by Milenko PESIC
Polished windows of boutiques, shops and coffee houses floated by the bus. The signs "Malibu", "Mamb", "Jack Daniels", "Little Big" and "American Poker" were just some of the new urban toponyms on the oriental face of this Metohija city where not one Serb had lived since 1999. "Jo negosiata - Vetevendosje" (No negotiations - Self-determination) graffiti could be seen everywhere. This clear political message was written on the very entrance to the Pec Municipal Assembly.
The bus stopped again in the city center in Queen Teuta Street. The terraces of the coffee shops were full of men but there were no provocations. To get to the medieval Orthodox church of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist, one passes through a muddy passage between buildings. The church itself had been rebuilt after World War I but it was seriously damaged again in 1999.
"A month after the arrival of NATO troops in Kosmet, the church was desecrated and looted. During the March 2004 pogrom the altar (sanctuary) and iconostasis were set on fire," said Bishop Teodosije. The former seat of the Pec Metropolitan is deserted. In the courtyard, garbage and weeds. The windows on the parish home, where two priests lived until seven years ago, are broken. Presbyter Aleksandar Krstic, temporarily residing in Gorazdevac, expects to return to Pec when the church is repaired. In order to protect the church from further damage, recently new windows and doors have been installed, and the roof has been covered with tin. Bishop Teodosije, charged by the Serbian Orthodox Church's Holy Assembly of Bishops with the restoration of holy shrines in Kosmet, said that this church is scheduled to be restored in 2006.
The religious leaders, among them four bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Mufti of Kosovo, representatives of the Roman Catholic Bishopric of Prizren, the Rabbi of Serbia-Montenegro and pastors from the Evangelical church, headed on foot to the municipal building, across the road from the former Metohija Hotel, which is now called the Royal Arda. We learned that the Pec landmark had been purchased by a local auto mechanic for 1.5 million euros.
Mayor Ali Lajici, who attempted to misuse the Interfaith Conference by declaring that "Kosovo and Albania are two parts of one Albania", greeted the representatives of religious communities with a more conciliatory tone. The office was dominated by a portrait of Ibrahim Rugova (Lajici belongs to the Democratic League of Kosovo) and four flags: Albanian, United States, United Nations and European Union. A sign in English hung on one of the walls: "The independence of Kosovo is the only road to peace in the Balkans."
In his brief welcoming remarks the mayor expressed pleasure that the Pec Patriarchate, a symbol of the city, was host to such an important gathering and wished success to all the religious leaders in establishing peace, prosperity and cooperation in Kosovo.
Thanking him for his hospitality, Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro and the Littoral said that if we behave as God behaves towards us in giving us enough sun, water, earth and air, many problems will be resolved. "We need a renewal of minds and hearts so we can use God's wealth with less selfishness. That means not grabbing selfishly but sharing what we have like brothers," said Bishop Amfilohije.
The Mufti of Kosmet Naim Trnava also thanked the Pec mayor, who said that with this conference "a new wind has begun to blow that will create a favorable climate for all who live in Kosovo".
The last stop in the promotion of interfaith solidarity and dialogue was the restored Bayrakli Mosque from the 15th century. This cultural monument was set on fire during the 1999 war. The host, Imam Nexhmedin Hoxha, especially thanked the Italian organization Intersos, which had financed the reconstruction of the mosque. There are 22 mosques in Pec and many of them were damaged during the war.
Upon leaving the mosque an Albanian man began to loudly shout and swear, complaining because of the SOC bishops' presence in Pec. But several policemen immediately surrounded him and so it all ended with verbal provocation.