International Crisis Group

The following text is an extract from the PDF version of the integral document: RELIGION IN KOSOVO in which International Crisis Group ICG makes an assessment of the role of religion and religious communities in Kosovo. (Remark: ICG reports are generally viewed in Serbian circles as very biased against Serbs and openly pro-Albanian). We nevertheless reproduce this passage as rather objective text on the role of the SOC as well as the executive summary with the general conclusions and recommendations of the ICG. In the full PDF version all footnotes and quotations are neately documented. PDF version of the text.


About 15 per cent of all Albanians in the Balkans are Orthodox Christians.
However, there has not been a strong Albanian Orthodox presence in Kosovo in
recent times, notwithstanding the existence of a few Albanian and Roma
Orthodox families in the area of Prizren.

The Serb Orthodox Church is a national religious community that claims to
embrace all Serbs. For Serbs, Kosovo and its Orthodox monasteries and
churches remain the ultimate symbols of their ethnic identity. These include
1,400 locations listed as cultural heritage of importance to the Serbian people,
500 cultural monuments, and 162 sites classified as icultural heritage of extreme
importance.i The latter include important monasteries and related foundations.
Three sites in particular are crucial to Serbian history. These are Pec, the
location of the Serbian Orthodox patriarchy for the medieval and early Ottoman
period, which was re-founded in 1894 at the beginning of the modern period of
Serb colonisation of Kosovo; Decan, the site of the monastery housing the
sarcophagus of the 14 th century Serb ruler Stefan Decanski; and, Prizren, the
resting place of Decanskiis son, Emperor Stefan Dusan.

The overwhelming majority of Serbs consider that they belong to the Serbian
Orthodox Community - in a cultural or historical if not religious sense. Unlike the
Islamic Community, the Serbian Orthodox Church has always been a factor -
although generally a subordinate one - in the politics of Kosovo. It played an
important role in the wave of nationalist euphoria in Serbia in the late 1980s,
which Milosevic partly stimulated and party exploited to consolidate his power.
The image of Kosovo Serbs and their monasteries, usually portrayed as suffering
under harassment and persecution by the Albanian majority population, formed a
part of the nationalist propaganda that Milosevic and his supporters used to
manipulate emotions. The Serbian Orthodox Church, however, was always
divided over Milosevic. It supported him in large part to end what it saw as the
victimisation of the Serb nation under Communism and to reverse the decline of
the Serb presence in Kosovo. Milosevicis Communist career made at least some
members of the Orthodox hierarchy uneasy, as did his resort to violence to
achieve his aims. However, the Serbian Orthodox Church has never wavered in
its view that Kosovo is holy ground for Serbs and must always belong to Serbia.
The Serb journalist Jasminka Kocijan, in a perceptive and authoritative account
of the evolution of the Churchis situation, wrote in 1998 that the inationalist
reincarnation of the new Serb politicians began ten years ago exactly in Kosovo.
At the same time the Serbian Orthodox Church appeared in public. Precisely in
connection with the Kosovo problem, the Church offered itself as a stronghold of
tradition and national security. The awakening of the nation poured new energy
into Serb bishops of whom a majority then believed that Serbia had finally found
a true leader in Slobodan Milosevic.

In 1990, the former Orthodox bishop of Raska and Prizren (i.e. of Kosovo),
Pavle, was elected patriarch of the Serbian Church. In addition, the Orthodox
bishops held their council (Sabor) meetings in Kosovo, at the Pec Patriarchate, in
1987, 1989 and 1990. During this period, Pavle journeyed to the United States
to lobby for the Serb position in Kosovo.

The degree to which the Orthodox hierarchy supported Milosevic may be gauged
by a statement of Bishop Amfilohije Radovic, metropolitan of Montenegro and
Primorje, in 1990 to the Belgrade weekly NIN : iMilosevic and other leading
politicians in the Republic of Serbia should be commended for understanding the
vital interests of the Serb people at this moment.OIf they continue as they have
started, the results will be very impressive.

By 1992, however, the Orthodox Church had begun to show signs of internal
dissension over Milosevic. Throughout most of the 1990s, Patriarch Pavle was a
consistent, although understated, opponent of Milosevic's aggressive
adventurism. On 6 October 1992, he made the following statement during a visit
to the United States: I have come to America to appeal for an end to suffering,
for an end to this mindless war.

Other members of the Orthodox hierarchy remained committed to the Serb
nationalist agenda, and most of Milosevic's Orthodox opponents tended to
criticise him for being too soft toward the West rather than for the war and war
crimes. In 1993 a Bosnian Serb Bishop, Amfilohije, helped persuade the Bosnian
Serb Assembly to reject the Vance-Owen peace plan for Bosnia. Later, Bishop
Atanasije of Zahumulje-Herzegovina attacked both Milosevic and Serb opposition
leader Vuk Draskovic for proposing the establishment of a United Nations
protectorate over Bosnia.

At the beginning of 1998, Albanian students in Kosovo initiated a round of
demonstrations demanding the return of the structures that had previously
housed the University of Pristina. Serbian police in Kosovo repressed the
demonstrations with considerable brutality. At that time, Patriarch Pavle made
an extraordinary gesture toward the Albanians. He sent a letter to the istudent
movement for the Albanian University in Kosovoi in which he expressed
understanding for their peaceful protests and condemned the police use of force:
iTo beat and arrest students is a grave sin not only against oneis duty but also
the honour of the country in which we live.

At the same time, Bishop Artemije, who had succeeded Pavle as the leading
Orthodox religious figure in Kosovo and had previously been viewed as a hard-
liner in the hierarchy, along with Amfilohije and Atanasije, assumed a more
moderate posture. The background for this was growing anxiety that Milosevic's
adventurism would produce a disaster for the Serbs in Kosovo and for the Serb
Orthodox Church's stewardship over the monasteries and churches that
constitute the physical representation of Serb collective memory. Artemije was
supported in this new stance by Father Sava Janjic, deputy abbot of the Visoki
Decani Monastery, who commented in an interview with the Serb opposition
weekly Vreme early in 1999, during the Rambouillet talks: iOur relations with the
Albanian neighbours are quite good. The monastery of Decani has been
distributing humanitarian aid to both Serb and Albanian refugees from the start
of the conflict. Besides humanitarian activity our main goal is to build confidence
and create a foundation for the future common life of our two communities.

Before and during the NATO intervention, Sava, with other monks at Decani,
sheltered Albanians and Roma, according to Serb opposition media. In 1998,
ithe head of our monastery, Abbot Teodisije, and the brethren organised
assistance for those Albanians who remained in Decani, who were frightened and
afraid to leave their homes. We took food and medicine to them, Sava said.

After the end of the war, Artemije and Sava assumed the leadership of those
Serbs who were willing to work with the international community in Kosovo.
Sava advocated recognition of Serbian atrocities against Albanians in Kosovo. In
an interview in the Belgrade magazine NIN in July 1999, he declared: Together
with the regime from Belgrade, [local Serb authorities] systematically carried out
violence against Kosovo Albanians, as well as against the Serbs, who were also
mistreated and robbed at the very end... [Milosevicis supporters] participated in
forced expulsions of the [Albanian] population which otherwise would not have
fled the province. In most cases they did not flee because of the bombardment,
but because of systematic deportations, looting and other sorts of violence. We
have been finding daily bloody tracks of that violence, and the unfortunate Serb
people in Kosovo must now account for it. Sava went further in condemning
the Milosevic regime: Simply, there is no future for the Serb people, nor the
whole region of South Eastern Europe as long as such dictatorship survives in

Artemije and Sava thus became prominently identified as proponents of
reconciliation with the Kosovo Albanian population, above all to preserve a Serb
civil presence in Kosovo. Indeed, they have led a Serb National Council of
Kosovo and Metohija (SNV) from Gracanica that has become the outstanding
exemplar of this. Artemije has, at various times, participated in the Kosovo
Transitional Council; he and Sava agreed to sit in the Interim Administrative
Council as observers, pulled out in June 2000, but returned after the signing of a
Memorandum of Understanding regarding security in the Serb enclaves on 29
June 2000. In addition, the Gracanica group publicly identified themselves with
the anti-Milosevic Otpor (Resistance) movement in Serbia.

Immediately after the war, Artemije and Sava enjoyed considerable credibility
with the Kosovo Serb public. NIN reported, i eAll the politicians ran away a long
time ago. If the Bishop were the same, that is, if he were a politician, he would
not suffer here with us but move his seat to somewhere in Serbia,i says Nebojsa
Lekic from Caglavica.i Artemije himself insisted, in a diary published after the
war, iWe remained with our people. We shared every evil with them because
there was no good.

However, the increasing desperation of the Serb position in Kosovo, as well as
political agitation by Milosevic supporters who had remained in or infiltrated into
the territory, began to undermine the religious leadersi position. Mitrovica Serb
leader Oliver Ivanovic, the director of a rival Serb National Council of Kosovska
Mitrovica, emerged as a polemical opponent of the churchmen. Today, the
continuing politicisation of Orthodox Church activities in Kosovo has made it by
far the most divided of the religious communities active in the province.
Although few Kosovo Serbs publicly criticised the politicisation of religion during
Milosevicis ascendancy, many assailed the roles of Artemije and Sava in co-
operating with representatives of the international community in Kosovo.

One striking example came at Orthodox Easter 2000 when towns people in Gracanica
boycotted the Easter mass at the monastery in a clear repudiation, doubtless
motivated by Milosevic followers, of the political activities of the bishop.
Similarly, Sava complained that a Greek proposal to build a new hospital in
Gracanica village had been thwarted by promises from Belgrade that Yugoslav
authorities would soon return to Kosovo and erect a new and better facility.

Attacks on the position of Artemije have also come from within the Serbian
Orthodox hierarchy. In May 2000, NIN reported that at a Serb Orthodox Synod,
Bishop Irinej Bulovic of Backa, who is considered an extremist, presented ia
whole list of accusationsi against Artemije, but that the majority of the bishops
refused to discuss the matter and decided merely to take note of the submitted
information. Irinej's criticism had been motivated by a letter Artemije had issued
commenting on Patriarch Pavleis and Bishop Irinje's attendance at a iRepublic
Dayi reception hosted by Milosevic. Media observers, however, argued that the
criticism represented a veiled attempt to remove Artemije from his diocese.

In conclusion, the Serbian Orthodox Church shares in the crisis that afflicts Serbs
in Kosovo. The future of the Church will be reflected in the fate of its flock.
Artemije's and Sava's criticism of the actions of the Milosevic regime in Kosovo -
even if belatedly and carefully hedged - has helped restore moral credibility to
the Church. Their willingness to co-operate with the international community in
Kosovo has opened a path for Serbs to continue to maintain a presence in
Kosovo, should they choose to follow that example.


This report seeks to describe the current position of the three major religious communities in Kosovo. In part, it aims to clarify misconceptions about the involvement of religion in the Kosovo conflict. It also proposes some areas where religion might serve as a means to encourage reconciliation among the peoples of Kosovo.

Three religions – Islam, Orthodoxy, and Catholicism, have long coexisted in Kosovo. A large majority of Kosovo Albanians consider themselves, at least nominally, to be Muslim. A minority, about 60,000, are Catholic. Most Kosovo Serbs, even those who are not active religious believers, consider Orthodoxy to be an important component of their national identity. Nevertheless, despite this essential division of religious activities along ethnic lines, it cannot be said that religion per se was an important contributing factor in the conflict between Serbs and Albanians.

Kosovo Albanians do not define their national identity through religion, but through language and have a relatively relaxed approach towards the observance of the forms of the Islamic religion. Neither Islamic leaders nor Islamic theology played a significant role in either the eight-year campaign of non-violent resistance to the Serb occupation regime or the armed resistance of 1998-99. Islamic political and social fundamentalism, as that term is understood with respect to the Middle East, has very little resonance in Kosovo.

The image of Kosovo Serbs and their monasteries, usually portrayed as suffering harassment and persecution by the Albanian majority population, formed a part of the nationalist propaganda that Milosevic and his supporters used to manipulate popular emotions. The Serbian Orthodox Church, however, was always divided over Milosevic. It initially supported him in large part to end what it saw as the victimisation of the Serb nation under Communism and to reverse the decline of the Serb presence in Kosovo. But Milosevic’s Communist career made the Church uneasy, as did his use of violence. By the early 1990s, Patriarch Pavle was publicly criticising Milosevic although some other members of the Orthodox hierarchy continued to support him. After the 1999 war, Bishop Artemije, the head of the Orthodox Church in Kosovo, assumed the leadership of those Serbs willing to work with the International community there.

During the war, Serb forces destroyed numerous Islamic facilities, including virtually all Islamic libraries and archives. After the war, Albanians replied by destroying scores of Orthodox churches. These acts of reciprocal vandalism seemed motivated on both sides more by the desire to eradicate the evidence of the other's presence in Kosovo than by religious fanaticism.

The Serbian and Albanian religious communities have been more willing to talk to each other than other sectors of Kosovo society. As early as March 1999, before the NATO-led intervention, representatives appointed by the leaders of the three main religious communities in Kosovo (Islamic, Orthodox and Roman Catholic) held a joint meeting in Pristina that was convened by the World Conference on Religion and Peace (WCRP) to facilitate dialogue. The representatives expressed opposition to the misuse of religion for political reasons on all sides and called on all parties not to use religious symbols to promote violence or intolerance. They also expressed their determination to maintain direct contacts between the religious communities and to build channels of communication. An informal level of dialogue has continued on a regular basis between some members of the three main religious communities. These interfaith meetings still contain some risks for the participants, but they can be useful for facilitating a better climate of tolerance and understanding between the ethnic communities and might appropriately be the focus of greater international community support.


1. UNMIK should immediately put a Kosovo Interfaith Council on a permanent footing.

2. The UNMIK Department for Culture should establish a program for protection, reconstruction and rehabilitation of all Kosovo religious monuments, of all faiths, on an equal basis, and with adequate funding.

3. UNMIK should immediately issue a regulation facilitating registration of religious communities as legal entities in order to resolve the communities’ problems in recovering and maintaining property, financing reconstruction, and conducting relief efforts.

4. UNMIK should prepare a comparative handbook on religions for children’s use, in Albanian and Serbian.

5. Public schooling for all communities in Kosovo should remain completely secular.

Pristina/Brussels, 31 January 2001