21 October 2004, Volume
NOTE TO READERS:
The next issue of "RFE/RL South Slavic Report" will appear on 11 November.
KOSOVO: AN ETHNIC CONFLICT, NOT A RELIGIOUS ONE.
A program in the Radio Most (Bridge) series of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service, hosted by Omer Karabeg.
Our guests are Serbian Orthodox Fr. Sava Janjic of the Visoki Decani Monastery in Kosovo, and Qemal Morina, assistant dean of the Islamic Studies Faculty in Pristina. This is the first formal contact between the representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Islamic Community in Kosovo since their communication was completely severed following the ethnic violence of 17-18 March (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 and 16 April, and 20 August 2004).
Mr. Morina, do you think that the Serbian Orthodox Church was sufficiently vocal in condemning the crimes against the Albanian population, as well as the destruction of the mosques?
Before I answer your question, I would like to add one more thing about our [mutual] contacts. On 27 July we were invited to take part in a discussion about religion as a factor of Kosovo's future. It was organized by the Forum for Strategic Issues.
We were [then] told that the meeting was postponed for two months due to the absence of the representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Mr. Janjic...was supposed to take part but refused.
A delegation of religious leaders from the United States visited Kosovo two weeks ago. They arrived with some prejudices. They had previously been told that only Serbian religious sites had been destroyed. When we showed them a list of some 220 destroyed mosques, they were speechless.
Mr. Janjic knows that when there were no Serbs in Kosovo, the monasteries in Decani and the Patriarchate of Pec were guarded by Albanians, since they considered these places to be their own cultural heritage as well.
We are sorry about the burning of Serbian houses and religious buildings last March, but the Serbian Orthodox Church should have condemned what happened in Belgrade and Nis, too -- when Belgrade's last mosque was torched and people were dancing in front of the burning Nis mosque. It was horrible.
It would have been easier to prevent these things in both Belgrade and Nis, where there are enough police, than in Kosovo, where our government has no police of its own, since the police force is under the authority of KFOR.
As far as the attitude of the Serbian Orthodox Church during [former Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic's rule is concerned, I think that it served as his right hand and that the church helped him in Kosovo. Milosevic was an atheist, but he used the Kosovo issue, since he knew the mentality of the Serbian people well.
Let me just remind you of the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo Polje [in 1989], when he managed to gather together here 1 million people from all over Serbia. The relics of Tsar Lazar were [paraded] all over Yugoslavia. I think that the Serbian Orthodox Church should have been wiser and not have allowed an atheist to abuse its religious symbols for his own political purposes.
The visit of the religious leaders from the United States was very important, and I do not think that they arrived with prejudices. They gave us very important suggestions and did not take sides.
However, they did make a distinction between what was done during the war and what is taking place now in the presence of the UN mission, with more than 20,000 NATO troops and in full view of the entire Albanian community.
I do not think that what happened on 17 and 18 March was a consequence of the fact that the Kosovo government did not have enough authority. We know that at first the leaders of the Kosovo Albanians failed to react, and some of them even behaved badly. The only one who made some effort later on was [Prime Minister Bajram] Rexhepi, but the initial reactions were almost inflammatory, especially as far as the media were concerned. There have been numerous critical reports from the Council of Europe and NGOs.
Let me reiterate that this happened in peacetime, not during the war, when armies and extremists were allowed to do whatever they wanted, without anything to stop or hinder them....
As far as the events in Nis and Belgrade are concerned, it is really deplorable and nothing can justify them. However, let me remind you that Bishop Amfilohije was on the spot [in Nis], in front of the Bajrakli Mosque, and together with a group of faithful stood in the way of the group of hooligans who wanted to set the mosque alight. Afterwards, a delegation from the Serbian Orthodox Church went to Belgrade Mufti Mr. Jusufspahic.
The process of rebuilding [the mosques] started immediately, while in Kosovo, five months after the March violence, none of the damaged churches has been restored.
I also disagree with Mr. Morina's claim that the Serbian Orthodox Church was Milosevic's right hand. That is false. It is well known that in 1989, when Milosevic held his famous Gazimestan speech [at Kosovo Polje], he did not visit the Gracanica monastery where the main [Orthodox] celebration took place. There were, in effect, two [separate] celebrations.
The Patriarch and the Synod, together with the [faithful], were in Gracanica, where the relics of Tsar Lazar had been brought. It was not a political celebration but a purely religious one.
Milosevic's speech was not organized in cooperation with the church. But the entire diplomatic corps attended, including the representatives of European countries. The absence of the Synod and patriarch, who were in Gracanica at the time, clearly demonstrates the attitude of the Serbian Orthodox Church towards it....
Patriarch Pavle and his followers often held street protests against Milosevic....
As far as destruction in war and peace is concerned, [many] mosques were destroyed during the war by the Serbian army and Serbian police. Therefore, institutions whose job was to defend the people and their shrines -- including Islamic ones -- actually shelled, torched, and destroyed the mosques.
I cannot agree that there were no voices among Albanians against the March violence. I have several headlines in front of me and will read them aloud. "Koha Ditore" had two articles, one entitled "This March Kosovo lacked good leaders" and the second one reading "The week that set Kosovo back." The publication of the Islamic Community published a text entitled "Where is Kosovo headed?" with photographs of a torched church in Kosovo and the torched mosque in Nis.
The government of Kosovo assigned some 10 million euros from its modest budget to finance the reconstruction of the churches, while the government of Serbia gave nothing for the reconstruction of the 220 mosques.
Serbian intellectuals have never found it necessary to apologize for what happened in Kosovo [under Milosevic]. The Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church never condemned the crimes committed in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina. According to a report I have here, in Belgrade more than 400 Muslims were forced to change their given and family names. Some of them were given the name of Draza Mihajlovic, a man who fought fiercely against the Muslims [during World War II].
Mr. Morina, it is not true that Serbian intellectuals and the Serbian public did nothing. First, the Serbian people managed to change their leaders, and the entire Milosevic leadership has been either dismissed or sent to The Hague. However, five years after the war in Kosovo and Metohija, none of the perpetrators of crimes against the Serbs has been jailed. It is true though that some were indicted, but for killing Albanians [who allegedly collaborated with the Serbian forces], not Serbs.