Friday 14 January 2000

by Branko Bjelajac, Keston News Service

On 11 January 2000, the Montenegrin Ministry of Internal Affairs made a
public statement on the events of Christmas Eve. The Ministry stated that the
burning of a dry tree by the MOC was prevented for �security reasons�, since
their information indicated that it could become a �serious incident�. The
Ministry denied that it had acted in favour of only one religious community
(SOC), and that the whole event was gaining an �unnecessary political flavour�.
Police information indicated that if the supporters of both communities (SOC
and MOC) were allowed to perform religious rites at sites close to each other,
the situation could have ended in bloodshed. Some of the SOC and MOC
supporters were armed. Because the situation was becoming risky, with a real
possibility of conflict and the use of firearms, the police acted in order to
protect people's lives and property. The statement underlines that the Ministry
will not make compromise with those who are trying to use religious events for
their own political purposes. (END)

Friday 14 January 2000

by Branko Bjelajac, Keston News Service

The multinational Choir of the Serbian Evangelical Alliance took part in the
Christmas Concert for Peace held in Skoplje, Macedonia on 7 January
2000. The Evangelical Congregational Church in Skoplje organised the event
with support from the international humanitarian organisations Samaritan Purse
and World Relief. �People did not believe me when I told them that the
Albanian group was going to sing with the Serbian choir,� JULIJANA
VELEVSKA, the coordinator of the event, told Keston News Service. �Those
who came could see it with their own eyes, and many of us in the hall were
crying. We came to lift up our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in unity, and we
did it in front of many visitors, mostly nonbelievers.�

The programme was designed to introduce nonbelievers to the message of the
Bible, and the Christmas celebration according to the old calendar (common
practice in a predominantly Eastern Orthodox countries) was a suitable
occasion. The 1,500-seat Universal Hall in Skoplje was crowded.

ISMET IDRIZI, Albanian pastor of the Agape churches in Skoplje and Debar,
comments: �Love of our Saviour Jesus Christ is so powerful that we want to
share that message with others. We are happy to have been able to participate
in this celebration with a vocal group consisting of representatives from
Albania and Kosovo as well as from Macedonia. Our brethren from Serbia
joined us in our second song, and we are truly glad for that. The song title
speaks for itself: �Bind Us Together�. It was really bad during the conflict. Six
members of my family are dead. But the Lord gave me strength and I prayed
for my brethren in Serbia. I also prayed for President Milosevic, for he needs
salvation as well. Only in faith we can live together, love one another, and have
peace. We have to be anexample to people to show that we can love each other
and support each other. During the war I worked with the refugees -- with
Serbian refugees also. There was no trust in the beginning, but later, when they
needed help they asked only for me. They did not see Ismet, the Albanian in
me, but something else...It is not easy to come and sing together, but we can do

REV LAZAR STOJSIC, President of the Serbian Evangelical Alliance, stated
that it was a real privilege to be able to come and participate in this programme.
�Our choir consists of seven nationalities living in Serbia. The audience and the
participants at the concert were also multiethnic. We were trying to send a
message that Christianity can overcome differences, heal wounds, and that
there is a way of reconciliation after the terrible events in the Balkans. We will
continue to support such initiatives. We can be ambassadors of good will for
our countries

�The main motive for this concert was reconciliation,� PAVLE
KOSTADINOV, one of the organisers. �We wanted to incorporate people from
all the Balkans, but the Greeks could not come this year. So we ended up with
representatives from Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Albania and Macedonia.�

ELISAVETA JOTUVA, leader of the choir from the Episcopal Methodist
Church of Sofia, Bulgaria, stated: �We have been celebrating Christmas
according to the Western calendar for some years now, and we had the
opportunity to come to Skoplje to celebrate another Christmas. It was a
splendid occasion, and we are happy that we were able to see the Serbs, the
Albanians, the Macedonians and us, the Bulgarians, together. Music is one of
the means of understanding each other; music can cross language barriers and
help us when we need help.�

When asked about possible future cooperation with the Orthodox believers in
Macedonia, Miss VELEVSKA said: �We do not have contacts yet, but we have
a plan to invite representatives of the Orthodox Church as well. Other Christian
denominations are supportive of our work and participate in our programme.
Our desire is to see the whole body of Christ in Macedonia, as well as in the
Balkans, to show love and understanding, to stand in unity.� (END)

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(c) Keston Institute 2000