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)

Part 2


VICTIMS OF HUMANITARIANISM - Interview with Bishop Artemije
BYZANITNE, YET ORIGINAL AS GIOTTO -Interview with Hon. Vittorio Sgarbi

30 GIORNI - Vittime dell' Umanitarismo



“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 .

Artemije, 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 think?

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.

Why 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.

Recent 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 Kosovo?

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 years.

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.

After 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 Albanians.


30 GIORNI - Byzantine, yet original as Giotto


Dome of the Pec Patriarchate monastery - spiritual center
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.

Paolo Mattei

In 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 Pec.

Madona of Pec - Patriarchate Monastery 13th century

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ERP KIM Info-Service is the official Information Service of the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Raska and Prizren and works with the blessing of His Grace Bishop Artemije.
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