NIN, Belgrade, Yugoslavia
Issue 2559, January 13, 2000


The bishop of Raska-Prizren, Artemije

For the Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija to survive and stay it is necessary to change the government in Belgrade led by president Milosevic as soon as possible, says Bishop Artemije, adding that the people have the strength to do this.

The bishop of Raska-Prizren, Artemije, arrived on January 5 from the monastery of Sopocani to celebrate Christmas in Gracanica with his congregation. For longer than an hour he waited for KFOR accompaniment at "Gate Five" in Bujanovac; it never came. He was interviewed by NIN
while sitting in the dark at the dining-table in the patriarch's chambers in the residence hall of Gracanica Monastery.

Bishop Artemije

How difficult is life for the Serbs who have stayed to live in the cities of Kosovo?

In the cities there is a very small number of Serbs remaining and their
lives are far more difficult than the lives of Serbs in big enclaves such as Gracanica, Kosovska Mitrovica. In Pristina there are now barely 300 old people who are afraid to leave their apartments; in Pec, two old women remain, and the situation in the other cities in Kosovo is not much better. We can say that there are hardly any Serbs left in the cities and where there are some of them, their lives are difficult.

Who is primarily to blame for the present situation in Kosovo?

To blame are Slobodan Milosevic and his colleagues who are leading this
people and state. Milosevic's regime during the past ten years has done
nothing to resolve the question of the status of Kosovo and Metohija; it
has done everything to get us into the situation in which we are now. As
well, since the Yugoslav Army and police have withdrawn from Kosovo, it
has done nothing to help the Serbs here survive and stay; it has even
gone so far as to call those remaining in Kosovo traitors and lickspittles.

If the Serbs in Kosovo are traitors and lickspittles, who then are the true patriots?

Let every man judge for himself whether the patriots are those who are
protecting their hearths and their holy places in Kosovo or those who left everything without a second thought, leaving their people to the mercy of Albanian gangs, extremists and terrorists. Those people fled from here with money and wealth which they looted from Kosovo.

From Belgrade pressure is being applied on the Serbian National Council
of which you are a member as the representative of the Serbian Orthodox
Church. You are being accused of getting involved in politics. Has the
Church really gotten involved in politics or is something else going on?

The accusation leveled by Belgrade against the Church is nothing new. I
would say that the Church absolutely is not getting involved in politics
but only demonstrating, as it has always done, its maternal concern for
the people who have been entrusted to it by God and by history. The
Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija have been completely abandoned, not a
single institution of the Serbian state is functioning here, and those
who claim to have been elected by the people have left the people
without any means of defense. It is the Church which remained here to
protect the people from the attacks of various gangs, to feed it and to
distribute the humanitarian aid which is coming mainly from the emigrant
community, Greece and individual towns in Serbia.

The regime is attempting to create the appearance of a presence in
Kosovo. Is this helping or hurting those Serbs who remain in Kosovo?

When founding the Serbian National Council we decided to suspend all
political party activities until the right conditions for political competition were created. However, there are some people who are coming from Belgrade and other cities in Serbia to create parallel organizations, so called assemblies [skupstine]. They are the one who causing division and intrigue among the remaining Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija. Many problems which could be easily resolved if the Serbs were united are not being resolved. It should be clear to everyone that there are not enough Serbs left in Kosovo for all the political parties who want to profit here. What Milosevic's troublemakers are doing in Kosovo is pure manipulation and misuse of people who are fighting here for their physical survival.

Is the number and influence of those troublemakers in Kosovo great?

I don't know those people; I don't know how many of them there are but
their influence is felt. One of them is around to sabotage us each and every time.

Do you have a concrete example?

In Gracanica we are unable to open a surgical clinic which was donated
to the Serbian people by the Greek government, even though we have all
the necessary licenses from UNMIK, only because those troublemakers are
spreading rumors among the people that the state is going to build a big
hospital here. We have had enough of promises from Belgrade.

After withdrawing from the Kosovo Transitional Council you are also
having quite a bit of difficulty with the international factor in Kosovo, first and foremost with Mr. Kouchner, who are pressuring you to return to the Council. Are you going to do this or do you believe that this would be compromising for you?

Whether I am compromised or not is not the issue, my concern is for the
fate of my people. The Serbian National Council withdrew from the Kosovo
Transitional Council on September 22 because Mr. Kouchner, without our
knowledge and any consultation, made the decision to transform the so-called KLA into the Kosovo Protection Corps; however, our cooperation has not ended and we have remained in contact. If we had not remained in contact, we could not do anything. At present we are not under pressure; however, Mr. Kouchner has indicated his wish that the Serbs participate in the further work of the Council, as well as in the new, common administration which he created without consulting the Serbian side (even though, during this period, Mr. Kouchner's advisor visited Gracanica on several occasions). Until we receive concrete solutions for securing the protection of the Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija, as well as for the return of those forced to leave, the Serbian National Council will not change its position.

The situation in Kosovo and Metohija is exceptionally difficult, while in Serbia there are more and more people who can hardly make ends meet. It appears that the change of the regime may be a bloody one?

Yes, it is possible that there will be blood but not because that is what the people or the opposition desire, but because that is what the regime desires in order to provoke a civil war. If a civil war ensues, whether it is between Serbia and Montenegro or just within Serbia, keep in mind that it will be exclusively the work of the current regime and of Mr. Milosevic, who is leading and directing it.

What is your vision of our future in the year 2000?

There are three things which we must do.

First: we need to replace the current regime in Belgrade and Serbia.

Second. we need to replace the current regime in Belgrade and Serbia.

And third: we need to replace the current regime in Belgrade and Serbia.

By L. K.

Translated by S. Lazovic (January 15, 2000)