KESTON INSTITUTE, OXFORD, UK

KESTON NEWS SERVICE, 20.00, 25 November 2002.

Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist and post-communist lands.

I. KOSOVO: ONE ORTHODOX CHURCH DESTROYED, ANOTHER DAMAGED

During the night of 16/17 November, unknown persons attacked two Serbian Orthodox churches in Pec (Peja) region of western Kosovo, destroying one completely and seriously damaging the other. "The Diocese of Raska and Prizren most strongly condemns these most recent barbarian attacks by Albanian extremists on Serbian churches,_ declared a diocesan communique, _and demands that KFOR immediately re-establish checkpoints near all endangered Orthodox churches." The attacks brought widespread condemnation, including _ in a rare move _ from the Kosovo Islamic Community.

II. KOSOVO: WHO SHOULD DEFEND AND REBUILD ORTHODOX CHURCHES?
Speaking at the site of one of the two Orthodox churches extensively damaged on 16/17 November, the head of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo Michael Steiner pledged that UNMIK would undertake repairs to the church in Djurakovac. He added that the cost of the repairs would come from the Kosovo Consolidated Budget. Fr Sava (Janjic), deputy abbot of the Decani Monastery, pointed out that the two churches had been attacked after the NATO-led peacekeeping force KFOR withdrew permanent protection from them. "Recently, it is noticeable that UNMIK and KFOR consider that the situation has improved since there have been no major incidents,_ he told Keston. _Exactly that brought us to a point of weaker defence and attention, which helped the extremists attack._ The diocese has proposed that Albanian-controlled municipalities where churches are destroyed should share the cost of restoring them.


(PHOTO) One among at least 112 destroyed churches
Church of the Mother of God, 1315, near Suva Reka, Kosovo and Metohija
destroyed by Albanian extremists in summer 1999, after the arrival of UNMIK and KFOR Mission


I. KOSOVO: ONE ORTHODOX CHURCH DESTROYED, ANOTHER DAMAGED

by Branko Bjelajac, Keston News Service

During the night of 16/17 November, unknown persons attacked two Serbian Orthodox churches in Pec (Peja) region of western Kosovo, destroying one completely and seriously damaging the other. "The Diocese of Raska and Prizren most strongly condemns these most recent barbarian attacks by Albanian extremists on Serbian churches," declared a diocesan communiqué sent to Keston News Service on 17 November, "and demands that KFOR immediately re-establish checkpoints near all endangered Orthodox churches."

No-one was hurt in these attacks and no perpetrators have been apprehended. The United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and KFOR have started an investigation. Almost all local political and international bodies condemned these latest attacks on Serbian religious sites, while UNMIK is already attempting to repair the damaged church although without the consent or involvement of the diocese (see separate KNS article).

The Church of all the Serbian Saints in the village of Djurakovac, 20 kilometres (13 miles) east of Pec on the Pec-Mitrovica road, was rocked by three powerful explosions at midnight on 16/17 November, which completely destroyed the interior and caused extensive structural damage. This church, built in 1998, was only briefly in use, since the Serbian population left the village after NATO troops entered Kosovo in summer 1999. It was protected by KFOR troops until two months ago, when the checkpoint was removed as KFOR believed the security situation in Kosovo had improved. An older church in the same village, the Church of St Nicholas with valuable 16th century frescoes, was completely destroyed in the summer of 1999 and a local Orthodox cemetery desecrated.

In the village of Ljubovo only 5 kilometres (3 miles) from Djurakovac, also abandoned by Serbs in 1999, the Church of St Basil of Ostrog the Miracle Worker was blown up in the early morning of 17 November and levelled to the ground. KFOR had protected the church since 1999, but protection was also withdrawn this summer. The church "consecrated in 1939 " had already been broken into and desecrated on 24 June after KFOR withdrew its guard, and has now been finally destroyed in a dynamite blast.

The Italian agency ANSA reported on 18 November a KFOR statement admitting that it "does not have permanent check-points adjoining the churches attacked" and asserting that "they had been abandoned for a long time and did not have historical and artistic value". Bishop Artemije
(Radosavljevic) of Raska and Prizren strongly condemned the KFOR suggestion that only some Orthodox churches in Kosovo were worth defending, complaining in a written communiqué that it "openly encourages evildoers who destroy our holy temples to continue their barbaric feast".

Two days after the attacks, UNMIK head Michael Steiner, accompanied by Kosovo's Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi, flew to the sites of the two damaged Orthodox churches in Istok municipality. KFOR Commander General Fabio Mini and Istok Municipal Assembly President Fadil Ferati joined the delegation, which included UNMIK Police Commissioner Stefan Feller and Director of Administration Philip Cooper, who remained in the area overnight to launch reconstruction work on one of the churches on 18 November.

"You see us here together"We're all united in condemning these acts of religious vandalism," Steiner declared outside the destroyed Church of All the Serbian Saints in Djurakovac, according to a 17 November UNMIK press statement. "We will not speculate on who is responsible. The Police Commissioner is here and has already begun his investigation," Steiner continued. "KFOR will look into additional security where necessary. I spoke with President [Ibrahim] Rugova and Mr [Hashim] Thaci, who also condemned these acts." Thaci is a former guerrilla leader who heads the second biggest Albanian political party.

The international community in Kosovo and Yugoslavia also condemned the attacks. "Any attacks on religious sites of any faith are attacks on the very heart and soul of society and should be denounced in the strongest possible terms by all political and religious leaders," declared Reno Harnish, Chief of Mission of the United States Office in Pristina, in an 18 November statement. He added that such acts are "damaging to Kosovo's efforts to become tolerant, democratic society that is fully part of Europe." Jani Milickov, the Bulgarian Ambassador to Yugoslavia, offered the best Bulgarian restorers and fresco-painters to help restore and rebuild religious monuments in Kosovo.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, who visited Kosovo on 19 and 20 November, likewise condemned the attacks. "The incident of last weekend when bombs were thrown into the churches is not something anyone can condone," he declared on 19 November at UNMIK headquarters in Pristina. "And those incidents and instances must stop."

In a rare move in the wake of the destruction of Orthodox sites in Kosovo, the Kosovo Islamic Community publicly joined condemnation of the attacks. "These acts of vandalism are aimed against tolerance, peace and trust between ethnic and religious communities in Kosovo," declared a statement, which also called for the perpetrators to be apprehended as soon as possible and brought to justice. (END)

II. KOSOVO: WHO SHOULD DEFEND AND REBUILD ORTHODOX CHURCHES?

by Branko Bjelajac, Keston News Service

Speaking at the site of one of the two Orthodox churches extensively damaged by explosions on 16/17 November (see separate KNS article), the head of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo Michael Steiner pledged that UNMIK would undertake repairs to the church in Djurakovac. He added that the cost of the repairs would come from the Kosovo Consolidated Budget. Fr Sava (Janjic), deputy abbot of the Decani Monastery, pointed out that the two churches had been attacked after the NATO-led peacekeeping force KFOR withdrew permanent protection from them during the summer. "Recently, it is noticeable that UNMIK and KFOR consider that the situation has improved since there have been no major incidents," he told Keston News Service on 21 November. _Exactly that brought us to a point of weaker defence and attention, which helped the extremists attack."

The Orthodox Diocese of Raska and Prizren condemned the unilateral UNMIK attempt to renew the damaged Djurakovac church only three days after the incident occurred, mostly because it was done without prior consultation with the Church and the architects who had built it. "These works look more like the hiding of traces of the attack rather than a professional reconstruction which should certainly be necessary after three strong explosions inside the temple, and this could not be completed in three days," a diocesan statement declared. "The Diocese of Raska and Prizren believes this to be political marketing given that the arrival of special UNMIK television is expected the next day."

Some other commentators speculated that UNMIK's haste to be seen to be responding to the attack was motivated by the arrival of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on a visit to Kosovo on 19 and 20 November.

Fr Sava believes the attacks on Serbian Orthodox churches are unlikely to stop. "It is the campaign that started right after the war (1999) and which will, I am afraid, continue," he told Keston. He said the extremists" aim was to erase the cultural and spiritual identity of the Serbian people in Kosovo and to force the remaining Serbs to leave. He added that destruction of churches in areas designated for the return of Serbian refugees is aimed at discouraging the returnees. "The Albanian extremists believe that as long as there are Serbian churches, the Serbs retain an interest in Kosovo and Metohia," he declared. "This is why the churches are destroyed in such an expert and systematic way, by a logic and order known only to them - this they believe to be the best method to cut the Serbian Orthodox roots in this land." Fr Sava viewed the desecration of graveyards as part of the same strategy.

Asked how he believes the remaining Orthodox sacred sites in Kosovo can be protected, given that 114 churches have been destroyed or severely damaged since the international community took control of Kosovo in 1999, Fr Sava responded: "The true way to solve this problem is a new strategy which would use political pressure and give KFOR a robust military mandate, by which it would be possible to neutralise Albanian extremism, and also to condition further support to moderate Albanian political circles with assistance in the fight against their own extremism and violence."

In a 19 November statement from Gracanica monastery, the diocese put forward a new demand which it believed might help persuade Albanian-controlled municipalities to protect Serbian holy sites. "It is generally believed in the Serbian Orthodox Church that if Albanian-dominated municipalities were obliged to provide at least part of the financial support for the reconstruction of destroyed Serbian Orthodox Churches, extremists will have to think twice before they blow up the next church because they will burden their own community."

But Fr Sava maintained that normal security measures must remain in place. "Our Church requests active defence of all of its temples, with deployment of adequate surveillance equipment and light which would discourage potential perpetrators." (END)

Copyright (c) 2002 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.