Gracanica, January 8 (Beta) - The bishop of Raska and Prizren, Artemije, strongly protested today the decision of the KFOR commander, Italian general Carlo Cabigiosu, according to which monasteries and churches in Kosmet were be protected in the future by members of the international and Kosovo police forces instead of by KFOR.
In a letter addressed to General Cabigiosu, Bishop Artemije states that he was surprised to learn that UNMIK and the Kosovo police would assume protection of monasteries and churches without him being consulted.
"We are not and cannot be satisfied with the achievements of KFOR to date with respect to the protection of churches and monasteries because in the presence of international military forces more than one hundred Orthodox buildings in Kosovo were destroyed or damaged," emphasizes the bishop of Raska and Prizren in his letter.
"We are afraid of what the future may yet bring when protection of the monasteries and churches is assumed by Albanian policemen who until recently were members of the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army and who have committed countless crimes against the Serb people," says the letter to the Italian general, a copy of which was also sent to Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica.
Bishop Artemije claims that "a pyromaniac cannot put out fires and people who have destroyed and damaged everything that is Serbian cannot be guardians and protectors of our religious, cultural and spiritual monuments in this region".
"We ask that you withdraw this decision; on the contrary, you will bear not only official but also personal responsibility for every damaged or destroyed church," concludes Bishop Artemije in his letter to KFOR commander Carlo Cabigiosu.
By M. Kuburovic
While visiting the monastery of High Decani for a few days at the end of last month for the celebration of that monastery's slava [patron saint's day], the Holy King Stefan of Decani [celebrated on Nov. 24], the Belgrade Youth Center team created an exclusive photo documentary of Serbian graves which relatives do not dare approach, of the arrival of guests to the Decani slava under cover of night and accompanied by KFOR escort, of "the diplomacy of love toward mankind" practiced by the local monks. A part of the photo documentation thus created has been exhibited under the title "Guardians" in the 19 Steps Gallery, while the film portion will be processed and shown next week at already scheduled talks during which representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the federal state and the Serbs from Kosmet are expected to talk openly and honestly about the situation of the Orthodox and non-Albanian population in Kosovo and Metohija.
Also announcing the scheduled talks "on the suffering of Serbs in Kosmet which continues despite the departure of Slobodan Milosevic", the author of the "Guardians" exhibit, Ninoslav Randjelovic, says that, despite the departure of the Orthodox population from Kosovo and Metohija, the numbers of the monastic brotherhood are not declining. On the contrary, says Randjelovic, on the day of the slava, four novices became monks; consequently, there are now 30 monks in Decani as well as four additional novices who are preparing for their monastic vows. All of their duties are performed regularly, although with difficulty and with the protection of KFOR troops but they do not have the freedom to cross a certain border nor to go outside the barbed wire fence. For example, the ancient Serbian cemetery which is barely a kilometer from the monastery, the same distance as to the town of Decani, is in the "forbidden zone" even on All Souls' Days and other religious holidays. The Youth Center photography team was the first to visit this cemetery in more than a year and to record destroyed grave markers, broken crosses and weeds on all sides.
When asked why the Serbian cemetery is in the "forbidden zone" for local Serbs, Ninoslav Randjelovic explains that last year some livestock was killed by landmines and after that no one dared to venture there. That the situation in the monastery of High Decani is far from that of proverbial peace of monasteries is also demonstrated by the "Guardians" series of photos. The photos record details from the monastery slava: while the Decani monks bring wheat and candles into the church for the slava, soldiers in camouflage are in sentry positions, rifle and cannon barrels are at the ready, and life outside the barbed wire is an impossibility. Because, says Ninoslav Randjelovic, the surrounding Albanians consider the fact that Orthodox people are coming for the monastery slava to be a provocation. That is why people arrive in High Decani only in the dead of night, when there is almost no one in the streets of Pec and Decani, despite the fact that they are accompanied by peacekeeping troops armed to the hilt.
"Guardians" is, therefore, a testimony to reality and suffering which continues.
by Milan Laketic
The school building was first set on fire in June of last year by Albanian separatists, who later completely destroyed it with explosives.
"After the withdrawal of our Army we were exposed to armed attacks by Albanians from the neighboring villages of Stanovce and Cerkezi. They targeted our village around the clock. Confronted by unbridled residents of Stanovce and Cerkezi, we took the Sitnica and Ibar Rivers to become refugees in central Serbia."
"People began to come back last year and now there are about 600 of us here, while more than 1,500 former residents remain in various refugee centers throughout Serbia. However, in addition to the problem of restoring our houses so that they are livable, we are very worried because of the children. They did not go to school last year and here we have decided that, until we build a new school, to hold classes for them under tents," we are told by Dragan Dimic, a member of the Committee for Revitalization and Reconstruction of Houses in Grace.
In front of one of the three tents we found ten year-old Jelena Dimic waiting for the first shift of the day to finish. She tells us she is in the fourth grade. Under the tent, teacher Nevenka Tomazinic finishes her lesson. She came to Kosovo five years ago from Petrinja with her mother and one year-old daughter.
"I have been in teaching in Grace as a volunteer since the beginning of the school year because I do not have another job. A year and a half ago I left Vucitrn, where I lived for almost three years, with all the other Serbs from that region to be a refugee in Serbia. In Nis, I sublet an apartment and it was difficult to make ends meet. Now I travel to Grace every day from the northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica. It takes my colleagues and me an average of three hours to cover the approximately 50 kilometers in each direction," says teacher Nevenka Tomazovic.
"We travel from Mitrovica to Zvecan by bus, from Zvecan to Priluzje we take the train, and to get from this Serb village through the Albanian villages of Stanovce, Cerkeze and Tomici we take a bus driven by troops from the United Arab Emirates. On this wreck of a bus all the windows are broken. Albanian children stone us every day on the road while we go from school to school toward Mitrovica," says Nevenka.
Adding to her story, teacher Cedomirka Mirkovic says that she leaves for work from Mitrovica at six in the morning and returns at six in the evening.
"Because we teach in two shifts, those of us who work during the first shift wait for our colleagues to finish the second shift in the afternoon and we go home together because we are dependent on KFOR transportation. But that is all trivial compared with the suffering of the local residents."
"The frozen children can't hold pencils in their hands, let alone write or draw," says teacher Cedomirka Mirkovic.
"In the beginning under these canvas roofs it was unbearably humid and warm. There were cases of children losing consciousness and we spent more time on giving first aid to these children than on teaching."