my fellow panelists that we need more dialogue, less monologue, and we should focus more on intrafaith dialogue.”

About Interfaith Kosovo:

Interfaith Kosovo Initiative is an innovative approach to diplomacy through civil society. In an age when our networks and institutions become increasingly intertwined, it is more imperative than as ever to understand our neighbors, and them to understand us. If politics stands in the way on one side or the other, or both, the more flexible side needs to find alternative ways to build understanding and confidence. Kosovo has taken important steps towards interfaith dialogue domestically and internationally. Launching an annual ecumenical conference with international and local faith leaders and academics, promoting tolerance in primary and secondary education through the Tony Blair Faith Foundation by the Face to Faith and The Faith and Globalization Initiative are examples of the Kosovo’s government commitment to respecting and protecting all faiths.

Further information on Interfaith Kosovo initiatives, projects, and activities is available at http://www.interfaithkosovo.org/.