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Setting the Background An Assessment from North of the Border

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1The coordinator of the conference, Paul Mojzes, assured me that the theme was not meant to overlookCanadians in the reconciliation endeavor. Even so, I thought that a presentation of a Canadian view on “American”(in the narrower sense most commonly used, to refer to the USA and its citizens ) involvements might prove helpfulin opening up perspectives on the question.RELIGION IN EASTERN EUROPE XXVII, 3 (August 2007) page 50“SETTING THE BACKGROUND: AN ASSESSMENTFROM NORTH OF THE BORDER”James R. Payton, Jr.Dr. James R. Payton, Jr., is Professor of History and Chair of the Department ofHistory at Redeemer University College, in Ancaster, Ontario, Canada. He alsoserved as executive secretary of CAREE (Christians Associated for Relationshipswith Eastern Europe) 1998-2006, and is currently CAREE’s president. He presentedthis paper to open the CAREE conference on November 17, 2006 as part of the theme(addressed by 14 speakers) Inter-church and Inter-religious Tensions in PostCommunist Eastern Europe: Can Americans Serve as Reconcilers? Several otherpapers follow in this issue, the remaining series of papers will appear as Part II in theNovember 2007 issue.In this presentation, I want to set the background for our discussions today on ourconference theme, “Inter-church and Inter-religious Tensions in Post-Communist EasternEurope: Can Americans Serve as Reconcilers?” To do that, I intend to draw on myexperience of studying and teaching the history of Eastern Europe “north of the border.” Mycomments offer a Canadian assessment on the question we are considering.1For the past twenty-two years, I have served as a history professor at RedeemerUniversity College (in Ancaster, Ontario), where I teach a first-year introduction to EasternEuropean history and upper-level history courses on the Byzantine World, Ukraine, theBalkans, Orthodoxy (a course cross-listed in the Religion & Theology department), and anhonors-level seminar on Kosovo. Over the years, students’ initial awareness of andfamiliarity with Eastern Europe has gone through some significant changes, reflecting whatwas happening in the world and being disseminated in the mass media: in the early 1990sthey knew enough about the former Communist Bloc to be keenly interested, by the mid-1990s their focus had shifted to the warfare in the former Yugoslavia, and at the turn of themillennium they knew about NATO’s bombing campaign on behalf of Kosovo. However,with the shift of media attention to the “war on terror” in the wake of the September 11, 2001attack on the twin towers in New York, most students over the last few years come into theirfirst class on Eastern Europe without any particular familiarity with the region or itshistory—a far cry from what their parents and grandparents’ experienced, through the ColdRELIGION IN EASTERN EUROPE XXVII, 3 (August 2007) page 51War years and the heady and challenging days of the early Post-Communist period in theregion. It has certainly been an interesting experience to continue teaching these courses inthis brief period in which student awareness of the region has so dramatically changed.Teaching about Eastern Europe makes eminently good sense in Canada, andspecifically in the larger Hamilton region in southern Ontario, where Redeemer UniversityCollege is located. The Canadian approach to multi-cultural society encourages immigrantsto remain loyal to and proud of their homeland, while assimilating into Canadian society.With that approach, Canada has and celebrates numerous immigrant communities fromaround the world—including several from Eastern Europe. The province of Alberta boastsseveral large Ukrainian communities; the city of Toronto has the world’s largestconcentration of Macedonians outside the country of Macedonia (in excess of 200,000); inthe Georgetown region of Ontario is a large Croatian community; and the greater Hamiltonregion, where our university is located, has several well-established Eastern Europeancommunities—from Romania, Slovenia, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Macedonia; a stand-offish one from Russia; and large communities from Serbia and from Ukraine. Both I and mystudents have abundant opportunity to interact, directly and personally, with fellow citizensand neighbors on the streets where we live, people whose roots we study in our courses onEastern Europe.I am a dual citizen: I was born in the USA and spent a good portion of my life there,but the last twenty-five years I have lived in Canada. A few years ago, I also became aCanadian citizen. My wife is a Dutch Canadian, and I have increasingly found myselfgenuinely at home in Canadian society. I have found Canadian perspectives, emphases, andapproaches compelling and have embraced them as my own, for the most part. I appreciatemy American citizenship, but I must admit that I identify more closely with Canada. I willdraw from that sense of personal distance to offer a view from north of the border.We are dealing especially with “inter-church and inter-religious” tensions in ourconference theme, so I should probably indicate some of my qualifications for entering intothat area. While my Ph.D. is in history and that is the discipline in which I teach, I have beentrained in religion and theology and have been actively involved in inter-church and inter-religious meetings, both in North America and in Eastern Europe, over the last several years.I approach such meetings, and the question with which we deal today, though, as a historian.That means that I am concerned with geopolitical and historical backgrounds, with what has2In 1772, the Habsburg Empire, Prussia, and Russia (Poland’s neighbors) had aggrandized chunks offormerly Polish territoryto themselves; in 1793, Prussia and Russia had helped themselves to some more; and in 1795,all three neighboring powers completed the dismemberment. The Polish state had become so weak that it could offernothing more than verbal resistance.3In the August 29, 1526, Battle of Mohacs, Louis II, who served as king of both Hungary and of Bohemia,was killed. According to the Treaty of Vienna, a family compact signed between the Habsburg and Bohemian rulingfamilies in 1515, if either ruler or his descendants should die without an heir, the empty throne would fall to the rulerof the other country. Since Louis died childless, the Hungarian and Bohemian thrones became the possession of theHabsburg ruler. With this, Poland was left as the only


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