VREME, Belgrade independent weekly, Yugoslavia
Issue 463,
November 20, 1999

A witness of the times: Father Sava

Cover Page of Vreme

Villages are burning in the distance...
The same people were financing SPS and UCK

By Zoran B. Nikolic

"Among the Serbs during the period of greatest repression against the Albanians, and this was during the bombing, all mechanisms protecting human dignity failed. Now among the Albanians, too, we see very few people who are prepared to raise their voices."

Text in Serbian:

Father Sava Janjic, a monk at the Metohia monastery Decani, is known among foreign reporters by his nickname, "the cybermonk". The Internet site of the Decani Monastery has been, during the entire Kosovo crisis, a source of information which could not be found in either state or Albanian resources.

VREME: At the beginning of 1998, did you suspect what was coming?

FATHER SAVA: The rebellion gathered momentum slowly. In Decani as far back as 1996 masked attackers broke into the cafe "Cakor" and killed several men and one woman.

It was common knowledge that following the events in Albania in 1997 a
large quantity of arms arrived in Kosovo. Because of the corruption of
the state organs and the police, the import of those arms was not
seriously obstructed. We have to keep in mind that Kosovo during the
past decade has not governed by Serbs but by Milosevic's corrupt
governors, by police chiefs who took bribes from Albanian businessmen.
Those Albanians who paid their dues and indirectly contributed monies to
the election campaigns of the Socialist Party of Serbia had exceptional
privileges and grew incredibly wealthy. The poorer class among the
Albanian population was under pressure and control. However, I think
that that the greatest quantity of arms entered with the help of those
privileged business circles who had a sense of how the situation was
developing. Although many people also went individually to Albania to
purchase cheap weapons. Consequently, even before the beginning of 1998
it was clear that the whole of Drenica was armed, that Metohia,
especially the hinterlands of Decani and Pec, were under arms. I had
opportunity to speak with police representatives who were cognizant of
this fact.

The biggest mistake of Milosevic and his regime was in opposing Albanian
separatism and terrorism only by using force, brutal force in fact, the
purpose of which was not only to destroy the terrorist movement but to
collectively frighten the Albanian people and discourage them from
raising in rebellion. Unfortunately, this strategy showed itself to be a
key factor in the advancement of the separatist movement.

After the first terrorist campaigns, in the month of February, Bishop
Artemije, Momcilo Trajkovic and I were in the United States. We spoke
with ambassador Gelbard, who told us that Milosevic had made an enormous
mistake and that he was in fact encouraging people to join the KLA. He
said that Milosevic should have consulted with people who had experience
in fighting terrorism and changed his politics in time to prevent this.
By then it was obviously too late.

How did the rebellion begin?

The first major police campaign was in Prekaz, where forty members of
the Jasari family were killed. Among them were several known to have
participated in attacks against the police. At that time the KLA attacks
were already occurring but at first they were not directed against the
civilian population.

The Prekaz campaign was of crucial importance. We later had occasion in
the West to hear from some diplomats how up until that campaign the
so-called KLA consisted of a group of two hundred people from Drenica
who were more like renegades, outlaws.

However, in that campaign disproportionately great force was used and
many people were killed who could not be called terrorists: women,
children and elderly persons. After this, a horrible situation ensued:
the bodies were kept in a sort of improvised garage, burial was not
allowed, autopsies were not even conducted. The bloody corpses were
displayed to reporters and those pictures were seen around the world.
The Albanians reacted in a manner that might have been expected: with
complete decisiveness to continue the rebellion. They were not
frightened, quite the contrary. And so the number of rebels quickly rose
to approximately two thousand, and shortly afterward, during the summer
months, there were twenty thousand of them. The terrorist attacks on the
police quickly became acts of armed rebellion which continued to be
called terrorism by our official media even though they had taken on far
wider dimensions. There were many other methods of ensuring that those
terrorists, those who had attacked the police, were brought justice but
the method that was selected was an illegal one because in no state
based on law can campaigns be undertaken which can lead to the killing
of so many civilian residents.

During this time, Bishop Artemije, Mr. Trajkovic and I frequently
traveled to the United States, attempting to thwart the further
escalation of events and to explain the danger which existed from
Albanian terrorism. However following this campaign the terminology had
already been changed. Mr. Gelbard, who during our previous visit had
used the word "terrorists" now no longer it and this was the
turning-point.

By the end of March fighting broke out around Decani as well.

The situation then grew progressively worse, especially in the region of
Decani and Pec. This region had earlier been some sort of cradle of the
Albanian rebel movement. The Serbs living there were scattered, there
were perhaps twenty or so Serbian families which immediately found
themselves exposed first to verbal threats, then to open suggestions
that they move. They began to leave somewhere before Easter. People were
discontented, they could not understand how the state could permit such
terror. It was obvious that the Albanians had begun creating some sort
of breakaway republic of their own, an independent territory which would
establish ties with Albania and enable the further expansion of the
rebellion. Members of the KLA very clearly foresaw and anticipated what
Milosevic's reactions would be. Their goal was to provoke the regime as
much as possible. Individual attacks on the police could not lead to
what they call the liberation of Kosovo but they knew how Milosevic
would react and that the pictures of dead civilians would secure great
support for the Albanians in public opinion. Unfortunately, the KLA very
frequently used the civil population as a kind of live shield.
Otherwise, why else would they attack policemen in an Albanian village
if they knew revenge was to follow?

In the region of Decani gradually it came down to only a few Serbs
remaining in their houses; then we heard that they had been killed or
were missing. Nothing was known for certain, it was not possible to go
to this region, the police did not go there any more. By then in the
region between Decani and Radonjic Lake [Radonjicko jezero], with
Glodjane at its center, an ethnically clean territory had already been
created.

We took in Serbian refugees from the surrounding villages and provided
them with food. They were situated on a hill above the monastery and
would observe their houses in the distance, hoping to return one day. I
remember once, during the summer, we went to visit them and saw villages
in the distance burning, much smoke, the thud of cannon, spurts of
machine-gun fire. An old woman, Milka Stojanovic, said to me: "Look, my
house is over there somewhere. These young people are happy, thinking
that this will end well, but I think that I will never return to my home
again." And she was right, the Serbs never returned to that region
again. All the Serbian houses were set on fire and destroyed. The bodies
of seven or eight elderly people who stayed in their homes were later
found in a grave near Radonjic Lake.

What were the army and the police doing at this time?

It was obvious that the state had to do something and in fact it did.
After Easter special police forces and an army tank unit from Pec came
to Decani. Immediately before the beginning of the attack, according to
eyewitness accounts by Serbs from Decani, it was impossible for them to
leave their houses because Albanian snipers were posted among their
houses.
The KLA, therefore, was already present in the town. The Serbs were
concentrated in the area of Monastery Street [Manastirska ulica], we did
not dare step outside the monastery walls. An attack by the police began
which lasted three or four days. Half of Decani was leveled to the
ground, especially the old part of town and the road toward Djakovica.
This was supposed to be a campaign against an armed rebellion, however,
what happened was the systematic destruction of one part of town in
which the majority of houses was destroyed without any fighting. It is
very easy to see where fighting took place, it is where there are traces
of bullets in the walls. It seems to me that there was some scattered
resistance, especially around the school, where many bullet marks can be
seen on the facade, and on several more houses from which the Albanians
were shooting. The Albanians later claimed that the KLA was not in the
town at all, that these were local people who had organized some kind of
watch because they were afraid of attacks by the police. However,
according to the opinion of the Serbs from Decani, there were snipers
and lists of Serbs to be liquidated. It was explained to us that had
this campaign not taken place, the KLA would have entered Decani very
quickly and completely liquidated the Serbs and that this was prevented
literally hours before it was due to occur. Many houses, including those
which were undamaged by grenades, were subsequently looted and set on
fire, as were the shops. It was the same model which we saw earlier in
Bosnia. This only served to further fan the flames of rebellion. After
this campaign the majority of Albanians from Decani moved to the
surrounding villages, while some fled to Albania and some to Montenegro,
and Decani was left without an Albanian population. Only about 300 were
left, mostly elderly people from a part of town which did not come
directly under attack. The head of our monastery, Teodisije, and the
brothers organized assistance for those Albanians who remained in
Decani, who were frightened and afraid to leave their homes. We took
food and medicine to them.

Whatever actually happened, freedom of movement was not established nor
was the KLA defeated. Several kilometers from Decani the police set up
guard posts, trenches, which remained there until the withdrawal of the
Yugoslav Army and the police.

Soon similar things began to happen in other parts of the Province. The
region around Malisevo became the new center of rebellion. That
rebellion spread to the region of Orahovac and Hoca and into the
hinterlands of Prizren. Of course, in the region surrounding Devic, in
Drenica, Lausa remained an important center. In the Lapska municipality,
the KLA and commander Remi created some sort of independent territory
where the few Serbian residents were also endangered. Only the region of
Kosovo by the Morava River [Kosovsko pomoravlje] was more or less
spared, there were no incidents there. Life in the cities during this
time was relatively normal. According to the accounts of the Albanians
themselves, in the cities there was not a lot of support for the KLA
campaigns because they were considered to be rural rebellions. They were
especially fearful upon seeing how in those towns were fighting between
the police and the KLA took place civilians were killed and refugees
fled. They saw the demolition and destruction. There was fear,
especially among the wealthier people, of something like this happening
in the cities as well. This is how the absurd situation came to be where
in Decani tanks were destroying the old part of the town and in Pec
people were drinking beer in cafes, listening to music and the stores
were open during regular business hours.

The most intense police campaign that summer was their entrance into the
Decani hinterlands but they did not remain there. They only passed
through and as there was no Serb population there, afterwards the
Albanians came back. I heard from reporters who passed through there how
this went: they would leave a village, the village would be set on fire
and destroyed, and then they would come back. A great number of Albanian
refugees was concentrated around the villages of Istinica and Brolica.

The army here was practically not engaged. In conversations with some
officers I noticed their dissatisfaction. They were of the opinion that
a state of emergency should be declared and the KLA defeated. On the
other hand, the police handled the entire campaign very incompetently
and completely erroneously, and because of this many policemen were
killed like sitting ducks while guarding their control points.

In autumn the OSCE verification mission came to Kosovo.

Their only significance was in that the truth about Kosovo was a
publicized a little more in the international media. During the summer
the situation was presented exclusively as organized repression and
terror against the Albanian population. I thought that the verifiers
would succeed in acting as intermediaries and that negotiations would be
opened between the Albanian political representatives and the regime.
During this time ambassador Hill was frantically striving to find a new
plan, new versions were constantly appearing.

Bishop Artemije and Momcilo Trajkovic were the only ones expressing the
desire to represent the interests of the Kosovo Serbs.

Bishop Artemije and Momcilo Trajkovic are a unique phenomenon because
they are a political national alternative rooted exclusively in Kosovo
and Metohia. Unfortunately, they were misunderstood, primarily because
among the majority of Kosovo Serbs the belief prevailed that the
regime's politics, that is, the politics of force against every attempt
of secession, is the only politics which can succeed in Kosovo. The
bishop and Mr. Trajkovic believed that Kosovo should be a integral part
of Serbia, but of an enlightened, democratic Serbia. The Albanians, too,
would find their interest in such a country. The other representatives
of the Serbs in Kosovo were primarily representatives of their
respective parties. These are the people who fled first from Kosovo and
Metohia, often taking with them a rich booty. They situated themselves
in their huge houses and apartments in Serbia and Montenegro but they
still have the audacity to claim that they represent the Kosovo Serbs in
parliament and, God only knows how, to present themselves as some kind
of representatives of the Serbian people. The majority of these
representatives are now refugees living in dire circumstances at
Kopaonik [an exclusive ski resort] where they will be spending the
winter this year. If they deign to visit their people, it will be only
cast a glance their way and to promise that they will come to visit them
again. These are people who never cared about Kosovo and whose goal was
to secure the greatest possible material benefit to themselves. One of
the fundamental problems is precisely this colonial attitude toward
Kosovo and Metohia which have never been a wholly integrated as part of
Serbia. The Serbs there were far more independent in their political
decision-making while they were governed by the Turks.

Did Western diplomats take your efforts more seriously?

Despite all our efforts, we had a very difficult time breaking through
in the West and it was not easy for us to access the highest circles,
since those in them did not comprehend the meaning of that political
alternative. They were still ruled by some sort of conviction that a
deal could be made with Milosevic. However, when it became obvious that
this was impossible, it became apparent that only with the bishop and
Mr. Trajkovic could cooperation be sought in the search for a common
solution. Of course, we were extremely carefully because we know that in
the West certain political interests exist with respect to Kosovo. We
are not advocates of the conspiracy theory although elements exist in
the politics of the West which could lead one to the conclusion that the
intentions of certain politicians there toward the Serbian people are
not good. It was especially difficult in the United States since the
Albanian lobby has completely deluded the American public and the
American administration had placed itself completely on the side of the
Kosovo Albanians. They offered them assistance up to the point of almost
openly aiding them in armed rebellion. We found far more understanding
in Europe but also discovered that Europe itself was dependent on the
United States and very fearful in articulating its opinions on Kosovo.

To what extent did Western politics influence the course of events?

The position of the West was unbalanced from the beginning. It
considered the problem to lie exclusively on the side of Milosevic's
regime, while on the other hand the Albanians were considered to be
exclusively victims. In addition to Milosevic's undemocratic regime and
Albanian terrorism, there is a third element in this crisis and that is
precisely the international community which failed to find an adequate
response for that crisis. All three factors used force as a method of
resolving problems.

Where did so much hatred in kosovo.nete from?

We see the naked hatred of the Albanians now in dimensions approaching
madness. Everything which is Serb, not only Serb but Slav, everything
which is not Albanian or to be even more precise, everything that is not
controlled by the KLA, everything is exposed to some degree of
repression and persecution. The same ideology which existed earlier on
is emerging once again. During the period of president Milosevic's rule
it was shoved into the background because Milosevic, because of his
politics, became for the media throughout the world the bad man in the
Balkans and everything else which was negative managed to hide and
conceal itself in his shadow.

This hatred is the result of both sides' inability to distinguish
individuals within a collective and their insistence, instead, of
viewing everything generally, collectively. In our people there are
similar tendencies as well, the Albanians are looked upon as sub-humans
who are primitive, dirty and uneducated. But the scope of the Albanians'
hatred is, according to what we now see, frighteningly greater. The
degree of repression which now exists against Serbs and other
non-Albanians did not exist during the entire period while the Serbs
governed in Kosovo and Metohia, except for the three-month period of the
bombing. Among the Serbs during the period of greatest repression
against the Albanians, which was during the bombing, all mechanisms for
preserving human dignity failed. Now among the Albanians, too, we see
very few people who are prepared to raise their voices.

What further development of events do you foresee?

In Kosovo and Metohia there is now a great battle to find as many
corpses as possible in order to justify the military intervention. On
the other hand, there is an effort to minimize as much as possible the
number of murdered Serbs and non-Albanian members of the population to
within the scope of "normal criminal activities". Kosovo remains a
powder keg. Now when Milosevic's forces are no longer in Kosovo, when
there is no one on hand to blame, it is becoming clear that the Albanian
problem is a key issue, a wound in southeastern Europe, which will block
the stability of the region for a long time. The West has behaved like a
bull in a china shop. It has created chaos everywhere and now it cannot
find the way out. Now Europe is accusing the United States, which led
the whole affair, because the intervention did not bring security and
peace. The United States is accusing Europe for inconsistency and lack
of unity, passivity. UNMIK is accusing KFOR, KFOR is accusing UNMIK,
everybody is accusing Milosevic, Milosevic is accusing the whole world.
The greatest victims are the Kosovo-Metohia Serbs, who for ten years
have been manipulated, humiliated, shipped to meetings, loaded in
railroad cars like cattle, spat upon in Belgrade for coming to defend
the regime, humiliated and abandoned by those in whom they believed and
now, left to the mercy of God. The regime, but also a good portion of
the opposition, do not see Kosovo as a part of this country. Albanian
extremism profits from it all. One Western diplomat told us not long
ago: "We made a mistake, we fought against one monster and in doing so
we created another."

END