Skip to comments.Centuries-Old Churches in Jeopardy from Albanian-Serb Conflicts
Posted on 06/17/2006 11:38:39 AM PDT by Doctor13
A picturesque valley in the western province of Kosovo is home to the largest and most urgently preserved monastery in Serbia. The 14th century Visoki Decani monastery has not only survived the passage of time but also the ravages of war. Even though around half the Serb population fled a wave of revenge attacks after the war, the 100,000 who stayed are still targeted by sporadic violence. Stoning of police and attacks on individuals are not uncommon.
In 1998, Slobodan Milosevic, who was president at the time, led troops against Albanian forces in an effort to reclaim parts of Kosovo. The following year, NATO airstrikes in Kosovo ended the war when the United Nations intervened, offering a treaty between the two sides.
But ongoing tensions and violence between Kosovo's Serbian and Albanian populations don't simply affect the people who live there -- there's also a real physical threat to that region's centuries-old churches and monasteries.
If you wish to admire the Visoki Decani monastery, you must first pass a heavily armored military checkpoint and a thick 600-year-old wall. Inside lies the pearl of the Serbian Orthodox Church, such an important symbol of an endangered cultural heritage that its protection is at the top of the agenda of the latest diplomatic effort in the Balkans.
Seven years after that NATO intervention, ethnic Albanians and Serbian officials met a few days ago in Vienna to discuss the protection of the region's religious sites thus far guaranteed by international peacekeepers.
Nestled at the foot of the Prokletije Mountains in western Kosovo, on meadows that shepherds roam with their flocks, the Visoki Decani monastery seems centuries removed from modern politics. The mostly young monks lead a life that has changed little since medieval times, with one exception.
Father Sava juggles his mobile phone with his computer hooked up to the Internet, surrounded by piles of newspapers -- essential tools for this outspoken activist, who has been telling the outside world about his church and the plight of minority Serbs in the UN-governed former Yugoslav province.
"Living in a medieval setting does not mean accepting a medieval mentality. The Internet enables us to speak from the pulpit of a keyboard," said Father Sava, whose use of modern technology earned him the nickname "cybermonk," he told me the first time I met him in July 2000.
Six years later, not much has changed. While sipping coffee under the wooden porch with two Serbs who the monastery is hosting because they cannot return to their homes due to the ongoing still-ethnic tensions with the Albanians. Father Sava regrets the slow progress in building a truly multiethnic, respectful Kosovo.
"The monastery is a thorn in the eye for some people, he explains. "Symbolically, it is very important as a Christian monument, which proves that Serbs have been living here for centuries, and Kosovo has always been multiethnic, not monoethnic."
Life in Kosovo has been a struggle for Serbs since June 1999, when NATO air bombing halted Belgrade's repression against independence-seeking ethnic Albanians. Since then, this region has been a United Nations protectorate.
With the region still formally part of Serbia, negotiations aimed at resolving its status began in February. Ethnic Albanians say they will settle for nothing less than complete independence. And Serbs won't surrender land they consider the cradle of their civilization.
For them, Kosovo is "Metohija," the land of monasteries. The deadlocked region of fertile plains and snowcapped mountains is dotted with religious buildings, many of which are more than 400 years old.
In 2004, UNESCO listed Visoki Decani on the World Heritage List, citing its frescoes as "one of the most valued examples of the so-called Palaeologan renaissance in Byzantine painting" and "a valuable record of the life in the 14th century."
"Serbian Orthodox heritage in Kosovo is probably one of the most important parts of Serbian heritage in general. It is part of the Serbian identity," says Father Sava. But it's an identity in danger: Since 1999, more than 100 churches have been the target of Albanian extremists. The continual violence culminated in March 2004, when holy sites were targeted.
The city of Prizren, the jewel of the short-lived Serbian empire of the 14th century, suffered the worst damage, with four medieval buildings badly harmed.
The church of Bogorodica Ljeviska, completed by King Milutin in 1307, was burned down by a mob. Slobodan Curcic, professor of art and architecture at Princeton University and UNESCO consultant, considered it "one of the finest examples of late Byzantine architecture anywhere. For Curcic, "the destruction of these monuments are in fact acts against Byzantine cultural heritage."
At the meeting held in Vienna on the protection of this precious heritage, Ylber Hysa, a Kosovo Albanian negotiator, said that Kosovo's capital city, Pristina, is offering "full recognition of the rule and the status of the church in Kosovo." The ethnic Albanian-dominated government, Hysa added, is committed to "provid[ing] legal guarantees, physical protection, along with benefits like tax exemption, and creation of special zones."
For the moment, though, the international military presence seems to be essential. "We need long-term security, says Father Sava, as the monastery is not only Serb, it's part of a Christian heritage that belongs to the whole of Europe."
An important sign of reconciliation and recognition arrived when Fatmir Sejdiu -- the Kosovo Albanian president who took office last February after the death of independence-icon Ibrahim Rugova -- visited the Visoki Decani monastery to mark the Orthodox Easter, the first icebreaking gesture since the end of the conflict seven years ago.
Yet much remains to be done. "The problem," Father Sava reflects, "is that there is a very ethnic-based approach in Kosovo, where the Serbs are neglected, with a lack of responsibility in ensuring that Serbs should live like normal citizens. I wish we had a leadership that would take care of the citizens of Kosovo as a whole."
It should have read, "Kosovo Tensions Put More Than People At Risk. Centuries-Old Churches in Jeopardy from Albanian-Serb Conflicts."
They're not "in jeopardy."
They're already blown up.
ABC just discovered this NOW?
What a horsesh*t article (as expected from the MSM).
No mention of the word muslim.
NO MENTION that over 100 churches have already been blown up (dynamited) by the muslim Albanians that Clinton, SOROS, and NATO put in place in Kosovo.
And Clinton helped the Albanian Muslims conquer part of Serbia in order to take Monica off the headlines. Clinton, always thinking of what's best for the world. And now this. What a shame. But it's even worse, as these Muslim invaders are in the process of conquering "Fortress Europe". And nobody seems to be interested in stopping it.
Is this true?
Catalog of churches destroyed and desecrated by Albanian extremists in Kosovo and Metohia (June-October 1999)
17 Kosovo churches, monasteries and convents looted or set ablaze
Reuters ^ | Thu 18 March, 2004 21:22 | Fredrik Dahl
Serbs brace for more attacks Thu 18 March, 2004 21:22
By Fredrik Dahl
PRISTINA, Serbia and Montenegro (Reuters) - Albanians have set fire to Serb churches across Kosovo in a second day of attacks as NATO boosted its force by 1,000 and vowed to stamp out ethnic violence with "robust" action.
Serbia and Montenegro's Defence Minister Boris Tadic said he expected more violence in the majority Albanian province and appealed to NATO to do more to calm the "terrible situation".
"I am afraid there will be more attacks during the night. This is an emergency situation and we need the help of the international community," Tadic told a news conference on Thursday in Bratislava, where he was attending a European forum.
The appeal came after the worst ethnic clashes in Kosovo since NATO and the United Nations took control of the province from Serbia in 1999.
At least 23 people -- Albanians and Serbs -- were killed, and 500 wounded, of whom 20 were in intensive care.
"The thousands of ethnic Albanians that attacked KFOR, the police, Serb enclaves and churches should be aware of robust reserve forces," KFOR mission commander General Holger Kammerhoff of Germany told reporters in the capital, Pristina.
Commanders of the multinational brigades were authorised to use "proportional force necessary to ensure safety of our soldiers, to protect the innocent people of Kosovo and reestablish freedom of movement of all of Kosovo", he said.
CHURCHES, MONASTERIES ABLAZE
A Serb official in Lipljan, central Kosovo, said about 300 Albanians were trying to enter a church protected by Finnish U.N. peacekeepers. Some threw hand grenades and Finnish troops fired back, municipal leader Borivoje Vignjevic told Reuters.
Serb Orthodox clergy in Kosovo said 17 churches, monasteries and convents had been looted or set ablaze.
Nuns from Devic Monastery near Srbica, south of Mitrovica, were flown out on KFOR helicopters -- after French troops sought church permission -- when at least 1,000 armed Albanians threatened the convent, the church said.
The Orthodox church in Pristina was also burning on Thursday evening and the priest was hiding in the cellar of his parish house next door, a spokesman at the Belgrade Patriarchy said.
NATO troops fired tear gas and plastic rounds to stop an Albanian march on Caglavica, a Serb village hit in the violence.
In the central town of Obilic, Serbs appealed to KFOR for weapons to defend themselves as Albanians, whose religion is Islam, set fire to their homes and drove them out.
"There are no more Serbs in Obilic," local Serb Mirce Jakoljevic told Belgrade's B92 radio. "I urge our state to exert the strongest possible pressure on KFOR to send us weapons."
FROM CLARK TO JONES
The Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General James L. Jones -- whose predecessor but one General Wesley Clark bombed Serbia to force it out of Kosovo -- said extra troops were part of "a prudent reinforcement" of 18,500 already there.
"The reinforcements include a battalion sized, rapid response reserve force" to be deployed where needed, he said.
The violence began on Monday when a Serb teenager was wounded in a drive-by shooting. The following day three Albanian boys drowned in a river, reportedly after being chased by Serbs. On Wednesday, the province exploded.
Serbia's main representative on Kosovo, Nebojsa Covic told Serbs in Mitrovica the violence "has all been organised in advance and pre-planned by Albanians and their lobbyists".
"This might be the decisive battle for Kosovo and the survival of Serbs in Kosovo and we must win," he said.
In a session of the Kosovo parliament, representatives of three main Albanian parties said the only way to calm Kosovo was to declare it independent - a constant demand held at bay by the United Nations, which wants peace before any status decision.
U.S. soldiers blocked the Pristina-Mitrovica road and were checking all travellers as 150 more U.S. troops and 80 Italian carabinieri arrived and Britain readied 750 troops.
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 urged the U.N. Security Council to act to stop "ethnic cleansing" by Albanians.
"We are doing our utmost to find a political solution to stop this," he told Serbian state television.
Angry protesters in Serbia's three main cities stoned and burned mosques and other Islamic buildings on Wednesday night, furious at what they called NATO's failure to check Albanian "terrorism".
Arab Troops Abetting Attacks On Kosovo Churches?
Sep. 14, 2000
PRISTINA, Kosovo, Sep. 14, 00 (CWNews.com/Keston) - On Wednesday, the chief spokesman for KFOR, the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo, vigorously denied Serbian Orthodox allegations that troops of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) serving under KFOR command have collaborated with attacks on Serbian Orthodox churches in the internationally-administered province.
Lt. Col. Patrick Poulain told Keston that such allegations were "completely wrong," although he confirmed that all his information derives solely from reports submitted by the UAE troops themselves.
The Orthodox diocese of Raska and Prizren declared in a statement earlier in the week that the 20 UAE troops guarding the Church of St. Elijah in Vucitrn, central Kosovo, "permitted Albanian terrorists to carry out an attack on the Church" in the early hours of August 18. The diocese also claimed that UAE troops denied entrance to Vucitrn to Bishop Artemije of Raska and Prizren and his entourage when they tried to visit the site the following day.
Poulain denied that any UAE troops were guarding St. Elijah's Church as it had already been ruined during an earlier attack. "KFOR only guards Orthodox churches that are still in use," he said. As for the claim that Bishop Artemije and his entourage were barred from visiting the site, Poulain said that he was "not aware" of such an incident as no reports on it had come in, but said he would seek further information. "It is possible that a safety zone was set up around the target to make sure that no other devices were still in the building."
Kosovo Church Leveled August 1, 2000
by Mark Rose
Church of the Holy Prophet Elijah after its partial destruction in 1999 (Courtesy Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of Serbia) [LARGER IMAGE]
An explosion destroyed the Church of the Holy Prophet Elijah in Pomazetin, a village just outside Kosovo Polje and near Pristina, around 11:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 16, according to an AP report. Apparently based on an interview with UN police officer Oleg Rubezhov, the report said that approximately 66 pounds of explosives had been used, the church was totally destroyed, and two men were seen fleeing the scene just before the blast.
The AP story incorrectly stated that the church is of Medieval date. The Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of Serbia provided the following information about the church: it was first built in 1937, was torn town during the Second World War, then rebuilt in 1964. In June 1999 the church was robbed, burned, and partly demolished with explosives.
For more on the region's churches and monasteries, see "Legacy of Medieval Serbia."
35 religious buildings, including nine medieval churches containing numerous artistic treasures, either damaged or destroyed
NY Times, April 04, 2004
Treasured Churches in a Cycle of Revenge
By NICHOLAS WOOD and DAVID BINDER
RISTINA, Kosovo - "Kishe kaput; very good," said the smiling boy, using an incongruous mix of Albanian, German and English to describe the remains of St. Nicholas, Pristina´s only working Serbian Orthodox church. Next to him the four walls of the church were smoldering.
The previous night a mob of Albanian youths had set this mid-19th-century building on fire, largely unhindered by the police and the United Nations peacekeeping forces who patrol this province.
Farther down the steep road in front of the church lay the embers of a wood-framed bell tower that had somehow been knocked down and dragged into the street.
According to officials of the Serbian Orthodox Church, St. Nicholas is one of 35 religious buildings, including nine medieval churches containing numerous artistic treasures, that were either damaged or destroyed in two days of attacks by Albanians on Serbs and Serbian cultural institutions across Kosovo that began on March 17. The fighting left 19 people dead and more than 900 injured, the United Nations authority in Kosovo said. Church officials said an additional 112 churches in Kosovo had been destroyed or damaged since June 1999, when this Serbian province was put under United Nations control after NATO´s bombing war against Belgrade.
After a period of uneasy quiet, the majority Albanian population has been growing restive about the slow progress toward independence.
But for Serbs, who now make up less than 10 percent of the population of 2 million, Kosovo is the cradle of Serbia´s national identity, the Serbian Orthodox equivalent of the Vatican. Its churches, many founded by medieval kings, are symbols of a long-standing claim to the province that is still formally a part of Serbia and Montenegro, the state that replaced Yugoslavia. As such the churches were obvious targets for angry Albanians.
But witnesses said NATO troops responsible for guarding them did little or nothing.
Many of Kosovo´s most important churches escaped the worst of the violence, but it will be difficult to assess the full extent of the damage done to Serbian culture, said Andras Riedlmayer, a librarian at the Fine Arts Library at Harvard, who made surveys of Kosovo´s architectural heritage in 1999 and 2001.
"One must assume," he said, "that less ancient and famous Serbian Orthodox churches, parish houses and monastery buildings that were attacked all contained items of movable religious heritage, sacred Scriptures, religious literature, icons; as well as parish records that were destroyed, damaged or looted."
Prizren, tucked beneath mountains in the southwest of the province, suffered the worst damage. Four medieval buildings were badly harmed in the town, the jewel of the short-lived Serbian empire of the 14th century. (In 2002 the old town was listed on the World Monuments Fund´s list of the world´s 100 most endangered sites.)
Slobodan Curcic, professor of art and architecture at Princeton, said "the destruction of these monuments are in fact acts against Byzantine cultural heritage."
The list of damaged buildings included, he said, "the church of Bogorodica Ljeviska, one of the finest examples of late Byzantine architecture anywhere, completed under King Milutin in 1307 and painted with exquisite frescoes."
Mr. Curcic visited the Kosovo churches a year ago on a mission from Unesco. In a telephone interview, he also noted the destruction of the monastery of the Holy Archangels with its tomb of King Dusan; the Church of the Savior with 14th-century frescoes; the Church of St. George; and Runovic´s Church.
The nearby Devic monastery (1434), which was "painstakingly restored from 1946 to 1967" and vandalized in 1990, Mr. Curcic said, was "finally destroyed during the latest spree." Mr. Curcic was one of two organizers of the Serbian portion of the Byzantine exhibition currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. "Ironically," he said, "this is taking place at the very moment that the largest show of late Byzantine art ever assembled has been opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art."
Veton Nurkollari, an ethnic Albanian who owns a photography shop opposite the Church of St. George in Prizren, said German troops responsible for the area were nowhere to be seen when a small group of Albanian youths began attacking the church around 6:30 p.m. on March 17.
"In 15 to 20 minutes they demolished the door and set it on fire," he said, speaking by phone. "In one to two hours it had burned down completely." He said he wondered why German troops had made no attempt to stop the group of men who, he said, numbered less than 100.
A similar scene took place in the northern city of Mitrovica the following day: a mob of several hundred youths attacked St. Sava´s, the only church in the Albanian-dominated south of the city. The church stands next to a Moroccan military base.
A spokesman for the French Brigade said 50 Moroccan soldiers had helped evacuate a priest and his family from their house next to the church, but said there were not enough soldiers to protect the site from being burned.
In both Prizren and Mitrovica, military spokesmen said, troops had been required to protect lives elsewhere.
"Our response was exactly has it should have been," said Lt. Col. James Moran, an American National Guardsman and chief spokesman for KFOR, the NATO-led peacekeeping force. "The first priority was to protect lives. If soldiers withdrew from monuments it was to get people out of their houses."
Before last month´s unrest, KFOR had wanted to reduce the number of soldiers guarding churches, as it sought to reduce the overall number of troops in the province.
For their part, angry Serbs attacked two Ottoman-era mosques in Belgrade and Nis. The mosque in Nis was completely destroyed while protesters lay on the ground to prevent fire engines from reaching it.
Many commentators outside the region have already described the unrest as just the latest episode in a cycle of tit for tat violence. (Serbian forces destroyed or damaged many mosques in Kosovo during the war.)
Kosovo´s Albanian-dominated government has set up a $6 million fund to help rebuild houses and religious sites destroyed last month. The head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo, Bishop Artemije, rejected the offer.
Father Sava Janjic, spokesman for the Decani monastery, one of Kosovo´s most important religious sites (and unscathed by the unrest), said he hoped there would be an attempt to rebuild some of the churches. "But in conditions when they may be destroyed again, without proper security, we are asking ourselves is there any point in restoring" them, he said.
In a statement on March 18, the Serbian Orthodox Church reported that a number of its churches and shrines in Kosovo had been damaged or destroyed by rioters. These included:
Our Lady of Ljevi Cathedral (Bogorodica Ljevika), 12th century was burned down on March 17
Church of Saint Salvation (Sveti Spas), 14th century
St. Hieromartyr George's Cathedral (Sv. velikomuèenika Djordja), 1887 housing the 14th century icon of Mary and an 18th century iconostasis
Monastery of Saint Archangels from the 14th century
Church of St. George Runoviæ, 15th century with 16th century iconostasis gates
Building of the Sts. Cyrill and Methodius Orthodox Seminary, 1880, sacked
Church of St. John the Baptist (Svetog Jovana Preteèe i Krstitelja) set on fire March 17 in Peæka Banja village
Belo Polje village church of St. Nicholas, 19th century
Djakovica: Church of Our Lord's Ascension (Uspenja Gospodnjeg), 19th century, torched along with the parochial residence on March 17. Reports of Albanians clearing the ruins of the Church of the Holy Trinity, destroyed in 1999
Uroevac: Church of St. Tzar Uro
Saint Nicholas in Kosovo Polje town, 19th century
Bresje village church of St. Catherine, 19th century
Gnjilane: Church of St. Nicholas, 1861
Pristina: Church of St. Nicholas, 19th century, damaged and sacked
Vucitrn: Church of St. Elijah, burned down
Southern Kosovska Mitrovica: Church of Saint Sava set afire in the morning of March 18, adjoining Orthodox cemetery desecrated
Srbica: Deviè Monastery, nuns evacuated by Danish soldiers, monastery pillaged and torched
Stimlje: Church of St. Archangel Michael set on fire on March 19
Orahovac: Bela Crkva and Brnjak village churches burnt
Vitina: Two destroyed churches, in town and in village of Donja Slapa?nica
Obiliæ: Church set afire
There is no Albanian-Serb Conflict. There is Albanian genocide against Serbs and other non-Albanians!