(US Congress Hearing on Kosovo - March 18, 1998) full text of the hearing Bishop Artemije.

Mr. Chairman, honorable members of the Senate and Congress, ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honor and a privilege to appear before you today 7 years after His Holiness Patriarch Pavle of Serbia gave testimony in this honorable house. First and foremost, we want to assure you that we are not here today as emissaries or apologists for President Slobodan Milosevic and his autocratic regime. We are here as representatives of Kosovo Serbs who are frightened and who are under a serious threat of being completely ethnically cleansed from their homeland.

Interpreter. I will continue with the statement.

Bishop Artemije. We are also here to condemn the blatantly aggressive policy of the Albanian terrorists lead by so-called Kosovo Liberation Army as well as the excessive police repression. Both policies have already caused the unnecessary deaths of dozens of innocent people in Kosovo and Metohija on both sides. The ethnic Albanian terrorist groups carried out many terrorist attacks over the past 2 years aimed at provoking of international intervention. The internal goal still remains the same as before: terrorizing the Kosovo Serbs so that Kosovo can become an ethnically pure Albanian province. Mr. Milosevic, in turn, unleashed the police offensive which resulted in the deaths of not only terrorists but also of innocent civilians like in the recent action in Drenica. This cycle of violence must be put to an end immediately. Nothing will be achieved by war except destruction and carnage. Regrettably, we feel that neither President Milosevic nor the ethnic Albanian leadership grasps this simple fact. Both sides have learned absolutely nothing from the Bosnian civil war which threaten to engulf the entire Balkans with a disastrous armed conflict.

The Serbian Orthodox Church and the Serbian people of Kosovo and Metohija stand for a peaceful, democratic solution to the current crisis through dialogue. We also have detailed a proposal for the long term democratic settlement which, to date, has been ignored both by Mr. Milosevic's regime and the ethnic Albanian leadership. We present these proposals to this Commission.

The Serbian Orthodox Church and the Serbian people of Kosovo and Metohija condemn all actions, by any party, which have led during last few years to an escalation of violence in Kosovo and Metohija. We condemn all terrorist attacks perpetrated by ethnic Albanian extremists against Serbian civilians, Serbian officials, ethnic Albanians loyal to the Serbian state, and the religious monuments of Serbian Orthodox Church. We also condemn police repression and all excessive and indiscriminate use of police force, especially against the Albanian civilians. Further, we condemn the refusal of the Milosevic regime to institute open and sincere dialogue with the ethnic Albanian community to achieve a peaceful settlement. Likewise, we condemn the refusal of the ethnic Albanian leadership to embrace the path of peaceful dialogue with the Serbian authorities and the Serbian people of Kosovo and Metohija as well as their unwillingness to condemn armed attacks by the Albanian terrorist groups. We support the general condemnation of these terrorist acts by the United States administration and entire international community. Those attacks were calculated to lead to an escalation of violence and in fact have done so. We have detailed documentation of these attacks perpetrated in these last 2 years by the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army, especially in Drenica region. We present this documentation to this Commission as well.

We appeal to this Commission to understand that the conflict in Kosovo is not between the Serbian and Albanian people, but between an undemocratic regime on one side and a secessionist extremism on the other. We appeal to the United States to reject simplistic calls for military intervention in order to hand state power over to the ethnic Albanian leadership. Such an action, in light of the history of Kosovo and Metohija before 1989, would lead to the ethnic cleansing of the Serbian Christian people from the ancient heart of our homeland.

We, on the contrary, strongly believe in democratic, multiethnic, and multi-cultural Serbia. We believe that on this basis a cohabitation of all ethnic communities can be achieved. We support the idea of civic society in which all its citizens will have equal rights. We insist on full respect of the human and minority rights according to the highest international standards. We firmly oppose any change of international borders because such precedent would cause instability in the neighboring countries and the whole region. Our vision of the future of inter-ethnic relations lies in the full democratization of political systems, rather than in further territorial, political, and economic fragmentation of the Balkans. We strongly believe that every political issue cannot be used to raise new territorial claims. Therefore, our regional approach is an initial framework for the future political dialogue in order to achieve a long term stability and cooperation in the Balkans.

We call upon this Commission and the United States to endorse the proposals of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Serbian people of Kosovo and Metohija for a genuine dialogue, without preconditions. Only in that way a peaceful, democratic settlement of the Kosovo crisis for all people of Serbia regardless of their nationality or religion can be achieved.

We express our deep sympathy for all innocent victims in Kosovo and Metohija and we pray to God to grant us wisdom and courage to preserve peace and mutual understanding because no one can build his own happiness on misfortune of his neighbor.

Thank you.
Mr. Hoyer:
Let me ask the Bishop some questions. Let me first make an observation to the Bishop.

I thought his statement that the conflict in Kosovo is not between the Serbian and Albanian people but between an undemocratic regime on one side and a secessionist extremism on the other side. Clearly, the people have been able to live together, as they were able to live together in Bosnia. The population of Sarajevo was a truly international, culturally diverse, ethnically diverse people living together.

Has the Orthodox Church in Belgrade spoken out as forthrightly and as strongly as you have spoken out, Bishop, today with respect to Milosevic's inflaming the ethnic passions of the people in Belgrade and in Serbia against a resolution of this issue?

Bishop Artemije. First of all, all we are doing is with the direct blessing and support of His Holiness Patriarch Pavle and other bishops, colleagues who took parts in the national church assemblies where they crystallized our positions. It means that the whole Orthodox Church in Serbia is supporting what we are saying here today. But I would ask for a little patience to be allowed to say a few words about the position of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the last 50 years is Kosovo. I'll try to be very brief.

The present Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church was the bishop of Raska and Prizren, that is the Kosovo area for 34 years, from 1957 to 1990. He was patiently following the suffering of the Serbian Orthodox Church and its people from the Albanian separatists. He regularly informed the Holy Sinod of Bishops and our church. There is ample documentation on that matter.

Serbian Orthodox Church sent from time to time its appeals to the Serbian officials and the governmental institutions at that time and asked that the government protects the Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija from violence of the ethnic Albanians of that region. But nothing changed.

In the whole series of these appeals, it is of special importance the letter written by the Holy Sinod of Bishops on the May 19, 1969, and it was written to President Tito. In that letter, among other things, it is said, this violence in Kosovo sometimes it calms down. But it appears on the other side in much more serious form. In the last one year, it manifested in very difficult forms. It is not only the destruction of crops in our fields, the cutting of wood would damage the Monastery Devich and others, a destruction of their tombstones like in Kosovo, Drenica, and other places. But also the physical attacks, even on nuns.

Mr. Hoyer. Excuse me. Bishop, I understand your position that there have been in fact wrongs committed against the ethnic Serbian minority in Kosovo. I have heard those accounts and appreciate your position on that.

You have indicated that the Orthodox Church in facts does support your statement, which, of course, was my question. Let me ask you something if I might, sir. You indicate that you strongly believe in a democratic, multiethnic, multi-cultural Serbia. What is the position of the Church as it relates to a democratic vote in Kosovo to determine their status.

Bishop Artemije. According to the opinion of any Serbs and the Serbian Orthodox Church, Kosovo is a constituent part of Serbia. If there should be a voting about Kosovo, there should be a voting on the whole territory of Serbia because Kosovo didn't exist as a separate administrative unit.

Mr. Hoyer. Bishop, I understand that answer. I presume, therefore, that the ethnic Albanian minority of Kosovo, as it relates to all of Serbia, would lose such an election. Do you believe that the status of Kosovo was legally changed in 1989 by Mr. Milosevic?

Bishop Artemije. Actually, the status of Kosovo was changed in 1981. The Albanians were granted autonomy, wide autonomy, in the 1974 constitution with many elements of statehood. During that autonomy, they made great pressures which caused displacement of many Serbian people from Kosovo. They showed great impatience. So, in 1981, they made an insurrection asking for the status of republic. In that way, they actually abolished their autonomy.

And in 1990s, the regime of Mr. Milosevic, whom I don't have any intention to justify, he only reduced and limited the rights of that autonomy in order to protect the existence of Serbs in Kosovo. Concerning the human rights, they are not denied to the Albanians in Kosovo. They don't want to use them in the Serbian state. In that way, they're making a pressure on the international community to realize their final aim that is the secession of Kosovo from Serbia.


Mr. Hoyer. Bishop --

Bishop Artemije. I think if Serbia and the whole region are democratized, the idea which we are supporting firmly, I think that we may live together in Serbia and Kosovo as we lived before. That is that Serbia is a multiethnic and multicultural state.

Mr. Hoyer. And Bishop, last question on this issue. To what extent would that accord to the people of Kosovo, both in Serbian and Albanian ethnic extraction, the right to self determination?

Interpreter. Would you please repeat to understand the question better, please?

Mr. Hoyer. I understand what the Bishop said about living together. I think that would be the objective of everybody, that that could be done as it is in Bosnia. My question to you is, however, to what extent would a resolution of this matter require the ability of those who live in Kosovo to democratically determine their own policies?

Bishop Artemije. We want that in that dialogue about Kosovo beside the Serbian state and the Kosovo Albanians also take part, the representatives of the Kosovo Serbs who are living there, who are not mentioned either by the Belgrade regime. Unfortunately also not by the international community. We speak a lot about the violation of human rights of Albanian population. We agree that there is a lot of evidence in that sense. But also we Serbs are also deprived of many human rights, not only in Kosovo and Metohija, but also all Serbia, unfortunately.

That's why we are talking about the necessity of a democratic solution.

Mr. Hoyer. Thank you, Bishop.


Bishop Artemije. I must say that concerning the present necessity for the people who are in difficulty, I am assuring you it is the thing to be done now.

We must find a way to help the people who are suffering now on both sides. We have been begging for years on that, that the worst is prevented. We're not speaking about a history from 500 years ago. We speak about that what happened yesterday because we must know that the problem of Kosovo didn't start two weeks ago when there was this action.

Because on the other hand, if the international community takes only one side, they are not going to be discouraged but provoked. Furthermore, the sanctions which are put upon the Serbian people and which are possible to be imposed again, they're not actually targeted at the target. They're actually making a bad influence on the people. The one side, we cannot trample upon the lives of another and I think that if there is a way to make them have a dialogue and the economic development of the whole area is started, and the general democratization, we can live together. That is my opinion.