KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 11 December 2001.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.

MACEDONIA: WAS CHURCH FIRE ARSON? Police investigating the
burnt-out remains of an Orthodox church in the Tetovo region of north-
western Macedonia on 9 December believe the fire was started
deliberately. Remains of 14th century frescoes were destroyed, as well as
the church and a monastery accommodation building. �It is a terrible
picture,� Archpriest Mirko Stankoski of the Tetovo parish told Keston
News Service on 11 December. Officials of the Organisation for Security
and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) declined to comment to Keston on
whether the fire was due to arson, but expressed concern that the church
burning might stir up further conflict in the region. At least 30 religious
sites, including churches and mosques, have been destroyed there in the
last three months.


by Branko Bjelajac, Keston News Service

Amid continuing ethnic tension in Macedonia, and destruction of places
of worship, police who investigated the burnt-out remains of an Orthodox
church in the Tetovo region of north-western Macedonia believe the fire
was started deliberately, according to the Macedonian daily paper
Utrinski vesnik. Archpriest Mirko Stankoski of the Tetovo parish visited
the burnt-out church on 10 December with officials of the Organisation
for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). "What can I say? It is a
terrible picture," he told Keston News Service by telephone from the town
on 11 December. "I managed to salvage the remnants of a few icons and
candle stands and I put them up in my own church in Tetovo this
morning." The OSCE, while declining to comment on whether the fire
was due to arson, told Keston of its concern that the church burning might
stir up further conflict. "Our team went with a delegation of priests of the
Macedonian Orthodox Church to see the site in Recica that was burned
three days ago," Florin Pasnicu of the OSCE Spillover Monitoring
Mission to Skopje told Keston on 11 December from the Macedonian
capital. "Since we cannot perform any investigation we rely on the
official statements."

The Church of Sveti Gorgija (St George) in the monastery complex in the
village of Mala Recica near Tetovo was burned down on 8 December.
Firefighters from Tetovo managed to save the "konak" (monastery
accommodation) on that day, but it was set on fire again in the early hours
of 9 December, St. George's day according to the Orthodox calendar.

The last three months have seen a series of attacks on Orthodox churches
in the region west of Tetovo close to the border with Kosovo, an area
mainly inhabited by ethnic Albanians. Mosques in Macedonian-populated
areas have also been destroyed.

St George's church was built in the 1920s, on the foundations of church
remains from 13th century, and the monastery konak and other buildings
were completed in 1965. The Ministry of Culture had designated the
church a cultural monument of the highest rank, because of its importance
for the study of the remains of frescoes from the 14th century. The
remains have now been destroyed.

Fr Stankoski reported that the police had informed him that the church
building was set on fire in the late afternoon of 8 December, and the
konak early the following morning. "We have had no services there since
the people left in the wake of the troubles that started last summer."

"The region is no longer safe for us to perform our religious services, and
we fear for the future and pray to God to help us and calm the situation,"
Fr Stankoski complained. "In the last three months, new damage has been
done to the monastery in Neprosteno, and many churches in the vicinity
of Sar planina mountain have been burgled and icons and other fittings
destroyed or damaged."

He reported that a series of churches had been "systematically
desecrated", citing, among others, the church of St Kuzma and St Damjan
in the village of Jedoarce, the church of St Georgije in Otunje, the
churches of the Holy Mother of God in Setole and Jelosino, the church of
St Athanasius in Trebos. "So far, in my parish alone, 25 to 30 churches
have been burgled and desecrated. The church of St. Nicola in Slatina has
been burned down. We get reports only when some of our believers
return temporarily to take care of their property, because the people have
left that region as well."

The special governmental Coordination Body for Crisis Management
declared on 9 December that "during the armed conflicts in Tetovo and
Kumanovo crisis region, at least 30 religious sites, mostly churches, have
been destroyed. Among them are the monastery complex in Lesok, the
churches of St Nikola, the Holy Mother of God and St Petka, as well as
the Arabati Baba Teke and Coloured Mosque in Tetovo, and the Matejce
monastery in Kumanovo area."

"We deplore and we deeply regret that these things are happening with
religious sites in Western Macedonia," Pasnicu of the OSCE told Keston.
"We are concerned about the impact this might have on the second phase
of the police redeployment plan, which is essential to the reinstating of
security and safety in the region. Any further event of this kind might
harm the process that is so needed at this time." (END)

Copyright (c) 2001 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.