February 26, 2003
ERP KIM Newsletter 26-02-03d
In this Newsletter we present three articles published in the
February issue of the respected Catholic Italian Monthly
30 Giorni on Destruction of Churches
in Kosovo -http://www.30giorni.it/
(English translation was kindly provided by 30 Giorni)
VICTIMS OF HUMANITARIANISM - Interview with Bishop Artemije
BYZANITNE, YET ORIGINAL AS GIOTTO -Interview with Hon.
30 GIORNI - Vittime dell'
VICTIMS OF HUMANITARIANISM
“The Pope in Belgrade? His visit would provoke new divisions in our
church. The opinion is widespread among our people that the Vatican was
largely implicated in all that has happened in former Yugoslavia over the
last twelve years”. An interview with Bishop Artemije, leader of the
Serbo-Orthodox community in Kosovo
by Gianni Valente .
the Bishop of Raska and Prizren who leads the Serbo-Orthodox community in
Kosovo, also shares the life of his people under siege. He cannot leave
his regular quarters in Gracanica to celebrate the holy liturgy in other
places without the armed escort of KFOR troops. His activities, and also
his replies in the following interview, are not free of the drastic tone
of someone unwilling to make the due distinctions about components of the
Albanian opposition, and he is little inclined to attempt more balanced
judgements on the tangle of rights and wrongs in post-war Kosovo. But they
do testify to the real sufferings of an entire population over whom the
international media system and humanitarian indignation à la carte seem to
have extended a veil of oblivion.
Three years after the international mission of intervention in Kosovo
went into operation, some people claim it has been successful. What do you
ARTEMIJE: Those who claim that are claiming only a half truth. Up
till now it’s only true if it refers to the situation of Albanians in
Kosovo, given that from the start of the UN mission they got everything:
return to their own homes (after a month, 700,000 refugees had already
come back), total safety and freedom of movement, the opportunity of
employment and work, economic support for the reconstruction and restoring
of houses and mosques destroyed or damaged during the war, the
construction of thousands of new houses, mosques, industrial complexes and
offices. Further, the Albanians, have been allowed government bodies which
only deal with and resolve cases involving themselves them. But that isn’t
all. After hostilities were suspended, or rather once the UN mission’s
“peace” was established, they were allowed to expel from Kosovo Metohija
more than 250,000 Serbs, that is two thirds of those who were there before
the war, and 30,000 other Kosovans of non-Albanian nationality. They were
also able to plunder, occupy or destroy about 80,000 houses belonging to
Serbian citizens, and to destroy hundreds of Serbian villages completely.
They razed or seriously damaged more than 110 Serb-Orthodox churches and
monasteries, of which many were built between the 13th and the 15th
centuries. They desecrated many Serbian cemeteries and destroyed monuments
of historical importance. All of this took place under the eyes of the
international community, in a country which had been placed under UN
governance, and without any of those responsible for these terrible acts
ever being identified or arrested. Furthermore, it must be kept in mind
that the 130,000 Serbs who remain continue to live shut in small and large
enclaves, deprived of all human rights, such as freedom of movement, the
right to work and to enjoy the fruits of their own labour, the right to
enjoy normal conditions of education and health assistance. Also the
programs to allow the return of expelled Serbs never went beyond the
preliminary stages and, until now, of the 250,000 refugees only a couple
of hundred have returned.
is the violence directed with such particular fury against the churches?
ARTEMIJE: There can be no reason which justifies the destruction of
religious buildings, whichever nation or religious group they belong to.
And yet this very thing is happening in the heart of Europe at the
beginning of the third millennium of Christianity. If there is a reason it
must be sought in the minds of those who perpetrate these criminal acts.
Or in the minds of certain Albanian leaders who for over 130 years have
followed the dream of the Great Albania, now tangled up with the demand
for “independent” Kosovo. Pursuing this myth, Albanian terrorists and
criminals, even when the UN protectorate was already set up, have
disgracefully succeeded in ethnically cleansing almost all the cities of
Kosovo Metohija (from the Greek word ‘metoh’ which means “property of the
church”), of Serbs, and beyond ethnic cleansing they plan to erase every
trace of monuments which for centuries have been testimony to the presence
of the Serbian population in these lands. They know well that the churches
and monasteries are the sign of perennial witness which cannot be erased
from Serbian Kosovo. That’s why there is such frenzy directed against
them. That’s why that as soon as the check-points and the security
garrisons around our monasteries and churches are removed, they are
immediately destroyed. The last attacks on Serbian holy places were
carried out in November and December 2002.
rumours of a withdrawal of the military garrisons protecting the churches
have caused alarm.
ARTEMIJE: The top officials of UNMIK and KFOR have so far expressed
firm determination not to leave the territory until the conditions for a
normal and secure life for all the citizens of Kosovo, without
discrimination on the basis of nationality or religion, have been
reestablished. A similar proposal was expressed three and a half years
ago, but unfortunately it has remained merely a promise. Judging from the
suffering to which we have been exposed even in the presence of KFOR and
UNMIK personnel, it is better not to think of what would happen if they
left before a solution providing for a multi-ethnic and democratic Kosovo
is reached, as set out in resolution 1244 of the UN Security Council.
How do you judge the Vatican’s attitude towards the situation in
ARTEMIJE: I can say that for the great majority of our people the
opinion is widespread that the Vatican was largely implicated in the
events that took place on the territory of the former Federal Socialist
Republic of Yugoslavia, and not only in Kosovo, over the last 10- 12
Recently there have been suggestions in the press about a possible
journey to Belgrade by the Pope, which would in that way prolong his visit
to Croatia. What do you think of the notion?
ARTEMIJE: We have not yet received any official or unofficial
information on the possibility. So I don’t want to speculate about it.
And, if such a possibility were to realised, a stance on behalf of the
whole Orthodox church would be taken not only by Pavle, our Patriarch, but
by the entire Council of Archbishops. At the same time we believe that the
Archbishops will take account of the inner conviction of the Church, that
is of the believing faithful, on the matter. As for the benefit Serbian
Orthodox Church might receive from such a hypothetical visit, I don’t find
myself in a position to make out what it might be. On the contrary, we
fear that we could receive further harm from it in terms of the faith and
spiritual issues, because such a visit could provoke new divisions and
splits in the Serbian Orthodox Church itself. I’m convinced, however, that
such a visit will not take place, despite the gossip.
September 11 many western opinion-makers began ranting about the Christian
roots of western civilization and the Islamic “enemy”. But none of them
said anything about the destruction of the churches in Kosovo. How do you
explain this odd silence?
ARTEMIJE: We don’t have the means to follow high international
politics or to analyze events that happen in them, especially after
September 11. We already have too many problems to deal with in the
situation that surrounds us close up. On the other hand, the silence of
“Christian and democratic” Europe is inexplicable when such heinous crimes
are committed against a Christian and European people such as the Serbs.
Recently you again affirmed that the definitive status of Kosovo must
be defined within the larger Balkan and European context, setting aside
maps and borders drawn up on ethnic bases, and getting rid of anachronisms
still operative, through integration. To what were you referring?
ARTEMIJE: We have always worked for peaceful and democratic
solutions to all international problems and conflicts. Both before and
during the armed conflict, which caused innocent victims on both sides,
and also after the end of the conflict, in the actual “international
peace”. All our considerations then are still valid today. The solution
can’t come from fomenting conflict or the wish for mutual annihilation.
But from tolerance, from respect for the principle “live and let live”. If
we don’t succeed in becoming brothers with everybody, because this also
depends on those on the other side, we must, and we can, be good
neighbors, and live side by side, “each one in his own vineyard and under
his own fig tree”. Unfortunately, we don’t see the same disposition or any
sign of the discarding of tensions and anachronisms on the part of the
30 GIORNI - Byzantine,
yet original as Giotto
Dome of the Pec Patriarchate monastery - spiritual
Of the Serbian Orthodox Church since the 13th century
INTERVIEW. Vittorio Sgarbi on the conservation of the
artistic and religious treasures of Kosovo
Byzantine, yet original as Giotto
VITTORIO Sgarbi knows Kosovo well and loves the ancient monasteries and
the churches of the Serbo- Orthodox tradition. Built between the 13th and
14th centuries they have made of this strip of the Balkans a true and
proper artistic treasure-chest. We asked him the following questions.
what state are the Serbo-Orthodox religious monuments of Kosovo?
VITTORIO SGARBI: The overall state of conservation of the monasteries of
Kosovo is, in general, good. They need the everyday maintenance that has
been carried out by the monks themselves over the years. That’s why it’s
important that monastic life continues to be protected. There are also,
however, other works that need to be done urgently.
Especially on the wealth of cycles of paintings
SGARBI: Yes. They are very extensive cycles and this desire to
represent a universe of events in a limited space is precisely what
constitutes the greatness of the places in question. There is no part
undecorated. They are encyclopedic monuments of witness that have a
universal ambition, and that’s what makes them great and rich. Apart,
obviously, from the fine quality of the decoration, which derives from
Byzantine culture and is expressed not in repetitive or mechanical fashion
but through a vivacity and originality, all the more difficult when the
Byzantine scheme itself is so rigid. There are passages in which one seems
to see Giotto, without there being the vision which in Giotto, in the same
period, is guaranteed by an anthropocentric dimension in which God is
distant. Here instead the presence of God turns the acts of man into
mirrors of his mind, as it were, the originality and vividness of the
style are all the more laudable in that they are tied to, or restricted,
within a style without room for individual creativity. There’s undoubtedly
the feeling that one’s seeing the works of great masters.
The Orthodox churches and the Kosovan monasteries represent the history
and the religious tradition of an ethnic group which was already a
minority in the past and which is now in some areas almost gone. These
monuments are, for that very reason, considered “dangerous” – in that they
are symbols and a perennial clarion call – by members of the larger and
dominant ethnic group. Doesn’t that seem an insurmountable barrier for the
conservation of these artistic treasures?
SGARBI: The problem is certainly complex. But it’s also the
responsibility of the international community to resolve it. It was NATO,
in fact, in 1999, who negotiated the withdrawal of the Serbian armed
forces and police, and which precluded their re-entry, even though not
excluded by resolution 1244. I’m not arguing the choice, but I can’t help
pointing out that it also involves responsibilities, and that both NATO
and the UN must’t neglect this other facet of the reconstruction of
Kosovo. If and when the Kosovo police force is truly multi-ethnic and
capable (politically, as well) of protecting the religious sites –
something which they don’t seem able to do at et moment – then one can
talk of redeployment for the KFOR. Now it’s altogether risky. And I’m very
glad to know, even if with a few months delay – during which the umpteenth
attack has unfortunately been recorded – that the NATO peace-keeping force
has, just in these last days, “frozen” the plan to withdraw from
protecting the churches, obviously considering it to be premature ....
Better late than never! And I do indeed hope that they will soon revise
the forecast withdrawal of task force “Sauro” from the Decani: I don’t
know who could have dreamed up such a folly.
A trial guarding of the monuments in the Gracanica zone was begun. Can
you tell us what it means and if it’s had positive results?
SGARBI: It is not yet a true and proper trial. It’s just that the
situation is different. The monastery of Gracanica is situated within the
enclave of that name, surrounded by thousands of Serbs which in some
fashion is a defense in itself. Some months ago in fact the checkpoints at
the entrances to the town and in front of the monastery were removed.
Thank heavens that all has gone well so far. And let’s not forget that
Gracanica is the only place where there are ethnic Serbian police
belonging to the newly created “Kosovo police service”. Having said that,
it’s not that the treasures of Gracanica are completely secure, but they
are certainly not at risk as they are in Decani and the Patriarchate of
Madona of Pec - Patriarchate Monastery 13th century
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