KOSOVO, THE SERBIAN ARCHIPELAGO
the diary of a Serb monk
July 14-18, 2002 - Zociste Monastery still in ruins
It is with great anticipation that we awaited the first post-war liturgy at the ruins of Sts. Cosma and Damian Monastery in Zociste near Orahovac. This medieval shrine from the 14th century has lain in ruins for three years after being set on fire and subsequently blown up by Albanian extremists. I recall with melancholy the wonderful feast days before the war when a great number of people gathered in this shrine from the entire Prizren region. Not infrequently, Albanians and Roma came as well. Now there are almost no Serbs left here, with the exception of the nearby town of Velika Hoca, a few people in Orahovac and 67 souls in Prizren.
The Albanians again provoked us by swearing and screaming during the entire length of the holy liturgy. Nevertheless, the service unfolded with dignity under strong KFOR security. To our great sorrow, in the afternoon we learned that the Albanians had entered the monastery and set fire to what little of it remained.
Petar has been trying for days to enter the monastery and begin clearing
the debris but KFOR persistently refuses to issue a permit. In the
village next to the monastery there are troops from Turkey who are
supposedly protecting the devastated church. Afterwards we learn that
they, too, have departed. We sent two young monks in their twenties,
Father Jovan and Father Marko, from Decani to assist Father Petar
but it is becoming increasingly apparent that the Germans do not want
to see the restoration of monastic life in Zociste. I ask myself how
after a presence of three years KFOR is still unable to allow us to
restore at least one of the 110 shrines razed after the war. It seems
that KFOR is anxious to avoid the creation of new Serb enclaves. The
Monastery of the Holy Anargyroi in Zociste remains in ruins without
any hope of restoration in the near future.
July 20, 2002 - Arrogance and hypocrisy instead of understanding
meeting with German Brigadier General Wolf-Dieter Skodowski in Gracanica
was entirely unsatisfactory. I returned to Decani weary after two
hours of riding in a vehicle of the German military police. Bishop
Artemije once again asked the general to allow us to restore at least
one of our destroyed shrines. His answer was negative. Instead of
understanding, we encounter only the arrogance and hypocrisy of the
world's mighty ones. For three years they have been promising us a
multiethnic Kosovo but Kosovo has instead become increasingly a pure
ethnic Albanian society. They are trying to convince us that the situation
is better now than before, but we can hardly see any sign of progress.
Quite on the contrary, the situation in certain areas has even deteriorated.
July 23, 2002 -Kosovo, the Serbian archipelago
Today we served in Osojane near Klina. Prayer in front of the half-destroyed church was an experience both disturbing and overwhelming. Nevertheless, during the entire service great joy and hope prevailed. For more than a year now Serb returnees to this Metohija village have managed to survive in near impossible conditions. Despite relatively modest means, slowly the houses are being rebuilt. We were especially delighted with the children, who bring hope of a better future to this until recently desolate valley. However, the residents of Osojane remain isolated, just like the other Serb enclaves. For three years the Serbs in this region have no freedom outside their protected enclaves.
conditions in this region most resemble an archipelago with several
small- and larger-sized island enclaves between which we can travel
only with a KFOR escort, as if by some sort of ferry," explains
the abbot of Decani, Father Teodosije, to a Spanish officer.
July 23, 2002 - Remembrance of the massacre in Staro Gracko
Today Bishop Artemije served a memorial service (panichida) in the village of Staro Gracko near Lipljan for the Serbs killed by the Albanians during the harvest in July of 1999, immediately after the end of the war. I will never forget the day when the priest from Lipljan, as white as a sheet, came to Gracanica Monastery to inform us of the massacre. We all headed for Staro Gracko with Bernard Koucher, who until then viewed the Serbs with prejudices. During the return from the village I felt that this tragedy had left a deep mark on him as well as on us. Several children were left fatherless. Now, I am told, the situation is not much better. The village is still besieged by the Albanians and the murderers were never uncovered, as in so many other similar instances.
In the Serb cemetery of Dragodan near Pristina, the exhumation of Serb bodies has been unfolding for several days now. Some of the bodies have already been identified. They are the bodies of Serbs discovered by KFOR after the war and buried in this location, supposedly until conditions were right for their identification. In actuality, not one Albanian post-war crime from that time was investigated. The families of the missing await with dread the latest news even though we all now subconsciously know that none of the more than 1,200 kidnapped Serbs is still alive.
massacre victims, July 99
July 25, 2002 - Peace for neither the dead nor the living
Today we received news that a Serb convoy was stoned near Milosevo close to Pristina and that several vehicles were damaged. Fortunately, no one was injured. Only a month ago in the same village, the priest from Babin Most accompanied a group of visitors on All Souls' Day and they found almost all the graves had been vandalized. These incidents are not considered significant by the international forces in Kosovo and Metohija and are usually not reported in official press reports. It seems that it is necessary for someone to be murdered for the news to make it to the front page. The desecration of graves, the stoning of nuns and fragile, elderly women are regular occurances tolerated daily in order to put pressure on the remaining Serbs to depart from Kosovo and Metohija.
desecration of graves is a frequent occurence in our region of Metohija.
Not far from Pec, in the villages of Brestovik and Siga, almost all
the Serb graves were found dug up and the bones of the deceased were
literally scattered around the cemetery. Father Radivoje Panic and
Dr. Gordana Subaric filmed a shocking documentary film regarding this
incident called "The Wind from the Grave". Despite all appeals
to the international authorities, this horrible act of barbarism is
being repeated at other cemeteries. I ask myself what the living Serbs
have to hope for when even the dead have no peace.
July 26, 2002 - The miracle of Holy Archangels
We finally greeted the 650th anniversary of the founding of the Holy Archangels Monastery near Prizren. I remained in Decani this time, impatiently awaiting the arrival of the brethren and the bishop, who were scheduled to come to the monastery with their escorts after the festivities. The bishop arrived late because the UNMIK police driving him in an armored vehicle took a wrong turn at Djakovica and apparently went as far as the Albanian border. I would not be surprised to learn that they entered Albania proper undetected since there is no longer any border between the province of Kosovo and Albania. Abbot Teodosije arrived with the Decani brethren only four hours later because Italian military transporters took them on an alternate route by way of Brezovica and Pristina due to the anti-Serb demonstrations in Prizren. We gathered together that evening and exchanged impressions from the celebration which, despite the rain, took place with great dignity and spiritual joy.
Especially noteworthy were comments regarding the explosion heard in the Holy Archangels Monastery immediately after liturgy as many people still hovered in the church entrance. Later we learned that the Albanians had planted strong explosives some one hundred meters above the monastery in order to invoke the collapse of a part of the hill with a huge cliff directly on the monastery yard, thus burying the attendants. It is not difficult to imagine the extent of the tragedy had more than a mere one hundred grams of the total of 9 kilos of highly volatile explosives planted on the hillside actually detonated. We praised God who, in answer to the prayers of the Holy Archangels, prevented yet another tragedy and spared many human lives.
Fr. Stefan serves
the Liturgy at Bica village
- At the parents' grave
July 30, 2002 - Accomplishments of the sisters of the Pec Patriarchate
Early in the morning today our brothers, Father Stefan and Father Ksenofont, left with an Italian military escort for the village of Bica, not far from Osojane, where an initial group of 14 expelled Serbs had returned the previous day. This is the second village in Metohija where Serbs returned after spending the last three years as refugees. In the afternoon, when the brethren returned to Decani, we reviewed the digital photos of this completely devastated village where revitalization efforts are now being made. After Father Stefan served the first holy liturgy the monks toured what remained of the village where even the fruit trees had been cut down by the Albanians. The sisters of the Monastery of the Pec Patriarchate brought lunch.
their own difficulties, including daily subjection to stoning and
other provocations, these elderly nuns remain resolute and persevering,
assisting returnees and preserving the Serb presence and faith in
Pec, where they are now the only remaining Serbs. In order to protect
them from the stones thrown daily by the Albanians from the road above
the monastery, Italian troops have recently installed an improvised
barricade of sandbags along the north wall; however, this has not
stopped the stones from easily flying over the new wall. Nevertheless,
the sisters there remain brave, as do the nuns in the other convents:
in Gorioc and Devic, where they survive in almost complete isolation,
and daily provocations and threats by the Albanians. The courage of
these women, in many instances greater than that of the men, is quite
July 31, 2002 - Five Serb houses blown sky high
Rada Trajkovic informed me shortly before noon of the Albanian attack
in the village of Klokot near Vitina, where a series of explosions
destroyed five Serb houses and wounded two U.S. soldiers. This was
yet another real indicator of the security situation about which UNMIK
and KFOR representatives talk about daily with such pride. Only days
ago, the U.S. media had praised the security situation in this area
of Kosovo and Metohija. Thank God there were no victims, even though
the terrorists succeeded in creating much fear and unrest among the
Serbs of the Kosovo Morava River Valley (Kosovsko Pomoravlje). Like
before, UNMIK and KFOR, fearful of insulting the Albanians, failed
to call the incident a terrorist attack. The same position was taken
during the previous attacks in which Serb lives were lost. If anything
similar had occurred in some location in the United States, the bomber
planes would already be in the air. Serb victims, however, seem to
be altogether insignificant a loss for the global interests of the
August 1, 2002 - The prayer of Grandma Poljka
Poljka (pronounced Polyka) (Poleksija Kastratovic) from Djakovica
called us today by telephone to tell us that UNMIK planned to take
her and the five other remaining Serb elderly women from Djakovica
"for daily test walks", supposedly in order to "accustom"
the Albanians to their presence so they would ultimately leave them
alone. Absolutely incredible! For the past three years these six frail,
elderly women have lived in the small parish home next to the old
church in Djakovica in complete isolation and under the considerable
protection of Italian KFOR troops who have transformed the churchyard
into a veritable small fortress; now, suddenly, they want to take
them out for walks in the streets. These elderly women are extremely
courageous and every day, during morning and evening prayers, they
ring the old churchbell. I remember Poljka telling me once how the
Serbs built this church during the Turkish occupation in a single
night, because that is how long the Turks gave the local Serbs (derogatively
called gyaours) to erect their "infidels' place of worship".
Upon liberation from the Turks in 1912 the Serbs expanded the church
and some 10 years later, Poljka was christened there. Today the elderly
woman is the last remaining protector of the church from which she
says not even death can part her. Immediately after the end of the
war, an international organization tried to transfer the elderly women
to a senior citizens' home but they would have none of it, remaining
instead in the small, delapidated parish home. The Decani brethren
regularly go with Italian military transporters on Sundays to serve
the holy liturgy. The Albanians frequently provoke these elderly women
and the mere appearance of one of them in the street, even with a
military escort, invokes a barrage of flying stones and curses. Now
it appears that internationals want to free themselves from this responsibility
and the elderly women are being coerced in every possible way to "integrate"
into a society which for the past three years has given them nothing
except humiliation and insults. Actually, it is not difficult to conclude
that the very possible intent is to expose these elderly women to
such daily psychological pressure and trauma so they will eventually
leave of their own accord. Only some 200 meters away from them lie
the ruins of the Church of the Holy Trinity blown up in August 1999
when the Albanians, the elderly women say, celebrated all night following
the destruction of the Serbian church. In the exact same location
only 60 years ago, an older Orthodox church containing a memorial
mausoleum dating from World War I was also destroyed by Communist
authorities, who used the ruins of the church to build, among other
things, a public toilet. History repeats itself in horrendous fashion.
August 2, 2002 - The ruins of Prizren churches
is St. Elijah's Day and finally I managed to tour the destroyed Orthodox
churches in the Prizren region with a group of friends from KFOR.
We visited Gornja Srbica, Smac, Ljubizda, Novake, Recane, Musutiste,
Dvorane and Popovljani. Everywhere we go, the scene and the sorrow
are the same -- devastated churches, some of which survived five centuries
of enslavement under the Turks only to be destroyed in the first months
of an international protectorate. Tombstones are, as a rule, broken
everywhere. I returned to Decani shaken and worked late into the night
arranging photos on the computer and writing my report. So many things
are happening these days that I simply do not have the time to regularly
update our Internet site. Many email messages arrive daily from interested
parties all over the world and every one of them deserves a response.
The monastery generators are working almost without interruption because
after the damages in the thermoelectrical facility in Obilic, the
little electricity we were getting was reduced to an almost insignificant
The church of the Holy Virgin in Musutiste was built in 1315 and was destroyed in 1999 by ethnic Albanian extremists
August 4, 2002 - Another "working" Sunday
another typical Sunday in Decani. Father Ezechiel and Father Serapion
are busy all day with numerous visitors who come to visit the church
and our iconography studio. The majority of them are foreign officers
and their friends who come to visit them. I sit on the terrace and
talk with a group of foreigners. They are amazed and simply cannot
believe what I am saying, because from the international perspective
the situation in Kosovo is "showing signs of significant improvement".
Today, they say, an occasional Serb can safely venture down the main
Pristina street of Mother Theresa. Of course, the foreigners do see
the crowded Pristina streets and cafes and frequently, as a result
of all the noise and clamor, they miss out on the story of the remaining
200 Pristina Serbs, living in complete isolation as if they were in
What is more, recently some of the leading figures in UNMIK and KFOR have been increasingly inclined to believe that the Serbs themselves are creating a state of paranoia through their self-imposed isolation, thus provoking the Albanians. One hears with increasing frequency that Serb enclaves should to be dismantled and the Serbs forced to integrate into society. Knowing the situation in which we are now living, it is obvious to us where this is leading and that, if this occurs, the exodus of the remaining Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija will ensue. I was recently informed of this intent on the part of UNMIK by an international official, who explained that the Albanians in Decani are complaining that the monks are supposedly denying them their basic human rights because they, the majority of the population, cannot freely move in the area of the monastery due to the presence of KFOR. I really could not believe what I was hearing. It turns out that 30 monks who are living under a kind of house arrest pose a danger to the 60,000 people in the municipality. Thus, once again it is the Serbs who are creating problems, presumably by their very presence, thus preventing the Albanians from fully experiencing their newly gained freedom. Of course, it is hardly necessary for me to say that for many Albanians, Kosovo would only feel truly free when the last Serb has left this region forever. According to the same logic, the nuns of the Pec Patriarchate are also to blame for living like prisoners within the walls of their monastery under military guard, and that is probably why they are stoned on a daily basis by the frustrated Albanians (sic), as is Sister Poljka, who rings the church bell every day to announce that there is still a living Serb soul in Djakovica. These ideas would probably be considered unbelievable and all too ironic if we had not received a letter from a senior international official the other day in response to our appeal due to the provocations to which the elderly women in Djakovica are subjected. The following is a direct quotation from the letter:
"Don't you think that the curses and stones which you mention are being thrown at the old women are in fact acts of young people who are behaving in this inappropriate manner precisely because of the strict and unaccepting isolation of the women aforementioned? Don't you think that the only way to stop these acts is by ending their isolation?"
of argument, I descend to the church for evening services. The afternoon
sun illuminates the centuries-old Decani frescoes while long summer
shadows creep across the polished Decani marble. Suddenly the worry
disappears and spiritual joy takes its place on the faces of the young
monks as they sing old church hymns. I think to myself, in a special
The Christian faith which helped the Serbs of this region survive five hundred years of Turkish slavery is truly marvelous. As long as this faith is alive, there will be Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija. This is the faith which sustains our nuns, our returnees, our old grannies in Djakovica, and those of us in Decani. A few days ago, an Italian officer asked Grandma Poljka and the other old ladies what they will do when KFOR leaves one day and they are left alone. Poljka answered calmly: "What men cannot do, God can do... No one's candle ever burned till dawn*." (*Old Serbian saying)
Decani Monastery 2002