COMMUNIQUE OF THE SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH ASSEMBLY OF BISHOPS ON KOSOVO-METOHIJA
Belgrade, 19 May 2023
At this year's regular session of the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, our people and the Church in Kosovo and Metohija were a focus of special attention.
Over the past year, numerous attacks on our people, holy sites, homes, and property of Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija have been recorded. This has led to a peaceful yet resolute protest by the Serbs from the Serbian municipalities in Northern Kosovo and Metohija, who have withdrawn from Kosovo institutions until the establishment of the Community of Serbian Municipalities in accordance with the agreements already reached and signed with Priština, facilitated by the European Union in Brussels in 2013 and 2015.
The Serbian Orthodox Church has always advocated for the resolution of all problems in Kosovo and Metohija through peace and dialogue, and for the promotion of peaceful coexistence of Serbs, Albanians, and all other peoples living in the region. At the sessions of the Holy Assembly of Bishops over the past years, our Church has clearly and unequivocally pointed out, and does so at this year's session, that accepting the self-proclaimed independence of Kosovo and Metohija, indirectly or directly, de facto or de jure, would be in direct contradiction with international law, based on the Charter of the United Nations and other universally accepted acts and principles. Such a stance lacks the support of the UN Security Council and the majority of countries worldwide, including five member states of the European Union. It would inevitably lead to an increase in the emigration of the Serbian people and would not only make peaceful coexistence of all, regardless of their ethnic origin and faith, impossible but would also threaten the very survival of our people in their ancestral homelands. Solutions should therefore be sought exclusively in the respect for principles that apply equally to everyone worldwide.
The most compelling evidence for this is the recent aggressive actions by the Priština authorities against the Serbian community and our Church, which have led to the lowest possible level of relations since 1999. Decisions are being made that deeply divide the citizens of Kosovo and Metohija and cause unprecedented interethnic tension and regional instability, which, in the long term, significantly burdens the life of our people and our Church. It is clear that the goal of Kosovo institutions is to create an ethnically Albanian Kosovo where a free and normal life for Serbs would be difficult to achieve. The Church, on this occasion, condemns all attacks on the Serbian people, their holy sites, and property, especially terrorist armed attacks on individual Serbs, including children, and the secret lists on the basis of which Serbs are being arrested and detained, even former members of the Kosovo police. Also, illegal expropriation of land owned by Serbs is being carried out, with the aim of exerting additional pressure on them and forcing them to emigrate. The Assembly demands that the perpetrators of these acts be brought to justice and that all those in danger be protected.
The Serbian Orthodox Church finds itself in an especially difficult situation. This is confirmed by statements from international officials and reputable organisations that deal with the protection of religious rights and freedoms. In addition to a series of attacks on our temples and impediments to the normal process of restoring dozens of our holy sites, which were damaged or destroyed especially in the period from 1999 to 2004, the life of our monasteries and parishes is severely burdened. The Kosovo Albanian authorities have initiated multiple processes aimed at changing and reinterpreting existing laws, which had embedded guarantees for the protection of property and economic rights, and which enable the self-sustainability of our monasteries. High-ranking Kosovo Albanian officials, as a rule, neither accept the name of our Church that is officially recognized and confirmed by Kosovo law, nor do they accept the guarantees embedded in the laws. All this threatens to evolve into other repressive measures that could further endanger our spiritual mission and the preservation of the Serbian people's identity in Kosovo and Metohija.
For this reason, the Holy Assembly of Bishops particularly emphasizes the need to dedicate the utmost attention to these issues when seeking solutions to the problems in Kosovo and Metohija: the preservation of the identity and ecclesiastical organization of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo and Metohija, the prevention of historical revisionism, the preservation of our Church's property, and creating conditions for the return of confiscated or usurped property, preserving the economic benefits that enable the normal functioning of our monasteries and the Diocese of Raška-Prizren as a whole. Currently, many monasteries, churches, and families are not economically sustainable and can only survive with the help of the Serbian Orthodox Church, through donations and the development of agricultural and other activities that financially support the life of our holy sites and the Theological Seminary in Prizren, enable the reception of pilgrims and guests, and support the work of church soup kitchens.
It is particularly emphasized that our Church in Kosovo and Metohija needs much more active international protection from discriminatory behavior by Kosovo institutions, along with enhanced international guarantees and effective supervision, in order to prevent all possible abuses and oversee the implementation of laws and court decisions, which must not be arbitrarily interpreted, changed, or completely abolished, all to the detriment of our Church.
For centuries, the Serbian Orthodox Church has been the mainstay of our people in Kosovo and Metohija and the main factor in their unity, survival, and preservation of their national, spiritual, and cultural identity. Without the special protection of the Church, the survival of our people and the return of the displaced would never have been possible. Therefore, caring for the rights of the Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija is inseparable from the protection of the basic rights and needs of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which has been living under extremely difficult conditions for the past twenty-four years, exposed to attacks and various forms of violations of basic religious, property, civil, and human rights.
Supporting dialogue and peaceful resolution of all issues in Kosovo and Metohija, the Serbian Orthodox Church wishes to provide its own contribution to the development of interethnic relations and cooperation with other churches and religious communities. It also aims to actively participate in creating conditions for a free and safe life for both the Serbian and Albanian peoples, as well as all religious and national communities in Kosovo and Metohija, and everywhere in the world.
Reiterating its position against any separation of Kosovo and Metohija from Serbia, the Assembly appeals to both Albanians and Serbs to resolve their difficulties in the spirit of tolerance and mutual respect. This is all the more important given that it is God's will for both nations to share the same living space in Kosovo and Metohija. Particularly, the Assembly calls on Kosovo Albanians in those areas where they form a majority to do everything possible to achieve maximum mutual tolerance and mutual respect for the sake of a more normal and better life for every citizen of Kosovo and Metohija. All problems in mutual relations can and should be resolved through dialogue. Sincerely believing that the coexistence of Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo is not only possible but also necessary, as God has led us towards each other, we pray to the Lord for peace to prevail in Kosovo and Metohija and for a normal life to be established for all who live there.