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KOSOVO: Reconciliation, but attacks on Orthodox continue

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    KESTON INSTITUTE, OXFORD, UK ______________________________________ KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 31 May 2002 Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 1, 2002
      KESTON INSTITUTE, OXFORD, UK
      ______________________________________

      KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 31 May 2002
      Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
      communist and post-communist lands.
      ______________________________________

      I. KOSOVO: RECONCILIATION WITH THE ORTHODOX AS
      ATTACKS CONTINUE. Despite an official visit by the recently-
      elected Kosovo prime minister Bajram Rexhepi, the head of the
      United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) Michael Steiner and
      KFOR officials to the monastery at Pec (Peja in Albanian) for the
      Orthodox Easter service on Sunday, 5 May, violence against Orthodox
      nuns, monks and laypeople and Serbian graves continued over the
      Orthodox Easter season. The chair of the Kosovo Helsinki Committee
      told Keston News Service on 31 May that the prime minister’s visit
      marked a turning-point: “It indicates that the political establishment of
      Kosovo is making an effort to overcome the tensions and
      consequences generated by the war and the pre-war situation.”

      II. KOSOVO: SPATE OF ATTACKS MARRED ORTHODOX
      EASTER. Despite recent signs that the Kosovo government is trying
      to bring reconciliation with the Serbian Orthodox community, the
      Orthodox diocese of Raska and Prizren reported attacks at monasteries
      and graveyards over the Orthodox Easter season, as well as more
      minor incidents. “Any attacks on any religious groups are deplorable,”
      a spokesman for the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK),
      told Keston News Service from Pristina on 31 May. “The situation has
      got better recently, but such attacks have not completely stopped.”
      However, the chief advisor to Kosovo’s prime minister denied to
      Keston that any such attacks had taken place, labelling the Orthodox
      accounts as “disinformation and propaganda”.

      I. KOSOVO: RECONCILIATION WITH THE ORTHODOX AS
      ATTACKS CONTINUE

      by Branko Bjelajac and Felix Corley, Keston News Service

      Despite an official visit by the recently-elected Kosovo prime minister
      Bajram Rexhepi, the head of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo
      (UNMIK) Michael Steiner and KFOR officials to the monastery at
      Pec (Peja in Albanian) for the Orthodox Easter service on Sunday, 5
      May, violence against Orthodox nuns, monks and laypeople and
      Serbian graves continued over the Orthodox Easter season (see
      separate KNS article). “The prime minister’s visit to take part in the
      prayers is the beginning of a reconciliation process,” Rexhepi’s chief
      advisor, Ramadan Audiu, told Keston News Service from Pristina on
      31 May. “The prime minister met church leaders after the liturgy and
      the meeting was very friendly.”

      Gazmend Pula, chair of the Kosovo Helsinki Committee, welcomed
      Rexhepi’s decision to go to the monastery, the first such visit since
      Kosovo gained an elected leadership in the wake of the conflict. “This
      marks a turning-point towards the Serbian community and its cultural
      and national institutions, including the church,” he told Keston from
      Pristina on 31 May. “It indicates that the political establishment of
      Kosovo is making an effort to overcome the tensions and
      consequences generated by the war and the pre-war situation.”

      The Belgrade-based news agency Beta reported on 17 May that a few
      days earlier that Bishop Artemije (Radosavljevic) and prime minister
      Rexhepi, accompanied by UNMIK and United States and German
      officials, visited the village of Osojane (Osojan in Albanian), near the
      town of Istok (Istog) in western Kosovo. Osojane is a test village for
      Serbian returnees (see KNS October 2001). "One of the subjects was a
      continuance of the building of the Serbian Orthodox Church in
      Osojane," reports declared. After that, the visitors went to Zociste
      (Zozishte), an exclusively Albanian-populated village where a
      fourteenth century Orthodox monastery was destroyed in early 1999.
      The visit took place without the presence of the press, but the visit by
      Bishop Artemije was significant.

      The Belgrade daily Politika reported on 19 May that UNMIK and the
      Albanian-founded Committee for the earthquake damage evaluation,
      has decided to reconstruct the Orthodox Church of St Nicholas in
      Gnjilane (Gjilan). The church was damaged in an earthquake that
      struck in April, killing three people and destroying several hundred
      houses, with thousands more suffering minor damage. (END)

      II. KOSOVO: SPATE OF ATTACKS MARRED ORTHODOX
      EASTER

      by Branko Bjelajac and Felix Corley, Keston News Service

      Despite recent signs that the Kosovo government has been working to
      try to bring reconciliation with the Serbian Orthodox community (see
      separate KNS article), attacks continued over the Orthodox Easter
      season. “Any attacks on any religious groups are deplorable,” Sunil
      Narula, spokesman for the United Nations Mission in Kosovo
      (UNMIK), told Keston News Service from Pristina on 31 May.
      “KFOR and UNMIK are in the forefront of protecting Orthodox
      religious sites. The situation has got better recently, but such attacks
      have not completely stopped.” However, Ramadan Audiu, the chief
      advisor to Kosovo’s prime minister, denied to Keston that any such
      attacks had taken place. “No attacks have taken place on any
      Orthodox sites or personnel,” he declared on 31 May. “Since 1
      January of this year to today there have been no attacks at all on the
      Serbian minority, except for incidents started by the Serbs in the
      northern half of Mitrovica.” He labelled Orthodox accounts of attacks
      in May as “disinformation and propaganda”.

      The Serbian Orthodox Church and the Yugoslav government have
      stepped up diplomatic measures to alert the international community
      to continuing destruction and desecration of Orthodox sites in Kosovo.
      Many prominent Orthodox sites have remained under the protection of
      the international KFOR peacekeeping force since the withdrawal of
      Serbian forces from Kosovo in 1999. Despite this protection, more
      than a hundred churches have been damaged or destroyed, and many
      graveyards desecrated.

      On 3 May (Good Friday) the monastery of the Patriarchate in Pec
      (Peja in Albanian) was stoned, targeting the nuns who live there, the
      information service of the Raska and Prizren Diocese reported. "The
      Albanian youth again used the narrow road that runs close to the north
      walls," the diocese told Keston on 5 May. "Using many insults they
      sprayed the monastery yard with stones, also hitting the ancient
      churches. In order to prevent these provocations in the future, the
      Italian KFOR soldiers decided to build an additional wall to the
      existing one with sandbags and barbed wire.” The nuns in this
      monastery are the only remaining Serbs living in the town.

      In the early hours of 5 May, unknown persons toppled all the
      tombstones at the Piskote Orthodox cemetery near the city of
      Djakovica (Gjakova), as local Serbs reported the following morning.
      "Marble tablets were stolen from several graves, probably to be resold,
      and crosses and inscriptions were broken," the diocese told Keston.
      "Part of the roof from the local chapel of St. Lazar's has been taken as
      well. This attack occurred only after the Italian troops recently
      decided to withdraw their troops from the chapel entrance yard." The
      Belgrade-based Beta news agency reported on 5 May that KFOR
      representatives in Pristina confirmed that “certain changes” had
      occurred, but stressed that it was not clear whether these incidents
      were recent or from an earlier period. KFOR announced that UNMIK
      will carry out an investigation. However, the diocese gave Keston a
      different account. "Official KFOR representatives did not inform the
      representatives of the Serbian community and the Church about this
      act of vandalism. We were able to confirm the information only
      through mediators via a local KFOR unit."

      On Easter Sunday, a group of Decani monks visited the Orthodox
      graveyard in the town of Decani, and reported that several of the
      graves had recently been damaged and that soil had been dug out from
      around some of them. The brotherhood of the Monastery has asked the
      KFOR unit situated only several dozen metres (yards) from the
      graveyard to protect it more effectively. "I think that the destruction of
      graveyards is part of a strategy to prevent Serbs from returning to
      Kosovo and Metohija,” Fr Sava (Janjic), deputy to the abbot
      Teodosije, told Keston on 16 May. “These horrible acts of uncivilised
      behaviour represent a specific way of negating not only our human but
      also our religious rights."

      The Diocesan letter further reported some minor incidents ­ verbal
      provocations to the nuns in Devic and preventing a village procession
      in Suvo Grlo near Istok - that occurred during the Easter holiday
      period. Another car was stoned on 3 May in the town of Lipljan, when
      one family attempted to approach the local church for the Good Friday
      service.

      Late in the evening of 6 May, a group of Albanians stopped and
      stoned two vehicles entering Kosovo at Kulina Pass with nuns from
      Pec Patriarchate and monks from Decani monastery, who were
      waiting for Italian KFOR troops to arrive to escort them to the safety
      of their respective monasteries. Only minor damage was reported but
      the Raska and Prizren Diocese strongly condemned this “open act of
      hostility”.

      Even after Easter, attacks continued. During the night of 16/17 May,
      25 tombstones were demolished at the Serbian Orthodox graveyard of
      Ajvalija near Gracanica, a village where no Serbs remain.

      In attempt to alert the international religious community to the
      continuing destruction of Serbian Orthodox religious sites in Kosovo,
      state and Church officials informed about this issue several senior
      church guests visiting Yugoslavia in May, including Petros VII,
      Patriarch of Alexandria and Pope of all Africa, British-based Greek
      Orthodox bishop and Oxford University lecturer Kallistos Ware (who
      was presented with an honorary doctorate at Belgrade’s Serbian
      Orthodox Faculty), as well as with the Anglican Bishop of London,
      Richard Chartres.

      After meeting the Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica on 15 May,
      Catholic Cardinal Walter Kasper ­ who was visiting on behalf of
      Vatican ­ told a Belgrade press conference: "We are sorry that many
      cultural monuments have been destroyed, especially in Kosovo,
      because it is the cultural heritage of all Europe, and we hope that this
      country will be able to restore them." A presidential statement
      distributed by the state news agency Tanjug on 15 May said: "In
      discussion a concern has been raised because...in Kosovo...there is a
      continuance of destruction of rich religious and cultural inheritance
      which is of enormous value to the world cultural and religious
      heritage." (END)

      Copyright (c) 2002 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.

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