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Balkan Report: January 6, 1999

6 January 1999, Volume 3, Number 1

Father Sava Talks to RFE/RL. The South Slavic Service recently spoke about the conflict in Kosovo to Serbian Orthodox Father Sava, the deputy abbot of the historic Visoki Decani Monastery in the western part of the province. Fr. Sava is also the spokesman for Bishop Artemije of Raska and Prizren, who has been one of the most eloquent voices among Serbs in calling for a reconciliation with the ethnic Albanians and in opposing the policies of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

The monk noted that the monastery is now in the midst of entirely Albanian communities: "In the villages around Decani there are no more Serbs. They all left their homes in April [of 1998]. First they fled out of fear, then pressures and threats began, and some people were arrested or even killed [by the UCK]. Now the Albanian population is slowly returning where possible to homes that have been preserved. Unfortunately the Serbs cannot return to their homes because they are all destroyed. It is likely they would have returned and rebuilt their houses, but for now there is no one to guarantee their security around Decani -- in the area between Pec, Decani and Djakovica -- and so they still live in a refugee camp near the monastery."

He also recalled the checkered recent history of inter-ethnic relations in the area: "I have been in Decani Monastery since 1992 and since then we really have not had any problems with the local people, either Albanian or Serbian . . . I heard, however from the monks and nuns from other monasteries that before I arrived in Kosovo there had been difficulties, especially in the period prior to 1989 [when Milosevic ended provincial autonomy]. But from 1989 onwards, at least in Decani, I can say that we have not had any difficulties . . . Even today Serbs and Albanians alike come to our monastery."

Fr. Sava noted that Bishop Artemije has closely coordinated his peace missions with the Synod and with Patriarch Pavle. He added that "the Church should be a factor for peace and stability. We must work on rebuilding confidence and on the establishment of communication between the Serbian and Albanian people. Of course, all problems must be resolved without violence because where there is violence it is usually the innocents who suffer the most. With such ideas we appeal to both the authorities in Belgrade and the political representatives of the Kosovo Albanians. Both sides must agree to generally acceptable principles because only in that way we can resolve the existing difficulties."

Turning to his and Artemije's vocal criticism of the Milosevic regime, Sava noted that, for Serbs in Kosovo, "politics is no luxury. It is a question of our everyday life . . . We must be aware of the times in which we live. We need more democracy, more openness toward new political realities in Europe and the world . . . if Serbia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had started sufficiently early with democratization and integration in European structures, the existing problems, especially those in Kosovo and Metohija, could have been prevented. It is a general opinion of many representatives of the international community that the key to solving . . . the problems in Kosovo and throughout the Balkans is the process of democratization. That means supporters of violence would be isolated in that way and would not enjoy support of the majority of the population."

This, however, is far from the case, he noted. "Regrettably, at the moment we have quite a different situation on the ground. Due to absence of real democracy and real freedom of media, extremist ideas still enjoy wider support of the people. Such ideas are louder than peace appeals. Therefore, the voice of moderates, the people who are ready for compromise, is still silent. This is, in fact, one of the main problems. It is, however, not too late. By speaking critically about certain issues, we are calling the authorities and party leaders to turn towards the process of democratization because it is the only way to resolve all existing problems."

When asked why the Church did not openly condemn ethnic cleansing �- primarily by Serbian forces -- in the Croatian and Bosnian wars, Fr. Sava was less than clear in his response. He stressed only that some individual clerics allowed themselves to be manipulated by nationalists and that Patriarch Pavle always opposed a "Greater Serbia if it is to be built on crimes."

Instead, Fr. Sava turned his attention to the present and the future. Milosevic's federal Yugoslavia "is like a black hole in the middle of a Europe that is on the road to integration and cooperation. The Orthodox Church can help a great deal in this region to leave the state of political isolation and poverty and enter normal processes which we must not fear. Of course, no political idea is perfect, but democracy is much better than what we have here now. True democracy and freedom are much better than suffering, war and destruction.

"Our Church has also launched an initiative that the leaders of the religious communities in Kosovo -- Orthodox, Muslim and Roman Catholic -� should openly commit themselves to support peace, tolerance, and understanding. This is not cross-confessional cooperation or ecumenism. Our intention centers instead on not allowing extremists to use religion for destructive political goals. I think that this is a very important project and we are going to work more on it. I also think that all religious communities on the territory of ex-Yugoslavia can help to ease tensions. They can affirm the awareness that comes only through living together [in a society not split along ethnic lines], promoting mutual understanding, building democratic institutions and society, [and fostering] freedom of thought and of the media. Through this we can survive together and, even more, make important progress."

Djukanovic Calls for Democratization of Yugoslavia. Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic told the Hamburg-based weekly "Der Spiegel" of January 4 that the international community must "isolate" Milosevic and cease giving him "domestic political legitimacy" by treating him as a legitimate negotiating partner. The Montenegrin leader said that Washington's recent acknowledgement that Milosevic is the main problem in the Balkans "has come far too late. The international community has been fooled by his tricks for years . . . [He is] one of the people responsible for the problem in Bosnia."

Djukanovic promised to pull Montenegrin troops out of the Yugoslav army if Milosevic uses the military against NATO�s rapid reaction force in Kosovo. The Montenegrin leader added, however, that he believes that Milosevic is only "bluffing" when he threatens action against the force. Djukanovic argued that Milosevic made a clear pledge to U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke in October to allow NATO to evacuate endangered monitors. Djukanovic warned, however, that Milosevic may soon incite violence in Montenegro. He "needs Montenegro as a new trouble spot. He governs by stirring up conflicts."

President Djukanovic stressed that the Yugoslav federation "is not working," but added that the solution is democratization and not Montenegro's or Kosovo's succession from the federation. He noted that neither the Montenegrin people nor the international community favor Montenegrin independence or "any additional drama . . . in the Balkans." Djukanovic added that Podgorica nonetheless will "defend its own interests . . . by conducting its own financial policy" if Milosevic "sets off inflation by illegally printing dinars." Djukanovic was not optimistic about the prospects for imminent political change for the better within Serbia itself.

Referring to Kosovo, the Montenegrin leader called for "wide-ranging autonomy linked to the Yugoslav federation for the Albanian minority in Serbia . . . under international mediation and guarantee." He opposed setting up any "new state territories" in Kosovo and added: "I am a firm opponent of any form of secession. That would cause new regional problems. What would happen if states were set up in the Balkans on the basis of ethnicity" alone?