Skip to comments.Serbia tells Pope: Kosovo independence an injustice
Posted on 02/22/2008 5:28:07 AM PST by markomalley
VATICAN CITY, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Serbia took its campaign against Kosovo's independence to the Vatican on Thursday when its ambassador told Pope Benedict that "moral principles" alone showed it was an injustice.
But the Pontiff, receiving Serbia's ambassador to the Holy See, steered clear of the dispute and renewed his call for all sides to show restraint.
"With regard to the current crisis in Kosovo, I call upon all interested parties to act with prudence and moderation, and to seek solutions that favour mutual respect and reconciliation," the Pontiff said.
Sunday's declaration of independence by Kosovo, which has a 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority, triggered small and at times violent protests in Serb cities and in neighbouring Bosnia's autonomous Serb half.
Serbia rallied its people on Thursday for a mass protest against the independence bid, with organisers expecting hundreds of thousands to attend.
"With your devotion to the highest moral principles, your Holiness knows better than anyone that injustice, which is called justice in only one unique case, always remains an injustice," said Serb ambassador Viadeta Jankovic, according to text of his comments released by the Vatican.
Embassies of countries that recognised Kosovo were attacked, especially those of the United States and current EU president Slovenia, and some foreign businesses were stoned or threatened.
Pope Benedict met with Kosovo's president earlier this month but the Holy See has not recognised Kosovo. The Pope told Jankovic on Thursday that he shared Serbia's desire for lasting peace.
Serbia and its ally Russia say Kosovo's declaration of independence violates a 1999 U.N. resolution and that recognising it will open a "Pandora's Box" of separatism.
Serbia's ambassador said he hoped to count on the support of the Holy See in its "aspirations to join the European integrations".
"All that Serbia expects from that process is to be granted the same treatment as that accorded to any other free, independent and democratic Christian country," Jankovic said.
"(This) means that its territorial integrity and sovereignty, including the southern province of Kosovo, must be respected."
In 1999 NATO intervened in Kosovo to stop mass killings of civilians by Serb forces in a two-year counter-insurgency war. The United Nations then took over the administration of Kosovo.
Do Serbian Orthodox recognize the authority of the Pope?
Ping to read later
I wonder if they will burn the Catholic churches now?
Well Said, Mr Ambassador.
06 September 2007 Catholic Church sees fortunes transformed since 1999, buoyed by growing faith of all Kosovars in a European future.
By Refki Alija in Prizren and Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade
Josip Palokaj is leaving mass, rosary in hand, from the old Cathedral of the Virgin in Prizren, a city in southern Kosovo that for centuries has been the heartland of the Catholic faith in this mainly Muslim land.
He says he feels comfortable in Kosovo, though ethnic Albanian Catholics make up only five per cent of the roughly 2 million population.
As a member of a Catholic congregation I never had a single problem in Muslim-dominated Kosovo, he maintains.
In Prizren, we hear bells from our church and the imams call for prayer from the nearby mosque. No one bothers.
Far from being marginalized as is the story in so many mainly Muslim societies - in Kosovo the small Catholic minority has seen a resurgence in its fortunes as Kosovars of all faiths look to Europe to resolve their political destiny.
One sign of their new-found confidence is the construction of a cathedral in the capital, Pristina. It is to be named after Mother Teresa of Calcutta, perhaps the worlds best-known Albanian in recent history, who was beatified by the late Pope John Paul II.
The Cathedral will be an object that will present our values, identity and our feelings said Kosovos President Fatmir Sejdiu on September 5, when the building work began.
The foundations for Pristinas future cathedral were laid by the late Kosovo president, Ibrahim Rugova, himself of Muslim origin.
When construction is complete, the headquarters of the Catholic Bishop of Kosovo will move from Prizren to Pristina a symbolic move by the Church to the centre of Kosovos political and social life.
Not all the population has watched these events unfold with delight. Some non-Catholics are annoyed by the fact that the cathedral is to be built in place of a high school, while devout Muslims have been irritated that the go-ahead came after the provinces Muslim majority was denied permission to build an Islamic centre in Pristina. In spite of that, most of the population broadly welcomes the development.
Catholicism has ancient roots in Albania. The former Roman province of Illyria was one the first territories into which Christianity spread from Italy.
Most Albanians converted to Catholicism and the Albanian hero, Skanderbeg, was one of the great heroes of 15th century Europe for his staunch defence of Christian Albania from the invading Turks.
But after the Ottoman Turks conquered the Balkans, Albanians steadily shifted their religious orientation towards the new dominant faith, and a large proportion of the country converted to Islam.
Muslims enjoyed a privileged status in the Ottoman Empire. The main benefit was lower taxation on land and produce. As a result, conversion was more successful in the more agriculturally developed areas.
Large swathes of poorer, more mountainous territory in the north of Albania proper, where the reach of the Ottoman authorities was weaker, remained Catholic. Overall, Catholics remain far more numerous in Albania than in Kosovo.
Today, most Catholics in Kosovo live in Klina, Gjakove/Djakovica, Prizren, Viti and Pristina, where they are rallied by two key parties, the Albanian Christian Democrats and the Christian Democrats of Kosovo.
But Catholics belong to all major parties. The Kosovo parliament speaker, Kole Berisha, a member of the ruling Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, is the top-ranking Albanian Catholic.
Tome Hajdari of the Dardania Democratic League is leading the ministry of agriculture as deputy minister after Kosovo Serbs failed to put forward a candidate.
Kosovo Catholics are deeply aware of the problems concerning the provinces future status and are convinced that Kosovos chances of independence rest on support from the United States and other Western powers, including the Vatican.
Kole Berisha has visited the Holy See several times whilst Kosovo's Catholic Bishop, Dode Gjergji, told Balkan Insight that the Vatican was very influential in the province and not just among Catholics. Most Catholics in Kosovo are just as supportive of independence as their Muslim compatriots.
The territorys status is currently a matter of negotiations between Kosovo Albanians and the Serbian government under the auspices of the so-called Contact Group, a six-nation body comprising the United States, leading European Union countries and Russia.
Kosovo should be an independent and democratic state. Serb efforts to thwart Kosovos independence are futile because its a foregone conclusion, a prominent Catholic academic, Mark Krasniqi, told Balkan Insight.
They must come to terms with reality and stop treating Kosovo as the Serb Jerusalem because no one takes them seriously, he added. Kosovo can be a Jerusalem or the heart and soul of whatever, but only for everyone living in independent Kosovo as equal citizens.
Since NATO drove Serbian forces from Kosovo in 1999, Catholics have increasingly emerged from the sidelines in Kosovo. A high school in Prizren was promptly named after Gjon Buzuku, a 16th century Catholic priest who wrote the first known printed book in Albanian, and a music school was named after Lorenz Antoni, a prominent 20th century composer and musician from Prizren.
A Jesuit-run Loyola high school has also been built in Prizren after the municipal authorities donated several acres of land for its construction.
The school principal, Walter Happel, says Catholic schools are not there to serve the small Catholic community alone; 70 per cent of its pupils and staff are Muslim.
For now, Kosovo's Muslims and Catholics have sound relations bound together by their joint struggle against the Serbs. Top Muslim politicians regularly visit Catholic churches for festive masses while their Catholic counterparts duly extend their congratulations on Muslim religious holidays.
Some tensions appeared after the war. In its December 1999 report, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation, OSCE, said that following the withdrawal of Serbian troops from Kosovo, ethnic Albanian fighters of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, were harassing Catholic Albanians over their alleged lack of commitment to the KLA cause.
The OSCE report said: Catholic Albanians and evangelical groups have faced continued intimidation and harassment. It went on: A common feature of many attacks was the underlying intention to force minorities to leave and/or to ensure their silence through fear. This strategy was effective.
According to a US State Department report for 2003, certain Catholic-populated areas within Kosovo had previously been under suspicion of collaboration with the Serb regime, adding: Such suspicion was fuelled by the fact that Catholic Albanian villages suffered relatively little damage during the conflict.
The Catholic Church in Kosovo condemned ethnically-motivated riots in 2004 when dozens of Serbian Orthodox Churches and other properties were damaged or destroyed. I felt ashamed after what happened in 2004. We were under some pressure as well, said a Kosovo Albanian Catholic who has since moved to neighbouring Montenegro.
But the situation has improved since and the 2006 International Religious Freedom report released by the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor said last year that Catholic institutions were no longer targets of incidents or attacks.
We have very sound relations, with the Islamic community, Bishop Gjergji told Balkan Insight.
Resul Rexhepi, advisor to the presidency of the Kosovo Islamic community, says that ties between Kosovos Islamic Community and the Catholic Church are good We have mutual respect.
As a result, few Kosovo Albanians seriously object to the construction of the new cathedral in Pristina. Instead, they see it as a gesture of gratitude for everything the Catholic world has done for Kosovo in recent years, especially during the papacy of John Paul II. It is a great development. It will bind us Albanians together even more, Palokaj says.
Refki Alija is Prizren-based Balkan Insight contributor. Balkan Insight is BIRN`s online publication. Aleksandar Vasovic is Belgrade-based BIRN editor and trainer.
This article was published with the support of the British embassy in Belgrade and National Endowment for Democracy - NED, as part of BIRN's Minority Media Training and Reporting Project
I wonder if they will burn the Catholic churches now?
IT COULD BE A WASTE AIN'T IT?
“I wonder if they will burn the Catholic churches now?”
No, the Islamic state carved out bu the U.S. govt will take care of that.
Unfortunately, Pope Benedict is right to stay out of this - for now, anyway. He has already stirred up the Muslim community (in a productive way). Making any statement that would indicate support for one side would inflame what is a very dangerous situation.
When the Kosovo Jihadists go after the Catholics, I hope the Serbs will stand by their fellow Christians more willingly than they’ve received support from them.
What fool suggested that?
I am a Catholic. I find many Catholics to be too appeasing, too tolerant.
“When the Kosovo Jihadists go after the Catholics, I hope the Serbs will stand by their fellow Christians more willingly than theyve received support from them.”
I hope you know that my comment meant the Serbs were burn the churches now. It seems to be their way....great article and very interesting. Wonder if some of those posters on the other thread would take the time to read this. Of course, based on the high octane emotions of the other thread it would be dismissed and another opportunity to bash Bush in the process.
I was referring to the Serbs. Since the Pope won’t take their side, they will turn their protests into riots and start burning all the Catholic churches. It seems to be their way.
I believe I was the one that suggested that. Got a question for me?
You suggested that the Serbs are demanding the territory of the Byzantine Empire?
Yeah, back it up with something.
Quite a revealing article. While Serbian Orthodox churches in Kosovo are being torched, the Kosovar Catholics are expanding and building new cathedrals. Just what part has the Vatican played in this injustice???