After the Kosovo crisis

Implications for the Churches

By Bishop Irenaeus (Bulovic) of Backa

Report to the Inter-Christian Conference “Europe after the Kosovo Crisies: Implications for the Churches” in Oslo, November 15-16, 1999 (extracts)

Esteemed and beloved Fathers, brothers and sisters in the Lord,

… However I might proceed to speak, I shall speak with sincere love towards my fellow interlocutors. And I do not hate — so help me God in saying the truth! — but (despite the feeling of bitterness and indignation) I deeply pity those who gave orders, as well as those who took part in the aforementioned “campaign”.

However, it is not my goal — nor is it the aim of this Conference in general — to describe or politically justify, condemn or generally evaluate persons and events within the tragedy of Kosovo and Metohia, and the drama of Europe. Each and every one of us, on the basis of his spiritual predisposition, has a certain viewpoint on this complex problematic. Still, I have to propose several of the briefest of my observations in order to expose my standpoint in relation to the implications of the conflict in general, and in relation to the implications for the Churches in particular. This will enable me to explicate my own perspective on the relations between the Churches of Europe in the near future.

This tragic conflict, lamentably, is not an exception. It is but one of many similar ones, not only within the territory of the former Yugoslavias or the current Yugoslavia, but also in the wider region of Europe, not excluding its western part with its inter-ethnic strife and bloodshed and, finally, the world itself (Caucasus, Kashmir etc.).

The Serbian-Albanian rivalry in Kosovo and Metohia is not a new phenomenon. It is, literally, a multi-centennial drama. How can we solve such a complex problem, securing a solution which would more or less be just and acceptable to both peoples which are tragically and, according to my opinion, needlessly confronted? By the expulsion of one and retainment of the other?

It is clear that the expulsion of Albanians from Kosovo is not possible. Even if it were, there would not be a single theory, doctrine or idea which could justify such a thing. Besides, we know: NATO justified — that is, tried to justify — its merciless Merciful angel action by the preclusion of the exodus of Albanians and the alleged prevention of the humanitarian catastrophe. How this was conducted and, finally, how it was accomplished, — we know that as well: the Albanians were brought back (not only the old-time settlers of Kosovo and Metohia, but those also who wanted to enter Kosovo from Albania), and in the whole of Serbia and Yugoslavia there was created a humanitarian catastrophe without precedence in the antecedent history of Europe, a hundred times more terrible than the presupposed one in Kosovo. None of that was enough, for now NATO is the passive bystander and, in some cases, accomplice in the expulsion of Serbs and other non-Albanians from their age-old homes: from the region which was, for centuries, the pivotal point of the Orthodox Church of Serbia and of the Serbian state (and never in history was it a part of the Albanian state), from the region which withstood five centuries of Ottoman domination, managing to prevent the uprooting either of Orthodoxy or the Serbian people…

If the expulsion of Albanians from Kosovo is not a solution — and it certainly is not — is the expulsion of Serbs a better solution? Does the solution lie in the negation of the sovereignty of a European country? What is the difference between the right of intervention in the name of socialism (Brezhniev’s doctrine) and the right of intervention in the name of human rights and “western values” (Solana’s doctrine)? Which instance is the one which curbs human rights more, and which one does so less? Since when does a military organisation act as arbiter of rights and morals? How can the same subject simultaneously posit itself as lawgiver, prosecutor, judge and executor? And, in the meanwhile, does such an instance take into account the civilisational physiognomy and spiritual hypostasity (Personhood) of the Serbian people? For it is a people which in the word Kosovo recognise the most condensed statement of their identity, — a people which once had Kosovo taken away from them (in the ancient year of 1389) and were patient enough to repossess it once again in 1912…

Furthermore, during the cold war and the block-division of the European continent, Yugoslavia was the most open and “westernmost” (of course, not geographically but politically) communist country. It was a country which, amongst its Warsaw pact neighbours, enjoyed an unenviable reputation of the “Trojan horse” of the West. However, today a tremendous number of people in my country — and, after everything that took place, a great number of people in the countries of the former Soviet block — regard the West as a synonym for neocolonial egotism and expansionism. Further still, the so called “new world order” is deemed as a synonym for the domination of the rich and mighty over those who — both materially and spiritually exhausted by the previous totalitarian experiment — instead of really being helped and raised, now, mostly, offer their cheap raw materials and cheap labour. The pitiless war of NATO against Yugoslavia (lacking any mandate of the Security council, executed in contradiction to its own statutes) is an additional burden not only on the consciousness and conscience of the Serbian people, but on other Orthodox peoples as well. In Greece 99 percent of the populace was against the military intervention. In Russia over 94 percent (the yes-vote was granted only by 2 percent). Other countries also gave witness to massive protests.

As far as the Serbs are concerned, one could state the following: just as the Czechs and Slovaks saw the Warsaw-pact tanks of 1968. As the death-signs of socialism, without any hope for its resurrection, — so did the NATO missiles and bombs of 1999, for the Serbs, indicate the end of many illusions and myths. And it is hard to say what is more painful (to every, even to the modestly self-conscious Serb): be it the NATO propaganda, implemented during the air raids and immense sufferings, according to which NATO is not fighting the Serbian people but is only “freeing it from the regime” — or be it the current statements of some powerful leaders from the West according to which the Serbs will get aid, but only after they pass the “corrective exam” and show themselves to be “good boys”, obedient in everything, grateful for everything…(Here too, I stress, we encounter “collateral damage”: the sanctions, poverty and indigence endanger not only the Serbs, but also the non-Serbian residents of Yugoslavia, and they are not meagre in number: Albanians in Belgrade and all over Serbia notwithstanding. The ecological and healthcare damage will endanger all of us in Europe for a long time).

These are just some indications on the general effects of the crisis which is not only Serbo-Albanian, or just Yugoslav, but European and global too. And it did not commence last year in Kosovo but at a much earlier date. It will be resolved, or at least eased, when the necessary unification of today’s world does not proceed by the sign of victory of one part (regardless which one it may be) of Europe over the other, one part of the world over the other (in which instance, by rule, the victor is also defeated if he has won only through the power of money and arms, and not by means of the strength of spirit and truth).

Allow me to make a summary of my observations. On the general level I see that Europe — sad as it is — remains divided. And I am not sure which curtain makes a sharper partition, — the former crude, “steel” one, or the contemporary invisible and intangible one. It is my impression that the dream of an European common home from the Atlantic to the Ural is further out of reach than before the fall of the Berlin wall of shame, when the East of Europe lived in hope that the European West will bring to it freedom and well-being. I do not know how much hope there is today: either in the East or in the West of Europe. The utilitarian-consumerist spirit, it seems, has forced us to miss the chance given by the toppling of the Wall and by the shedding of the Curtain. On the one hand, the West succumbed to the temptation of short-sighted triumphalism, not understanding that the ideology of the East defeated itself, and that suicide might be the outcome of any civilisation which reduces itself to “body and blood”. On the other, the East succumbed to the temptation of mechanically copying the existent “western model”.

In a politically and culturally divided Europe, Eastern Europe — where the predominant populace are Orthodox Christians — begins to feel ill at ease when, for example, in the midst of the military action of NATO against Yugoslavia the minister of one western European government declares that “Europe ends where the Orthodox world commences”, or when the epoch of Charlemagne is taken for the birthday of modern Europe, whilst the museum of European spirit does not envisage a place for ancient Greece or Byzantium (from which language or from which region, I just wonder, does the word Europe come from?…).

Of course, I do not think that the political and civilisational processes in contemporary Europe depend on the confessional denomination of its residents. But, I do indicate the possibility of manipulation and one-sided pretensions to have the pars represent the totum. An even worse manipulation was present in the attempts to project the conflicts in the area of ex-Yugoslavia in terms of inter-confessional and inter-religious confrontation.

In the aforementioned context, Yugoslavia has drawn the most tragic lot: onetime East of the West and West of the East, today she finds herself in the “twilight zone” (not in final darkness, I hope), nowhere and everywhere, everybody’s and nobody’s — with a sense for freedom and dignity, but isolated, impoverished, wounded, with a million refugees on her not so large territory…

These remarks (which are doubtlessly subjective, but not isolated in their basic intent) have sense only if they serve as a basis for the exposition of my viewpoint on the effects of the aforementioned tragedy for the Churches of Europe. Particularly in relation to what we, as Christians, could do on the field of common witness of the Gospel of love and peace.

In the circumstances of the newest world disorder, doubtlessly not the first or the last, and deep divisions and antagonisms in Europe, the Churches can and must — in accordance with their prophetic mission and apostolic responsibility precisely in our time and our world — emphatically promote and practically realise the ideal of one Europe. One in being and in its goal, but multifarious and multi-faceted in terms of the confessional, national, cultural and socio-political identity of its residents. Not one European resident and not one European nation may become victims of anyone’s or any sort of ostracism. They can not be easily “thrown out” from Europe. In Europe no one has a monopoly on European-hood. The European union is a thing of the future. For the time being, in fact, we only have the union of Western Europe. The Orthodox Europeans, in quality and quantity, represent about half of Europe. Serbs are Europeans too. Doubtlessly, they are not better than others, but not much worse either. Yugoslavia, as well, is a European country. Not just geographically. If “Byzantium after Byzantium” has no right to regard its brothers from Western Europe as barbarians, then, by the same token, Europe can not be viewed as some neo-Carolingian reality. In Europe and, in the final run, in the whole world, we need each other…. Communion and inter-penetration, unity in difference and authenticity in unity signify life and growth, while isolation, unification (as eradication of natural and appropriated differences) and self-sufficiency signify stagnation and, finally, death. The European East and West have grown out of the fundament of Eastern and Western Christianity. They can, indeed, be regarded as two lungs of one organism. This does not overlook or minimise the differences. However, the emphasis is placed on that which unites.

If we, as Christians, are able to draw a moral and message from the tragedy of Kosovo, Serbia and the Balkans, then it might read as follows: the communal European home can not be assembled by means of economy and politics only. Although these means are the building material, without which there is no construction, they are not, however, the foundation. For us there is no other foundation but the one which was, once and for ever, posited in the Person of Christ. The foundation of faith and spirit, hope and love, given to us as a gift, will not endanger anyone: including non-Christians or, even, non-believers in Europe. But, without the elementary presuppositions of European spirit and European culture, originating in the Gospel, we can fabricate only a superficial (in fact, illusionary) unity, a unity of interests, not an organic unity. The latter can be witnessed and offered only by the Churches of Europe. If someone finds that this has a utopian ring to it, no matter. The Gospel as a whole, to many people and on many occasions in history, has sounded as a folly and scandal. Kosovo and Serbia, and the whole of the Balkans, only within such a process — a process of the organic unification of Europe as a freely willing community of free and equal nations — may have a chance for peace and communal life, for forgiveness and reconciliation, for an experience they have known for centuries: the experience of living in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural ambience. By offering this model and actively working on its application — like the man-steward from the Gospel who brings forth the “new” and the “old” — the European Churches too have their chance or, to put it more adequately, a blessing to test their authenticity in serving and veracity in witness. The following words are addressed to us too: “Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another” (Mark, 9: 50).

Concrete initiatives in the service of gradually healing the wounds of all — Albanians, Serbs and others — and in the service of the process of reconciliation should, however, be undertaken without delay — possibly on the very spot — with respect to earlier ecumenical initiatives: or with respect to the Sarajevo initiative of His Holiness Patriarch of Moscow Alexis, or parallel initiatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church and other Local Christian Churches from the time of strife and suffering in Croatia, and in Bosnia and Herzegovina. As to the very essence of the problem which is usually identified with the syntagm Kosovo-crisis, the leaders, officers and the faithful of European Churches may also productively and constructively influence, on one hand, the governments and politically relevant circles of their countries and, on the other, they may simultaneously effect international and European institutions. This would help us to promptly emerge out of the current terrible state of affairs, finding a truly just, practically applicable and salvific formula for everyone. Such a formula which could hold valid not only for the region of Kosovo and Metohia but, mutatis mutandis, for every other region where there is or could be instigated some similar crisis.

In their wishes and activities to help on the way of procuring a solution which brings peace, security, Freedom and justice for all nations in Kosovo and Metohia, or somewhere else, the Churches, of course, will decide neither for the official standpoints of the governments of Yugoslavia and Serbia, nor for the standpoints of Albanian parties and organisations in Kosovo and Metohia, nor for the standpoints of the NATO-alliance and European union, but for an approach grounded on ageless and irreplaceable principles of Gospel anthropology and ethics. These principles take their point of departure from each human being as a supreme value: from such a being which is capable of love and worthy to be loved. We must not perceive our neighbour, particularly the one who suffers, either as Jew or Samaritan, or as Turk or Gypsy, or as Christian or Muslim, or as believer or unbeliever. We should regard him as our brother or, in more biblical spirit, as Christ Himself, the First and Greatest amongst “merciful Samaritans”: secretly present in every hungry, thirsty, naked, wounded, sick and endangered human being: Him who in his enemy embraces his neighbour, and in the heart of an officer of occupation (as the enemy of his people, foreigner by faith and language) is able to discern such faith which is not found in Israel, in his own people… By being understood in their existential dependency from this anthropological-ethical vision, the international juridical norms (related to human, civic arid national rights, and to the entire international interstate order) gain wider dimensions and profounder meaning. By the same token there comes a reduced danger of their political instrumentalisation or ideological misuse. And that, sadly, is still a common occurrence.

I am personally convinced that, in this matter, an all-Christian and all-European consensus (not a political, but an existential, essential consensus) is wholly possible. And that, aided by certain spiritual efforts, we are not far from it. It is, probably, of least importance whether we shall name it as pluralism or open society, or some other term.

In this context, I also share the opinion that the Churches must be resolutely against any politics of double standards, and that they should avoid any media-projected or propaganda-construed simplificational, black-and-white paradigm either about the “Kosovo-crisis” or about other problems on our continent or in the world in general. It is particularly harmful, it seems, when leaders of some Churches expose themselves either as exclusive followers and apologists, or as ferocious critics of just one of the pitted parties, instead of trying to help both in accepting the relativity not only of the notion of “foreign,” but also of who owns “truth” — particularly helping them to abandon confrontation and violence as a method for accomplishing any goal. Contrary to that, it is very curative when high representatives of Churches, in word and deed, demonstrate true solidarity with everyone particularly with those who suffer — and when they show in practice that they are honest and unbiased, motivated solely by good will. I personally can hardly forget, for example, the dear image of one Bishop (coming from a country which severely bombed Serbia) who, as I learned, dearly pitied the Albanian refugees from Kosovo and the victims from the fighting. But, he arrived in Belgrade to tell us, amidst the sirens for air strike danger and under candlelight, that he is with us all: in prayer and in the love of Christ. Of course, I have made the acquaintance of hundreds of other brother Christians and sister Christians from various Churches and confessions, from Europe and America, who in like manner by means of unselfish co-suffering love and prayer embraced everyone, the Albanians and Serbs, and others. As an example of a solid, ecumenically programmed and realised engagement in service of peace and reconciliation (an engagement which can procure important incentives for similar enterprises in the future) I cite, with gratitude, all those encounters and appeals — inter-confessional and inter-religious — which were initiated by the Conference of European Churches and the World Council of Churches, helped by the co-action of other ecumenical factors, during various crises and conflicts on the ground of ex-Yugoslavia.

Through reflection on the effects of the Kosovo drama I have spontaneously reached its ecumenical effects. The Kosovo-crisis could, in some way, evolve into a new, additional, element of the crisis of the ecumenical movement. And it may be a great ecumenical challenge and a real ecumenical chance. Avoiding unsolicited verbosity, I shall try to clarify my thought. In the Serbian Orthodox Church (and, as far as I know, in other local Orthodox Churches) there are certain circles which experience and understand the West exclusively as an enemy of Orthodoxy. They hold that the source and inspirer of this (according to them, universal and irreconcilable) enmity are the Western Churches, in first place the Roman Catholic Church. In their contacts and articles they promulgate various insinuations by means of which they are undermining the authority arid credibility of bishops and theologians engaged in ecumenical dialogues or organisations, not being particular as to choice of words even in the case of the Ecumenical Patriarch. In certain ecclesiastical environments devoid of proper spiritual and theological culture, particularly amidst those monks and laymen who are characterised by sancta simplicitas, they are successful, lamentably so, in invoking temptations, hesitations, outrage and, sometimes, spiritually pathological emotions. Let us imagine, then, what are the effects on the simple and harmless folk when, in conditions of suffering or NATO-bombardment, NATO and Western Christianity become depicted as two faces of the same coin. Such an image is then projected both to Orthodox Serbs and to other Orthodox nations, primarily to the Greeks and Russians, who in any case express spontaneous and universal solidarity for their brothers in faith. It is not easy to resist such a one-sided picture. It is only rare individuals who share an immediate acquaintance with the spiritual physiognomy of the average Roman-Catholic or Protestant. Rumours of various activities of the Vatican state are received, unjust accusations from certain western ecclesial persons are picked up too, historical “long memories” are somewhere near at hand: in some compartment of consciousness or subconsciousness — and NATO missiles at the same time are disseminating dread and death… (In our Serbian case, and perhaps it is not the only one, we have the following curiosity: the same persons are at the same time both political westernizers and extremist anti-ecumenists. They propagate the idea that we must, at once, leave the World Council of Churches and other ecumenical bodies…).

A similar process, only in reverse direction, exists, as far as I know, in some western environments too. There we encounter, more or less, the following syllogism: the Serbs are evil — the Serbs are Orthodox — the Orthodox support the Serbs — all the Orthodox are bad: that is to say, the Serbs are like that because they are Orthodox. The creation of such a scheme (which I present in a very simplified if not caricature fashion) implicates the guilt of certain Western European media and individual politicians, like the aforementioned minister. In all these generalisations, schematisations and vulgarisations there is, doubtlessly, a failure to testify to that manifold of persons, statements and gestures which manifest that the secularised post-Christian West and the Christian West can not be viewed as one and the same thing and, on the other hand, that “evil Serbs” know how to live in peace and love with all those who differ from them. Moreover, that many of them are willing to help the Albanians as much as their fellows in faith and fellows in blood. Of course, this goes hand in hand with the neglect of the fact that the “West”, for a long time, is not a geographical but is a civilisational concept. There is disregard, also, of the fact that we Christians, like in the apostolic times, find ourselves in Diaspora both in the East and in the West. Regardless of all the differences between us, still, according to the nature of things, the greatest spiritual propinquity and understanding are possible precisely amongst Christians.

The most appropriate reaction to all this is the acceptance of the ecumenical challenge and the offering of an authentic Gospel witness of compassionate love towards everyone. Perhaps the most pertinent witness will be the offering of help. However, not humanitarian help (since interventions have become “humanitarian”), but philanthropic and brotherly — everywhere in Serbia and Yugoslavia: from Kosovo, Metohia and Montenegro to Voivodina — and to everyone: from Albanians to Serbs, from Turks to Hungarians, from Gypsies to Rumanians, and so forth. This help has been coming for a long time since. We are sincerely grateful both to Orthodox Churches — primarily to the Churches of Greece, Cyprus and Russia — and to the Churches of the West, that is, to their philanthropic services and institutions, for the great help offered so far.

But, objectively considered, this help can not cover even the slightest portion of the currently existent needs. It is not only the expelled and refugees. With the newest wave of persons displaced from Kosovo and Metohia (around 300,000 of them, not only Serbs but others also, including a number of Albanians) the sum total of refugees and displaced persons in contemporary Yugoslavia reaches the number of one million souls. At the same time, our country is under sanctions, in isolation, without foreign investment or credit. NATO has largely destroyed agricultural compounds, infrastructure, and vitally important objects. The renewal of the demolished goods is being conducted by our own efforts, in accordance with the current possibilities. The Western world is not only withholding help for reconstructing anew what it has destroyed, but it is, furthermore, refusing to ease the regime of sanctions (what is there to say about sanctions: in my country, in Iraq, or anywhere else?) unless the Yugoslav state accepts its political dictate. The whole country, by means of the will of the mighty, has been turned into a huge ghetto and the majority of the populace is directly endangered. The winter is before us, let us add this next to all that has been listed so far.

In the light of everything that was said, I believe and hope that the Churches of Europe and Christians of Europe (regardless of their own or anyone else’s interpretation of the nature of the Kosovo crisis and entire Yugoslav and Balkan drama) will be able, out of simple Christian compassion with neighbours in hardship, to demonstrate will and resolve to help even more, much more than was the case so far. For, “if a brother and sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled, without giving them things needed for the body, what does it profit?” (James, 2: 15-16). The effectiveness, unconditionality and sincerity of that help will be the proof of real inter-Christian solidarity and a denial of the theory about the anti-Orthodox background of the ecumenical idea. Perhaps what I have to say is not realistic, but I believe that a bridge in Novi Sad, on the Danube, reconstructed through the support and means of the Churches of Europe, would contribute incomparably more to the forging of spiritual bridges between Christians of Eastern and Western Europe than all the ecumenical manifestations of good will. If nothing else, that bridge would be permanently called: the Church bridge… Other modalities of giving help are also possible: one Church could rebuild a destroyed hospital, some other could renew some school, the third could renovate a demolished monastery or ruined church somewhere in Kosovo, the fourth could remake an object in an Albanian residential area, or something of that kind.

To conclude: The word crisis, in fact, signifies judgement. The current tragic crisis in Kosovo and Metohia, in Serbia and in Europe is measuring out a test for our Christian conscience, our feeling of responsibility, our love. The outcome of the crisis will not depend only on statesmen and politicians. It will depend on Churches and Christians too. But, most of all, it will depend on Him who is Present everywhere and permeates everything as the Treasury of goods and Giver of life. That is why we keep hoping, even when there is little hope, and rejoice in Him when we are sad.

For the Peace From Above — Table of Contents