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  • Writer's pictureSerbian Orthodox Diocese Kosovo-Metohija

Živojin Rakočević: Attacks on our churches in Kosovo-Metohija - a Potential for a new Pogrom

Source: Politika daily, Belgrade, 13 May 2021

Disturbing scenes of the March pogrom in 2004 when in 2 days 34 Serbian Orthodox churches perished after being attacked by Kosovo Albanian rioters

"Attacks on Serbian Orthodox churches in Kosovo and Metohija have been continually happening and mostly have ethnic and religious backgrounds as they are directed against one community, the presence of which apparently presents a problem for somebody". This has been said in the recent Communique of the Raška and Prizren Diocese. The texts from this source, including those in most dramatic moments have always been appeasing and have called for reason and dialog. The last Communique is deeply disturbing compared to the previous ones. The Communique lists the incidents, attacks on Serbian Orthodox Church sites throughout the territory of Kosovo and Metohija: stoning of the church of St. Paraskeva in Vitina; an attempt of removing the Church flag in Klokot; a church theft in Klokot; another theft in Parteš; a theft in Drajkovce and Donja Bitina; a theft of the construction material of 4.000 EUR worth at the church in Vitomirica; stoning of the church in the town-center of Peć; stoning of the church in Lipljan....

What has initiated this latest wave of violence, by what idea it is being fed, what is being attacked and who is instigating these attacks? The priest who tried to report one of these incidents to the Kosovo police called from the Special Protective Zone in Lipljan. His church is a valuable work of art from the first decades of the 14th century. Europe heard of it only by the end of the 19th century after the visit of the British archeologist Sir Arthur Evans, known for excavations at Knossos (Crete).

Her beautiful frescoes, portraits, the surrounding, the inscriptions are important for our culture and history. "The models which the painters used speak of aristocratic taste of their sponsors, so this humble edifice was adorned by a fresco painting of exquisite value. Among its beauties, graciousness, good proportions a figure of Archangel Gabriel from the scene of Annunciation is particularly prominent" said for Politika daily Aleksandra Davidov Temerinski on the occasion of the exhibition devoted to this church and Lipljan in Belgrade in 2014.

Lipljan church of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary, 14th century

In our case the priest made a call for help. However, on the other side among those who were supposed to guarantee protection there was nobody who could speak Serbian language. There was nobody at the police station which is supposed to be "multiethnic" and the members of which, according to the law, should be able to answer in one of the official languages which citizens use. The priest from the Special Protective Zone remained without an answer and the stones fell on his precious church. The institutions have remained silent and reminded us on thousands of those people from 1999 until today who have been calling someone to protect them. Many have died in such attempts, some are still missing or have been identified by their attackers and then found at their appartments or houses.

Protective zones around the churches and places important for culture and spiritual life of Kosovo Serbs were established thanks to the international community and are the part of the Kosovo Constitution. Many of them are under Kosovo Police protection, like the church of St. John the Baptist in Peć. This church was burned in the Pogrom of 17 March 2004. Afterwards it was reconstructed and now a priest with his family lives there. A few days ago an attacker managed to "avoid the police presence", and threw stones at the church of St. John the Baptist which the Serbs of Peć used to call "Mitropolia". Now there is only one Serb elderly woman living in that city.

Small earthquakes which disturb the area of Kosovo and Metohija cause a deep fear among the Serbs and the Serbian Orthodox Church. Their centuries old experience in suffering should not be ignored. Accumulated and unresolved problems which are profoundly shaking the society of Kosovo Albanians could easily turn into an earthquake with disasterous and fatal consequences. "Such a behavior directly produces a dangerous potential for violence and the international representatives should be aware that the local authorities are politically manipulating their electorate in order to compensate for their own failures", directly and dramatically the Diocese of Raška and Prizren warned (in the Communique).

Lipljan church of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary, 14th century

The role of the international community, KFOR, other internationals is again at the serious crossroads. What is their role? To disregard incidents, send embellished reports to their headquarters and when the chaos breaks out, hide behind the barbed wire and walls, waiting for the storm to pass? The main fuel of the currently growing chaos is the tension produced by the new Priština authorities. The hatred which in these situations is best seen among those who present themselves as democrates is particularly painful and represents the most serious sygnal that violence may easily break out. Every chaos here in Kosovo with hatred was announced by those who were most allegedly liberal and most outspoken - from media to intellectuals. The last series of attacks is closely related to the arrival to power of extreme nationalists with equally radical social rhetoric. It is them who direct hundreds of stones towards targets identified by their ideology. If they make and order instead of stones, Molotov cocktails may be used and all will perish in fire.

Has Serbian Orthodox Church possibility to react preventively? Serbian Patriarch Porfirije in his interview for the Zagreb daily Večernji list clearly stated that the last month in Kosovo and Metohija passed in incidents and warns that the "spirituality as a complex phenomenon: religious, psychological, artistic and cultural is linked to realities of life". The Covenant, however, in our case the Kosovo Covenant, is not a magical or a mythical cathegory but a spiritual one". The problem is in "spirituality" of ideology which encourages stones to be thrown at a 14th century church. If only one step more is made in this direction, all region will fall into chaos and the consequences will be dealt with in decades. At this moment it is particularly important what the international community is doing. Does it manage to follow the development of the explosive atmosphere which Albin Kurti and the new ruling elite of Kosovo Government may produce?

For the time being the internationals keep silent, ambassadors keep silent, diplomats keep silent and thus leaving the free space for extremits, for a dangerous atmosphere, for politicians who play with a match and the power keg.

Živojin Rakočević

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