The Brotherhood of the Visoki Decani Monastery
-Serbian Orthodox monks defy pressures
in medieval monastery
DECANI, Yugoslavia, June 27 (AFP) - Deep in the forests at the foot
of the Western Kosovo Junik mountain, a handful of Serbian Orthodox
monks hold out, defying ethnic tension and frequent attacks.
live in very particular conditions. In a sense, we are imprisoned here,"
Father Teodosije, prior of the medieval monastery Visoki Decani, said.
Only 20 monks live in the splendid 14th century marble monastery, built
by the two Serbian kings of the Nemanjic dynasty, Stefan Decanski and
his son, the king and last emperor of the Serbs and the Greeks, Dusan.
are the only Serbs in this part of Western Kosovo, near the border with
Albania. Thousands of Serbs and other non-Albanians have fled the area
since mid-1999, fearing revenge attacks by Kosovo Albanians.
Before the Kosovo war erupted in 1998, the monastery, registered to
be under UNICEF protection, had been the main Serbian Orthodox Church
seminary for young monks.
But since Belgrade troops withdrew from Kosovo last June, following
the end of the 1999 NATO bombing campaign, the Decani brotherhood has
faced almost daily provocation, threats and attacks by men Teodosije
described as "Albanian extremists."
Overnight Thursday nine blasts, believed to be mortar rounds, hammered
an area near the monastery; the latest attack on this "last landmark
and border post of our existence and Serbian national and religious
heritage in Kosovo," Teodosije said. The monks "go nowhere
without being accompanied by KFOR," NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo,
he added. "But despite that, our monks were stoned twice when they
went to purchase food from Albanians in a nearby village," Teodosije
said, adding that this prompted the monks to go and buy food in nearby
A mile from the monastery, some 20 armoured transporters and more than
a dozen tanks of the Italian KFOR troops have been blocking the road
leading to the site, in a bid to prevent further attacks.
"We have a great confidence in the Italian soldiers who are protecting
us," Teodosije said, praising their "great interest and respect
for our Orthodox religion." "History repeats itself,"
he noted, explaining that, during World War II, Italian soldiers "successfully
monastery from militant Albanians and looters". There "are
no civilians here now, while during the war, it was a sanctuary for
all those endangered, no matter what their
nationality," Teodosije said, noting that in 1998, 150 ethnic Albanians
had found shelter in the monastery, fleeing the fighting.
But none of the Albanian neighbours has visited the monastery since
KFOR deployed in Kosovo. "I heard they fear punishment by Albanian
extremists," Teodosije said.
Unlike many Orthodox priests in Bosnia, who had sided with the Serb
national leaders during the war, the clergy in Kosovo has kept their
distance from the nationalist ideology espoused by Belgrade and its
manipulation of the Orthodox myth.
Teodosije, a tall man in his late thirties, with long, light-brown beard,
calmly repeats: "We do not hate anyone." "It is God who
judges, not the people," he insists. Most of the monks work in
nearby fields, while the others busily carve wood and paint icons. Electricity
has been cut off to the monastery since October, while phone lines function
Its website at www.kosovo.net, the only source of information
coming from the monastery and the remaining Serbs in the area, provides
data thanks to support from the Serb diaspora. In the nearby Western
Kosovo town of Pec, a group of Serbian Orthodox Church buildings dating
back to the 13th century, face similar problems.
"We live like in a concentration camp. The only way in and out
of the patriarchy is with KFOR assistance," Orthodox priest Mirko
Several dozen nuns, and seven elderly civilians, have remained in the
monastery belonging to the patriarchy, the seat of Orthodox Christianity
in Serbia. In one of the churches, religious objects have been collected
from dozens of burnt and destroyed churches in western Kosovo.
Koricanin showed a broken and semi-burnt silver cross dating back from
the 13th century, with a sign of the Nemanjic dynasty. "We found
it at one burnt church site. There are more than 200 wooden icons and
other artefacts from destroyed churches," Koricanin
Decani Monks in front of the Monastery
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