Statement of Serbian bishops re NATO bombing

The Holy Synod of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, meeting at the Patriarchate on March 23, 1999, issued the following public statement regarding the threats over Kosovo and Metohija and the threatened bombing of Serbia and Yugoslavia:

Human experience, both old and new and most recently in the territory of the former Yugoslavia, shows that war and violence, particularly inter-ethnic, leaves in its wake only chaos and general misery, with long-lasting spiritual, moral and social consequences and unhealed wounds.

Aware of this, in the name of God we demand and beseech that all conflict in Kosovo and Metohija immediately cease, and that the problems there be resolved exclusively by peaceful and political means. The way of non-violence and cooperation is the only way blessed by God in agreement with human and divine moral law and experience. Deeply concerned about the threatened Serbian cradle of Kosovo and Metohija and for all those who live there, and especially by the terrible threats of the world's armed forced to bomb our Homeland, we would remind the responsible leaders of the international organizations that evil in Kosovo or anywhere else cannot be uprooted by even greater and more immoral evil; the bombing of one small but honorable European people. We cannot believe that the international organizations have become so incapable of devising ways for negotiation and human agreement that they must resort to ways which are dark and demeaning to human and national honor, ways which employ great violence in order to prevent a lesser evil and violence.

We pray the Lord of peace, the living and true God, in whose hands are judgement and justice, to give to all in Kosovo and Metohija, and throughout our Homeland and throughout the world, peace, justice, security in freedom, and to the powerful of the world understanding and wisdom.

 

From the Office of the Holy Assembly of Bishops
Belgrade, 23 March 1999


Statement of the Serbian Orthodox Clergy
of the Eastern American Diocese on Bombing of Serbia

March 24, 1999

We, the Serbian Orthodox Clergy of the Eastern American Diocese, have the custom of gathering together in Pittsburgh at the residence of His Grace, our Bishop Dr. Mitrophan, on the fifth Wednesday of the Great Fast each year. We gather to confess our sins to God and to receive forgiveness, to partake of the Holy Mysteries at the Presanctified Liturgy, and to share in fellowship to strengthen us for the final part of the Fast. However, this year our prayerful preparation is taking place against what is to us an unbelievable background. Our country, the United States of America, has even now begun to bomb the country of our forebears, Serbia.

Our first reaction is profound sorrow, both for the violence which is plaguing Kosovo and Metohija, and for the violence which is being carried out by NATO against the Serbian people. Violence goes against the very essence of Christ's message. It cannot serve God, only the forces of evil. Violence, intolerance and injustice have become business as usual for too many, no matter what ethnic group, nationality or citizenship they claim. It is to our sorrow that the terrible violence in Kosovo is being compounded by even greater violence against the whole territory of Yugoslavia.

We are especially mindful that a half million Serbian refugees from the Croatian Krajina and Bosnia-Hercegovina who have been forced from their homes by internationally condoned violence, including U.S. bombing, are again in harm's way in their exile in Yugoslavia. They were made refugees because then those great powers backed the concept of the inviolability of new international borders over the desire for self-determination of populations. Now they will again be victims to the same bombers, who this time support precisely the opposite position and back the Albania


The Times (London) / June 5 1999 / Letters to the Editor

Criticism of the West's military campaign in Yugoslavia by Bishop Kallistos and other Oxford Scholars

Sir, As academics with involvement in the Balkans and Aegean area, we have followed the Nato campaign with great concern. Grave mistakes have plagued this intervention. Some might have been avoided had policymakers shown greater awareness of the long and complex history of this region. Consideration of local patterns of leadership and authority, the intricacies of cultural memories and of religious divisions, would certainly have modified assessments about the effectiveness of conducting a military campaign of this type.

Given the humanitarian rationale behind the campaign and the Hague tribunal's indictment of Yugoslav leaders for war crimes, we raise the following issues:

Before force can be legitimately employed in support of human rights, it has to be shown that all other means have been exhausted. This was not the case. An oil embargo, for example, was only considered at the Nato birthday celebrations in Washington in the fourth week of the campaign.

The negotiation process was said to have been exhausted, an assertion that should be questioned. The Serbian side made significant concessions at Rambouillet. They agreed to the political proposals for autonomy, but did not accept Nato as the international peacekeeping force. A force under UN auspices has now been agreed and should have been an option offered at that time.

Furthermore, initiatives by the leaders of the Orthodox Church in Serbia and Montenegro, with constructive proposals for a cantonal solution for Kosovo, were not allowed to be presented at the Rambouillet talks. Consultation with KLA members, however, became an accepted practice. Does this not reveal partisanship by Western leaders in their dealings with local people whose contributions might be drawn upon to resolve the conflict at lesser cost?

Questions about the bombing strategy became more pressing as time passed. How can water purification plants be considered legitimate military targets? Why are cluster bombs being used, and perhaps even DU (depleted uranium) bombs? What will be the effects in the long term on the civilian populations in Kosovo and elsewhere in the region of the widespread environmental damage inflicted?

Given the human rights basis for the campaign, Nato should have been vigilant about the legality and legitimacy of its activities.

Military and political miscalculations have been recognised, both by critics and proponents of the campaign. A limited-risk campaign not only failed to protect those on the ground, it actually accelerated the process of ethnic cleansing.

Western intervention has threatened widespread destabilisation and has damaged the delicate and precarious balance of power achieved in southeastern Europe after the break-up of the former Republic of Yugoslavia. The stability -- and even viability -- of neighbouring states has been put in question, with long-term repercussions at the global strategic level.

Yours etc,

RENEE HIRSCHON, St Peter's College, Oxford,

JOHN CAMPBELL, St Antony's College,

RICHARD CLOGG, St Antony's College,

MARY COULTON, Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages,

ELIZABETH JEFFREYS, Exeter College,

PETER MACKRIDGE, St Cross College,

CHRISTOPHER ROBINSON, Christ Church,

KALLISTOS WARE, Pembroke College, c/o St Peter's College, University of Oxford OX1 2DL.

June 4, Oxford


WASHINGTON BUREAU / Terry Mattingly's religion column for 7 April 1999

Serbs we didn't listen to

In the fall of 1992, Serbian Patriarch Pavle came to Washington, D.C., to explain why he had led protests in Belgrade against Slobodan Milosevic's neo-Communist regime and why the Serbian Orthodox Church's Holy Synod was calling for a new government.

His National Press Club address drew a handful of reporters and none from major media.

This past fall, Bishop Artemije of Kosovo came to Washington, D.C., and warned that the prospects for peace were bleak as long as Milosevic held power. He urged U.S. officials to seek negotiations between Serbs who oppose Milosevic and Albanians who favor non-violence. After all, both Christianity and Islam teach the faithful to live in peace.

"We are especially concerned that the past United States policy ... to rely on Milosevic as a guarantor of peace is immoral and counterproductive," Artemije told the Congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. "We appeal to all Americans to understand that the conflict in Kosovo is not between the Serbian and Albanian people, but between a secessionist extremism on one side and an oppressive and unrepresentative regime on the other."

The bishop's visit passed with barely a notice.

Today, Milosevic's opponents in Serbia are hiding in bomb shelters or hiding from secret police in the final days before Pascha (Easter in the West) on the ancient calendar used in Orthodox Christianity.

"It's especially tragic that the world hasn't been able to hear the voice of the Serbian church through all of this," said Father Alexander Webster of the Orthodox Church in America, a historian who also is a chaplain in the U.S. Army National Guard. He is the author of "The Price of Prophecy," which details both Orthodoxy's triumphs and failures in the Communist era.

"It seems like everyone, from the White House on down, has been rushing to demonize the Serbs without asking if everyone in Serbia deserves that label. The reality is more complex than that."

While some Serbian bishops have blessed past military efforts, the church has consistently condemned Milosevic and all violence against civilians -- Albanian, Croat or Serbian. The church also has opposed economic embargoes that hurt Serbian civilians and "efforts to cut Kosovo out of Yugoslavia through military force," said Webster.

The roots of this crisis are astonishingly complex, ancient and bloody. In 1204, Western crusaders sacked Constantinople, massacring Eastern Christians and Muslims. In 1389, Serbian armies fought -- virtually to the death -- while losing the Battle of Kosovo, but managed to stop the Ottoman Empire from reaching into Europe. The Kosovo Plain became holy ground.

Leap ahead to World War II, when Nazi Germany tried to use Albanian Muslims and Catholic Croats to crush the Serbs. Then Communists -- such as Milosevic -- took over. In the mid-1990s, the United States all but encouraged Croat efforts to purge Serbs from Krajina, where they had lived for 500 years. The West has been silent as Turkey expelled waves of Eastern Orthodox Christians.

Since morphing from Communist to nationalist, Milosevic has skillfully used Serbia's array of fears, hatreds and resentments to justify terror in Kosovo and elsewhere by his paramilitary and police units. The Serbian strongman knows that Kosovo contains 1,300 churches and monasteries, many of them irreplaceable historic sites.

Retired New York Times editor A.M. Rosenthal, who once won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting in Eastern Europe, put it this way: "I do not get emotional about the history of Kosovo. I am not a Serb. Serbs do. Serbs are as likely to give up Kosovo willingly because the Albanians want it as Israelis are to give up Jerusalem because the Arabs want it."

Meanwhile, the Serbian bishops have released yet another statement reminding both sides that the "way of non-violence and cooperation is the only way blessed by God in agreement with human and divine moral law and experience." They also added the following prayer to worship services in Holy Week and Pascha.

"For all those who commit injustice against their neighbors, whether by causing sorrow to orphans or spilling innocent blood or by returning hatred for hatred, that God will grant them repentance, enlighten their minds and hearts and illumine their souls with the light of love even towards their enemies, let us pray to the Lord.

"Lord have mercy."

Terry Mattingly (www.tmatt.net) teaches at Milligan College in Tennessee. He writes this weekly column for the Scripps Howard News Service.