I.DESTRUCTION OF THE SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCHES IN
II. RUSSIA'S CONSTITUTIONAL COURT REAFFIRMS STATUS QUO
Friday 3 December
DESTRUCTION OF THE SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCHES IN
by Branko Bjelajac, Keston News Service
A few days ago the Raska and Prizren Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church
in Kosovo published an illustrated 50-page publication �Raspeto Kosovo�
(Kosovo Crucified), with a photo-documentation showing the destruction or
heavy damaging of 76 of its churches and monasteries since the peace
agreement in June 1999.
An earlier publication on the same issue, published in September 1999, already
spoke of about 50 such cases. In the introduction the Serbian Patriarch PAVLE
writes: �It is distressing to learn that in the year of the greatest Christian
Jubilee, at the end of two millenia of Christianity, Christian churches are still
being destroyed, not in war but in a time of peace guaranteed by the
Hieromonk SAVA (Decanac), Protosingel and Secretary to the Bishop of
Raska and Prizren (who is also known as the cybermonk because of the web-
site he hosts), spoke to the Keston News Service about the church destruction.
�Serbian churches and monasteries in Kosovo are being destroyed in a
systematic and organised way. In the American sector there are 21 destroyed or
heavily damaged churches and monasteries, in the Italian sector 21, in the
German sector 17, in the British sector 10 and in the French sector 7. Some of
them are monasteries from the 14th,15th and 16th centuries, but a significant
number of them are churches built in recent times. For instance, monastery of
the Holy Trinity near Suva Reka was built in the 14th century. It was firstly
plundered, then burned, and at the end dynamited. The Church of the Mother of
God (Crkva Svete Bogorodice) in Musutiste, also from 14th century, was also
dynamited. This church was one of the most beautiful Serbian churches of the
Byzantine style in Kosovo, some even said that it was more beautiful than the
Monastery of Gracanica...also the Church of St Mark of Koris from the 15th
century was dynamited and destroyed.
�Unfortunately, there is a tendency that churches and monasteries which have
previously only been damaged and partly burned are later are levelled by
people who know how to use dynamite for its strongest effect. And then, even
the stones have been taken away, so that there is literally nothing left at the site.
We should emphasise that all the mosques destroyed and damaged in Kosovo
were mostly hit during the conflicts with the KLA, while the mosques in cities
(like Prizren and Pristina) were mostly preserved. There was no systematic
destruction of mosques. However, what is happening today is the destruction of
churches and monasteries in peace, without any military operations going on,
and in areas from which the Serbs have retreated. Thus is an ideology which
aims to destroy everything that belongs to the Serbian cultural and spiritual
heritage, and thereby to prevent the return of the Serbian people. Where there
are churches destroyed, cemeteries desecrated, monuments broken and missing,
houses burned and levelled, people have no place to return to - and so the
collective memory fades away.
�The irony in all of this is that we [the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo]
stood up when the Albanians were persecuted and we gave them shelter in the
Monastery of Decani, for instance. We tried to protect them the best way we
�The Serbian and other non-Albanian peoples in Kosovo are the most
persecuted people in Europe, if not the world, and this is because of their ethnic
origin. Because of who they are, they have been denied the right to move
freely, the right to work, the right to worship freely, to use hospitals, even to
come close to the University, let alone to study in it. We are safe only in a few
places where we are surrounded by the KFOR for our protection. Otherwise,
we are kidnapped or killed.
Press-conferences held by KFOR and UNMIK have been saying that the
number of incidents and killings has been diminishing lately. Father Sava
comments: �The number of violent attacks and killings is diminishing indeed,
but only because there are no more Serbs to be killed. In Pristina (the capital
city of Kosovo) there are only 400 Serbs left. I am invited to a Conference on
human rights that is to be held in Pristina on 10 December. I will not go. I
cannot sit there and speak while 2-3 hundred metres from that place Serbs are
being hunted like animals - you heard how the University professor was
lynched on the streets of Pristina a few days ago, because he was a Serb.
�KFOR and UNMIK are trying to diminish the whole situation. They reported
that day that a Serb was killed and that an Albanian was also killed. What they
did not report was that the Albanian was killed in Klina where there are no
Serbs. It is not that the Albanians are killing Serbs and that the Serbs are killing
Albanians - there can be no parallel on reciprocity drawn here.
�Under the full authority of the international community, KFOR is protecting
the Serbs mainly in the areas where there is not likely to be conflict with the
Albanians. They do not want to open fire on Albanians. I am convinced that
UNMIK is trying to minimise the reporting of all of these issues, because its
financing might come under question.
About the recent departure of three hundred Roman Catholic Croats from
Kosovo to Croatia, and of some Jews out of the very few remaining, Father
Sava comments: �The Muslims are leaving too. When we saw him in Amman,
Jordon a few days ago, the Belgrade mufti Jusufspahic confirmed to us that
both the Muslim Slavs (Goranci) and the Albanians from Kosovo are coming
to him terrified about what the KLA is doing. It is clear that there is no revenge
involved, but the aim is to clear Kosovo of all non-Albanians, with the silent
approval of the international community.
�In the past, Keston reported a great deal on the persecution of Christians in the
former Soviet Union. Now there is an opportunity to speak of this new
persecution that is happening in the presence of 50,000 soldiers of the strongest
military power in the world,� Father Sava concluded in his interview for KNS.
Friday 3 December
RUSSIA'S CONSTITUTIONAL COURT REAFFIRMS STATUS QUO
by Lawrence Uzzell, Keston News Service
The 23 November decision of the Constitutional Court on Russia's 1997 law
on religion, the full text of which has now been obtained by Keston News
Service, has turned out to be to a large extent a reaffirmation of the
status quo. A little-noticed feature of the decision is that it failed to
declare any part of the law to be unconstitutional - even those provisions
which it ruled should not be fully applied in practice.
ANDREI SEBENTSOV, adviser to the prime minister's office on church-state
relations, told Keston in a 2 December interview that 'in practice the
decision changes nothing'. He noted that the court agreed with the
interpretation of the 1997 law that he and other officials of the national
executive branch had already been following: that the controversial
'15-year rule' does not apply to religious organisations which were
registered before the law was passed, or which are affiliated with
centralised religious organisations.
The great majority of congregations founded by foreign missionaries during
the last decade are thus exempt from the law's severest restrictions - as
are all local branches of centralised structures such as the Union of
Evangelical Christians-Baptists or the dioceses of the Roman Catholic
Church. A stricter, more literal interpretation of the new law would have
stripped such bodies of basic freedoms such as the right to found
educational institutions or to distribute religious literature unless they
could prove that they had existed for more than 15 years in Russia. But
Sebentsov and his colleagues in Moscow rejected such a strict position soon
after the law was passed in the autumn of 1997, signalling almost
immediately that they would interpret the law more freely.
ANATOLI KRASIKOV, former adviser to PRESIDENT YELTSIN on church-
relations, told Keston on 1 December that the law 'does not show judicial
independence'. He called it a 'half-victory' for religious freedom and
predicted that repressive officials in some provinces would continue to put
pressures on religious minorities.
Sebentsov agreed that the decision seemed 'a bit strange' from a legal
point of view in that a court specifically charged with enforcing the
Constitution had declined to raise the issue of the 1997 law's
constitutionality. He also said, however, that the ruling would give the
national Ministry of Justice a new tool in its disputes with less
freedom-minded local officials over how to interpret the law in practice.
He called himself an 'optimist' about the prospects for local
Contrary to some media reports, the court decision did not change the
requirement that all religious organisations must undergo re-registration
before 31 December 1999. Nor did it change the 1997 law's controversial
distinction between so-called 'religious organisations' and so-called
'religious groups', conceding far fewer rights to the latter despite the
constitution's requirement that all religious associations be equal before
the law. Also still in place are the requirements for registration which
allow wide latitude for bureaucratic arbitrariness, such as the prohibition
on promoting 'religious dissension'.
On the other hand, another little-noticed provision of the ruling may
provide an encouraging precedent for those who see religious freedom as a
fundamental right of the individual citizen, regardless of his
organisational affiliation. The court found that an individual member of
the Jehovah's Witnesses can invoke the constitutional provisions
guaranteeing every citizen the right to non-violent alternatives to
military service if his religious convictions prohibit the bearing of arms.
A citizen retains that right even if he does not belong to a registered
religious organisation, the court said. (END)
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