Serbian Orthodox Bishop Of
Raska-Prizren and Kosovo-Metohija

Gracanica, May 15, 2002

Lt. Gen. Marcel M. VALENTIN
KFOR HQ, Priština

Dear General,

I am writing to you on occasion of the most recent desecration of the Serb Orthodox cemetery at Piskote, near Djakovica. I am afraid, this is neither the first nor the only act of such outrageous barbarism which has been committed after the war, despite the presence of KFOR and UNMIK. Similar desecrations have been recorded all around the Province, especially in the western and southern parts of Kosovo and Metohija. In the villages of Siga and Brestovik, near Pec, from which Serbs had fled in 1999, tombs at the local cemeteries were not only damaged, but there are many examples that mortal remains of the deceased were excavated and scattered around. These deplorable scenes have also been recorded by video camera and many people in other parts of Serbia and abroad are rightfully shocked to see that such acts of barbarism and utmost primitivism still happen with impunity in internationally protected province of Kosovo and Metohija.

I do not have information that a single perpetrator of these desecrations has ever been arrested, nor I am aware of any official investigations of these cases. Such behavior of both UNMIK police and KFOR, especially in the most recent case in Djakovica, when no one from our Church was officially informed about the event, are simply inexcusable. If this practice of hushing up and tolerating crimes of Albanian extremists continues, we will not be able to understand this otherwise, but as an example of open complicity in destruction of the Serb Orthodox heritage and culture, as well as the special method of spiritual genocide.

In the meantime Kosovo Albanian local authorities plan and even make decisions to remove ruins of our churches because "they do not make a pleasant sight" and openly witness of their barbarism. I am assuring you that these ruins are as holy as the churches themselves and cannot be removed without permission of our Church which is their legal owner. We are nevertheless ready to discuss the possibilities of reconstruction of these holy sites with the local Albanian authorities at any time. However, the removal of ruins would only seal the process of systematic destruction of our religious and cultural heritage and would openly encourage Albanian extremists in their goals. With great astonishment I have heard from my local priests that the building material from some of our destroyed churches (stone, bricks, roof covering) has already been removed by looters and used for construction of private Albanian homes. There are many locations where local Albanian farmers have usurped the church property (fields, forests) and have been using it as their own.

We have also information that the local Municipal authorities in Djakovica plan not only to remove the ruins of our Cathedral in the town center but also to build a monument to KLA on that location. We strongly oppose to this idea and fully support general Torelli and UNMIK who declined this idea. We firmly think that the removal of the ruins, against our will, would not be any lesser crime than demolishing of the church itself. Due to similar tendencies in the past I wrote to your predecessor, gen. Reinchard, about this issue and strongly protested against such requests, stating that the ruined churches are for us as holy as healthy ones.

I would take this opportunity to inform you that local Albanians requested from the Italian occupation army in the Second World War exactly the same. They asked permission to demolish our church which had been built on that very location before the war. Italians refused and the previous church of the Holy Trinity was demolished only in 1949 by local communist authorities which supported ethnic Albanian interests. Our present Cathedral of the Holy Trinity was destroyed in the same way in August 1999 despite the presence of Italian KFOR in Djakovica. My firm opinion is that KFOR should by no means give any support to Albanian extremists who plan to finalize their long time strategy and destroy everything which belongs to the Serbian culture and people in this region.

In the ruins of our Djakovica Cathedral there remained two bell towers with bells which we planned to evacuate in cooperation with Italian military chaplains. A few days ago we learned that the bells have disappeared just after the Easter, although the location has been "secured" by the Kosovo Police. Since it is not an easy task to remove relatively heavy bells unnoticed, we have every reason to think that Kosovo Police openly collaborated in this action. This example clearly shows that Kosovo Police is absolutely not a reliable partner in protection of our churches. Many of the present members of the KP had been active in the KLA and do not make a neutral party at all.

At the same time when the cemetery in Djakovica was desecrated the copper covering from the nearby cemetery church of St. Lazarus was stolen by Albanians too. This incident at the cemetery happened only a few days before your visit with Mr. Rexhepi to the Patriarchate for Easter. I must say that I am disappointed that our Church representatives are still not allowed to visit the location. We learned about this vandalism only indirectly, when some of our international friends passed the information to our elderly women in Djakovica and said that KFOR soldiers reportedly removed the broken and smashed tombstones in order to make the sight look less offensive. I do not know whether this is true or not, but I am asking you to intervene and allow our monks from Decani to visit the location and make a photo-documentation of this desecration. This cemetery and the church were well protected for almost three years by a fixed KFOR check point and Albanians did not dare to destroy it. The incident occurred after the KFOR check point had been removed. We are not aware who and why gave this order, but this latest example shows quite well that Albanian extremists are still ready to destroy our holy sites as soon as there is no full-time KFOR presence.

When a decision was made during the time of gen. Cabigiousu to dismantle fixed check-points near some of our holy sites and rely the protection to the KP, I wrote a very strong letter of protest to KFOR. Our fear that "pyromaniacs cannot be a fire brigade" proved to be a correct assessment. The latest events with our church and cemetery in Djakovica even more confirm this belief. We reasonably fear from new attacks in future. That is why I make a reiterated appeal to you and KFOR in general to adequately protect and preserve lives and property of all citizens, especially the endangered religious and cultural monuments, no matter to which religion or ethnic group they belong.

I will not take more of your time and mention many other cases of destruction of our centuries old religious and cultural heritage. I can only assure you that these acts of vandalism are clearly a part of the wider strategy to discourage returns of our IDP's and change the cultural identity of the region which has been known for its valuable Serb Orthodox sites worldwide. Changing not only ethnic, but also cultural identity, Kosovo Albanian leaders want to accelerate the process of independence of Kosovo which would essentially be a "state" tailored to the measure of Albanian people. I also have serious suspicions that local Albanian led municipal councils consciously turn the blind eye towards these acts or perhaps even encourage them. In many cases they allow our cemeteries and abandoned villages to be turned into public garbage dumps, which shows the level of their political responsibility and general lack of basic culture.

I frankly believe that you will do all you can within your authority to stop these acts of vandalism as well as to continue with effective protection of the vulnerable Serbian Orthodox Holy Sites.

Sincerely Yours
Bishop of Raska-Prizren and Kosovo-Metohija
Serbian Orthodox Diocese
+ Artemije

Scenes of barbarism
The Serb Orthodox Cemetery in Djakovica

on Easter

Desecrated Serb cemetery near Pec, October 2001

The War Against the Dead...
Kosovo Albanian Extremists continue with systematic desecration of
Serb Orthodox Cemeteries throughout Kosovo Province