"On behalf of Father Teodosije, Abbot of Decani, as well as the Decani brotherhood I would like to wish a happy and blessed paschal holiday to all the readers of "Danas" with the hope that the Resurrection of Christ will lead us to an understanding of human suffering, that there is no life without death on the cross, that there is no true glory without humility, that true life emanates from the life-giving tomb of Christ, and finally, that the sign of the cross and crucifixion is the sign of glory and eternal victory over death. That is why Christ's suffering, death and entombment are welcomed in the light of the joy of resurrection. To all the most joyous of greetings: Christ is risen! Truly he is risen!" said Fr. Sava (Janjic), the deputy abbot of the monastery of Visoki Decani and editor of the Diocese of Raska-Prizren and Kosovo-Metohija (ERP KIM) Information Service in his paschal interview for "Danas".
Father Sava talks about the behavior of the international community, Belgrade and the Kosovo Albanians after the recent wave of Albanian violence, religious and other circumstances in Kosovo and Metohija.
Commenting on announcements by representatives of Kosovo provisional institutions and the international community that burned and destroyed Orthodox holy shrines will be restored, Fr. Sava reminds that "Albanian leaders have already made a lot of promises but they have yet to keep a single one of them".
FR. SAVA: Restoration of churches and monasteries, especially those dating back to the 14th century, is not the same thing as rebuilding houses. It is a long process which requires, first of all, an assessment of damages that should be done by experts of UNESCO, the Serbian ministry of culture and representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church, followed by the creation of conditions for the restoration of what has been destroyed or at least the conservation of the ruins. The second part of the task will directly depend on the security conditions on the ground because we cannot reconstruct our churches if there are no concrete guarantees by KFOR and UNMIK that they will be accordingly protected. The position of the Diocese is that this process cannot include participation by members of the so-called Kosovo ministry of culture because they lack the professional and moral qualities necessary for the restoration of our churches. The Ministry has not even condemned the acts of vandalism yet. The present Kosovo minister of culture, Mr. Bexhet Braisori, has never visited any of our churches or monasteries in an official capacity, as far as we know. The intent of the Kosovo provisional government at the moment is to spend about five million euros to "fix up" the YU program building in Pristina, move in a few Serb families to show off to reporters and perhaps to patch up a church or two for the sake of television crews. We will insist, in accordance with the promises of Mr. Javier Solana and Mr. Chris Patten, that the Kosovo government pay for the entire damage done to our holy shrines from its consolidated budget to the last cent and that amount, I believe, will be quite large. If the Kosovo provisional government is not prepared to do this, it must be done by the governments of the countries whose soldiers failed to protect the churches from attack, especially the German government because, despite the presence of 3,800 German KFOR troops, the entire cultural heritage of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the ancient city of Prizren has been destroyed. In any case, the Serbian Orthodox Church must be compensated. Also our property must be protected from usurpation and restituted to the Church. Some Kosovo Albanians are wrong if they think that they can destroy our Church and change history, and destroy all traces of our centuries old existence by violence.
DANAS: In reaction to the Kosovo pogrom, in Nis and Belgrade two mosques were set on fire. Is there some sort of parallel in this as many would like to see?
The setting of fires to the mosques in Belgrade and Nis deserves the strongest condemnation. These are examples of how one evil causes another and how evil multiplies through evil. The mosques survived the most difficult challenges of the previous wars and this injustice against the Islamic community truly deserves to be condemned. It is a crime whose perpetrators must be found. I am proud that our Metropolitan Amfilohije (Radovic) personally appeared on the spot and tried with his faithful to defend the Bairakli mosque from hooligans. However the chiefs of the police have already been replaced, most of the perpetrators are behind the bars and the mosques will be rebuilt in a few months. The Serbian Orthodox Church donated computer equipment to Imam Jusufspahic as a token of our solidarity. Regrettably, we have not seen such reaction of religious communities and provisional institutions in Kosovo. It is the responsibility of our state and police to protect all its citizens, regardless of their ethnicity or religious affiliation. Serbia is currently the most multiethnic and multi-religious state in the Balkans and this wealth must be preserved as our strongest guarantee for entry into modern Europe.
The international community has condemned the March violence by Kosovo Albanians but it appears that it is not ready to admit its own responsibility and now it is rushing to turn back the calendar, at least superficially, to March 16.
Direct responsibility for ethnic cleansing not only during the recent pogrom but since June 1999 is borne by the leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), who have now become the leading politicians of Kosovo, their paramilitary organizations and certain Kosovo institutions which are acting as smokescreens for their illegal activities. It is a fact that on March 17 UNMIK ceased to exist, that the KFOR command structure in some parts of the Province collapsed like a house of cards. It became apparent that for years false and inaccurate reports regarding improvements in security were sent even though the Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija kept repeating that this was a false representation of reality beneath which the activities of criminal and terrorist structures continued. Another problem is that some military representatives of KFOR, especially their intelligence agencies, had information regarding paramilitary activities but there was no political will among the Western governments to begin a crackdown on Albanian terrorism, especially on those leaders who were subsequently politically legitimized with the hope that they would change their behavior and become "good guys". Here the problem in essence is not the unresolved status of Kosovo Province and the social problems emanating from this but people who think they can use violence and crime to realize anachronistic ideas from the 19th century and create an ethnically pure Albanian society based on the rule of violence and crime - a sort of pirate's cove for the Albanian mafia which is gradually taking over the European underground (drug smuggling, prostitution, white slavery). The Kosovo Albanian people are being grossly manipulated by their media, while representatives of Western countries avoid telling them that such behavior, i.e., the murder of entire families (like in Obilic last year), massacres of children bathing in the river (Gorazdevac, Aug 2003), torching of churches and digging up of cemeteries, will not gain them entry into Europe. They have to know that the international community will not support such kind of society in Kosovo. Someone finally has to tell them the truth and stop giving them false hopes thereby encouraging violence and ethnic cleansing as a method to speed up the status settlement. The only solution of Kosovo's status is the one which will be agreed upon in an negotiated settlement with Belgrade and supported by the UN Security Council. Changing the borders by burning villages and churches belongs to the times of the past and Europe will make a serious mistake if it tolerates these terrorist methods.
The position of the Diocese of Raska-Prizren and Kosovo-Metohija is that before political dialogue in Kosovo and Metohija can be resumed, all those who participated in the March pogrom in any way must be found, publicly named and punished. If the international administration hasn't captured a single perpetrator of crimes against Serbs in the last five years, why should it be any more effective now?
A number of Western officials have indicated that they possess concrete information regarding the organizers of the March pogrom, as well as about the paramilitary structures that for five years have been carrying out ethnic crimes and are responsible for the destruction of dozens of churches. The problem is that few Kosovo Albanians are ready to testify in court against such criminals because they would be murdered. Also, NATO itself, at least for now, is not ready to enter into open armed conflict with the still existing Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) which is acting under different names and the umbrella of the so-called Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC), even though this is bound to happen sooner or later if NATO wants to reaffirm its credibility in the Balkans. In the West they have finally clearly understood that they have de facto become hostages of their former proteges. Honestly, they have always been aware of the goals and methods of the Kosovo Albanian extremists but "a pact with the devil" was made to throw Milosevic to his knees. In the past similar pacts have also been made with bin Laden in Afghanistan against the Russians, with Saddam Hussein in Iraq and with the mujahedin in Bosnia against the Republic of Srpska Army, and they all backfired. I truly hope that NATO will finally radically change its strategy and begin a "surgical" crackdown on the kingpins of Albanian terrorism, neutralizing their bases and training centers in Kosovo and northern Albania and effectively disrupting their ability to provoke and orchestrate large scale revolts. Otherwise, NATO will loose the momentum and experience a catastrophic military and moral defeat. I am convinced that the majority of Albanians will sooner or later understand that the retrograde and tribal ideals of the KLA cannot take them into modern Europe and the civilized world. Their unrealistic dreams are increasingly disappearing with every newly demolished church and expelled Serb family. They must become aware that they are burying their future and future of their children in the ashes of our torched churches, frescoes and icons.
The Diocese recently expressed the view that the return of Serbs to Kosovo provisional institutions should be conditioned on participation by Kosovo institutions in the institutions of Serbia. Does Belgrade have the political maturity and do the international community and Kosovo Albanians have the readiness for such a step?
In addition to the condition that prior to any talks on participation in Kosovo institutions a thorough purge of the government, parliament and other Kosovo provisional institutions must be carried out and those responsible brought to justice, it is also necessary for Serbia to take the political initiative and, instead of devoting itself to securing autonomy for Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija as if we lived in Hungary, not Serbia, to present first a constructive plan of substantial autonomy for Kosovo and Metohija within the state union of Serbia-Montenegro and Serbia. In this case, Serb representatives in Kosovo could participate in provisional institutions only if Kosovo representatives, Albanian, Serbian and others, are ready to participate in the institutions of Serbia-Montenegro and the Republic of Serbia. Although Kosovo Serbs have been asking for a mature state policy for years, unfortunately all we have today is a plan for so-called decentralization or some sort of "Serb autonomy within Kosovo and Metohija". This is certainly important but it must not outweigh Belgrade's clear position that Kosovo remains an integral part of Serbia. And this position must not be based on mere rhetoric but on a constructive political and institutional platform that should be offered to Pristina in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1244. Otherwise, Serbia is officially renouncing Resolution 1244 and practically accepting to work on only on the resolution of "the Serb minority issue" in an informally already extant independent Kosovo. How can we expect the world to support Kosovo's remaining within Serbia if we ourselves don't want this?
Is Belgrade also lacking a serious policy toward the Kosovo Albanians who are, at least formally, citizens of Serbia-Montenegro?
Of course. If Serbia considers Kosovo to be its southernmost province, then it must also present a concrete program on what it is offering is citizens of Albanian nationality. Unfortunately, no Serbian official is talking about this. If Kosovo is a part of Serbia, then representatives of Kosovo and Metohija must have their place in the Serbian parliament and government according to a comprehensive model for substantial autonomy. So far not one document has been presented with any clearly articulated idea that could be proposed to the Albanians actively demonstrating that Serbia is ready to institutionally reintegrate Kosovo and Metohija as its territory with the broadest attributes of autonomy within the framework of the existing international borders of Serbia-Montenegro. I want to be very clear: this does not mean putting Kosovo under Belgrade's rule like in Milosevic's time but it also does not mean that Kosovo can become an independent state in which, as we have seen in the March riots, there will be no place for Serbs and non-Albanians. A model has to be found which will meet the basic interests of Serbia as a state and all communities in Kosovo. The principle of territorial integrity and sovereignty is not necessarily excluding the principle of self-determination of the Albanian community. If it were so, I am afraid Europe would look much different from the way it looks now.
What do you see as the role of the Serbian Orthodox Church in further processes in Kosovo and Metohija?
The role of the Serbian Orthodox Church is very important because the Church has great moral and political authority as an institution that for years has represented the authentic interests of the Serbian people. Bishop Artemije during his last two visits to the U.S. as well as in the last several years has made more contacts than our leading diplomats. Our analyses and suggestions are carefully listened to and many are now admitting that we have been right for years in repeatedly pointing out that the situation under the superficially calm surface is extremely turbulent. What is more, the Church has its primary spiritual role as a cohesive force which spiritually gathers the Serb Orthodox people. The Church must be above all political parties and internal divisions; it must be an antidote to the disunity which remains one of the greatest Serb misfortunes; but it must not remain silent before those who are leading the people into catastrophe. We were not silent during the time of Milosevic and the KLA, we are not silent before UNMIK and KFOR, and we must not be silent if anyone in Belgrade dares to barter Kosovo in exchange for the realization of short-term interests. The future of the Balkans is not in ethnically pure states.
By expressing its open support for Nebojsa Covic, has the Serbian Orthodox Church entered the realm of daily political life and tied its own hands as an authority above party politics whose primary goal should be the gathering of all forces to ensure the protection of Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija within Serbia?
The support Nebojsa Covic has received not only from the Diocese of Raska-Prizren and Kosovo-Metohija but from the Holy Synod of Bishops on two occasions is not support for a single politician or political party to the detriment of others who are also making significant efforts but, first and foremost, to a man who is honestly working for the good of Kosovo and Metohija and shares a modern democratic vision. A few days ago, when Kosovo was literally in flames, Covic immediately came to Gracanica without waiting for UNMIK's permission and he headed straight for Lipljan to visit the expelled Serb families without bodyguards or an escort, accompanied by one priest. By his actions he has shown that he is ready to sacrifice even his own life and that for him Kosovo is not a political issue and an opportunity for self-promotion because if he had been captured by Albanian extremists, we never would have heard of him again. At the same time, other politicians from Belgrade have come as far as the bridge across the Ibar River in the northern, Serbian part of Kosovska Mitrovica to snap a few photos of themselves on their political safari and show that they have been to the front line. These are key moments when people reveal their true nature. Efforts by Mr. Covic to help defuse the situation in Presevo valley deserve admiration. He has shown that Albanians can live as fully equal citizens in central Serbia, which is regrettably not possible for Serbs in Kosovo Province under Albanian rule, despite the presence of the UNMIK administration and KFOR.
How do you comment on claims coming from church circles that your stances are increasingly that of a politician, not a monk?
Our bishop himself has repeatedly said that as far as we are concerned our activities are not politics but life and the fight to protect our Church, which is not just a spiritual institution but also a living community of faithful people and clergy. If people are suffering only a few kilometers from us, are we supposed to simply pray for them or are we supposed to try to help them? We helped Albanians and others in 1998 and 1999; we are helping Serbs today. Christianity differs from pacifism rooted in Buddhism or Hinduism, which see reality as an illusion and see no need for becoming involved in current developments. Christianity is not abstract spiritualism. God wants us to be His active partners in the fight for peace, not just through prayers and appeals but through active sacrifice for those near to us, for our holy shrines and the faith in the Lord Jesus who came to the world to bring all humankind together in communion with His Father and the Holy Spirit. Our weapons are not grenades and rifles but words of truth which can frequently pain those who disagree with them. In that battle, we unmask evil people who are themselves victims of metaphysical evil and their own failure to realize themselves as free persons made in the image of God. That's why it is necessary to use the language of the time we live in, which might sound sometimes more political than religious. Let us remember how the Lord unmasked Pharisees and Sadducees. We do not do this out of hatred toward them but to show that no good can come from tolerating evil and that good and evil can never be reconciled by a false peace, like some pacifists believe. Peace and tolerance is not something that comes by itself or as a result of our passive stance but we must struggle and sacrifice ourselves for it. As St. Gregory of Nasiansen (4th century) is credited with saying, war is a great evil and even war is better than a false peace. The Lord himself said: "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring [false] peace, but a sword [the word of truth]" (Matthew 10:34).
In Kosovo true peace will never come until we all understand that the future and prosperity of one ethnic group (no matter how relative this category is in our time) cannot be built at the expense and suffering of others. Neither we nor anyone in the world should negotiate with those who do not share this view and who pursue violence and crime as their strategy to built their "kingdom of evil" because any agreement with them will fail sooner or later. Simply we must have new and more audacious people for the new challenges which lie in front of us and we all must actively struggle for peace. In short, the time of nationalist dinosaurs in the Balkans is over. The sooner we understand this, the sooner we'll all go forward.
The problems of the Diocese with the Albanian Roman Catholic bishopric in Kosovo are, first of all, a consequence of the inability of [Kosovo Albanian] Bishop Mark Sopi and his priests to step outside the narrow confines of their nationalist convictions and assert themselves as Christians. During the most difficult period of war we saved Albanian Muslims and criticized the behavior of the Milosevic regime although we were aware that we would be labeled as traitors by some. Immediately after the war we were the first to establish contacts with KFOR and UNMIK and again we were called traitors, even though we did this to prevent our tragedy from becoming even greater than it already was. Albanian Roman Catholics have not passed the test of Christianity, especially their clergy. Not only did they stick a knife in our back during the most difficult time for us by proclaiming that our holy shrines were, in fact, theirs and that we had occupied them and that our destroyed churches were actually "political churches" but they did nothing to show their willingness to help our suffering people. Not one of their nuns or priests offered so much as a piece of bread to the five elderly Serb women who lived on their own in Djakovica for almost five years. That's not Christianity; there's no humaneness there.
On the other hand we have very good relations with the Italian soldiers and their military priests who have demonstrated great dedication and love. In many Italians whom we have met we have seen sincere brothers who, regardless of the difference in confessions, have reaffirmed true Christian love and understanding. In the monastery of Visoki Decani since 1999 until today we have received more Roman Catholic cardinals, bishops and priests than any other Serbian Orthodox diocese. We welcomed all with sincere love and respect. We also received a visit from the papal nuncio in Belgrade, His Eminence Eugenio Sbarbaro, two years ago. We are currently expecting a delegation from the bishopric of Bolzano, including the bishop and members of his congregation. Our position is that differences in confession cannot be surmounted by pathetic ecumenism and superficial resolution of very deep and essential theological differences; consequently, during our meetings there are no common prayers and intercommunion, which the canons of the Orthodox Church do not permit; however, Roman Catholics are welcome to attend our services which they often do. Nevertheless, in these people, as well as in others, such as the Anglican bishops, particularly the His Grace the Lord Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, who was the first to visit us in June of 1999 with two more bishops, we saw first people who felt our suffering and who came to express their solidarity.
(This is the unabridged version of the interview that was published in Danas)