Balkans: January 24, 2002


RFE reported that the leader of Romanias extreme right-wing Greater Romania Party (Corneliu Vadim Tudor) has sent a resolution to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that demands that the Santa Sofia Cathedral (Hagia Sophia) in Istanbul be returned to Orthodox Christians. The Turks turned the cathedral into a mosque after the Ottomans took Constantinople (Istanbul, not Constantinople now) in 1453. The Turks later de-sanctified the site and turned Hagia Sophia into a museum (nd a fabulous museum it is.) While the Greater Romanian Party is stocked with more than its fair share of East European ethnic xenophobes (and the reason they want the church back has nothing to do with positive pan-European diplomacy), the idea that Hagia Sophia could be returned to the Orthodox Church may not be such a laugh. Consider the long term trends in Europe. Turkey wants to join the European Union. If Cyprus gets resolved to Turkeys satisfaction and if The War on Terror deals a mortal blow to militant Islamists, one of the savviest symbolic gestures Ankara could make to the rest of Europe is giving Hagia Sophia back to the Orthodox Church. With the Blue Mosque right across the courtyard, two grand European religious monuments (one of Christian Europe, the other of Muslim Europe) would be living side by side. Such a gesture would knock anti-Turk Greeks back on their dug-in heels. Though such a diplomatic move is, in the near term, highly improbable, as Turkey moves toward EU membership precisely this kind of history-rich gesture will have really media (and hence political) power. (Austin Bay)




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