February 2, 2003
THE DESTRUCTION OF MEMORY
by Sergei Romaninko, Master of Historical Sciences, Senior Research Associate of the Institute for International Research in Economics and Politics of the Russian Academy of Sciences
A while ago European national agencies informed that the Kosovo Muslims had blown up two more Orthodox churches. This evoked a highly emotional (and rightly so) reaction among Christians throughout the world, especially in Russia.
In a tourist guide for the old, still "Titoist" Yugoslavia, issued in 1983 in Belgrade, in the section devoted to Kosovo, important historical monuments - mainly churches, monasteries and mosques - coexisted peacefully. The Orthodox monasteries of St. Stefan in Banjska (1313-17), Decani (1327-35), Gracanica (1321) and the Pec Patriarchate complex (13th-14th centuries) have been classified and still belong among the treasures of not only the Serb or Albanian, Orthodox or Islamic but of world culture, along with the Hadum Mosque in Djakovica (16th century), the Bajrakli Mosque in Pec (15th century) and the Fatih Mosque in Pristina (15th century).
Less than two decades have passed and on the cover of a collection of articles and speeches by the Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church Kyr Pavle issued in 2002, who at the end of the 1950's was the Bishop of Raska and Prizren, there is a map on which churches and monasteries are divided into those still standing and those already destroyed. However, even this map is already outdated. As early as December 2001 experts emphasized that during the period from June 9, 1999, that is, since the signing of the Kumanovo Agreement between NATO and the Yugoslav People's Army to end NATO operations against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, over 140 Serbian cultural monuments had been destroyed.
In an open letter from Serbian Bishop Artemije to Kosovo premier Bajram Rexhepi there is also reference to a "over one hundred" destroyed Orthodox churches and "at least ten or so" cemeteries desecrated after the conclusion of military action in Kosovo and Metohija.
In addition, as the former director of the Oxford Institute Lawrence Uzzell wrote, "not one explosion was condemned and among the Serbs who perished in the attacks there were also Orthodox monks who offered sanctuary to peace-loving Albanians during the war, when the Albanians were not the oppressors but the oppressed".
The situation has become so tragic that Patriarch Pavle and Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica have called on UNESCO to protect the Serbian Orthodox churches in Kosovo and Metohija. Taking into account that every destruction of monuments is pure barbarism and sharing the legal protests of representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Serb cultural enthusiasts and politicians, simply, all educated people throughout the world, we must ask several questions: what is the cause of the mutual hatred which has crushed both people? What role does religious consciousness play in it? Is only the Kosovo Albanian side to blame for what is happening? The present day situation in Kosovo is largely the result of previous policies of Yugoslav political leaders - Josip Broz Tito - as well as Albanian ones - Enver Hoxha. Kosovo was a bargaining chip in political disagreements between Yugoslavia and Albania, which was later further deepened by the consequences of the Soviet-Yugoslav conflict of 1948-55, when Josif Visarinovic Stalin supported Enver Hoxha against Tito. After the collapse of these Communist regimes, which officially preached internationalism and atheism, ethno-historic and religious consciousness became the basis for the world outlook of those who strove to free themselves from the claws of Communism.
However, religious consciousness is only one of the elements of national identity of the people of the torn asunder Yugoslavia. But an element which due to the circumstances in the given situation also plays a political role. The identification of Serb national identity exclusively with Orthodoxy and of Albanian national identity exclusively with Islam is not only historically inaccurate but leads to a political impasse.
Serb-Albanian contradictions are caused by another, intricate complex of social and national circumstances, to which religion plays a subordinate role. What is more, the conflict in Kosovo is only an inter-national conflict and certainly not an instance of the "merciless battle of Islam against Orthodoxy" or the notorious "conflict of civilizations".
Nationally oriented Serb historian Dusan Batakovic criticizes Slobodan Milosevic for sporadically "taking advantage of the national frustration of the Serbs" and "with the help of the state apparatus and populist methods stripping the Serbian Orthodox Church and the critically disposed intelligentsia of the banner of defending national interests".
The fate of Serb historical and religious churches in Kosovo can be identified with the fates of tens of thousands of Serbs from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and from Kosovo who have become the victims of a political game lost by Milosevic in amateur fashion.
The NATO operation and later policies of international organizations in Kosovo - just as in Bosnia and Herzegovina - among other things had the goal of regenerating multiethnic society in Kosovo.
Has that goal been realized?
In the aforementioned joint letter of President Kostunica and Patriarch Pavle to the General Director of UNESCO it is emphasized that the problem of protecting and preserving cultural treasures in this region cannot be resolved without international assistance. The effective protection of historical monuments and cultural buildings, the inescapable and strict punishment of its destroyers are the responsibility of the international organization before general world culture. However, it is impossible to put a guard in front of every church, especially in a situation when it is still necessary to protect live people, instead of buildings.
Translated by www.serbian-translation.com
(February 2, 2003)
Service of the Diocese of Raska and Prizren