Serbian Orthodox Bishop of
Raska-Prizren and Kosovo-Metohija

Gracanica, December 14, 2002

UN Security Council Delegation

Your Excellencies,

It is my distinct pleasure to be able to inform you about the current situation in the UN administered Yugoslav province of Kosovo on behalf of the Serbian Orthodox Church. It is with great regret that I must admit that the security and economic situation for the Serb people in Kosovo has not essentially improved after three years of UN/KFOR protectorate. Without wishing to ignore certain achievements in the domain of reconstruction of war damaged facilities in Albanian inhabited areas and institution building, I nevertheless feel it is necessary to say that these results have had very little or no impact on improving the lives of Serbs and most other Kosovo minorities. Consequently, the claim that Kosovo mission has been “a success story” should be taken with serious reservation.

More than three years after the conflict Kosovo Serbs are still exposed to systematic human rights violations, while the destruction of Serbian Orthodox holy sites still continues despite a strong NATO-led presence in the area. The relative decrease of ethnic violence (in comparison to 1999 and 2000) is more the result of the physical separation of communities than of improved security and a higher level of inter-ethnic tolerance. As a result, UNMIK figures and assessments usually do not reflect the reality on the ground which is much more complex. In most parts of the Province Serbs can live in relative freedom only within their tiny enclaves and under deplorable economic conditions. Freedom of movement is restricted to Serb inhabited areas and to some extent to major roads while most urban areas (except in the north) are largely inaccessible for Serbs. This is the reason why Serbs still do not have normal access to medical, educational and other institutions in major Kosovo cities. Even Serb members of the Kosovo Parliament travel to their sessions in armored vehicles and cannot visit their constituency normally. Serbs still do not have Kosovo-wide media and communication between enclaves is seriously limited. In short, everywhere except in Serb inhabited areas Serbs do not feel the benefits of post-conflict developments and they urgently need the following: a decentralized administration which would bring the services to the level of the population, more investments and, above all, security and freedom of movement.

The greatest disappointment in post-conflict Kosovo is the inability of more than 200,000 Serb and other IDP’s and refugees to return to their homes, as guaranteed by UNSCR 1244. The main reasons for unsuccessful returns are the following: continuation of extremist attacks, inability of the UN/KFOR mission to provide security throughout Kosovo and Metohija, inadequate international financial support for refugee programs, as well as the relatively limited opportunities for involvement of the Belgrade government in this process. To date Serb returns have been of a symbolic nature and presently returnees can live normally only in protected enclaves. Kosovo’s major cities are becoming more and more mono-ethnic and no one can guarantee Serbs who would like to return to their homes security, jobs and restitution of their privately owned property. The fate of more than 1.300 Serbs civilians abducted after the conflict is unknown. In the same period nearly 1000 Serbs were killed by Albanian extremists and only some of their bodies have been recovered so far. An especially discouraging development for returnees is the continuing systematic destruction and desecration of Serbian Orthodox churches and cemeteries. Since the arrival of the UN Mission to Kosovo, 112 Orthodox churches and dozens of cemeteries have been destroyed or desecrated, and not one perpetrator of these crimes has been brought to justice. The remaining Serb monasteries survive thanks only to constant KFOR military protection. By attacking Serb holy sites, Kosovo Albanians seek to change the cultural, ethnic and religious identity of the Province and thus discourage returns. Their political leaders officially condemn these attacks but in reality they do nothing to change the situation on the ground. Some of them even directly or indirectly encourage extremist behavior in order to win public support.

The Serb representatives in the Kosovo Parliament and Government have recently decided not to participate in these institutions because they see that these Albanian dominated institutions are not working towards building a multiethnic society but a society tailored only for ethnic Albanians. UNSCR 1244 envisages institutions which will improve the quality of life and create conditions for normal coexistence of communities in form of substantial autonomy of Kosovo; however, Albanian leaders use their position in these institutions to promote the idea of an independent Kosovo to the detriment of other communities, which is unacceptable. Serb representatives rightly request efficient mechanisms which will protect them from humiliations, overvoting and other forms of ethnic discrimination in the Parliament.

Insisting on the full integration of Kosovo’s communities under conditions of deep linguistic, cultural and historical differences is not realistic because, in the existing atmosphere of hostility smaller communities cannot adequately protect themselves from institutional repression and discrimination by the majority. In order to achieve peaceful coexistence of communities, it is essential to implement decentralization of the Province on all levels, which would enable smaller and vulnerable communities to preserve their ethnic, cultural and religious identity. Decentralization must not be only symbolic but should provide communities with effective mechanisms to protect their vital interests and prevent discrimination on an ethnic or religious basis. Most residents of Kosovo and Metohija are not bilingual, which makes the situation much more complicated than elsewhere.

Kosovo Serbs would like to live in a society which would offer conditions for a peaceful and dignified life for all communities. We are seriously concerned that Kosovo Albanian leaders instead see the future of Kosovo and Metohija in the creation of a second ethnic Albanian state with an insignificant non-Albanian population to be tolerated only for the sake of Kosovo’s public image. We can hardly observe any true democratic engagement in the Province, where the greatest heroes are still former KLA leaders directly responsible for post-conflict violence and many innocent victims. True intentions of Albanian leaders can be seen in everyday reality. Geographic names which had even survived Ottoman rule are now being replaced by newly-invented Albanian names. The Serb language has been expelled from public life while traditional Serb Cyrillic script is unacceptable even in Kosovo Parliament. Idea of intolerance toward Slavic peoples and the Orthodox Christian religion is strongly promoted in the education of young Kosovo Albanians and media encouraging younger generations to take a leading role in attacks and provocations against Serbs, such as the recent attack against elderly Serb pensioners in Pec. The level of organized crime in the Province is frightening while the economic situation in general is deplorable despite substantial foreign investments. Former KLA members have not yet been fully disarmed and they still continue with armed attacks against Serbs and dissenting Albanians jeopardizing the fragile stability in Kosovo.

We kindly request that the Security Council take a more objective position with regard to the situation in Kosovo and Metohija, and initiate all necessary measures in order to return the process of institution building and the work of the Kosovo Mission within the framework of the UNSCR 1244. This will encourage all inhabitants of Kosovo to do more to realize the standards of democracy and tolerance instead of speculating on the final status of the Province before basic conditions for normal life are achieved. The idea that the rapid resolution of the final status can encourage returns and create better security conditions is essentially wrong and dangerous. A premature resolution of the status which would be imposed on Kosovo from outside or by force would instead lead to the flight of the remaining Serb and other non-Albanian population and the creation of a mono-ethnic society. This is completely opposite to the goals of the international community. The roof of the house cannot be built before the strong walls of a modern European society are erected. Kosovo cannot exist like an island but has to be fully integrated into the region to which it belongs. That is why the status of Kosovo and Metohija can be justly resolved only within the wider context of the Balkans, whose future does not lie in the drawing of new ethnic and state maps and borders but in integration and transcendence of the anachronisms of the past.

Sincerely yours,

+ Artemije
Serbian Orthodox Bishop of Raska-Prizren
President of the Serb National of Kosovo-Metohija