March 22, 2004
IOCC Responding to Humanitarian Crisis in Kosovo Calls for an End to the Violence
Baltimore (IOCC) – Building on years of humanitarian assistance in Kosovo, International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) is responding to the needs of refugees and people displaced by the recent ethnic violence in Kosovo.
The humanitarian aid agency of Orthodox Christians, IOCC has been actively assessing the needs in the troubled province and consulting with local authorities and Church officials to determine an appropriate emergency response. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Red Cross, the Kosovo Coordinating Committee and others are being consulted on short-term needs.
IOCC is deeply concerned about the safety and well-being of those displaced, especially children. Working with local partners, IOCC expects to focus on vulnerable communities that have an immediate need for food, shelter and medical care.
IOCC has been active in Kosovo since 1993. During the NATO bombing campaign of 1999, IOCC was one of only three relief organizations to maintain an operational presence in the region, providing continuous humanitarian assistance to refugees and displaced persons in Serbia and Montenegro.
IOCC also has done small-scale projects in Kosovo through its office in Podgorica, Montenegro, and in partnership with the Visoki Decani Monastery and His Grace Bishop Artemije of the Diocese of Raska and Prizren (Kosovo).
Through its office in Belgrade, Serbia, IOCC supports a number of local initiatives designed to help displaced persons from Kosovo. IOCC provides legal assistance, up-to-date information and vocational training to displaced people, many of whom have spent years away from their homes.
IOCC encourages all people to pray for peace in the region and for an end to the violence there.
Appeal for protection of the Christian heritage in Kosovo
Additional information on our Diocese and the life of the Kosovo Serb Community may be found at: http://www.kosovo.com
ERP KIM Info-Service
Kosovo in the History of the Serbian Church
An essay on “Kosovo in the History of the Serbian Church” by Veselin Kesich (Professor of New Testament, Emeritus, at St Vlad’s) that was poblished in St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly four years ago is now available on the web at www.kosovo.com/kosovo_history.html
Statement to the Media, 18 March 2004
Ombudsman office, Pristina, Kosovo
I once again take the opportunity to appeal to the Albanian part of the population of Kosovo, not only as Ombudsperson in Kosovo, but also as a man who has been living among and working with people from Kosovo for the last four years. Throughout these years, I have been trying to help you by raising your problems and questions with the responsible people in UNMIK and the local administrative structures. I tried to be a people’s advocate and at the same time the friend of all Kosovans.
I had done all of this because I had assumed that you, the people of Kosovo, had chosen to take a path leading to a prosperous future for you and your families, a future in which you would live in a society that would be based on openness, tolerance and the protection of the rights of others.
The recent developments have, however, suggested that not all members of the Albanian community in Kosovo really want this prosperous future. Instead, the current pictures of horrible violence and heinous criminal acts against members of the Serbian community and the international security forces create the impression in and outside Kosovo that there exists the intent to cleanse this land from the presence of all Serbs, in total rejection of the idea of a multi-ethnic cohabitation in Kosovo.
However, there is still time to turn back from this dangerous and violent path of action, which will and can only lead to a dead-end. I cannot do more than to ask you to reconsider your present attitude, in the hope that even if you do not agree to listen to others, you will at least take into account the concerns and serious objections of the Ombudsperson.
Marek Antoni Nowicki
Ombudsperson in Kosovo
Churches Burn as NATO Boosts Kosovo Peace Force
New York Times / March 18, 2004
Mitrovica, Serbia and Montenegro (Reuters) – Albanians set fire to Serb Orthodox churches in Kosovo on Thursday as NATO scrambled to deploy up to 1,000 more troops to stifle an explosion of ethnic violence.
A church was torched in the flashpoint town of Mitrovica despite the efforts of French NATO peacekeepers, who fired teargas and rubber bullets to drive off the mob.
Gunshots were heard, but it was not clear where from.
A Serb church and Serb homes were also set ablaze in the central town of Obilic, near the provincial capital Pristina.
Reports from Obilic said NATO peacekeepers had evacuated about 100 Serbs because it could not guarantee their safety — as happened on Wednesday night in the capital, Pristina.
NATO summoned reinforcements after 22 people were killed in the worst ethnic clashes in Kosovo since the allies and the United Nations took control of the province from Serbia in 1999. Some 500 have been injured, of whom 20 were in intensive care.
The new troops will reinforce 17,500 peacekeepers and 9,000 local and international police trying to keep a lid on the province of two million Muslim Albanians demanding independence and 100,000 Serbs, many in enclaves relying on NATO protection.
U.S. soldiers blocked the Pristina-Mitrovica road and were checking all travelers as NATO sent 150 more U.S. troops and 80 Italian carabinieri. Britain readied 750 troops for Kosovo duty.
In Serbia the Interior Ministry put paramilitary police on the boundary with Kosovo on the top level of combat readiness.
Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said the violence had been “planned and organized” by ethnic Albanians bent on driving the remaining Serbs from the province and urged the U.N. Security Council to act to deter such “ethnic cleansing.”
In Prague, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer called on “all parties in Kosovo itself, but also in Belgrade of course, to show the utmost restraint” and prevent any further violence.
Flights in and out of Kosovo were suspended and internal boundaries with Serbia were closed. Troops of a dozen nations patrolled key areas, some next to gutted Serb buildings.
In a severe blow to international hopes of calm before talks this year or next on Kosovo’s future status, the outburst of pent-up ethnic hatred in over a dozen locations suggested that reconciliation between the two communities was years away.
Clashes were reported from Mitrovica in the north to Urosevac in the south and Pec in the west, and U.N. police and troops were injured in several places, at least three gravely.
The violence triggered angry protests in Serbia’s three main cities, where demonstrators stoned and burned mosques and other Islamic buildings. Serbs, whose forces were driven out of Kosovo by NATO in 1999, were furious at their own impotence and what they say is NATO’s failure to check Albanian “terrorism.”
U.N. police and vehicles and NATO troops were attacked and one policeman guarding a building in Pristina was shot in the leg. “People were trapped inside the burning building,” U.N. spokesman Derek Chappell told Reuters. “Police came under repeated gunfire when they tried to rescue them.”
Kosovo has been under U.N. control since NATO bombing forced out Serbian forces in mid-1999, halting Serb repression of Muslim Albanian civilians.
Patriarch Pavle urges Serbs: Refrain from revenge over Kosovo violence
Ecumenical News International
Daily News Service / 18 March 2004
By Clive Leviev-Sawyer
Sofia, 18 March (ENI)–Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Pavle held a special prayer service on Thursday and issued an appeal to Serbs to refrain from revenge after a flare-up of ethnic and religious tensions in Kosovo in which at least 22 people died.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) announced it was to send 1000 extra troops to Kosovo in response to the violence.
The violence in the area was reported to have begun on Wednesday after Serbs forced three Albanian children into a river. In retaliation, Serb houses were attacked and in the town of Obilic, a Serbian Orthodox Church was set alight.
“We must preserve ourselves at this time from any unthinkable revenge,” said Patriarch Pavle, in a special message on the crisis, seen as the worst outbreak of ethnic violence in the area since 1999.
The violence spilled beyond Kosovo’s borders. In Belgrade, the capital of Serbia and Montenegro, law enforcement authorities fired teargas to disperse participants in a demonstration against anti-Serb violence in Kosovo, where most of the ethnic Albanians are Muslims. Protestors set on fire Belgrade’s 17th-century mosque after clashing with police trying to guard it.
International news agencies also reported that Albanians set fire to Serbian Orthodox churches in Kosovo as NATO moved quickly to deploy more troops to smother an explosion of ethnic violence.
According to the information service of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Pavle said the special prayer service had been held to pray for “our suffering people in Kosovo and Metohija”.
Defence against “evildoers” should not be done in the manner of such evildoers, said the patriarch. “O Lord, help all, and even us and our enemies,” said Patriarch Pavle. “They are in need of peace, freedom, justice as are we.”
Serbs in the past accused the United Nations, which administers Kosovo, and NATO troops of failing to protect them in the region. Kosovo is officially a province of Serbia and Montenegro, but it has been run by a UN mission and NATO peacekeepers after a 1999 air campaign by NATO pushed back Serb forces which had been cracking down on independence-seeking ethnic Albanians.
Kosovo & Serbia: Churches & Mosques Destroyed amid Inter-ethnic Violence
Forum 18 News Service, Oslo, Norway
By Felix Corley and Branko Bjelajac
Some of the Serbian Orthodox Church’s most revered shrines have been burnt amid the upsurge of inter-ethnic violence that erupted in Kosovo on 17 March, leaving at least 22 people dead and several hundred wounded. Many of the Orthodox churches attacked were sheltering Serbs who had fled in fear from their homes. In apparent retaliation, two mosques have been extensively damaged after being set on fire in the Serbian capital Belgrade and in the central Serbian town of Nis. In Belgrade, Orthodox Metropolitan Amfilohije stepped in to urge firefighters to resist the mobs and to put out the fire in the mosque.
The violence came just days ahead of the fifth anniversary of the launch of Nato’s air raids in 1999 and the period around the anniversary is usually a tense time. The attacks are also taking place in the unofficial run-up to Kosovo’s autumn parliamentary elections. Last week, a hand grenade was thrown at the home of Ibrahim Rugova, who is more moderate than many ethnic Albanian politicians. It is believed that this attack was the work of Albanian extremists.
“Last night there was anarchy rather than orchestrated violence,” Pastor Artur Krasniqi, who leads the 150-strong Fellowship of the Lord’s People, an ethnic Albanian Protestant Church in Pristina, told Forum 18 from the city on 18 March. “It is shocking that something like this could happen in a day.” He condemned the attacks, including those on Serbs and Serbian Orthodox churches. “I feel ashamed. Everyone has lost.” He said no mosques or Protestant churches in Kosovo appear to have been attacked.
Pastor Krasniqi said he believed the attacks were launched for ethnic, not religious reasons. “The Orthodox Church is the only institution that has kept the Serbian community alive here,” he told Forum 18. “The Orthodox Church has played a political role, so it has always paid the price.” He described the upsurge in violence as a failure on the part of the United Nations administration UNMIK and KFOR, views echoed by Kosovo’s Serbian minority. “I was out in the streets of Pristina yesterday and it was shameful that KFOR was not there. UNMIK’s reaction too was very confused.”
These latest attacks have followed many such attacks since 1999 on Orthodox sites, and in no case have any arrests of attackers been made by UNMIK, KFOR, or the mainly ethnically Albanian Kosovo Protection Service (eg. see F8News http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=224 ).
Fr Sava (Janjic) of the Decani monastery in western Kosovo agreed with Pastor Krasniqi that the attacks were ethnically motivated, and argued that they were organised in a bid to promote the final ethnic cleansing of the Serbian population from Kosovo. “It was a real Kristallnacht,” he told Forum 18 from Decani on 18 March, referring to the Nazis’ attack on Jews, synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses in Germany in 1938.
He claimed that Albanian media had fabricated the original spark for the violence – the death of two Albanian children in the river Ibar in the ethnically-divided town of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo. “UNMIK said yesterday that there was no Serbian involvement in their death at all,” Fr Sava told Forum 18. “The entire story was inflated by the Albanian media. Everything was planned.”
The Belgrade-based B92 also quoted an unnamed UNMIK official as speaking of “Kristallnacht”. “What is happening in Kosovo must unfortunately be described as a pogrom against Serbs: churches are on fire and people are being attacked for no other reason than their ethnic background.”
The Fellowship of the Lord’s People told Forum 18 late on 17 March of its concern about the inter-ethnic violence. “In almost every town and city there are riots and protests – attacks against Albanians, Serbs, UN and KFOR alike.” Church members had gathered to pray that evening and had called a day of prayer and fasting for 18 March. “Please join us in praying for an end to this escalation of violence, anarchy and chaos and instead for peace and God’s mercy on our land.” It also called for prayer for protection for UN staff who were members of the church “and whose lives have been put in danger tonight”.
The riots in Kosovo flared on 17 March in Mitrovica, after the disputed death of two ethnic Albanian children. Albanians attacked the Serbian-populated Northern Mitrovica and then riots spread to Serbian-populated enclaves throughout Kosovo. International peacekeepers from KFOR and UNMIK struggled to restore law and order.
In the southern town of Prizren all the Serbian Orthodox sanctuaries were set on fire. The diocesan house, the theological faculty, the fourteenth century church of the Ljeviska Holy Mother, the monastery of the Holy Archangels, and also the church of St Saviour, which is on the hills just outside the town, were all set on fire and destroyed. The Church had evacuated the archive, library and museum exhibits from Prizren only a day earlier. The seven monks from the Holy Archangels monastery had been evacuated to a German KFOR base shortly before it was set on fire. The Orthodox have complained that German KFOR forces were “not ready to protect the monastery”.
A church in the eastern town of Kamenica was stoned twice, while the patriarchal seat in Gracanica monastery near Pristina was threatened with being set on fire. The Raska and Prizren Orthodox diocese reported in the afternoon of 17 March that “several mortar shells have fallen not far from Visoki Decani Monastery which were fired by Albanians at the monastery. Italian forces are presently protecting the Monastery. U.S. special forces are expected to arrive soon to reinforce defences.” The monastery, located in western Kosovo, is vulnerable to attack from the surrounding hills.
Fr Sava told Forum 18 that in the violence fifteen Orthodox sites were burnt, many of them being destroyed. He listed burnt churches in Pec, Djakovica, Urosevac, two in Kosovo Polje, Pristina, Gnjilane, Belo Polje and Obilic, and above all in Prizren, which saw the worst attacks. He described the burning of the fourteenth century cathedral as “the greatest loss”. Although some priests and monks were among the injured Serbs, no clergy deaths were reported. He said the nuns of the Pec convent were safe at present under strong Italian KFOR protection.
Tens of thousands of people demonstrated on the streets of Novi Sad, Nis and Belgrade during the night of 17-18 March. They clashed with riot police, notably in Belgrade were dozens of police officers were injured. The most serious unrest was in front of the Serbian government building, the United States embassy and the seventeenth century Bajrakli mosque, the only mosque in Belgrade. The mob broke through the police line, then set the mosque on fire just after midnight. Fresh police, firefighters and ambulance crews, who arrived shortly after the fire broke out, did not dare to come closer to the mosque in fear of the mob, which mostly consisted of young fans from Belgrade’s sports clubs. Several reporters were also injured and their cameras destroyed.
Soon after the fire broke out, the Orthodox Metropolitan Amfilohije (Radovic) of Montenegro and the Littoral came out to the front of the mob and pleaded with them to stop the violence. Then, surrounded by a small number of people protecting him, he went to the police and firefighters standing nearby, asking them to react and preserve “what could be preserved”. “The children are playing dangerous games, but grown men should react,” he told them. After initial hesitation, the firefighters did intervene, so the Belgrade mosque, which is “under state protection”, was saved from complete destruction.
Hamdija Ephendi Jusufspahic, a retired leader of Serbia’s Islamic community, told the press later in the night that he was unable to enter the mosque and that this was “a terrible day for us all”. He also thanked Metropolitan Amfilohije for his intervention.
The mosque in Nis was set on fire about 10.30 pm, after thousands of demonstrators came in front of it. Although firefighters soon arrived, they were prevented from coming closer to the mosque by a mob, which stopped them from tackling the fire for another 45 minutes. The inside of the mosque was completely burnt-out, as was one minaret. Attacks also took place on Muslim property in Novi Sad.
At Belgrade’s mosque today (18 March), Forum 18 saw six wrecked and burnt cars, three of them police vehicles. The mosque is standing, but the inside it burnt out, though the medressa behind the mosque was not burnt. Police guarding the entrance told Forum 18 an official investigation is in progress. Firefighters are still extinguishing small fires in cars. Completely destroyed is a third building in the mosque yard, used for religious education of children, and a storage facility. Belgrade’s mayor has visited the mosque and spoken to the mufti. Ironically, they met on 17 March and agreed to provide a new facade and lights.
The Serbian government held an emergency session late on 17 March and the United Nations Security Council called an emergency meeting for 18 March.
For more background information, see Forum 18’s latest Kosovo religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=137
A printer-friendly map of Kosovo & Serbia (map title Serbia and Montenegro) is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=europe&Rootmap=yugosl
The map follows international legal usage in indicating the boundaries of territories. Kosovo is in international law part of Serbia & Montenegro, although administered by the UN.
Kristallnacht in Kosovo
forthcoming in National Review, 19 March 2004
by Damjan de Krnjevic-Miskovic
A pogrom started in Europe on Wednesday. A UN official is quoted as saying that “Kristallnacht is under way in Kosovo.” Serbs are being murdered and their 800 year old churches are aflame. Much of the Christian heritage in Kosovo and Metohija is on fire and could be lost forever. By these deeds too many of Kosovo’s Albanians have shown that all the speeches about democracy and multiethnicity we have been hearing in Kosovo since June 1999, and the naïve repetition of them by the international community, are false. These words too are burning, as is the hope in the hearts of right-thinking policymakers across the world that Kosovo’s barbarians can be civilized at little cost to the West.
Just as in the 1930s, a rumor became a fact and prearranged plans were put into action. Members of the victimized community in Kosovo, in this case, Serbian children, were accused of chasing four Albanian children into a river and causing the death of three of them. Hours later, what passes for authority in Kosovo, the UN Mission, issued a statement that the accusation against the Serbs was false, that the surviving Albanian child had told the UN that there had been no Serbs–yet the violence escalated. And yesterday it continued unabated. And today Kosovo burns still.
Beginning in the ethnically-divided city of Kosovska Mitrovica, in the northern third of the entity, when a horde of armed Albanians crossed into the Serbian half of the city, breaching a Polish peacekeepers’ line, the ensuing violence killed half a dozen people of both ethnic groups.
Hours later, busloads of Albanians were transported to areas where Serbs are concentrated–in some cases, clashing with international peacekeepers. In some areas, entire Serbian villages have been burned to the ground. The UN, ever courageous, evacuated its missions from at least three cities in Kosovo. In two of them, Serbian Orthodox churches are in flames. And it only got worse during that first night, and then again the next day.
Monasteries and churches dating back to the 12th century are burning; 14 have been completely destroyed. Their cultural significance–not only for Christians but for all humanity–is irreplaceable. Photographs and memories are all the remain of these objects of civilization. And the UN fled.
The wave of violence has been too well-planned and coordinated to be a spontaneous reaction to rumors. “It was planned in advance”, said Derek Chappell, the UN’s Kosovo mission spokesman. All that was needed was a pretext. It is clear that some in the Kosovo Albanian leadership believe that by cleansing all remaining Serbs from the entity (having already achieved the cleansing of two-thirds of Kosovo’s Serbs after “liberation” in 1999) and destroying all Serbian cultural sites, they can present the international community with a fait accompli. But ethnic purity cannot be allowed to be the foundation for democracy and independence.
Upon hearing the news of the pogrom and the burning of churches in Kosovo, a small crowd of Belgraders surrounded the city’s mosque in retaliation. Windows were broken, and a fire was started. (They did the same in Serbia’s second largest city, Nis.) In contrast to the scene in Kosovo, the Serbian government dispatched several hundred police to try and control the crowd; joining them was a Serbian Orthodox bishop who tried to talk the crowd down. They did not succeed entirely. The Belgrade crowd is as despicable, but it is far smaller (numbering in the hundreds, not the tens of thousands), and they had to fight government authorities and disregard the pleadings of a bishop to commit their deeds. And 78 of them have been arrested. In Kosovo, where are the Albanian politicians standing in front of the Serbian holy sites? Who was guarding the Serbian churches and villages? Why are they in flames? There are 18,000 foreign troops in Kosovo. Why have they not doing more?
The Kosovo Albanian leadership, while insisting they are capable of governing an independent state, claim that they are unable to control their constituents and stop the pogrom. At the same time, they argue that immediate independence for Kosovo will ensure that Kosovo’s Serbs and the holy sites will be protected. So while the leader of the most influential political party in Kosovo, Hasim Thaci, travels abroad preaching the virtues of multiethnicity and a civic-based identity, all five Serbian holy sites in his own home town of Prizren have burned. Meanwhile, his political party and other Kosovo Albanian parties issue statements blaming all this on the Serbs. In the 1930s, they did this as well.
This does not mean that individual Albanian leaders and ordinary Albanians have not acted honorably. Thaci did not want this to happen, and his hastily arranged return to Kosovo may well calm the situation. As a former KLA man, he might be able to reign-in some of the pogrom’s leaders. The Kosovo Albanian prime minister, Bajram Rexhepi, and Ramush Haradinaj, a former KLA terrorist commander and the leader of one of their political parties, have been commended by local officials and Serbian Orthodox Church figures for their assistance. But on the other hand, these same men have been promissing for 5 years to rebuild Serbian churches and homes, and to investigate the approximately 3,000 ethnically murders and kidnappings, that have taken place since June 1999. Their words did not translate into actions. Where have they been for the past five years? Their inaction certainly contributed to the perception by Albanian extremists that they could get away with murder and with arson. And they have. How many arrests will we see this time? Will an Albanian judge convict one of his own for a crime against a Serb? It hadn’t happened before Kristallnacht in Kosovo. Can it happen now?
Post-June1999, Kosovo’s Serbs were willing to reject the lessons of history and try to work with–even trust their Albanian neighbors–and believe Kosovo’s Albanian politicians who promised that religious freedom and multiethnicity would be made permanent–that the values of the West would take root in Kosovo.
At the same time, Kosovo’s Serbs have for years been warning of the real nature of Albanian nationalism, and the UN and the West have thought these to be exaggerations. But as the Diocese of Kosovo’s statement from Wednesday makes clear, “What has happened today and is happening this evening in Kosovo and Metohija represents a horrible defeat for the entire UN mission which has been deceiving the world for the past five years with their alleged successes when in fact they were enabling militarization.”
Murder upon murder, kidnapping upon kidnapping, arson upon arson, and now finally this pogrom–have led the Serbs to the awful realization that they are at the mercy of barbarians. This is ethnic aggression of the worst sort “in the heart of Europe,” as Madeleine Albright famously called Kosovo before she bombed Serbia. Today we see the true face of the multiethnicity of which they all spoke so highly. And all this is happening under UN and NATO administration. Imagine how bad it could get if they get their independence.
Senator Sam Brownback, after having met Artemije, the Bishop of Kosovo, several weeks ago in Washington, wrote a letter to President George W. Bush in which he concluded “We should not consider advancing the cause of independence of a people whose first act when liberated was to ethnically cleanse a quarter of a million of their fellow citizens and destroy over a hundred of their holy sites.” What might he say now? What will we all say? Will we do nothing, just like in the 1930s?
Damjan de Krnjevic-Miskovic
The National Interest
1615 L Street, NW, Suite 1230
Washington, DC 20036
telephone: 202.467.4884 x3
Kosovo & Serbia: Pristina Orthodox Priest “Lucky” to Be Alive
http://www.forum18.org/ 19 March 2004
By Branko Bjelajac, Forum 18 News Service
The parish priest of the Church of St Nicholas in Kosovo’s capital Pristina has told Forum 18 News Service he is lucky to be alive after his church was set on fire by an Albanian mob yesterday evening (18 March) and the parish house where he was hiding was set on fire when the mob returned just before dawn this morning. ”I went to the cellar and hid,” Fr Miroslav Popadic told Forum 18 News Service in tears from Pristina on 19 March. ”They entered the church yard, spread petrol or diesel around and set it alight. I was lucky they did not look in the cellar otherwise God knows if this morning I would still be alive.”
Some seventeen churches and other Serbian Orthodox sites have been attacked and burnt in Kosovo in the anti-Serb violence that began on 17 March (see F18News 18 March 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=280 ). At least 31 people have now been killed with hundreds wounded as Nato has rushed extra troops to the United Nations-administered Kosovo to reinforce the 18,500-strong international KFOR peace keeping force as it struggles to cope with the violence.
The situation of St Nicholas’ church, along with other Orthodox shrines in Kosovo has caused the Orthodox Church deep concern for a long time, with an immediate increase in attacks on St Nicholas’ after KFOR removed its guard force last May (see F18News 13 May 2003 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=54 ). As with all the other attacks on Orthodox shrines since 1999, neither UNMIK, nor KFOR, nor the mainly ethnically Albanian Kosovo Protection Service have arrested any attackers.
Fr Popadic said the mob arrived about 8.30 pm yesterday to attack the nineteenth century St Nicholas’ Church, destroying and desecrating it before setting it on fire. When the mob returned almost at dawn, he escaped by hiding in the cellar of the parish house. Before leaving, the mob set his house on fire. KFOR troops entered the church yard soon after and evacuated Fr Popadic in an armoured car to the safety of their nearby base.
He said KFOR had put all the more than 300 Serbs from Pristina and the nearly town of Obilic in the vicinity of the city’s old military barracks, where they are protected by Norwegian troops. “There are pregnant women and two babies 2-3 weeks old,” he told Forum 18. “We have no beds and the food is detestable. We were freezing last night. People are desperate and some of them are planning to leave for Serbia on foot. We have no life here anymore.”
Another priest described the situation on 17 March as being “like a state of war”. “It was an armed clash, houses were burned, and people were wounded and killed,” Fr Nektarije, serving in the KIM Radio station, a local Serbian and Orthodox radio station in Gracanica area near Pristina, told Forum 18 on 19 March. ”We had to evacuate women and children to Laplje selo, inside Serbian territory.”
On 18 March, Albanian mobs destroyed three more Serbian Orthodox churches: in Donja Slapasnica, near Kamenica; in the village of Brnjak, near Bela Crkva and Orahovac; and the church of St Sava in the southern, Albanian-populated part of the divided city of Mitrovica.
Some Albanian elected politicians have tried to calm the violence. The Decani monastery brotherhood reported on 18 March that the mayor of Decani, Ibrahim Selmonaj of the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK), phoned Fr Sava Janjic, the deputy abbot of the Visoki Decani Monastery, to inform him that the leadership of Decani municipality and the AAK, the most influential party in the area, were making all possible efforts to prevent the escalation of violence and damage to the monastery. Fr Sava thanked Selmonaj for his political leadership and responsibility.
Decani monastery also appealed to all political leaders to refrain from issuing emotional statements and to return to moderation and diplomacy to defuse the tensions. The monastery particularly appealed to the media to help the process of reconciliation and stopping the violence.
Zivojin Rakocevic, editor in chief of KIM Radio in Gracanica, believes the violence was organised by Albanian “tribal structures” which had never been brought under official control, whether under Ottoman rule, during the Yugoslav kingdom or under Communist rule. “Their teams of executors roam around and level everything that is not theirs, whatever does not belong to their nation. This is Albanian nationalism, and religion and faith does not have a part in this,” he told Forum 18 on 19 March. “The international community today in Kosovo also does not control this irrational sentiment.”
Marek Antoni Nowicki, the international community’s ombudsperson in Kosovo, said yesterday (18 March) that “The recent developments have, however, suggested that not all members of the Albanian community in Kosovo really want this prosperous future. Instead, the current pictures of horrible violence and heinous criminal acts against members of the Serbian community and the international security forces create the impression in and outside Kosovo that there exists the intent to cleanse this land from the presence of all Serbs, in total rejection of the idea of a multi-ethnic cohabitation in Kosovo”.
Attacks on churches have also spread to neighbouring Bosnia. The Holy Virgin’s Birth Orthodox Church in Bugojno was also attacked, and its roof set on fire late yesterday (18 March), parish priest Fr Slavisa Djurisic reported.
In the wake of the attacks on fourteen Orthodox churches and other sites in Kosovo in the night of 17 to 18 March, mobs made reprisal attacks on mosques in the Serbian capital Belgrade, the southern Serbian city of Nis and on the Islamic community headquarters in the town of Novi Sad in the northern Vojvodina region, leaving them gutted (see F18News 18 March 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=280 ).
Visiting the remains of the mosque in Nis on 18 March Forum 18 saw the roof totally destroyed, the inside gutted and the minaret damaged. The walls have been daubed with Serbian nationalist graffiti, such as “Out of our land – this is Serbia!” Police are now guarding the remains of the building, and local people come to look at it as though it were a museum exhibit.
The Catholic bishops of Serbia and Montenegro condemned the wave of violence. ”With deep sorrow we commiserate with the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Islamic Faith Community because of the destruction and burning of the sacral sites, churches and mosques,” they declared on 18 March. “Such destruction and burning represent acts deserving strong condemnation and regret, because they are putting down civilisation and especially the possibility of coexistence and mutual respect.”
The Serbian government has been in permanent emergency session, while on 18 March the United Nations Security Council denounced “the large-scale inter-ethnic violence”, calling for the province’s authorities to ensure that the rule of law is maintained, all ethnic communities feel properly secure and the perpetrators of crimes are brought to justice.
Today (18 March) the government has organised a procession from the government building in Belgrade to the city’s St Sava cathedral. Church bells across the country will toll.
The map follows international legal usage in indicating the boundaries of territories. Kosovo is in international law part of Serbia & Montenegro, although administered by the UN.
Burning churches, ruined homes and ethnic hatred. Are the Balkans set to explode again?
The Independent (UK) / www.independent.co.uk / 19 March 2004
By Jeta Xharra in Obilic and Marcus Tanner
Nato rushed 1,000 extra troops to Kosovo last night – 750 of them British – amid fears that the Balkans were again sliding towards a conflagration that could suck in neighbouring countries.
With at least 23 dead in two days of ethnic rioting that have pitted the two million Albanians against the small Serb minority, and with dozens of churches and houses reduced to smoking ruins, Western efforts to impose peace appeared about to unravel.
Last night Albanians were again fighting their Serb neighbours in Lipljan, in eastern Kosovo, and the worst violence to afflict the province since the Serb pull-out in 1999 seemed set to continue into a third day.
But in a new and more worrying development, Albanian rioters were also attacking Finnish peace-keepers patrolling the small Serbian enclave, hurling stones and Molotov cocktails at the men they until recently thought of as their protectors.
The large-scale deployment of international peace-keepers quelled rioting in the northern town of Kosovska Mitrovica, scene of the worst violence on Wednesday, when Serbs and Albanians traded gunfire across the river Ibar, claiming at least six lives. But yesterday, fresh arson attacks on other isolated Serb enclaves raised the nightmare scenario of Western peace- keepers being stretched beyond their capacity, trying to dampen down brush fires in dozens of areas at once.
Plumes of smoke rising from the small town of Obilic, six miles from Pristina, revealed a glimpse of the problems facing peace-keepers. No roadblocks stopped our car – from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting – as we drove towards Obilic and entered the Serb enclave. There we encountered a 100-strong gang of sullen, trainer-clad youths, bolstered by ragged gangs of children, all busily stoning homes, lighting fires and looting goods.
Most of the houses were empty, the terrified Serbs having fled hours before in anticipation of the wave of hatred that was about to break over their small community. But the crowd had surrounded one house that was still occupied. There was an atmosphere of sinister jubilation as the jeering crowd reluctantly parted to allow US peace-keepers to enter and escort a terrified man from the smoke-filled interior to a tank in which he was driven away.
The grim scene in Obilic was a portrait in miniature of the violence that has racked Kosovo for two days, as Albanians turned simultaneously on several Serb enclaves, in what may have started as a spontaneous protest but which has assumed the hallmarks of an organised campaign. As the extra S-For troops were rushed from Bosnia to beef up Kosovo’s visibly disorientated 17,000 peace-keepers, there were signs that their arrival might calm the fury of the Albanian gangs.
The lawlessness engulfing Kosovo has given an opportunity for shadowy extremists to renew the score-settling that has plagued the territory for centuries. What might have started off as an isolated burst of anger in Mitrovica over the still unexplained drowning of two Albanian children now appears to be something more planned. “We have had similar attacks to these in Kosovo before,” said a UN spokesman, Derek Chappell. “But the fact that these attacks took place at the same time all over Kosovo does make me think they were orchestrated by the same extreme groups.”
Lt-Colonel James Moran, a K-For spokesman, was more explicit. “There was a lot more organisation today than we saw yesterday,” he said. “People had organised buses to take protesters to different areas. We turned several around.” Whoever was behind that agenda has certainly succeeded in nullifying the UN’s attempts to build bridges between Serbs and Albanians over the past four years.
The scale of the rage shown by the crowds caught local Albanian politicians and commentators off guard as well. They were just as unprepared as the UN. “In 24 hours Kosovo was transferred from normality to a state close to anarchy,” said Veton Surroi, a veteran liberal activist and editor of the newspaper Koha Ditore.
But few of the mainstream politicians went much further than issuing vague appeals for calm – which the rioters simply ignored. Even the remonstrations of Albanians in the streets had no effect on the rioters. “Don’t worry, we are not going to burn your house,” one group of thugs in Obilic shouted at an elderly Albanian man who denounced what they were up to.
The bitterness has built up over months. Increasingly fearful that the international community will force Kosovo to remain in Serbia, the rhetoric of Albanian leaders over eight months has taken on an increasingly strident anti-UN tone.
The question is now what, if anything, can be done to restore even the bare bones of trust on either side. Little can be expected from Serbia, now entering a presidential election in which the ultra-nationalist Radical Party candidate is the odds-on favourite to win. Nor are even the moderate Albanian leaders in Kosovo certain of what will come next. “A policy died yesterday in Kosovo and it took human lives in the most tragic way,” said Mr Surroi.
The funerals – both Serb and Albanian – have not even begun, but what is certain is that at numerous gravesides, calls for revenge will again be heard.