Interview for the Herald of Kosovo and Metohija
Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do
Father Sava, three years have already passed since the end of the war. Do you think that the situation in Kosovo and Metohija has improved?
Even though the number of incidents is much smaller than before, the situation has not changed qualitatively and the Serb people, especially our monks, are still living deprived of basic rights and liberties. The Western media very frequently state that the number of murders, thefts and other crimes against Serbs has gone down; however, they forget that this is not the result of an improvement in the political situation but of the absolute ghettoization of the Serbs who are increasingly hermetically separated from the Albanians for security reasons. In the past few days, the Albanian language media celebrated the election of "the first president of free Kosovo". Unfortunately, I must say that Kosovo is not free for all its residents and that the policy of discrimination and ethnic repression, especially against Serbs and Roma [Gypsies], is still continuing despite the presence of the UN and KFOR.
Do you think that new institutions, as well as the arrival of a new UNMIK head, will lead to an improvement of the situation in the field?
That is very difficult to say because in the past, Albanian political leaders in Kosovo and Metohija did not demonstrate any special interest in changing the policy of creating an ethnically cleansed, Albanian territory. Moreover, in their inaugural speeches neither Mr. Rugova nor Mr. Bajrami mentioned the problem of the Serb community. On the other hand, Mr. Steiner has emphasized several times to date that one of the priorities is an improvement in the life standards of the Serb people and we remain hopeful that he will turn his promises into actions. I believe that it is extremely difficult to expect a complete change of the Albanian mentality and behavior which here are not just a consequence of the war but have existed for centuries. The only way of creating minimally acceptable conditions for the life of the Serbs is for UNMIK to finally comprehend that in territories inhabited by Serbs, a separate local government administration must exist, as well as an entire series of mechanisms which will prevent the continuation of the ethnic cleansing of our people, by all means including special relations of the Serb people with the Republic of Serbia, especially with respect to the protection of our cultural heritage, education, health, etc. It is necessary to urgently prepare an effective package of economic renewal in Serb regions in order to retain the work capable population and create fundamental opportunities for a normal life. All these measures do not mean the creation of a parallel system but point rather to a necessity which is the result of the fact that UNMIK has not been successful in persuading the Albanians to ensure conditions for an integrated and free society.
Frequently the problem of the north part of Kosovo and Metohija, especially of Mitrovica, is represented in the foreign media as the only problem for the integration of the Serb population.
That view is the result of a piecemeal approach to the entire problem in the Province. We have always emphasized that the Serbs of Mitrovica and north Kosovo have the full right not to allow the same thing to happen to them that happened to Serbs in other areas of the Province. The international community does not have the moral right to demand the full integration of the north part in Kosovo institutions while Serbs in other parts of Kosovo and Metohija still remain ghettoized, without the right to freedom of movement, work and life, without unhindered access to hospitals and other social institutions which are almost one hundred percent in the hands of Albanians. The problem of Mitrovica and the north cannot be considered separately, outside the context of the entire situation in Kosovo and Metohija. With regard to this issue we frequently hear misleading arguments. I am convinced that the Serbs would demonstrate readiness for cooperation and full integration within, of course, the framework of Resolution 1244, if Albanian leaders demonstrated the slightest readiness to develop a contemporary multiethnic society. Since society in Kosovo and Metohija continues to develop in the direction of the creation of a monoethnic society based on criminal activity and violence, it is completely logical that the Serbs cannot seek their prosperity in such a society and they are right in demanding that their status be resolved in a just manner.
What is the present condition of our spiritual and cultural heritage in this region?
It is with regret that I must admit that there have been no positive moves. Following the destruction and damage of more than 110 Orthodox Christian churches and monasteries, the process of destruction of our centuries old heritage is continuing. The latest reports from the field indicate that churches which were only damaged or set on fire from within a year ago are now even more damaged and destroyed. On the other hand, there is an attempt to remove the ruins of our churches altogether and thus erase every trace of their existence as well as traces of the crimes committed against them. However, what is most horrific is the desecration of the cemeteries. Father Radivoje Panic and Dr. Gordana Subaric, in their documentary film "Cemetery Wind" ["Grobni vetar"], show by pictures and words the barbarian destruction of cemeteries in the Pec area, especially in the villages of Siga and Brestovik. The opening of graves, the destruction of coffins and the scattering of bones represents the highest level of barbarism and insanity by the Kosovo Albanians. Unfortunately in all wars in the region of Yugoslavia there has been damage to grave markers but no one removed the bodies of the deceased and scattered their bones. We have to keep in mind that this is not a new development. As early as 1988 an incident occurred in which the graves of children in a Serb cemetery in Kosovo were desecrated in the same way, and their bodies and diapers were scattered around the desecrated grave mound. What is even more horrific is the fact that many bodies of the deceased were simply taken away in an unknown direction because many of the graves are empty and the traces of their desecration and destruction are obvious. It is symptomatic that no one among the Albanians has publicly condemned these barbaric acts nor has this been discussed in their media. If the deceased are treated in this manner, one can only imagine how the living are treated. We are witness to the increasing development in Kosovo and Metohija of an anti-Christian campaign directed against the centuries old values of Christian and European civilization. While new mosques built by wealthy Arab magnates through their "humanitarian and religious" organizations crop up throughout Kosovo and Metohija, Christian churches continue to be destroyed and everything bearing the sign of the Holy Cross is rapidly disappearing from the Kosovo landscape. Desecration of Christian Roman Catholic cemeteries by the Albanian Muslims also occurred in Prizren even though the Roman Catholic Albanian community remains silent for the most part about such incidents for fear of more violent attacks by their Muslim compatriots. Three years have already passed since the end of the war and not a single destroyed Orthodox church has been rebuilt, a clear indication of the complete inequity and bias of the international community.
What is the reason for the destruction of the cultural and spiritual heritage in Kosovo and Metohija?
I am certain that it is not revenge but a clearly coordinated plan and strategy to destroy a centuries old culture bearing witness to the presence of the Orthodox Serbs in this region. In the process of building a new "Kosovar nation", the strategists of this "nation building" program set a goal for themselves to destroy as much Serb spiritual and cultural treasure as possible, while the rest is to be a subjected to an adoption process by means of various quasihistorical theories which are publicly prominent at the highest levels. Thus, for example, the Orthodox Bogorodica Ljeviska Cathedral in Prizren is "the oldest Roman Catholic church in Kosovo and Metohija", Decani Monastery was built by members of some "Gasi clan", and the Patriarchate and Gracanica are built on destroyed Catholic churches. Of course, all these quasihistorical exhibitions cannot be confirmed by a single shred of evidence but in the general politicization of history ethnic Albanian children in Kosovo are learning these lies and tomorrow they will be the extremist advocates of these ideas. Therefore, the attempt is being made to transform Kosovo, which has never been a united geographic, ethnic or political whole, into a new state. In order to do this it is necessary to create a Kosovo history, culture, nation of so-called Kosovars, a new flag, etc. This process is being conducted on the basis of advice from an entire range of experts, primarily from the U.S.A., who view an independent Kosovo as the main support for American interests in this region. So in the latest report on human rights of the State Department mention is made of "Serb Kosovars". The word "Kosovar" is an Albanian translation of the Serb name "Kosovac" and today in Kosovo when someone says Kosovar one primarily means of Kosovo Albanians. For us Orthodox Serbs our fatherland is and remains Serbia to which Kosovo and Metohija have belonged for centuries. This province remains only a geographical concept within a wider framework and any form of "Kosovarization" of Serb ethnos, culture and spirituality in this region is absolutely unacceptable. The Serbian Orthodox Church, as the chief guardian and treasury of this Serbian and Orthodox Christian identity, is consequently under fiercest attack by the architects of the new "Kosovar" state which some international circles would like to see in this region. That is the very reason why this problem represents one more reason why the protection of our Christian monuments should never at any price be placed within the jurisdiction of some Albanian ministry; instead, it is necessary for Belgrade and the international community to define mechanisms for the protection of our legacy and culture as soon as possible.
What are relations like with the other religious communities?
Our diocese, headed by Bishop Artemije, from the very start initiated dialog with other communities with the goal of finding ways for the peaceful coexistence of all communities. After three years of meetings and talks, we do not have a single concrete example of any Roman Catholic or Muslim Albanian taking a decisive step and speaking up against the policy of ethnic violence and intolerance. What is more, the recent interviews of the Roman Catholic bishop of Prizren, Marko Sopi, the statements of his secretary, Don Shan Zefi, as well as an interview of the imam of Pec represent examples of the most extreme hate speech in the post-war period such as cannot be found among the generally far more politically cautious Albanian political leaders. Non-Albanian Roman Catholics, primarily the remaining Croats, are very dissatisfied with the extremely pro-Albanian policy of Bishop Sopi, who is openly spreading historical untruths and laying claim to the oldest Orthodox monasteries and churches as having been supposedly Roman Catholic and snatched away by the Serbs. This sort of treatment is to a great extent imperiling relations between our Church and the Roman Catholics in general. Of course, there does not exist a single statement or act by our bishop nor by any of our priests or monks which could be quoted as an example of support for a policy of violence for the very reason that our Church in this region from the beginning has been clearly opposed to violence and crimes on either side. Unlike the Albanian religious leaders, Bishop Artemije visited a mass grave said to contain murdered Albanian civilians with international representatives as early as July 1999 and most severely condemned every crime, expressing sincere Christian regret for every lost life. Our monasteries, and Decani is an example, actively helped, fed and provided medical assistance to Albanian civilians during the time of the war, even providing them with sanctuary inside the monastery. Everyone received assistance: Roma, Goranis, Albanians and, of course, the numerous Serb unfortunates whom the monasteries continue to actively assist today. In Djakovica, for example, we have six old Serb women who were never visited by a single representative of the Roman Catholic or Muslim Albanians to offer them at least a piece of bread in their misfortune. This kind of treatment to a large degree prevents a sincere dialog despite our good will.
These days there is a lot of talk about the so-called "conditional independence" of Kosovo as a way out of the very complicated situation of the unresolved status of the Province.
Yes, I recently read the latest report on this issue prepared the International Crisis Group and in this document I do not find anything new not already stated by the other supposedly independent commission headed by Judge [Richard] Goldstone. In short, both groups explain that the international community needs to recognize the status of "conditional independence" for Kosovo as soon as possible which would, in their opinion, stabilize Kosovo society and the entire region. Conditional independence, according to the ICG, means independence from the FRY but in the form of a kind of moderate international protectorate. This proposal is, however, completely unrealizable in the field because if freedom for non-Albanian communities cannot be achieved now despite the presence of such a huge number of international institutions and troops in Kosovo and Metohija, it is difficult to believe that this will be possible in some kind of independent Kosovo with a very limited international presence. I am more prone to view this proposal as an attempt to circumvent [UN Security Council] Resolution 1244 and avoid the opposition of Russia and China, which do not accept changes to the external border of the FRY. Although the ICG report does not mention it specifically, it is to be expected that (in the event that this idea is endorsed by the global community) great pressure will be exerted on the FRY to accept the secession of Kosovo and Metohija and that this issue is quite likely to be included on the list of conditions for further integration of Serbia and Montenegro into international institutions. It is not necessary to say to what extent this would put a brake on democratic processes in our country. As well, I must add that the immediate consequence of such a solution would be to speed up the dislocation of Serbs from Kosovo and Metohija because even now international organizations cannot offer the remaining Serbs better security than military protection in their beseiged enclaves. In my opinion, the status issue can be discussed ONLY when we see concrete improvement with regard to respect for human rights, the return of expelled Serbs, Roma and others, and of course, when the Kosovo Albanian political leaders finally demonstrated sincere readiness to treat non-Albanian residents of the Province as equal citizens. At the moment, none of these conditions is fulfilled and for the non-Albanian population in this region, especially for the Serbs, there is no freedom of movement, employment or life. Without these basic preconditions, any discussion or solution regarding status would be wrong and only encourage extremist and nationalist elements. I must say that this idea is promulgated by certain individuals who are well-known for their pro-Albanian stance and who cannot hide their great disappointment because their "Kosovar" friends are slowly losing international credibility because of their treatment of the non-Albanian population as second-rate citizens and unwanted guests on "ethnic Albanian territory". That is actually why they have produced this proposal, wrapped up in nice promises and visions, in order to push through the independence of Kosovo despite the catastrophic situation in the field in spite of the presence of 40,000 NATO troops. When the time comes for this, it is also of critical importance for Kosovo Serbs to participate equally in the making of any sort of decision on the status of Kosovo, of course, in addition to Belgrade and the government in Pristina. The international community does not have the moral right to force our community, which has been decimated here since the NATO deployment, to accept a program which would lead to the creation of an ethnically Albanian society under the guise of democracy and freedom. It is completely unnecessary to emphasize that no one among the Kosovo and Metohija Serbs accepts the creation of any form of independent Kosovo. Negotiations can take place regarding all other possible solutions except this one. At the same time, it is important to knwo that in addition to the will of the residents of this region, the decision regarding final status should be made in accordance with International Law, the Helsinki final document and other documents preventing secession without the consent of the mother country, especially with regard to a country which is becoming more and more democratic and closer to European integration. Every further atomization of the Balkans is contrary to the idea of European integration and everyone in Kosovo needs to be conscious of this fact.
And finally, what is the outlook for our people and for the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo and Metohija?
Even though we have many reasons for pessimism it is with joy that I can say that we are filled with a spiritual optimism. For us Orthodox Christians, suffering is not only a punishment but, first and foremost, a blessing from God and an invitation to repentance and turning to God. Among many true believers this suffering has only strengthened faith and willingness to sacrifice and endure. Despite the very inhuman treatment of our people and churches, we strive to retain a human treatment towards the Albanians and to always demonstrate a readiness for dialog. It is sad that they do not see that this treatment toward Christian shrines, helpless old ladies, children and others who are frail and feeble represents, first and foremost, their personal tragedy because a better future cannot be built on crimes. For example, a few days ago a middle-aged Serb woman was killed in the middle of the street in Lipljan through no fault of her own. A year ago a bus carrying Serb civilians was blown up, etc. These are all examples of abuses against those who are not able to defend themselves and represent a great shame for both those who committed these deeds and for those who tolerate them or remain silent in secret approval. The war against the dead especially represents the most morbid dimension of the hate which reigns in this region. Nevertheless, despite everything, in our prayers we never fail to mention those who in their ignorance and blindness commit such acts, praying with the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ: Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do!