Issue 3, Article 24, 22 March 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.

Wednesday 22 March 2000

by Erika Cuneo, Keston News Service

FR SAVA of the Decani Monastery spoke to Keston�s head of research
yesterday on the first day of his week long visit to the UK. He is best known as
the �cyber monk� who has alerted the world to the destruction and desecration
of 80 churches and monasteries since the end of the war in Kosovo. Here he
answers Keston�s questions about his views on democracy and freedom as a
Serbian Orthodox and shares new proposals made yesterday morning by UK
Foreign Secretary ROBIN COOK.

�The Anglican chaplains were the first to arrive with the KFOR generals; REV
KINGSLEY was a great help. More Anglican chaplains than any other
denomination came to help us; they visited the sick where we could not go and
acted as a liaison between KFOR and the Serbian Orthodox Church�. In his
travels around Kosovo in escorted convoys, Fr Sava carries his laptop computer
and communicates with the outside world via the internet. Telephone lines
work only occasionally and his mobile phone has only just started working
again in the area.

He explains why Albanian extremists destroy churches and monasteries: �It is
part of the well organised attempt to drive out all non-Albanians in order to
force the international community to recognise a fait accompli. They know that
Kosovo is important to Serbians because of its churches and monasteries and
think that without them, Kosovo will no longer be important to Serbs.�
However, it was Muslims who used to visit the monasteries the most, Fr Sava
told Keston; �they saw the churches as part of their own culture�. According to
Fr Sava, there are several reasons for the continued violence. Some crimes are
ethnically motivated, some have economic reasons; �drugs are exchanged for
weapons and Kosovo is becoming the Colombia of Europe�.

However, yesterday morning UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said that the
UK was planning to send more police as well as international judges to Kosovo
to fight organised crime. The judicial system has been blocked because
Albanian judges are under pressure from Albanian extremists while Serbian
judges are pro-Serbian. Robin Cook also told Fr Sava that he supported the
repatriation of Serbs. Fr Sava understood that in Robin Cook�s opinion, the
political opposition in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia would receive
greater support with better security in Kosovo and the successful return of

�Up until now KFOR has been tightly restricted in what it is able to do.
Because the sending countries are worried about their own casualties they
won�t implement KFOR�s goals and take more active measures; they risk
conflict with Albanians�If Robin Cook does send police which specialise in
organised crime, he will find the UK�s own political partners. KFOR must
decide between turning a blind eye and letting the Albanian extremists have
Kosovo or launching decisive action against extremists and slowly bringing in
the rule of law. It may lead to armed conflict.�

Fr Sava insisted that any idea of an independent Kosovo must be �frozen for
several years�. Both Serbia and Kosovo must devote themselves to building
democratic institutions. According to him, the past nine months have not
shown Serbians that Kosovo will be a safe place for them to live; instead they
fear they will be treated as second rate citizens. Fr Sava explained that
Albanian extremists have not been open to peace but were driving out non-
Albanians in order to create an ethnically clean Kosovo. Meanwhile, Belgrade
has not shown any signs of becoming a democratic government so Kosovo
Albanians cannot accept rule under MILOSEVIC.

Keston asked why BISHOP ARTEMIJE of Raska and Prizren and Fr Sava�s
idea of a cantonised Kosovo was ignored at Rambouillet (after first being
proposed in late 1998). Fr Sava explained that it had been misunderstood
before Rambouillet and then at the conference, the Kosovo Albanians did not
allow any mention of it. They realised that if �our recommended cantons were
created, then Kosovo could not become independent. So they made it look as if
the Serbs wanted to divide Kosovo. Our idea was really to protect the Serbs
who were in the majority in only three municipal areas; we feared that once the
Serb security force moved out of Kosovo as expected, then the Serbs would be
forced to live in enclaves. Our idea was to preserve self-rule, but the West
feared these �cantons� would come under Belgrade�s rule. This was never our

Keston pointed out that the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church had
just called on Milosevic to resign. In light of this, Keston asked, what is the
relationship between the political opposition and the Serbian Orthodox
Church? �First, the Serbian Orthodox church has not published one document
in support of violence against an ethnic group. Certain bishops worked in the
hope that Milosevic would change and many were simply silent. But the
Serbian Orthodox Church should be the voice of conscience. We have the grace
of God to make a good discernment. Bishop Artemije recognised Milosevic�s
regime from this simple logic: Milosevic is irreligious and an atheist so he
could not be a good defender of the Serbian people and the Serbian Orthodox
Church. He exercised arrogance and used force - his greatest mistake.�

According to Fr Sava, in July 1999 Bishop Artemije visited a mass grave site
of Albanians with KNUT VOLLEBAEK, then chairman of the OSCE. At the
site, Bishop Artemije said, �We strongly condemn the crimes committed by
Milosevic�s regime against Albanian civilians. However, this cannot be a
reason for justifying the persecution of Serbs now by Albanian extremists in
the post war period.�

As Fr Sava spoke frequently about democracy and freedom, Keston asked if his
vision of democracy was rooted in Orthodox theology. He replied with a smile,
�The Serbian Orthodox Church is monarchical, in a strict hierarchy. But within
the Orthodox Church there is a special stress on freedom of the bishops to
express themselves. The Orthodox are more democratic than the Roman
Catholic Church. Democracy cannot be said to emanate from Orthodoxy. But
freedom of speech is something that should be supported by the Church
because it is better than living under totalitarian rule�People will more freely
find their way towards God. At the same time, we do not think we will find
paradise on earth.�

He also outlined his views of ecumenism. During the war in Bosnia as well as
in Kosovo, his bishop �strongly condemned� the demolition of mosques. �Now
we expect Catholics and Muslims to raise their voices,� Fr Sava continued. In
February of this year, the Serbian Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Muslim
leaders signed a declaration calling for peace. Fr Sava explained that in the
quest for peace and in the respect for freedom they can and must raise their
voices together against violence. However, they are not meeting together to
discuss dogmatic issues. He does not approve of �emotional ecumenism� which
glosses over dogmatic differences; �love cannot be divided from truth�. But, Fr
Sava explained, the Orthodox, Muslims and Catholics do share the value for
human life and freedom and can do so without taking part in ecumenical

In April the Interreligious Council, the Bosnian Trio as Fr Sava called it -
come to Kosovo. They have worked together to build peace and will be visiting
their counterparts in Kosovo: BISHOP MARKO SOPI, Bishop Artemije and
MUFTI BOJA. �This is a manifestation of our readiness to work together.� Fr
Sava commented. �First of all we want to say that what happened in Kosovo
was not a religious war. We don�t support what was done and what is being
done. We want to show that the religious communities do not support the war
and believe we can live and work together. When we have more time and
freedom, then we can sit down to discuss theology, in the spirit of friendship
and true respect of people with different opinions�.

In conclusion Keston asked what the Churches can do to help. �Speak the truth.
Support those who are suffering. Do not be pro-Serb or pro-Albanian, but be
even handed and objective in your approach. Not all have understood this.
Regrettably, some clerics supported the NATO attack on Serbia. Violence and
evil cannot be cured by violence. This can be especially understood by those
who suffered in World War II�The West�s diagnosis was very wrong: that
Milosevic was the main problem. He is a problem, but we see that even though
he is out of Kosovo, the trouble persists. We need reconciliation and a
moderate approach to politics.� (END)

Copyright (c) 2000 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.