KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 27 November 2001.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

I. YUGOSLAVIA/KOSOVO: ARE ORTHODOX SITES
SUFFICIENTLY GUARDED? According to the Serbian Orthodox
Church, Albanian extremists have destroyed or vandalised 108 churches
in Kosovo since the arrival of NATO forces in mid-June 1999. Church
representatives believe that the attacks are part of a systematic campaign
to eradicate Serb Orthodox presence in the province. To date, the
international Kosovo Force (KFOR) has been guarding such sites, but one
Orthodox monk told Keston News Service of his fears that monasteries
such as his will be put at risk following the province's 17 November
elections: "Some former KLA [Kosovo Liberation Army] man will decide
its future."

II. YUGOSLAVIA/KOSOVO: ORTHODOX PESSIMISTIC ABOUT
FUTURE OF CHURCH LIFE. Although one monastic community is
growing, the dangerous and restrictive environment in Kosovo is having a
negative impact on church life as a whole in the province, Serbian
Orthodox believers told Keston News Service. In some areas clergy
cannot visit parishioners and people cannot attend church without KFOR
protection. One KFOR officer thought that the situation could be
improved by bringing together less extremist local Albanian politicians
and �open and friendly� church representatives. "Nothing can be achieved
in the short term," he told Keston, "we need more time - but it is
possible."

I. YUGOSLAVIA/KOSOVO: ARE ORTHODOX SITES
SUFFICIENTLY GUARDED?

by Geraldine Fagan and Branko Bjelajac, Keston News Service

According to the Serbian Orthodox Church, Albanian extremists have
destroyed or vandalised 108 churches in Kosovo since the arrival of
NATO forces in mid-June 1999, most recently in Staro Gracko (Gracke e
Vjeter in Albanian) (see KNS 12 November 2001). To date, the
international Kosovo Force (KFOR) has been guarding such sites. On 26
October, however, Fr Sava (Janjic), assistant to Abbot Teodosije of
Decani Monastery, told Keston News Service of his fear that monasteries
such as his will be put at risk following the province's 17 November
elections: "Some former KLA [Kosovo Liberation Army] man will decide
its future."

In the latest edition of "Crucified Kosovo," a book published by the Raska
and Prizren diocese documenting these developments, it is alleged that
destruction of Orthodox sites is continuing in eight phases. These are: 1)
shattering due to NATO action between 23 March and 11 June 1999, 2)
looting after 13 June 1999, 3) desecration, 4) burning, 5) initial blasting
with explosives, 6) blasting of surviving parts, 7) removal of building
materials, and 8) clearance of terrain.

Church representatives thus believe that the attacks are part of a
systematic campaign to eradicate Serb Orthodox presence in the province,
rather than acts of blind revenge. In the Kosovar Albanians' struggle for a
separate state, according to Fr Sava, "the Serbian Orthodox Church is the
last anchor of Serbian presence here, so we are strategically dangerous to
them." In one of only two mixed Serb/Albanian villages, Osojane
(Osojan), near Istok (Istog), for example, the Church of St Nicholas (built
in 1986) was "dynamited in a professional way" after the arrival of
NATO forces, Sister Mikhaela of Pec-Patriarchate Convent told Keston
on 25 October. Since the most important structural parts had been
targeted, she explained, parishioners are forbidden to enter the building:
"It will have to be torn down."

Keston was unable to find separate confirmation of progressive stages of
systematic destruction specifically of church property, but on 24 October
in Belgrade the programme co-ordinator of the United Methodist
Committee on Relief, Mary Mayall, outlined a similar process occurring
to civilian properties if it became known that Serbs might return to them,
which, she said, local Albanians put down to "deterioration." She cited an
example in Ljestar (Leshtar), near Strezovce (Strezofc), the second mixed
Serb/Albanian village in Kosovo. "We assigned mostly complete houses
to the 'to-be-rebuilt' category," Mayall told Keston. "When we returned a
few weeks later there were whole walls missing - that's not deterioration."

Bob Charmbury, United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) deputy
head of Pec (Peja) regional administration, said that he was unaware of
any destruction of religious sites since KFOR's arrival in the province: "It
was all in the immediate aftermath of the war," he told Keston on 26
October. Asked specifically about Osojane, he said that there was no
church there, "and I doubt one will be built. It is more important to get
houses built."

Charmbury maintained that all Orthodox churches "except those already
destroyed" were under individual KFOR guard, including those not in use
if located in an Albanian area. If they were in a Serb enclave, he added,
they would not be guarded separately. On 25 October one of KFOR's two
main spokesmen, British Ministry of Defence employee Tim Zillessen,
told Keston in Pristina that KFOR is currently providing protection for
140 religious sites 24 hours a day.

In the village of Gracanica (Ulpiana) - which is a Serb enclave � Keston
indeed observed only a single Swedish KFOR officer outside the gates of
Gracanica Monastery, while the roads into the village are controlled by
substantial military checkpoints. Keston also saw that both Pec
Patriarchate Convent and Decani Monastery have individual checkpoints
at the beginning of the track leading to their entrances, which, in Decani's
case, is guarded by some ten Italian tanks. The ruins of the Church of the
Holy Trinity (built in 1992) by the side of the Pec-Pristina road, by
contrast, are entirely deserted.

While Keston encountered high praise among church representatives for
the Italian KFOR - who, according to Fr Sava, are providing "not just
physical security but assistance everywhere where it is missing" - Mirjana
Menkovic of the Mnemosyne Centre for the Protection of Cultural
Heritage in Kosovo pointed out to Keston in Belgrade on 24 October that
destruction was continuing because the international authorities
administering Kosovo had given "no signal to the Albanian community
that it is unacceptable."

According to Charmbury, it is indeed unlikely that anyone will be
prosecuted for the destruction: "You wouldn't find them - impossible."
Despite the allegations of continued destruction, Zillessen did not think it
likely that KFOR protection of religious sites would be altered in any
way. He maintained that there were no plans to hand this responsibility
over to the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC), which, a recent UNMIK
report acknowledges, has seen the recruitment of 5,000 former KLA
members: "I can see an instant problem with KPC being asked to guard
an Orthodox church, for instance." Charmbury also did not see such a
transition "happening immediately," and acknowledged that KFOR
protection could continue "for years, I suppose." (END)

II. YUGOSLAVIA/KOSOVO: ORTHODOX PESSIMISTIC ABOUT
FUTURE OF CHURCH LIFE

by Geraldine Fagan and Branko Bjelajac, Keston News Service

"Decani monastery is our island," Fr Sava (Janjic), assistant to Abbot
Teodosije, joked to Keston News Service on 25 October. "The KFOR
checkpoint at the gate is our port, from which we take our ferry - an
armoured car - across a sea containing dangerous piranhas." Yet while he
believes that such a restrictive environment is proving conducive to
monastic life - "Our celibate community is the only Serb community
growing in Kosovo!" - Fr Sava acknowledged that it is having a negative
impact on church life in the province as a whole.

Sister Mikhaela of Pec-Patriarchate Convent agreed. It is essential for
clergy and religious to be able to visit believers, she told Keston on 25
October: "Serbs need the access of the Church to continue their religious,
spiritual, cultural life". Although Keston did see one nun being taken by
an armoured vehicle from the convent to the Serb community in Osojane
(Osojan) village near Istok (Istog) on the morning of 26 October, Sister
Mikhaela said that such visits had recently been cut from four a week to
two: "The Patriarchate couldn't get permanent access to Osojane - but
elsewhere they envy the number of escorts we get in the Italian zone."

In Ljestar (Leshtar) near Strezovce (Strezofc), the other mixed Serb-
Albanian village in Kosovo, according to Branislav Skrobonja, the editor
of the weekly church bulletin "Herald of Kosovo and Metohia", the Serbs
do not have their own church. Speaking to Keston at the Raska and
Prizren diocesan offices in Belgrade on 23 October, Skrobonja said that
parishioners have to be escorted to a church in nearby Ajnovce (Hajnoc).
He commented that it was "completely unsafe for them to go to church."

At Pec-Patriarchate Convent, frequent interruptions to the water and
electricity supply affect church life, according to Sister Mikhaela. Both
occurred for almost the duration of Keston's stay at the convent on the
night of 25 October, so that half of the morning service was held in
darkness. The nuns believe such interruptions to be the deliberate action
of local Albanians - and complain that while the UN authorities solve
individual incidents, they never tackle the root cause. When, as a fluent
English speaker, she has contacted United Nations Mission in Kosovo
(UNMIK) officers about such incidents, Sister Mikhaela told Keston, she
has received responses ranging from a dismissive explanation that there
are "ongoing problems for all" to an aggressive suggestion that the
Patriarchate is seeking privileged status: "After the anti-Serb propaganda
[during the civil war] there is unfortunately the view that we are all guilty
and have to pay the price � it permeates everything the internationals do."

What could be done to make Orthodox life in Kosovo freer? Sister
Mikhaela thought that the secure future of all Orthodox sites depended
upon discussions being held between the UNMIK authorities and the
diocese as a whole. She voiced concern that Pec-Patriarchate Convent
was being asked to liaise with the local municipality: "There are 25 such
municipalities, we are afraid that they will try and separate church
institutions and make differences."

Sister Mikhaela also suggested that one problem was that "western
concepts are being imposed upon us." Concepts such as self-help groups
were inappropriate, she explained since, for example, "Serbs are more
group-aware than westerners." Speaking to Keston on 24 October in
Belgrade, Mirjana Menkovic of the Mnemosyne Centre for the Protection
of Cultural Heritage in Kosovo and Metohia agreed. "We are still in the
process of making national states but we are expected to integrate and so
skip levels of development. A solution cannot be imposed, it must be
found here." Menkovic was pessimistic about the possibility of a free,
multiethnic and multireligious Kosovo: "Give me one example of a
successful Christian-Muslim state."

In the view of Skrobonja, the main way to improve the religious situation
for Serbs in Kosovo would be to reconstruct churches. Fr Sava, however,
pointed out that the Church had not received any funding to reconstruct
churches because "they would be destroyed instantly".

Unlike Bosnia, according to Fr Sava, "Kosovo never was truly
multiethnic, there were separate housing areas with a certain level of
tolerance." Although the Church had proposed cantonisation on a
linguistic basis (Serbs and Albanians speak unrelated languages), he now
had doubts. "Cantonisation works in a civilised society, but this is a
radicalised and relatively primitive society with sovereignty based upon
nineteenth century ideals." Fr Sava was also sceptical about the
contribution which interreligious dialogue could make, since "for most
people it means nothing".

Praising the Catholic Christmas celebrations in Pec (Peja) as "open to any
faith - not exclusive," however, UNMIK deputy head of Pec regional
administration, Bob Charmbury, thought that some sort of joint
interreligious forum could prove beneficial. Asked by Keston on 26
October why church representatives did not have free access to Serb
areas, he explained that visits had to be organised and were "dependent
upon logistic support." Interviewed by Keston, a KFOR officer who did
not wish to be further identified thought that the main way of improving
the situation would be to bring less extremist local Albanian politicians -
"there are some moderates and I can believe in them" - together with
church representatives, who were "open and friendly" towards them.
"Nothing can be achieved in the short term," he told Keston, "we need
more time - but it is possible." (END)