Danas, Belgrade, Yugoslavia
Saturday-Sunday, August 5-6, 2000

INTERVIEW WITH BISHOP ARTEMIJE

The bishop of Raska and Prizren, Artemije (Radosavljevic), president of the SNC of Kosovo and Metohija, on the joint declaration of the Serbs and Albanians, and relations among Serbs

The elections are lost in advance for the opposition

We are not disinterested in what is happening with the opposition and the ruling regime, but we cannot participate in this

By Jelena Tasic

“Unlike previous documents, the joint Serb-Albanian declaration not only obligates the participants of the conference at Airlie House but also creates homework for the international community as well. Concretely, KFOR and UNMIK are given the responsibility for making it possible for individual points of this declaration to be realized in the field. This represents a serious guarantee and we hope that this document will not, like others before it, remain as just a lot of empty words on paper. Perhaps one shortcoming of this conference is that representatives of KFOR and UNMIK did not also attend the talks with the representatives of the American administration who sat to the side, attentively following and taking notes.”

“However, upon returning to Kosovo we saw that almost every word so to speak had been transmitted to the representatives of the international Mission in Kosovo,” says the episcope of Raska and Prizren, Artemije (Radosavljevic), the president of the Serb National Council (SNC) of Kosovo and Metohija, explaining the details of the Serb-Albanian talks in the U.S.

In an interview with “Danas”, Bishop Artemije talks about relations in the Serb community in Kosovo and Metohija and the upcoming elections.

DANAS: The delegation of the Kosovo Albanians consisted of 26 members representing various political options and interests. The host, the U.S. Institute for Peace, selected the representation for the Serbs. Why did the SNC of Kosovo and Metohija accept these terms instead of insisting that the talks also include the representatives of the SNC of Kosovska Mitrovica?

Bishop Artemije
Bishop Artemije struggling for his crucified people

BISHOP ARTEMIJE: We did not know who among the Serbs and the Albanians had been invited until our very departure for the U.S. nor were we in a position to dictate the terms for the selection process.
That was up to the organizer. There has been a lot of manipulation with the fact that the representatives of Kosovska Mitrovica were not invited; with us were two representatives of the SNC from the Kosovska Mitrovica region, Slavisa Ristic of Zubin Potok, the vice president of the SNC of Kosovska Mitrovica; and Nenad Radosavljevic of Leposavic, which means that they, too, were represented. I would not like to comment on why Oliver Ivanovic and Marko Jaksic were not invited. When someone in the U.S. suggested that we, that is, Bishop Artemije, does not represent all Serbs, Ambassador John Menzies replied that Bishop Artemije perhaps does not politically represent all Serbs in Kosovo but that morally he represents the entire suffering community of Kosovo. We believe that the SNC of Kosovo and Metohija represents all Kosovo Serbs and their interests.

I have never made any distinctions among Serbs nor represented the interests of only one group. Also, among the Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija there are no distinct political parties, as is the case with the Albanians, creating the need to invite their representatives.

DANAS: You have been criticized for accepting these talks on behalf of the SNC and legalizing the division of Serbs into those who are cooperative and those who are extremist, thus leading to a reinterpretation of Resolution 1244, which guarantees security and rights for everyone, not only to those who cooperate with the international community.

BISHOP ARTEMIJE: To me that does not appear to be logical nor consistent. Many of the critics were invited to the talks but imagined that they would be some sort of mini-Dayton which would attempt to resolve the status of Kosovo, and for this reason declined to attend. As can be seen from the text of the Declaration, there was no discussion of, let alone conclusion regarding, the status issue so perhaps they are attacking us now because they have realized that they made a mistake in not accepting the invitation. We disregard such things and do that what we are duty-bound to do and what we believe to be in the interest of the Serb people in Kosovo and Metohija.

DANAS: How do you interpret the fact that even those representatives of the Kosovo Albanians who left the Interim Administrative Council (IAC) of Kosovo because of the Agreement on Understanding nevertheless agreed to the talks in the U.S., even though Hasim Thaci is now distancing himself from the Declaration?

BISHOP ARTEMIJE: Thaci is now in a difficult position. He is trying to get around what was signed in order to repair his rating at home before the October elections. Among the Kosovo Albanians, extremism is a measure of patriotism. Thaci’s party is now more extremist that he is personally and Thaci is fighting for the votes of the citizens, which places him in a delicate position with respect to the international community, especially the U.S., because he appears to them to be an insincere and ill-intentioned partner in the resolving of problems in Kosovo and Metohija. As far as participation in the IAC and agreement to go to the U.S. is concerned, probably the Albanians also see that they cannot gain anything through a boycott. We have to be cognizant of this, too. We must cooperate with the international
community because we have no one else on whom we can count on support to ensure our survival and the creation of conditions necessary for the return of Serbs to Kosovo and Metohija.

Our country left us there, betrayed us, turned us over, withdrew and those of us remaining in Kosovo have no one else but the international community, whether it is reliable or not.

DANAS: Last Sunday in Gracanica the members of the SNC’s of central Kosovo and Kosovska Mitrovica met upon the initiative of the Serbian Resistance Movement in what is hoped will be the first phase of the creation of united Serb forces in Kosovo and Metohija. How do you view such initiatives, considering that it was announced that representatives of the SNC of Kosovo and Metohija will be invited to the next meeting in Mitrovica?

BISHOP ARTEMIJE: If they wanted to include us, why didn’t they wait for us to return from the U.S.? Why did they meet behind our backs? I don't know whether we will go to Mitrovica or not. We will assess the situation. I think that it has become senseless to accept such invitations. Nothing was resolved at the last meeting on Kosovo with the so-called united democratic opposition, either. Even the bare minimum which was agreed upon, that we refrain from verbal attacks on each other, was not honored. We are still the target of attacks by our brothers from the north. I see no reason to participate in such a gathering.

DANAS: From what you are saying one might be led to concluded that it is easier for the representatives of the SNC of Kosovo and Metohija to sit down at the negotiating table with Albanians than with
Serbs.

BISHOP ARTEMIJE: It is not hard for us to sit down with Serbs. We have invited them to Gracanica many times and they refused to attend the meetings of the SNC. They want to bring me to Mitrovica not to negotiate or cooperate but practically to place me in the defendant’s chair in order to change my views. What is more, the talks with representatives of all political options in Kosovo also includes the representatives of Milosevic’s regime, with whom we have nothing more to talk about nor new to hear. The regime has clearly stated everything that it had to say to both the Serbs in Kosovo and the Serbs in Serbia. If it cared about solving the problems of the Kosovo Serbs, all of this would not have happened.

DANAS: In your opinion, what is the now the essential interest of the Serbs in Kosovo, the unification of the Serb community around a minimal platform of joint and national interests, on which the Serbian Resistance Movement is working, or cooperation with the international community, as well as with the Kosovo Albanians?

BISHOP ARTEMIJE: Both are crucial. I believe that with respect to the unification of Serb forces there is no other platform except for the one offered by the SNC of Kosovo and Metohija around which we could unite and coordinate our positions. All other options lead to defeat, including the one represented and led by the Serbian Resistance Movement. It is stupid to search for a minimal platform of joint interests at this point. The minimum is survival and staying in Kosovo which is what the Serbian church did and continues to do. And, of course, refugee returns. There are no other interests.

DANAS: This Sunday Oliver Ivanovic appeared for the first time at the meeting of the Joint Committee on Returns of expelled persons. Is this a sign that it is possible to work together on key problems?

BISHOP ARTEMIJE: I am happy if he attended but I don’t know in what capacity or whether he wanted to be a member of that Committee and to work together on achieving a common goal. I have said a hundred times already that with respect to goals there is no difference between the Serbs of central Kosovo, the Serb enclaves and these people from the north. Everyone’s goal is survival, the retention of our people here and refugee returns. If this is everyone’s common goal, then we need to work together on achieving it. But we believe that it is not possible to realize any of the goals of the Serb community without the protection of KFOR and UNMIK. Stories of spontaneous and mass returns of Serbs without cooperation with the international community, without guarantees of security provided by KFOR, I think are just empty talk.

DANAS: The impression is that Serb returns are taking a very long time and that the one-year period is a sort of psychological barrier for the people remaining in Kosovo and Metohija.

BISHOP ARTEMIJE: In Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia returns are still taking a very long time even five years after Dayton but the people have not lost either the will or the desire to return. At least that is true for the majority of them even though the necessary conditions do not exist there, either. Even though a year is a long period of time for us in Kosovo, it is most probable that the mass return of Serbs to Kosovo will take even longer.

DANAS: Does your comparison with Dayton and Croatia suggest that the representatives of north Mitrovica may be right when they claim that the “Croatian recipe” is being applied in Kosovo and Metohija, that is, that the international community allowed the quick and massive expulsion of Serbs and is now returning them “by the teaspoonful”?

BISHOP ARTEMIJE: I don’t think that all this was pre-organized and pre-planned, no matter how much this may appear to be the case from the outside.

DANAS: You are always saying that the future of Kosovo is permanently bound to democratic processes in Serbia. Meetings of the united opposition on Kosovo have not convinced anyone that the opposition is competent to resolve the Kosovo issue. Now it is beginning its pre-election campaign. What is your opinion of all this?

BISHOP ARTEMIJE: This situation before the elections called for in September is so confusing, that God Almighty only knows what will be the final outcome and who will be able to find his way in the entire mess. These elections are lost in advance for the opposition. Their participation in them is a kind of masochism and yet another example of manipulation of the people. The democratic opposition of Serbia, which previously rejected changes to the federal Constitution by bandits’ methods because it was obvious what those changes would entail, now accepts elections called on the basis of a Constitution in the very same manner. I simply cannot figure it out. It is not clear to me what consistency the opposition has anymore and that is the very thing which is confusing and driving crazy the poor people in Serbia and in
Kosovo and everywhere else. I’m not saying that I support a boycott but I simply cannot understanding this relationship. Acceptance of these elections, called on th!e basis of the revised Constitution, is tantamount to giving legitimacy to the change which they opposed 10 days ago.

DANAS: Where does all this leave Kosovo and Metohija?

BISHOP ARTEMIJE: Outside. Those of us in Kosovo and Metohija do not have any conditions for participating in either the elections called by UNMIK, that is, by the international community, nor in the elections called by the regime of Slobodan Milosevic. For any kind of elections, especially free and democratic elections, it is necessary to have the freedom to live and move around, which we in Kosovo and Metohija do not have. I have not changed my position that the future fate of Kosovo and Metohija depends on the situation in the rest of Serbia, that is, on changes in Serbia and Belgrade. We are not disinterested in what is happening with the opposition and the ruling regime, but we cannot participate in this. Besides, I read in the paper that the regime will hold local elections in Kosovo and Metohija only
after the withdrawal of the UNMIK civil administration from the Province, if that ever happens.

DANAS: Kosovo Serbs have been called on to vote in presidential and federal elections in Vranje and Prokuplje, and the majority of the 250,000 people expelled from Kosovo are now living in central Serbia. Will you call on them to vote for joint candidate of the opposition, should there be one?

BISHOP ARTEMIJE: No. Our position is clear and consistent. We will not call on people to participate nor participate ourselves in any elections in Kosovo and Metohija. Since this regime has done nothing to provide for the registration of people from Kosovo in order to enable them to vote in the Kosovo elections, in my opinion, they should not participate in these elections, either. They are residents of Kosovo, not of Vranje or Prokuplje. Their votes will probably be added wherever they are needed. It is possible there will also be attempts to win Albanian votes for presidential and federal elections.

DANAS: In this delicate situation, in your opinion, what would be the right thing to do for the opposition and the people?

BISHOP ARTEMIJE: It is difficult to say anything intelligent at this point. What would be normal, necessary and redeeming would be the calling of truly democratic and free elections, not farcical ones. Then all of the people should participate in such elections and by the strength of their votes carry out changes in Serbia. However, in these elections, even before they were called, mechanisms have been prepared for the “victory” of the ruling coalition, that is, a demonstration of victory. Of this I am 1,000 percent certain.

* * * * *

I am neither a theocrat nor a politician

DANAS: Not only the regime but also a part of the opposition considers you to be a politician and believes that you desire to introduce a theocracy and that it is unthinkable that an episcope be directly involved in politics. Does the fact that you are a bishop interfere with performing the function of SNC president?

BISHOP ARTEMIJE: They are right because I am not involved in politics; I am only conducting the people’s business. I have been always been accused of being involved in politics and of doing this without any authorization. A part of the opposition is now appearing alongside the regime in making this claim. That is fine. They are talking about theocracy. This word is also being mentioned by someone who worked with me for years. I don’t want to be a theocrat nor a politician nor am I involved in these things. My work falls within the scope of the interests of the people and I am doing it for my people. This is work that a bishop can and should do. People who are professionally engaged in politics probably cannot understand that the activities of the Church have nothing to do with political ambitions and the
struggle for power, that they represent concern for the people, for our faithful.

* * * * *

To America with the Patriarch’s blessing

“The Board of the Serbian Orthodox Church for Kosovo and Metohija was formed and the first meeting was held immediately after the Synod [the Holy Synod of Archpriests]. There was no visible activity on its part since the Board includes archpriests from abroad. However, the president of the Board is His Holiness, Patriarch Pavle; I am the vice-president and those of us here are working together and in agreement. Our trip to the U.S. can also be considered as a realization of the decision of the Board because I left with the Patriarch’s blessing and when I returned I submitted my report to him which demonstrates that the Board is working,” says Bishop Artemije.

Translated by Snezana Lazovic (August 8, 2000)