turns a blind eye as scores of ancient
By Robert Fisk in Djakovica
20 November 1999
A DAY after Nato forces entered Kosovo in June, I discovered an abandoned Serb Orthodox church in a field 10 miles north of Prizren. It was a small, box-like building and its doors were open. I gingerly walked through a steel gate and into the small field in which it stood and entered the building. It had been left in haste, its doors unlocked, its priest's clothes thrown over a bible stand. Icons of Jesus and the saints stared down at me in a passion of expression and colour.
Outside, Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas were strolling past the church in the company of German troops from Nato's peace-keeping force (K-For). "See how we leave their churches untouched - after all that they did to us?" a middle-aged Kosovo Albanian woman asked me later in the city. I was suitably impressed. "They burnt our mosques. But we protect their churches." Not any more, they don't.
Last week, I drove
down the same road to Prizren and sought out the same
The Serb church
has issued its own list of destroyed or partly demolished
The rubble of Orthodox
churches across Kosovo stands as a monument to
True, K-For soldiers
are now billeted beside Orthodox and Catholic churches
But elsewhere, religious
desecration is Nato's shame. When I turned up in
The Italians were now courtesy itself. They even wished me to identify correctly the Italian tank - a Centaur - that stands outside the demolished church. And I could take all the pictures I wanted of K-For troops guarding the integrity and sanctity of a church that had already been blown apart. This time the soldiers were more than friendly. Watch out for the dangerous walls, they warned me. Would I like a picture of the soldier in front of the tank with the destroyed church in the background? What on earth was going on?
Now, I truly believe that the Italian peace-keepers in Kosovo, like their opposite numbers in Beirut in 1982, are among the best peace-keepers on our planet; even if their Ariete brigade at Pec does celebrate its campaign against Montgomery in the North African Egyptian desert until "unfavourable wartime events" - El Alamein, perhaps - caused its disbandment.
But this demolition
cannot be just "revenge" - Nato's usual excuse for the
Outside Klina last week, I came across another blasted church, blown to pieces just two months ago. Its shattered dome lay over walls and crosses and iconstasis. And wandering amid the rubble was a Kosovo Albanian, Ymer Qupeva. What on earth was he doing here? I asked. Sympathising with the Serb worshippers? "I have come to view the professionalism of the destruction," Mr Qupeva said. "They did very well - they planted explosives against all four walls."
Mr Qupeva was a graduate of "pyrotechnics" at the University of Zagreb and wanted to make sure the Kosovo Albanians had done their job well. It was, he said, a "Karic" church - the Karic brothers in Belgrade are reputed mobsters - and one of many built across Kosovo. "They used the stones from the Klina Partisan memorial to build the walls," Mr Qupeva said. "The Serbs claimed someone had a dream that they should build a church next to the old tree by the road." And blowing up the church? Did he agree with that? "It was good," he said bleakly.
Now the church is finished. Blown up with great professionalism. And - for good measure - so is the old tree beside it.