Friday 11 February 2000

by Branko Bjelajac, Keston News Service

The leaders of the Serbian Orthodox Church (Bishop ARTEMIJE), The Roman
Catholic Church (Bishop Monsignor MARKO SOPI), and the Islamic
Community of Kosovo (Mufti Dr REDZEP BOJA) met in Sarajevo (Bosnia
and Herzegovina) on 8 February 2000, and issued a joint statement regarding
the slow and inefficient implementation of the Peace Agreement for Kosovo
and Metohija. In the statement, the religious leaders publicly address believers,
local authorities and the representatives of the international community in
Kosovo and Metohija, expressing their desire of the establishment of a
permanent peace founded on truth, justice and coexistence.

Accepting the differences between their religious confessions, the spiritual
leaders emphasise the identical values that all respect, in particular the value of
a human being as a gift from God. They recognise that their confessions, each
in their own way, require respect for basic human rights, and indicate that the
violation of these rights is a violation not only of human laws but also of God's

In six points, the statement condemns violations of human rights: hate crimes
based on ethnic or religious diversity, the desecration of religious objects, the
expulsion of people from their land and the prevention of their return, acts of
revenge, and the misuse of the media for spreading hatred. In conclusion the
three leaders invite �all people of good will to take responsibility for their own
acts. We should act toward others in the same manner we would like them to
act toward us.�

This statement came as a pre-text to a long-awaited event: Serbs are expected
to gain representation on local authority bodies in Kosovo on Saturday 11
February 2000. One of the prominent figures on the Serbian side expected to
join the ruling council, on which the Albanians have the majority of seats, is
Bishop Artemije of Raska and Prizren Diocese, one of the signatories of the
statement. The priests and monks of the Serbian Orthodox Church were already
trying to ease the tension between two nationalities, the Serbs and the
Albanians, during the armed conflicts before and during the NATO military
campaign (March-June 1999). Even today, more than a hundred refugees live
in the Serbian Orthodox Ss. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Prizren,
including three ethnic Turks and seven Albanians. During the last six months at
least one hundred Albanians have sought refuge in the Seminary, mostly
escaping reprisals from Albanian nationalists, because they have refused to join
or support the KLA.

It is interesting to note that while this meeting was being held in Sarajevo (in
the course of a meeting of the Inter-religious Council of Bosnia and
Herzegovina to which the religious leaders had been invited), a similar meeting
took place in Belgrade, also on 8 February. Several interested religious groups,
including representatives of the Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim, Protestant and
Jewish communities in Serbia, held an important business meeting to discuss
the final drafts for the founding of a future inter-religious tolerance centre in
Belgrade. Although the centre is not yet open or registered with the authorities,
the representatives of the interested parties have been meeting and talking
together for more than two years, and have reached the point of agreement on
the aims of the future centre. A constitutional session is planned for the end of
February, and is already arousing interest among believers of various
denominations. The work of the centre is scheduled to start after the legal
formalities are concluded; these are expected to involve no difficulties or

All Keston News Service material is protected by copyright:
(c) Keston Institute 2000