The abridged version of the interview in Serbian was published by
„Blic” on July 6, 1998 -

Hieromonk Sava
Hieromonk Sava

The peace and harmony. The sun shines while the monks are working in the
fields of
Decani Monastery. The church bell calls for communal meal in the refectory. This is a scene which someone could hardly expect only a mile from the town of Decani where serious clashes between the Serbian security forces and the KLA occurred just a month ago. The love and peace which shine on the faces of the abbot and his monks give an impression of an oasis of true peace and Christian blessing.

I would rather devote myself to monastic life, silence and prayer. But I simply cannot close my eyes in front of what is going on before us. Our brotherhood is helping all the people in need here as much as we can. I know that we cannot stop the war and make all the evils in the world disappear. But it is our Christian duty to help all in need when the situation requires, says hieromonk Sava, one of the senior monks in the monastery.

BLIC: Can you describe to us the present situation in Decani?

FR. SAVA: In this moment the situation is very complicated and serious because we are having a real war here, with front lines, road blocks, check-points, ruined houses and many refugees. The Pec - Djakovica road and the town of Decani are under control of the Government security forces while the surrounding villages are more or less in hands of the Albanian KLA. Two months ago before everything started the first Serbian refugees came here from the nearby villages of Dasinovac, Donji Ratis, Glodjane, Drenovac and Dubrava. They settled in a refugee camp near the monastery.

BLIC: How many refugee families arrived?

FR. SAVA: In the first wave about 40. Some found refuge in the nearby refugee camp but those who had somewhere to go went to their relatives in Pec or Montenegro. We opened our monastery stables for their cattle which they brought with them. That is the only thing they have now. Some families wanted to stay in their villages till the last moment when they were finally forced to leave their homes. They say that they were not only frighthened but were openly threatened as well. Some were even arrested and and later set free. We do not know anything about the eight elderly Serbs who remained in their villages and were reportedly arrested by the KLA.

In some cases I heard that the Albanian families granted security to their neighbors but they would soon come to them crying and saying that they had to leave because it was not safe any longer for them there. Of course it is better to talk to these people. Their stories are very painful as well as are the stories of all refugees.

BLIC: On the other hand the brotherhood is helping the Albanian families
which remained in Decani after the police action...

FR. SAVA: Yes, because in this tragedy we cannot make any difference between the people, especially when they need help. At the moment there are several Albanian families in Decani which remained in the town after the heavy fights. We visit them and help them regularly. We bring them food, medicines and often drive their elderly people to Pec hospital. In case of renewed fighting we are ready to receive both Serbs and Albanian civilians in our monastery. The humanitarian situation in the area is generally speaking extremely difficult. We hope that both Albanian and Serbs who left Decani will come soon and that the situation will normalize soon.

BLIC: Have you received any threats by the Albanian extremists and do you know any cases in which religious objects were attacked?

FR. SAVA: No, as long as we are here (from 1992) we have not received any threats, thank God. In Devic convent which is completely surrounded by Albanian villages, the nuns have remained in their place although they live in fear. In the beginning there were certain threats and intimidations but they are left alone though the KLA patrols are all around.The local priest is allowed by their patrols to come freely to the convent and serve them. As far as I know neither of our churches and monasteries in Kosovo have so far been attacked. Of course in the past there were unpleasant cases but the life continued and there were no major problems. Until the situation deteriorated the local Albanians used to visit our monastery. One Albanian from Decani told me that he would not leave Decani because he could not take the monastery with him.
As far as I have heard the KLA does not intend to attack our churches and monasteries. This is good, I think, because such attacks would show Albanians in very negative picture before the world because everyone admires the spiritual and artistic heritage of Kosovo and Metohija. If both sides are fighting they must spare innocent civilians, women and children as well as the cultural and religious objects. We stressed that in our appeal and expressed our regret for the damage made on several mosques and old „kulas”. We must not allow that now disappears what even the invaders of the past spared. The cultural heritage of Kosovo and Metohija is the treasure which does not only belong to the Serbs or Albanians but to the whole civilized world.
Remark by FR. SAVA: In the meanwhile the KLA units attacked our monastery in Zociste on July 21 and driven away our monks with their parishioners from that area. More info:

BLIC: What is your understanding of the present situation?

FR. SAVA: Objectively speaking I think that we have now the clash between two irreconilable national ideologies which defined its national goals and strategies mostly in the 19th century, in the period of the European Romanticism. The Albanian national awakening started at the end of the 19th century and their national state first appeared in 1912. The Serbs had their state in this region from the 12-15th centuries although the modern national consciousness appeared in the recent period. Before that there was not a clear difference between Orthodoxy and Serbdom and the people had more religious self-consciousness than the present secular one. Until the 19th century the Serbs and Albanians did not have global national conflicts. Of course there were individual cases of revenges and quarrels but they nevertheless kept living together sharing both good and evil together. In the Ottoman time the life of the Serbs and Catholic Albanians was especially difficult because they did not have the privileges which the Moslem citizens enjoyed.

BLIC: How in fact appeared the confrontation between these two national ideologies?

FR. SAVA: With foundation of their national ideology, which found its expression in the goals of the „Prizren League” formed in 1878, the Albanians wanted to make their own state after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. That state had to encompass all the territories inhabited by the Albanians. On the other hand the young Serbian state in the 19th century built its national identity on the rich Serbian medieval tradition in which Kosovo played a very important role. It was inconceivable for the Serbs that their „Holy Land” remained out of the Serbian borders. When Serbs finally liberated Kosovo and Metohija in the Balkan wars 1912-1913, both peoples faced the reality which was not favorable for neither of the two. There were too few Serbs in Kosovo while the Albanians remained divided into two states which they understood as historical injustice. In fact not all the Serbs were in Serbia at the time too, which also later generated problems. In fact almost all borders in the Balkans did not correspod to the demographic and cultural realities. I think that it is very important to understand that historical period well because it is in fact the key for understanding of what is going on now.

Therefore, this event was a great liberation for the Serbs who had been oppressed by the Turks for 5 centuries. For the Albanians, on the other hand, especially the Moslem Albanians who lived a more privileged life under the Ottomans, it was a defeat and an occupation. The main problems in fact appeared in that time. The Albanians could not accept the new state as their own and sought any good opportunity to secede from Serbia, while on the other hand the Serbs made great efforts to integrate this area more into Serbia which was very difficult due to rather unfavorable demographic situation in the area. The Albanians remember with great grief the expulsions in 1877-1878 as well as the events in 1913, while the Serbs cannot forget their „Albanian Golgotha” in 1914 as well as the Second World War pogroms. These were very painful experiences which made a great impact on the relations between these two peoples.

BLIC: For the Serbs Kosovo was their land on which they lived for centuries where there were almost all their monuments, monasteries and shrines....

FR. SAVA: Absolutely. Kosovo and Metohija is a Serbian Jerusalem with the most important shrines. However, we must not forget that it is also important for the Albanian people and that we are both living in this land. We must face the reality. In the last 80 years the situation changed many times and a lot of people suffered and left Kosovo. Especially many Serbs have left during this century and now are a minority on their ancestral land. The monasteries and churches have played an important role in the history of the Serbs because they helped the Serbian people to preserve their identity, the language and their customs.

BLIC: The situation nevertheless became worse in the last several years...

FR. SAVA: Yes. In his attempt to prevent the secession of Kosovo Mr. Milosevi reduced considerably the autonomy to the pre-1974 Constitution level which caused the great dissatisfaction among the Albanians. They felt occupied and deprived of their political rights. We must be aware that it was not this act which launched the ideas of secession, which as I said had existed from the 19th century, but played a crucial role in further radicalization of the problem. In the beginning the Albanian movement was completely non-violent but from 1996 there began the first armed attacks. It was a great mistake that in this period Mr. Milosevic did not introduce more democracy and opened Serbia to the West like other countries in the neighborhood. That could have calmed down the tensions considerably and perhaps prevent the large scale conflict which ensued. Instead of that the Belgrade regime ghettoized the country in order to preserve its political power. The situation in Kosovo became unbearable with coexistence of the two parallel states. The Albanians consider these last few years as the period of heavy repression while the Kosovo Serbs felt a of relief after the years of pressures and strong albanization in the period of the Albanian autonomy in Kosovo. True in these years the Albanians made a considerable economic progres despite all difficulties and organized a parallel educational system based on their own curriculums unrecognized by the Serbian authorities. In fact from 1989 Kosovo was only a wound in bandages but the wound that was not healed and had to get inflamed one day. Neither Belgrade nor the international community seemed to be aware of that.

The majority of Albanians are now supporting the idea of independent Kosovo which could be later possibly united with Albania and West Macedonia. On the other hand the Serbs are only ready to redefine the autonomous status of Kosovo within Serbia (or possibly FRY) and are aware that the loss of Kosovo would practically mean the loss of their national identity and the sovereignty of their state. In fact it could lead to large scale exodus of the Serbian population from the province. If this happened it is a question whether our Church and monastic communities could remain here. I think that in the long run the Kosovo Serbs are in most difficult position.

BLIC: What is actually the present position of the Kosovo and Metohija Serbs?

FR. SAVA: The world media speak about Kosovo and Metohija as the territory where Serbs are almost only present as policemen and soldiers, as if our people is not living here, as if we have not been here for centuries. And the local Serbs here are in extremely difficult position. From 1945 to 1989, as I said, they lived in rather unfavorable conditions and felt that they were left alone by their state and their people in Serbia. They felt as second rate citizens and often lived under great pressures. Therefore you can understand why there was so many sympathies for Mr. Milosevic and his reforms. Nevertheless, the regime in Belgrade misused the tragedy and misfortune of this people and kept them as hostages all these years. The ruling regime built its existence on the fear of Kosovo Serbs who feared that they would be left alone at the end. They were taken to „rallies of truth” or „counter-rallies” against the Belgrade students like actors. It was a great humiliation. On the other hand Kosovo was ruled mostly by the local Socialist party officials who often used their position for their personal benefits. Bribes, rackets, even open business schemes with Albanian businessmen who supported the secession made the life of both ordinary Serbs and Albanians very difficult. These Kosovo Serbs and Albanians are actually squeezed now between the two opposite sides, the Belgrade regime and its robust policy and the Albanian millitant national ideology and are forced to fight the war which neither of them wants. This stands especially for the Kosovo Serbs who still do not have proper representatives in the peace talks and are heavily manipulated and radicalized which makes their present position in Kosovo extremely difficult. The extremists, like Mr. Seselj, are openly thrusting guns into their hands to make them responsible for the war which they cannot win. It is very important that someone hears the true voice of Kosovo Serbs. That is why Bishop Artemije and Mr. Trajkovic went all over the world to give the message that there are living Serbs in Kosovo, that we have not occupied this area in which we live for centuries and that we really want to live in peace in this land of God with all the peoples of good will. Unfortunately, their voice of reason is not easily heard beside the loud trumpets of the state media.

BLIC: What is your perception of the recent escalation of violence?

FR. SAVA: We as members of the Church oppose to any kind of violence. The best defense of the state and national interests lies in right time diplomacy and the political wisdom. In our Public Statement the brotherhood of our Monastery condemned any kind of violence on both sides. Unfortunately, very few people are ready to make the compromise at the moment because there are individuals who think that they can still achieve their goals by force and enforce the solution according to the millitary situation on the ground. Of course, first there must stop any violence and a certain peace agreement should be achieved. But it will be only the first aid. Bishop Artemije and us all see the only possible lasting resolution of the problem in the process of democratic transformation of our country and the entire Balkans.

-The Public Statement by Decani Monastery

It is important that we responsibly face the time in which we live. We must become the part of the international community to which we belong. Just have a look at our monastery and you will recognize the Romanesque and gothic styles combined with the local traditions. This is Europe. The grandmother of St. King Stephen, the founder and the patron of the monastery in 14th century, was a French and his grand grand-mother an Italian. In that time Serbia was much more European country, with castles, tournaments, knights and developed culture than it is now. But in order that we become the part of Europe we must transform the country and reintroduce the true rule of law and the civil society. Unfortunately with self-isolation our country turned many of our friends into our enemies. Instead that we are already active in the Partnership for peace” the NATO aircrafts are hovering over our heads. While it was open to the world Serbia had a lot of friends. Now we are almost alone, very much due to our own policy and faults.

BLIC: Do you think that xenophobia in our people can be justified?

FR. SAVA: I am sure that the world does not want an annihilation of the Serbian people. This is an absurd idea. The international community simply wants us to find our proper place in the family of peoples to which we geographically and culturally belong. We must be aware that xenophobia and the paranoiac ideas that everyone hates us serve in fact the selfish and personal political interests of those who in the true rule of law could not keep the positions they have at the moment. Last year almost all the people of Serbia showed their strong determination to become a modern democratic society and enter into the world. If by chance Serbia had found its way to Europe and democracy in time and buried once for ever its dark communist heritage the situation would have never taken this course. Of course, there would have been extremists but they could not have found any support by the world because there would have existed the proper democratic mechanisms which could have calmed down the existing problems so that they could have
been resolved in the Parliament and not in the streets, by law and not by fighting. The best ground for any extremism is the absence of proper democracy and that is the problem we have. If we want that all citizens were to accept this country as their own, or at least were offered that opportunity, we definitely must be good hosts. I always keep saying that the problem of Kosovo and Metohija is in fact the problem of democratization and not of territory, war, blood and myths. In resolution of this issue we must look into the future and not go back into the past.

Of course, I do not support the extinction of national identities in the New World Order „melting pot”. Each people has to preserve its identity but in that effort must not act destructively against other peoples. The national consciousness of both Serbs and Albanians needs to be freed and purged from the aggressive elements which may generate destructive ideas, movements and individuals.

BLIC: Who are today the greatest extremists?

FR. SAVA: Today many accuse our Church for supporting the extremist nationalism, but it is not true. The greatest nationalists today are those who know very little about their faith and have no real contact with the Church and Orthodoxy. They often abuse our symbols and talk about the „Kosovo Covenant” but fail to understand the true spiritual message of St. Prince Lazar. Some of them are even mixed up in criminal acts but they evade their personal responsibility by creating the idea of collective responsibility of the whole people. If there were any support of the extremist nationalism within the Church this was not a general trend and it was favorized by certain individuals who could not read between the lines.

Our Orthodox faith has always encouraged peace and forgiveness. The Church teaches us that the greatest patriot is the one who can show human love not only towards his neighbor but also towards his enemy especially when he is disabled and unarmed. I must say that the modern nationalist ideas among the Serbs were not formed under the influence of the Church. They were in fact generated in certain intellectual and liberal circles which reinterpreted our history and tradition in a new way according to the existing romanticized trends of 19th century Europe. The major European nations have already gone through this process and now there is a new self consciousness in Europe which is characterized in the feeling of unity and cooperation. The Germans and the French who were fighting against one another for centuries are cooperating as good neighbors and allies. Therefore both Serbs and Albanians must understand that we are not in the Middle Ages but at the threshold of the 21st century and that all problems must be resolved in the peaceful and civilized way. We both do need a „historical catharsis” in which the ideas and myths of the past will be finally left behind where they belong. In fact we must both support the idea of our common life in peace and tolerance. Tomorrow almost all the borders in Europe will become insignificant and purely symbolic. The ethnic and cultural differences in Europe are not any longer the cause of wars but these varieties enrich the civilizational mosaic of the world even more.

Therefore instead of fighting for the changing of the borders we must work on the transformation of the society in which we live. We shall never find our place in Europe as long as we base our policies on unrealistic ideas, selfish ambitions, in short, as long as we do not face the reality as it is. That is why this time is the time of the general exam for both Serbs and Albanians as well as the whole world. Whether the aggressive policy of blood and myths will prevail or the policy of integration, democratization and peaceful life, depends on us all now. I think that we must all support the second option because it
is the only one which opens the prospects for the peaceful future of all the citizens of this region. I am sure the Church can play an important role in this process.

BLIC: At the end, what is your message as an Orthodox monk and priest?

FR. SAVA: So far I have spoken more about the affairs of this world but we as monks and Christians now very well that we cannot have the true peace in the world as long as there are people who do not have good will for that. But nevertheless it is ours to do all we can in our temporary earthly life to inspire the world with the ideas of love and forgiveness. St. Prince Lazar knew that the heavenly kingdom is everlasting and more important than his early kingdom and mother Euphrosyne, from our epic poetry, teaches us that it is better to loose one's head than one's soul. In order to achieve peace we must have it first in our souls by repentance, love and forgiveness. This is the way
of Christ, the way of our holy forefathers but also the way leading us into the future and eternity.


hieromonk Sava
Hieromonk Sava in a procession