The interview with Fr. Sava   
(translated from Serbian – unabridged authorised version)  
February 25, 1999  


”Squeezed between two policies entrenched in the nineteenth century Kosovo Serbs have become hostages of an unscrupulous policy on one hand and targets of a militant nationalism on the other”.

In front of Rambouillet chateau
In front of Rambouileet chateau

Fr. Sava, the priest-monk and a deputy abbot of Visoki Decani Monastery is a unique figure among Kosovo Serbs. Many agree that this young, educated man from Hercegovina in the course of last seven years has done more for the interests of the Serbian people than all political leaders in the last half century. Beside everyday monastery duties, Fr. Sava is engaged in humanitarian work, takes care of monastery guests among which the most frequent are journalists. But the most evident field of his activity is the Internet. The Web Site of the Raska and Prizren Orthodox Diocese is one of the most valuable sources of information on Kosovo both for domestic and foreign visitors. Therefore this interview was made in rather an unusual way for our circumstances – through e-mail.  

VREME: Beside Bishop Artemije you are very much engaged in the Serbian Resistance Movement. Which are the most important motives for such a political engagement? How much the politics and the Church can go together and where their paths go apart?  

FR SAVA: Bishop Artemije and me are not members of the Serbian Resistance Movement. It is a political association which is co-operating closely with our Diocese. Being clerics, we simply cannot be members of any political party or association because the interests of the Church can never be identified with interests of any political organisation. But despite of that, our Bishop supports the work of this association as an authentic patriotic league which appeared and is active in Kosovo and Metohija.  

The role of the Church is not to get involved in everyday politics but to devote itself to the spiritual work. However, in our circumstances in Kosovo and Metohija the political engagement of the Church is a question of our life and survival. The spiritual and missionary work of the Serbian Orthodox Church in this region thoroughly depends on how the Kosovo issue will be resolved because the survival of our congregation directly depends on the fate of Kosovo. Therefore our foremost goal in the political field is to do everything we can to secure the existence of our people and its Church in the region in which we have been living for centuries.  

If we remain silent we may become accomplices in the physical and spiritual destruction of our people. Of course, the Church is always reminding us that our final goal is the Heavenly Kingdom and the life everlasting. We are aware that the paradise cannot be realised on earth by political means.  

VREME: How do you see the future of the Church and the Serbian people in Kosovo? Can our monasteries survive if the people leave?  

FR SAVA: First of all we must be aware that the Church does not consist only of clergy and monastics. The Church is first of all the “people of God” which lives in Christian faith. The people of God, (Gr. laos) is not always the same as the people in ethnical sense (Gr. ethnos). Today there are Serbs who do not consider themselves Christians and consequently are not members of our Church but as long as our people feel traditional attachment to the Orthodox Church we still may speak about the same fate of the Church and the people.  

The fate of the Serbian people in all territories inhabited by Serbs, and first of all in our country, depends in my opinion on the ability of us all to become aware of new political realities in Europe and the world and at the same time to preserve the living link to their tradition, religion and culture. Going forward into the future we must not forsake our past and our spiritual tradition in which our national consciousness is treasured. On the other hand the attachment for the tradition and the past must not prevent us from being aware of the reality in which we live and finding a decent place in the world which is surrounding us. The maturity of one people is reflected in its capacity to overcome its past and understand its historical experience as a means to live better in the present time. Unfortunately, it happens now that some of us want to prolong the past and in this process we all risk to lose the contact with the present time and our future. It is because one anachronistic and retrograde policy, based on new-composed myths alienated from its intrinsic spiritual and historical context, that the Serbian people, especially here in Kosovo and Metohija, was brought to the verge of its existence.  

If after the interim peace agreement for Kosovo and Metohija the Belgrade and Pristina leaderships do not become aware of the reality in which the world lives I am afraid that the Serbs in our southern province would hardly be able to survive. Squeezed between two policies entrenched in the nineteenth century Kosovo Serbs have become hostages of one unscrupulous policy on one side and targets of a militant nationalism on the other.  

Unfortunately, our people has failed to use the historical chance we had after the fall of communism. Instead of developing of democracy our country became isolated and got surrounded by existing and non-existing enemies. The immediate cause of such situation is the ruling political elite which wants to stay in power under any condition. The future of Serbia and Kosovo is and has to be in Europe because it was so even in the Middle Ages when our people created a wonderful civilisation in the Balkans which is now admired by all.  

The fate of our monasteries is therefore directly linked to the existence of our congregation. In any case, our monasteries may survive physically even in an Albanian state, but I am afraid, only as museums.  

VREME: What are you relations with your Albanian neighbours like?  Have you ever had any contacts with their political leaders?  

FR SAVA: Our relations with the Albanian neighbours are quite good, I must admit. The monastery of Decani has been distributing the humanitarian aid to both Serb and Albanian refugees all these months of conflict. Beside the humanitarian activity our main goal is to work on confidence building and creating a groundwork for the future life of our two communities.  

Bishop Artemije and me have had opportunities to meet many leading Kosovo Albanian leaders on various meetings in the country and abroad. They know about our positions and I believe that many of them respect the sincerity and the peace role of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Although there are substantial differences in our positions, our Church is making a great efforts to feel the needs of the ethnic Albanian population and build a bridge of mutual confidence. I am also sure that the Kosovo Alabanian population is becoming increasingly aware that we can go forward to the future only if we both feel the reality of the time in which we live. The time of Greater Albania or Greater Serbia is far behind us. The future cannot be built on dominance of one people over the another but in co-operation. God has given our two peoples this blessed land to live here and our common life must be based on peace, tolerance, strengthened by fundamental democratic principles and full freedom of every person. It is up to the politicians to find a proper political framework in which such life might be possible. Our role is to make a genuine effort to live a civilised life.  

VREME: Is there a plan for cantonization of Kosovo?  

FR SAVA: The plan of the cantonization of Kosovo and Metohija was made by Geopolitical Institute from Belgrade. Professor Dusan T. Batakovic who is our close associate was the main author. The idea of this project is to create Serb cantons (the Swiss-like model) in mostly rural areas where Serbs are an absolute or relative majority. In these cantons the Serbs would be granted their local administration, police and judiciary. A certain correction of municipal borders might be necessary so that the cantons could reflect the existing ethnic picture on the ground. On the other side, in multiethnic areas, i.e. cities, the Albanians and Serbs could share their political power through two-chamber assemblies. The other parts of Kosovo in which mostly Albanians live will be divided into ethnic Albanian cantons in which they will have full self rule, their own administration, police and judiciary.  

The Cantonization Proposal by Prof. dr Dusan T. Batakovic

VREME: Can this project be understood as an introduction to the final division of the province?  

FR SAVA: This proposal is by no means an introduction for a division because our Church is openly opposed to such an idea which could cause a great movement of population. But we also cannot accept the complete extraction of Kosovo and Metohija from Serbia because it could bring our people to the position of ethnic minority and result in a mass exodus of our people from the province. The Serbs lived in similar situation prior to 1989. The cantonisation proposal is, I must say, an emergency solution because the international community has already accepted an ethnic approach to this problem. We have already proposed regionalisation of Serbia and Montenegro based on contemporary democratic solutions in some other European countries but the present draft version of the peace agreement for Kosovo is primarily based on the idea to grant the Albanian population full self-rule. In order to prevent majorization over the Serb and other non-Albanian population it is necessary to grant the them an ability to secure an institutional link with republic of Serbia through their ethnic cantons, since this link would otherwise be only formal according to the current international proposals. Therefore, the main goal of the cantonization is the establishment of additional guarantees for the survival of our people here. Supporting this idea we do not want at least to restrict the rights which Kosovo Albanians and other national communities deserve. We believe if there is true development of democracy in Kosovo and Serbia this cantonization model may be replaced by a solution which would reflect more the ideas of civic society in which the most important factor would not be ethnicity but a citizen. The cities of Kosovo with multiethnic rule might be a pledge for such a future. The crucial problem remain rural areas in which Kosovo Serbs do not believe that they may have full security without their own administration and closer institutional links with Republic of Serbia.  

Serb refugees near Decani Monastery - a year without their home
Serb children-refugees  near Decani Monastery - one year without their homes

VREME: What are the reactions on this proposal from the Serb and ethnic Albanian political circles?  

FR SAVA: Unfortunately, we do not have any official reactions of our government to this plan. Unofficially, some Kosovo Albanian policy makers have reacted with scepticism. Mr. Blerim Shala, for instance, thinks that this project will result in division of the province. On the other hand we have support from our people who are afraid for their existence. This proposal was received with lot of interest in Europe and US as well.  

VREME: Last week Bishop Artemije, Mr. Trajkovic and you were in Paris, Rambouillet and United States. What are the results of your mission?  

FR SAVA: Having in mind the number and importance of the meetings we had in France and US, the visit or our delegation was successful. With regret, I must admit that everywhere in the world the doors are opened for us except in Belgrade. We had to travel in order to make our voice heard.  

Especially, I would mention our meeting with the US State Secretary Madeleine Albright in State Department. In this meeting we could express on the highest level our concerns for the fate of our people and monuments as well as to make some proposals how the problems in Kosovo and Metohija could be better resolved. Our main goal was to point out once again on the burning issue of the survival of the Serbs in this territory. We have supported the talks at Rambouillet chateau but have also indicated that the current plan has certain deficiencies which could be improved if our proposal for cantonization were accepted in a form of an amendment to the present agreement.  

VREME: Could you tell us what are the main issues in which you and Bishop Artemije do not agree with the Belgrade government? Both Milosevic and Milutinovic have refused to receive you recently?  

FR SAVA: I dare say that the essence of our misunderstanding with the Belgrade regime is the fact that we care more about our people while they seem to care more about their political interests. Several years ago we said that their policy towards Kosovo and Metohija was wrong and that it would inevitably lead to bloodshed, what happened eventually. We insisted that the process of democratisation should start as soon as possible with a major reorientation towards Europe and acceptance of basic norms of contemporary European societies. In that way the separatist movement in Kosovo would have been isolated in time and would not have had a support of the majority of Albanian population as well as the sympathies of the international community. For years the policy of Belgrade towards Kosovo was based on unrealistic ideas and repression which only strengthened the separatist feelings.  

However, our ruling regime is obsessed how to preserve its political power and therefore the issue of Kosovo was neglected which enabled the ethnic Albanians to organise their para-state and their extremists to import great quantities of weapons into the country. Instead of pursuing true democracy our country is isolated, state media air daily hysteric xenophobia, the rights of the University are seriously violated, the international investments in the country are at stake. All this is dragging us away from the world and makes us a black hole of Europe.  

Unfortunately, mistakes are many and are hardly reparable. Due to absence of true democracy and excessive use of power by the security forces the insurgency of the Albanian separatists earned certain legitimacy before the world as freedom fighting. But we know that separatist ideas existed much before Mr. Milosevic and are at least a century old. As a result of that separatism hundreds thousands of Serbs had to leave Kosovo in this century. Today it is openly said that a kind of military protectorate should be established in Kosovo because our country has failed to find a peaceful and democratic settlement. We are aware that the reason for that is not only our government but also the Albanian extremists who have refused any compromise so far. But the Albanian arguments in front of the world are more convincing at the moment, especially after so many refugees and material damage. Our government could make now a decisive step – secure the existence of our population by cantonization and immediately begin serious process of democratisation. But the ears of Belgrade are still deaf for the voice of Bishop Artemije.  

In a mission of peace
In a peace mission

VREME: You and your Bishop have recently been the target of open verbal attacks by Mr. Seselj who accused you as spies and traitors.  

FR SAVA: Mr. Seselj is a politician without any serious credibility and we do not take his slanders seriously. Everywhere where Mr. Seselj defended the Serbian cause our people do not live any longer. That is our strongest argument. The Holy Scripture says that every tree is recognised by its fruit. Mr. Seselj has openly showed that he has no respect for our Church and that his voice is not the voice of the people but of a minority in our people who present our national interests in extremely arrogant and vulgar way.  

VREME: You are sometimes called “Cybermonk” in media circles. Are you offended by such a nickname?  

FR SAVA: I think that my work with computers is not incongruent my monastic life. They help me in my missionary work and in my attempts to help my people. These are just machines and it is only important how and what for we use them.  

Dejan Anastasijevich