7 October 2004, Volume 6, Number 34
NOTE TO READERS:
The next issue of "RFE/RL South Slavic Report" will appear on 21 October.
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.
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 Balkan Report," 2 and 16 April, and 20 August 2004).
The relations between the Orthodox Christians and Muslims in Kosovo are far from good. Too much hate and evil have been spread among people here. Are the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Islamic Community working on easing the tensions?
Janjic: I think that the conflict in Kosovo is between the Albanians and the Serbs, not between Orthodoxy and Islam. Those turning to violence in order to achieve some political goals, whether Serbs or Albanians, are not authentic representatives of either Orthodoxy or Islam.
Morina: I agree with Fr. Janjic that the Kosovo conflict is ethnic and social and not religious in nature.
As far as the relations between the religious communities are concerned, the Islamic Community and Serbian Orthodox Church have been in contact since 1999. During that year, we met three times: twice in Kosovo, then in Vienna, and finally in Amman. We had two meetings in 2000, Sarajevo in February and Pristina in April. Then in September 2001, we met in Oslo. What I am trying to say is that the religious dialogue actually started before the political one. Unfortunately, we have had no contacts since then because the Serbian Orthodox Church refused to meet with us after the protests and riots of 17-18 March this year.
RFE/RL: Fr. Janjic, why did the dialogue stop after the March violence?
Janjic: Well, I would not say that we were the ones who canceled the meeting. What happened is that Bishop Artemije, who always took part in these meetings in the name of the Serbian Orthodox Church -- and I was often there with him -- realized after so many meetings and declarations that nothing was being done to change the situation and stop the violence against Serbs.
Let me remind you that on 17 and 18 March -- just two days -- some 30 Orthodox holy places were destroyed or damaged. I believe that this would not have happened if the political and religious leaders of the Kosovo Albanians had used their influence on public opinion to make people understand that the Serbian Orthodox Church is not an enemy of the Albanian people, that we have been living here for centuries, and that we want to live in peace, regardless of how the Kosovo problem is eventually solved.
The doors are open for dialogue, but words are not enough. What we need are deeds.
RFE/RL: Mr. Morina, has the Islamic Community condemned the destruction of the churches during the March violence, and did it do anything to prevent it?
Morina: You know that during 1998 and 1999, some 220 mosques were destroyed in Kosovo, but that was not a reason for us not to establish contacts with the Serbian Orthodox Church. There is no alternative to dialogue between peoples and religions.
Not only did we condemn the March  demonstrations, protests, and riots, we also condemned the desecration of Serbian holy places in July 1999. We did that after the 220 mosques had been destroyed.
According to Islamic principles, holy places must be respected, regardless of the religion concerned, and nobody has the right to destroy them. We condemned the March riots together with the Roman Catholic Church in Kosovo. We demanded that Mr. Francois Perez -- who is the liaison officer between the three religious communities in Kosovo -- enable Kosovo mufti Naim Trnava to visit Bishop Artemije and express his regrets over the events. But the answer was: "Trnava has no business here."
RFE/RL: Fr. Janjic, why did Bishop Artemije refuse to meet with Mr. Trnava?
Janjic: As far as I know, the bishop never received an appeal from the Islamic Community to meet with him. I do not know about any mediation, but my guess is that there was some sort of misunderstanding. Furthermore, the bishop has a fax machine, telephone, and e-mail, and one could have used them to send a message or express regrets and solidarity.
Finally, we met so many times in the past, so there was no reason to communicate through a mediator. We are not on opposite sides in a conflict, so we do not need mediation.
I have no doubt that the Islamic Community really does condemn what happened. No religious man could ever agree with such acts of violence, but we really have to do everything we can within our respective communities to prevent violence.
The point is that there were systematic attempts to destroy Serbian Orthodox holy places in this region, which belong to the cultural heritage of Kosovo, the Balkans, and the world, as well as to the Serbian Orthodox Church. We should offer much more than just verbal opposition to violence.
RFE/RL: Mr. Morina said that during [Serbian and Yugoslav] President [Slobodan] Milosevic's regime, some 220 mosques were destroyed in Kosovo. Has the Serbian Orthodox Church condemned that destruction and did it try to prevent it?
Morina: My claim about the Serbian Orthodox Church's support for Milosevic was not fabricated. It is not based on prejudice but on Serbian sources.
I have a book in my hands entitled "The Serbian Church in War" by Milorad Tomanic. Let me draw your attention to the article "The Church as an Important Factor in the Blockade" by Olga Popovic-Obradovic, as well as to the text in which Radmila Radic says that the Serbian Orthodox Church was angry with Milosevic because he failed to create a Greater Serbia. When the church finally realized he had failed, it turned its back on him.
Janjic: You are right. We condemned [that sort of thing] many times, and I think that many of RFE/RL's listeners are well aware that Bishop Artemije was one of the most active opponents of Milosevic's regime. He repeatedly condemned the regime in many different ways.
During the war we did our duty. Abbot Teodosije of our Visoki Decani Monastery and the monks tried to help the people here, regardless of their religion. The representatives of the local government recently admitted it during a meeting with the representatives of KFOR [peacekeepers]. They expressed their appreciation for the fact that during the most difficult period, the monastery took in some 200 Albanians. We also provided humanitarian aid throughout the conflict.
That is what we were able to do. Could we have prevented the violence? It was a war in which the opponents of war and violence had far less opportunity to act than they would have during peacetime. This is a difference we must bear in mind, although a crime remains a crime.
The difference is that in peacetime there are institutions offering more opportunities to act, which makes greater the responsibility of those that could have prevented the violence. The Islamic Community might help considerably by explaining to its believers that the Serbian Orthodox Church is not a threat to the Kosovo Albanians, and that a multitude of religious communities makes a society richer.