The following interview derives from a piece that originally appeared in issue six of Aleksandr Dugin’s journal ‘Elementy’ (Elements) in 1995. Here, the former Iranian ambassador to the Vatican, Muhammad Masjid Jamei, gives his view on the events of the Yugoslavian crisis and the Iranian understanding of the Orthodox Church. Nearly twenty years later, as the West is replicating the Balkan template in the Ukraine, this piece retains all of its relevance and evidences significant foresight on the part of the ambassador. Translated by Evgeniy Filimonov.
Elements: What role, in your view, should the Orthodox Church play in the contemporary world?
Muhammad Masjid Jamei: Orthodoxy is more than a church, it is more than merely a denomination. It comprises the axis of history, culture and identity of the Orthodox peoples. It is precisely for this reason that the Orthodox Church plays or will play a crucial role. Russia and the greater part of the former Eastern Bloc countries, from a historic and cultural point of view, are truly not part of the Western world nor could they be. In my view, the past rivalry between the Western and Eastern blocs was not only due to the antagonism between Capitalism and Marxism. National and ethnic factors played a key role in the conflict of the two systems. Of course now, because of the strong pressure from existing political regimes, these factors do not have the opportunity to fully demonstrate their real weight on affairs. But this does not mean that they don’t exist. On the contrary, after the fall of Marxism they found a new strength. It is this that the West fears. Marxism, regardless of what form it takes, could not pose a threat to the West since there no longer exists the danger that Marxist regimes could once again regain strength within the countries of Eastern Europe. Far more likely is the resurgence of a nationalism which will oppose the West and, as in the past, give rise to a new clash of values.
Now, a serious increase in the role of the Orthodox Church depends only on itself. Furthermore, much also depends on how many of its original features can be retained, without modernizing beyond what is necessary and staunchly opposing propaganda, through which the Mondialists would seek to westernize Orthodoxy, as has happened with other Christian denominations. It is in this sense, from my point of view, that the Orthodox Church is one of the important forces inherently opposing Mondialism.
Serbs and Russians alike assume that the Yugoslavian crisis, resulting in the dismemberment of the country and the war with Bosnia, is an expression of aggrandizement against the Orthodox Church. Do you agree with this point of view?
M.J.: The point here is not whether to be in agreement or disagreement. It is, rather, to understand the way of thought and sentiment of the Orthodox. This should be done, regardless of the other issues, and this will help end the crisis. From the Orthodox Serbian point of view, the crisis began with the separation of Croatia from Yugoslavia, which they assume was supported by Germany, Austria, and the Vatican. They consider that the Vatican’s invasion is due to the fact that the peoples of this region are Catholic, and argue that the expansionism of the Catholic Church was at the heart of the war and led to its intensification. From their point of view, it comes down to an unfair and unequal war between two denominations. Subsequently, the war spread to Bosnia. The Orthodox Serbs first fought against the Muslims and their allies, the Croats. From the Orthodox point of view, the Muslims were provoked by the Catholics under false pretenses to fight against the Serbs with the goal of suppressing Orthodoxy. Such forms the basis of their attitude towards the war in Bosnia. Naturally, they are aware of the existence of other factors, but in relation to the role of Catholicism in this conflict they are almost unanimous in their sentiment.
What do you think about the future of the Orthodox Church?
M.J.: Despite its factors of weakness, which it owes to the Communist regime, the Orthodox Church is internally strong and rich, especially in relation to its mystical elements and Orthodox way of thinking as well as its traditions, which have survived in a large part of the population. Conservatism and the delayed adaptation of Orthodoxy to modern conditions is simultaneously a weak point and a great merit: the Orthodox Church remains true to its original principles, while other denominations have done the opposite and modernized to the point of degeneration. Moreover, the national character of the Church determines its powerful structure, which contributes to the preservation of the cultural and political independence of its flock. Today, it is those who reject the advance of the West and its humiliating attitude towards Russia and its traditions as well as those who wish to live independently and with dignity that look to the Church. We can therefore conclude that the Church will undoubtedly play a fundamental and active role in the life of the Orthodox and especially the Slavic peoples. Any regimes striving to manage the countries of Eastern Europe must take the Church into consideration, which is now going through a transitional period, but it will surely and successfully overcome all of the difficulties and, in the end, appear even stronger and more powerful than ever.
What do you think about the relationship between the Orthodox Church and Islam?
M.J.: Despite the fact that there has been a multitude of conflicts between the Orthodox and Muslims, especially in the Balkans, the last decades have seen a trend towards an improvement in relations. These relations were not in conflict under the Communist regime, and it seems that they have remained good after the fall of the iron curtain. The situation in Yugoslavia, especially in Bosnia and Kosovo, is of course, an exception, and I hope for the fastest possible resolution of a crisis that would affect an even greater improvement in relations between Islam and Orthodoxy.
The fact is that despite their existing differences, the Orthodox and Muslims share common problems and common enemies. With the fall of the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, Western militarists are attempting to destroy the last few small remainders of national, cultural, and religious independence which may interfere with their aspiration towards global hegemony. From their point of view, Islam and Orthodoxy are the essence of a power bloc whose existence is incompatible with their plans, it is for this reason that such efforts are expended on the weakening or even destruction of these two religions.
The best way towards the accomplishment of this goal is the imposition of disputes and wars between them. Therefore, given this situation, we can safely say that there are deeply justifiable reasons for the cooperation of the Orthodox Church and Islam. The most important thing here is that both sides should deepen their ties and wisely and objectively study the international situation, thus contributing to peacemaking, agreement, and the elimination of any sort of possible conflict.
What do you think about the relationship between Russia and Iran?
M.J.: Since ancient times, Iranians are a religious people which, as history will tell you, maintain excellent relations with other religions, especially Christians, primarily the Orthodox. Iran wants to continue to develop these good relations, and has, on the basis of such a goal, spent two religious meetings at the highest level with the Greek Orthodox Church. Iran is interested in the continuation of this dialogue.
Last year, President Hashemi Rafsanjani sent a congratulatory message on the occasion of Christmas to the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, and many other Iranian officials have sent congratulatory messages to other hierarchs of the Orthodox Church. I want to emphasize that Iran is very much interested in a more active dialogue with the Christian world, especially with Orthodoxy, which, in turn, should also be interested in these relationships.
Read Evgeniy Filimonov’s blog Read What You Sow.