INTERVIEW WITH HIS EMINENCE BISHOP OF RASKA AND PRIZREN, THE RT. REV. ARTEMIJE (RADOSAVLJEVIC) - March 7, 2002
Your Eminence, the one hundredth issue of The Herald of Kosovo and Metohija will soon be published. It began to come out at the time of the horrible expulsion of our people when few people knew what was happening in Kosovo and Metohija. We began working at the time when a quarter of a million Serbs and other non-Albanians left their centuries-old homes. Those of us who knew the true state of affairs and the actual scale of these events mourned because of them. Two and a half years later, things seem to have hardly changed for the better. Various domestic and international NGOs are working on the return of displaced persons. But what to do and what to undertake to create a realistic strategy for refugee returns?
The hundredth issue of a newspaper or magazine represents a very humble anniversary. So it is with our bulletin, The Herald of Kosovo and Metohija, which has been coming out for the past two years. It was started in the most difficult of times for the Serb people, after the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo and Metohija of its Serbs, after great crimes, kidnappings, murders, the destruction of churches. Since Slobodan Milosevics regime was still in power in Belgrade and in control of all state and public media at that time, the truth about Kosovo and Metohija reached neither the hearts nor the ears of our people. This is why we felt the need to initiate our bulletin, which began with a small circulation of 2,000 copies, grew to 3,000 and now to 5,000 copies. Its purpose was to regularly inform and present facts and the truth regarding what is happening in Kosovo.
The one hundred issues of this paper truly reflect the actual conditions of the lives of the Serbs of Kosovo and Metohija during the past two and one-half years, as well as everything else that has happened in the meanwhile. Regular readers gained true insight and an accurate picture not only of the events themselves but also of the causes of our defeat, our tragedy in Kosovo and Metohija.
However, what those of us who remained to live in Kosovo and Metohija find interesting and what absorbs all of our attention is the issue of the return of expelled persons to Kosovo and Metohija. There is no doubt, when this issue is raised, the first thing to be mentioned are the conditions that need to be created in order to make these returns possible. Despite all the pressures and crimes which we have endured on our own skins, I personally believe that the first thing that should be done is to improve the living and working conditions of the Serbs still remaining in Kosovo and Metohija because whether the expelled will want to return will depend on this. If they are getting reports from Kosovo and Metohija every day that the Serbs there are under constant attack, that bombs are being thrown at their houses and shops, at their children in the playgrounds, that murders continue to occur, that churches and monasteries continue to be destroyed, very few people will be inspired to come back and live under these conditions. Therefore, the international community, our state and all the NGOs, international and domestic, need to devote their primary concern to creating the necessary conditions and normalizing the lives of the remaining Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija. When conditions improve, those who were expelled will want to return to their homes. Of course, necessary conditions for those returning need to be provided also - the repair of their destroyed or damaged homes, village infrastructure, employment opportunities, the opening of schools and hospitals...
Those of us who work in Kosovo and Metohija and the NGO The Herald of Kosovo and Metohija are not able to carry out the enormous task of bringing back our people by ourselves. That is why it is necessary for our state, the highest institution of our people, not just the NGOs, to get involved and invest itself in this problem and to try to work on it in its contacts with the international community. Thank God, these contacts do exist and they continue to expand. Because if we allow another year or two to go by and people still do not return, I am afraid that afterwards there will be a very small number of people wanting to return at all.
The NGO The Herald of Kosovo and Metohija organized a series of lectures and literary evenings, visits to the enclaves, and a large exhibition of photographs dedicated to destroyed shrines in Kosovo and Metohija. What to undertake, how to interest and convince the government and officials to synchronize their activities, so that the news about Kosovo and Metohija does not end up on page ten on the newspapers or in the twenty-fifth minute of a half hour television newscast?
If things are at the point where we are the ones who need to animate the state, I am afraid we will not accomplish much. I believe that the state should treat this is a priority, and that we are the ones who are able to help, to jump to its aid in activities being implemented by the state, so as to make its work as effective as possible. We are really not in a position nor do we have the means to influence state officials to become more engaged with respect to the issue of Kosovo and Metohija and, first and foremost, of Serb returns to this region. The fact of the matter is that the final solution of the status of Kosovo will also depend on how many Serbs there are in Kosovo and Metohija now and how many there will be when the status issue is addressed. If we do not think about this and work on it right now, I am afraid that the future will catch us unprepared and that we will not have valid arguments to keep Kosovo and Metohija within the framework of our state of Serbia and Yugoslavia. This should be the basic realization and preoccupation of every member of the state apparatus from the Yugoslav president to the Serbian president (I am not sure we still have one because we have not seen or heard from him in a while), the Serbian prime minister, and especially of those in the Coordinating Center [the Coordinating Center of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Republic of Yugoslavia for Kosovo and Metohija headed by deputy prime minister Nebojsa Covic]. This is what we should be working on, what we should be thinking about, in addition to visiting our people who are still in refugee camps and scattered in various locations in Serbia to encourage them to return home while at the same time creating the necessary preconditions so that this can be realized.
Your Eminence, The Herald of Kosovo and Metohija has been very dedicated in recording and publishing all the decisions of the Serb National Council [of Kosovo and Metohija]; it simply served as a chronicle of developments in connection with the SNC. What will be the fate of the SNC now that a provincial government [of Kosovo] has been established, including a provincial parliament and other institutions supported and blessed by the international community?
Three or almost four months have passed since the election and creation of the parliament of Kosovo and Metohija. So far the work of this parliament has neither influenced nor been detected in the field. The Serb National Council has remained as active as it has been recently, concerning itself with the Serb people and their needs and problems throughout the territory of Kosovo and Metohija. Two days ago this parliament resumed its work, a president of Kosovo and Metohija was elected, a government of Kosovo and Metohija was elected in which the Serbs apparently were not included and it remains highly questionable what the activities of this government will be.
The SNC continues to carefully follow all developments in Kosovo and Metohija, as well as in our state of Serbia and Yugoslavia. It will continue to animate and coordinate all activities with respect to realizing the goals we have already discussed - for the survival of our people in Kosovo and Metohija, the return of the expelled, and the discovery of the fate of at least 1,300 and perhaps as many as 1,500 Serbs who have disappeared or been kidnapped during the past two and a half years.
It remains to be seen what the work of the new government of Kosovo and Metohija will be like. It now faces a very important test and it will work under the great pressure of the international community. We will see how the work of this government will be reflected on democratic tendencies in Kosovo and Metohija, first and foremost, on the position of the Serb national community.
The previous regime did not allow and did not agree with the participation of the Serbs in elections for local organs of government. You and the Serb National Council managed to secure the existence of local community offices in settlements where Serbs are in the majority in order to defend their interests to some extent. At that time, the regime and others attacked you as a traitor and accused you of all kinds of things. However, you believed that one could not confront the international community, and that Serbs should instead actively participate and influence the unfolding of the situation in Kosovo and Metohija. Now new elections at the local level are expected. Do you think that the Serbs will participate in these elections in greater number? Have they recognized that isolation leads nowhere?
I think that the Serb National Council and, first and foremost, the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo and Metohija, were correct in assessing the value of cooperation with the international community because without cooperation with them, the survival of the Serb community in Kosovo and Metohija would be absolutely impossible. The regime of Mr. Milosevic certainly knew this and probably had the goal of a Kosovo and Metohija completely cleansed of Serbs so it could rub the nose of the international community in it all the time. However, we believed that our basic national and state goal and interest was for the Serbs to remain and survive in Kosovo and Metohija.
Thank God that we were successful in this and managed to retain a good part of our people despite all the suffering and tragedies they endured. Without cooperation with the international community, not only would our survival here have been impossible but so would any returns.
As far as the elections are concerned, the necessary preconditions really did not exist during the first local elections for them to be held. First of all, they were not supported by the regime in Serbia at the time. In the elections held in November, even though the decision regarding Serb participation was made relatively late, even though there was tremendous obstruction by certain individuals and would-be leaders of the Serb community in Kosovo and Metohija and in Serbia herself, a respectable number nevertheless participated and this enabled the Serbs to win the third largest representation in the parliament. The Return Coalition is the third largest party in the Kosovo and Metohija parliament. We believe and time will show that this was a good principle, that it is a good method and the only possible one. I am happy that events have demonstrated that the position we adopted right from the start has turned out to be accurate and correct. Now this position has been adopted by our country, too, especially by the Coordinating Center which was established to maintain relations with the international community.
At the next elections, and this depends also on how the people will be informed and instructed through the media from our country of Serbia, but I believe that without participation in these elections we cannot have significant influence over the course of events in Kosovo and Metohija.
Do you think that the expelled Serbs and others from the non-Albanian community living in Serbia will also be included in these local elections?
Just as they were included in the recent parliamentary elections, they could certainly also be included in local elections because they are still officially residents of the settlements where they lived prior to their expulsion and they should have some influence there.
Can you comment, Your Eminence, regarding the activities of the Housing and Property Directorate of the United Nations, whose function it is to assist Serbs and others from non-Albanian communities, as well as Albanians, to determined the current status of the property of people from Kosovo and Metohija. Despite the fact that the NGO The Herald of Kosovo and Metohija has been constantly included in their programs, it appears that interest and response among the people is not adequate. What can we do, what should we undertake?
It is a very painful realization and a fact that many foreigners show far greater concern for Serbs and their rights, both property rights and personal rights, than does our own state. For example, this organization under UN auspices which concerns itself with the resolution of property issues and the protection of property rights and personal rights and is active in this domain. Thank God, The Herald of Kosovo and Metohija has been active in acquainting our people with their rights and responsibilities - what they need to do, whom they need to contact and what proof they need to gather and submit to the appropriate institutions in order to realize their property rights and the protection of those rights.
I believe that all daily newspapers should publish the announcement of this international organization, that people should be informed, that state television should highlight this at the beginning of its prime time news broadcast at 7:30 p.m., that expelled Serbs should be told to go to such-and-such addresses to realize their property rights. The possibility of their return to Kosovo and Metohija will depend on this being done, too.
I really believe that the state should be involved in national issues and through its media, it should acquaint every individual and family member, first and foremost, the heads of the families of Serb refugees, on how they can protect their property rights in Kosovo and Metohija. It goes without saying that I believe that it would not be good for Serbs to reclaim their property for the sole purpose of selling it to the Albanians in Kosovo and Metohija. I think that the state should find a mechanism to prevent the appropriation of Serb property in Kosovo and Metohija, its sale and the permanent exclusion of Serbs from Kosovo and Metohija.
During the interview with the bishop, the theatrical actor Momir Bradic arrived. The bishop kindly invited us to remain his guests a little longer in order to hear firsthand the impressions of Mr. Bradic from his trip throughout Kosovo.
We visited all the schools in Gracanica and the surrounding villages. I gave an hour-long lesson in history and spirituality; I recited the Testament of Stefan Nemanja. They invited me to come back again as soon as possible, said Mr. Bradic.
In Gracanica we visited the King Milutin [Elementary] School. Only the lower grades were present, the third and fourth grades. We agreed to come back for another visit to all the enclaves after receiving Your blessing to do so and to expand the lesson in history with a second part - how St. Sava realized the testament of Stefan Nemanja.
What was your impression of Caglavica and the photography exhibition of Dragan Tanasijevic on display there, The Guardians of the Holy Shrines? asked the bishop.
It is a very exclusive, very beautiful exhibition in a beautiful facility. The acoustic arrangements were very good. Unfortunately, there were not many Serbs there. There were more of these local foreign guests.
And how did the foreigners respond?
First of all, every one of them had a translator with him to translate every word that was said. I recited another part of the Testament, the part about the name, here as well, and later I quoted from the Heavenly Liturgy. As I was reciting the latter, your guest, Mr. [Michael] Steiner, arrived and he listened very attentively to all this. The monk Sava also arrived with him. He gave a speech and acquainted those present with the contents of the exhibition and its history, and thanked them for their protection. He said that he hoped the barbed wire and tanks would disappear as soon as possible and that peace, joy and contentment would prevail, and that our Church would be able to live and work again like before. His speech was followed with great attention.
In the secondary school in Laplje Selo, I recited the Testament to the graduating class, the young men and girls at that school. I normally recite this text in Serbia and abroad but I have never experienced such attention, absorption, such reciprocal energy. When I finished the Testament, one of the professors said: Lets respond to this now in the words of [Petar Petrovic II] Njegos.
A girl stood up and began to recite an excerpt from The Mountain Wreath.
Another professor who was there then said: Lets respond to our dear guest now with the words of Desanka [Maksimovic]. They recited Gracanica.
We concluded with the words of Bishop Nikolaj: May the Serbs become united, God-fearing and more numerous.
What was your impression of Kosovo? asked Bishop Artemije.
On Miholjdan I was in Velika Hoca and Gorazdevac. At that time we were taken and driven around in their transporters so I could not see or sense everything that has been done, or see what a danger it is to live in Kosovo as I saw now.
Now I traveled some 20 kilometers with Father Nektarije and I saw how he communicates. Well see each other, well get together, Nektarije says without mentioning where we will see each other and where we are now. We did not have an escort immediately but from a certain intersection. It was only now that I realized how dangerous life in general is there.
What I saw was two different worlds. One world is expanding and building a main road from Merdare to Pristina with beautiful houses. I saw something which caught my attention immediately, a sole Serb flag on a single house, despite the fact that we passed through almost the entire Serb area surrounding Gracanica. This means that only one Serb house is being built there.
What I found most disturbing was the traffic on every road, not only on the main road. To me it was as crowded as if I had found myself on Knez Milos Street in downtown Belgrade.
That is an indicator of the fact that life in Kosovo is as busy as an anthill, said the bishop. Unfortunately, it is a monoethnic life; it is solely Albanian. The Serbs in Kosovo remind one of the Serbs in Serbia - you can go for ten kilometers and not see any of the people by the road or in the yard.
That is disturbing; thats an unusual impression, repeated Mr. Bradic.
On the other hand, I saw the tremendous yearning of those young people. Those young men and girls - there was so much purity in their eyes and in their hearts; their eyes were open wide as they followed the story which is true for it is here that we became a people.
The woman speaker told me, said Mr. Bradic, that I reminded them of our past while they, the Serbs of Kosovo, are taken to task for overemphasizing our past. How would you comment on this, she asked me.
I think that they have every right to take us to task for something that they do not have. Kosovo and Metohija is our great archeological site. Wherever we dig, we find one of our graves or our altars. They take us to task for always coming back to this. Because anyone who does not know how far back our predecessors go needs only to search among the bones and graves of our predecessors; they will show the truth. Therefore, this is our truth. They take us to task for it because it is something that they do not have. They are younger than we are.