Interview with Rt. Rev. Artemije, the Bishop of
Raska and Prizren

Pravoslavlje Press on August 30, 1999

Bishop Artemije
Bishop Artemije

PPress: Your Grace, when viewing the development of the situation in Kosovo and Metohia, one question keeps coming into the mind of every reasonable person: will Your Diocese be another one in the sequence of Dioceses of the Serbian Orthodox Church that have been destroyed in the biological and physical sense?

Bishop Artemije: You know, that is the question for a prophet: what will be, or whether will it exist at all? What I can say right now is that three quarters of my Diocese have already been destroyed, since in the last two months - i.e. since the signing of war cease-fire and arrival of the peace-keeping forces in Kosovo and Metohia - over 150.000 Orthodox Serbs (out of 250.000 of the Orthodox faithful) and 20-30.000 other non-Albanian inhabitants of Kosovo have been expelled from Kosovo. In our estimation there are 80-100.000 Orthodox Serbs in Kosovo now, and they are situated in three big enclaves, but some towns such as: Suva Reka, Prizren, Djakovica, Pec, Klina, Istok, Djurakovac, Urosevac, Decani, Vucitrn, Srbica and many others, remained without the Serbs completely. Looking at the entire territory, the whole Metohia remained without the Serbs, with the small exception of Gorazdevac village where still live a couple of hundreds of the Serbs, and Orahovac and Velika Hoca where are 4-5.000 Serbs.

Besides the persecution of the Orthodox inhabitants in Kosovo and Metohia, the Albanian terrorists and extremists also destroy all Serbian spiritual and historical traces in this region, so that, in the last two months, over 70 Orthodox churches and monasteries have been burned, demolished or torn to the ground, including those dating from 14th century which survived 500 years of the slavery under the Turks, but could not survive two months of the international peace, in the presence of the international peace-keeping forces and UN administration.

We hope that we will suceed in keeping the three big enclaves in which most of the Serbs are grouped.

Ppress: Which enclaves are those?

Bishop Artemije: First, Kosovo enclave - around Kosovo Polje, Lipljan, Obilic, Pristina, representing a huge area of the villages situated from Lipljan to Pristina and around Pristina towards north. (Pristina was the only multiethnic city with the mixed population, while in these other villages exclusively Serbs lived. Many of them are still there, they have not moved out, here and there someone leaves the home, but the people have mostly stayed). Then, the second enclave is the area in the eastern Kosovo, around the Morava river, from Vitina towards Gnjilane and Kosovska Kamenica, where are also 25-30.000 Serbs. The third big enclave is the northern part of Kosovo, Kosovska Mitrovica, Zubin Potok, Zvecan, Leposavic and Lesak. Apart from these, there are also two small enclaves, one on Brezovica mountain - that is the district of Sirinic and Sredac, where 10-11.000 Serbs remained. The little place Strpce in the area of Brezovica mountain and the little town Orahovac with Velika Hoca are two islets of the Serbs. These two enclaves are in the most difficult position, since they do not have any contact with the other areas where the Serbs live.

Ppress: You have cited the number of destroyed churches and monasteries, would you tell us how much the Serbian people suffered?

Bishop Artemije: The people suffered a lot. We have a list of more than 260 killed Serbs and several hundreds of kidnapped Serbs, but our list, most probably, is not total and certainly, it has not been completed since the afflictions of the Serbs continue to happen every day.

Ppress: Do you, Your Grace, see any way out of this situation that could be a positive solution to the Serbs in Kosovo and Metohia?

Bishop Artemije: That question should have been asked 10 years ago, or at least 5 years ago, or at least 2 years ago, or at least a month before the beginning of the conflict in February 1998. The solution exists even now, I have said it many times and I have repeated my words - in spite of everything that happened in Kosovo and Metohia, Kosovo and Metohia have not still been lost for the Serbs and Serbia. But, their future depends exclusively on the changes in Serbia itself- whether Serbia will undergo the change of the authorities that have brought all of us here, us - this wretched and confused people-, whether Serbia will thread the path of democratization and establishing of relationships with the other parts of the world, or it will stay as some kind of pestiferous island in the whole world which everybody avoids, and which prevents everybody from entering into that world. If Serbia would thread the path of democratic changes by changing President Milosevic and his regime which is most responsible for everything that happened to the Serbian people in the last 10 years, then Kosovo would - through democratic Serbia - be included in the processes that lead to the integration with the rest of Europe. But, should it happen, God forbid, that this regime contiues to rule in Serbia, then Kosovo would start moving towards Europe through Tirana and Albania - namely it would be completely and definitely lost for the Serbs and Serbia.

I appeal to all the people in Serbia, to all democratic forces of Serbia, to come to an agreement about one and only goal: to save Serbia from the final destruction, to unite and to start the process of democratization, to change this regime and this President that have brought us here.

Ppress: All internal maneuvers in Kosovo and Metohia, such as cantoning and re-grouping of the Serbs, in your opinion have a secondary meaning.

Bishop Artemije: Those suggestions cannot be the ultimate solution. Our suggestion of cantoning should not be comprehended as a goal, since it has no future, but as a temporary means for the stopping of the further ruination of the Serbian people and for providing existance to them, at least in these big enclaves in which they live now, so that the enclaves could be used as some kind of cores for the providing of the conditions concerning the return of those Serbs who have been forced to leave their hearths.

Ppress: You have said that the solution is in the transformation of Serbia itself. What do you expect, to what extent will the transformation happen?

Bishop Artemije: You know, hope is the last thing to die. I hope transformation will happen, since I know that the huge number of our people supports those changes, and that the Serbian Orthodox Church supports those changes, and that it expressed such an attitude on June 15 by asking President Milosevic to resign for the sake of salvation of Serbia and of the Serbian people. I believe that Serbian democratic forces will find the way and the means to save Serbia.