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South Slavic: November 11, 2004


11 November 2004, Volume 6, Number 36

KOSOVO: AN ETHNIC CONFLICT, NOT A RELIGIOUS ONE.

Part III.

A program in the Radio Most (Bridge) series of RFE/RL/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service, hosted by Omer Karabeg.

RFE/RL: 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/RL Balkan Report," 2 and 16 April, and 20 August 2004).

Janjic: Mr. Morina's criticism of the Serbian Orthodox Church is based on the writings of intellectuals known for their anti-Serbian activities.

The Serbian Orthodox Church has undoubtedly contributed a lot to bring about democratic changes. It supported the democratic opposition [against former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic]. By doing so, it made it clear that what President Milosevic did as dictator did not reflect the will of the Serbian people. Both the patriarch and Holy Synod made this point repeatedly....

I also reject [charges that the Orthodox Church did not condemn the destruction of mosques]. Of course, we might now return to the past and talk about the destruction of churches during World War II or even in Ottoman times, when thousands of churches were either destroyed or transformed into mosques, but that would lead us nowhere.

By the way, accusing the Serbian Orthodox Church for supporting Milosevic is like saying that Islam is supporting terrorist activities and killing of children in Ossetia. That would be absolutely unjust toward all those Muslims who consider [terrorism] sinful and evil.

Unfortunately, extremists are making use of Islam for their own purposes, just like Milosevic's extremists used to wear crosses around their necks or draw crosses on doors. That practice prompted some people to say that those extremists were indeed expressing their Orthodox faith.

We must get rid of such prejudices. If we remain slaves to them, I fear that we can scarcely have a dialogue, because our starting point will always be our mutual distrust. If we keep counting the victims, it will become a futile discussion, since every side can keep talking about thousands of crimes committed against its believers.

What is important now is to stop the violence. We must understand that Kosovo's society must be one in which all communities enjoy respect, and in which it will no longer be acceptable that the Serbs live in ghettos, as has been the case for the past five years....

Morina: "Orthodoxy," the official publication of the Serbian Orthodox Church, wrote on 1 May 2002 that the territory of Serbia has been reduced to half its previous size, which is just a restatement of the old nationalist dream that "the Serbian state is where Serbian graves are."

Interestingly enough, the latest [unspecified] reports claim that Radovan Karadzic is wearing a priest's robe and hiding in [unspecified] monasteries of the Serbian Orthodox Church. A couple of days ago, Bishop Artemije said that there is no such thing as Kosovo Serbs in Kosovo, but that there are Serbs living in Kosovo and whose capital city is Belgrade, not Pristina. This does not correspond at all with your call for a dialogue.

Janjic: We should not accept prejudices and unconfirmed news as true, such as the story claiming that Radovan Karadzic is hiding in one of the monasteries. Has it been confirmed? The church has repeatedly declared such reports nonsense.

Anyway, the monasteries are open places and the police can easily get in and check. [Such stories are] total fabrications launched by circles trying to pillory the church.

I would also like to say that believers have the right to their political views. A church cannot have a political point of view since it is an institution independent of time and place. It has no political position about, for example, what Kosovo, Serbia, or the entire region should become. But in a democratic society, believers do have the right to their political views....

Morina: I have never read or heard any condemnation by the Serbian Orthodox Church of Karadzic and Mladic, or of what happened in Bosnia and Kosovo [in the 1990s]. In 1994, Patriarch Pavle went to Bosnia to bless those who were besieging Sarajevo and committing atrocities in Srebrenica.

I wish the Serbian Orthodox Church had within its own ranks a brave intellectual such as [the Belgrade NGO leader] Natasa Kandic, who has told the truth about who committed atrocities in Srebrenica, Vukovar, and the siege of Sarajevo....

We were so happy when Patriarch Pavle became the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, since he had previously spent 34 years in Kosovo and knows every single stone here. We thought that he would change things, but, unfortunately, he continued in the same direction [as his predecessors]....

RFE/RL: As far as I can see, there is no agreement, and your positions are quite far apart. However, is there any chance of reducing tensions and resuming dialogue?

Janjic: Personally, I think there is. I believe I will soon meet with Mr. Morina and we will resume our dialogue, just like we did before.

He and other representatives of the Islamic community [know] what we think, and I find it really inappropriate to say that the Serbian Orthodox Church -- and especially Patriarch Pavle -- failed to condemn violence....

We cannot condemn one side's violence and ignore the other's. As an Orthodox Christian I am horrified by the fact that there are mass graves near Belgrade [dating from Milosevic's rule]. It is horrible and distressing when the families of those killed find out what happened [to their loved ones], and I sympathize with them, as do many other Orthodox believers. I have no words to express how horrified I am. The only satisfaction for all of us is that those who organized [the crimes] are [gone] now, and I hope they will remain history.

However, here in Kosovo, such things continue. Mr. Morina, some Serbs here are missing, or they have been brutally killed, including clergy....

There is no such thing as a justified crime, and a crime cannot make anybody happy. That is my message reflecting my wish to resume our dialogue in hope of success.

RFE/RL: Mr. Morina, do you accept Mr. Janjic's view?

Morina: As the majority in Kosovo, we are responsible for all the minorities, especially for the Serbian minority. But the Serbs must condemn what they did to the Albanians, and the Serbian Orthodox Church must be the first to do it. Bishop Artemije should set the tone.

Mr. Janjic says that we should not politicize matters, but it is well known that Artemije is the president of the Serbian National Council in Kosovo, which is a purely political function. Our job is supposed to be religion, and we should leave politics to politicians.

The Serbian Orthodox Church should apologize for everything that happened in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Belgrade [where 269 mosques have been destroyed since Ottoman times]....

However, we still think that there is no alternative to dialogue, and that it is most necessary when our relations are the most strained. We should fight for a new Kosovo, where there will be no enclaves, and where Mitrovica will not be divided along the Ibar River, where and the Serbs, just like everybody else, will have no difficulty whatsoever in moving about and traveling in Kosovo.

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