KOSOVO: No peace for Orthodox Christmas
The Orthodox Christmas season this month has been marred in Kosovo by a series of violent incidents, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. A church was broken into and several items and some money were stolen, and a bus was attacked by local Albanians at the Decani monastery after the Christmas service. The attack on the church follows an earlier attack in November 2003. Officials of the United Nations administration (UNMIK) have condemned the attacks, the latest in a series since 1999 for which no arrests have ever been made. Speaking to Forum 18 about the attack on the bus, Fr Sava Janjic of the Decani monastery described it as a "demonstration of utmost religious intolerance" on Christmas "a holiday of peace and forgiveness". "What a paradox, that the attack was made at a moment when the head of UNMIK, only a hundred metres away, was speaking with the local Decani assembly president and appealed to him to show tolerance and understanding towards Decani monastery."
"When we approached the church we noticed that someone tried to break in through the entrance metal door, but only damaged the lock," Fr Miroslav Popadic, parish priest in Pritina, told Forum 18. "Someone cut the metal bars on a window, broke in, stole the money and some church items, and made a huge mess. Every single item that was movable was thrown away. It was a sad scene."
The Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Raska and Prizren "most vehemently" condemned this latest desecration. "It appears that this case of attack on the property of the Serbian Orthodox Church is as unlikely to be resolved as any of the others."
The Church of Sts Peter and Paul in Gornja Brnjica was built in 1975 on the ruins of the medieval Church of St Nicholas, destroyed during the Ottoman occupation. The church is separated from the Serbian-populated village by a small wood, and is closer to an Albanian village. There are still 47 Serbian houses in Gornja Brnjica with 187 people. This church was attacked in late November (see F18News 1 December 2003 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=200 ).
The 7 January stoning of a bus carrying 30 Russian humanitarian aid workers and journalists took place in the town of Decani in western Kosovo. The delegation of the Russian St Andrew Fund and the Russian-Serbian Friendship Society, which had arrived in Kosovo on 4 January, had just visited Decani monastery for the Orthodox Christmas service and were returning to Pritina. Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported that "more than 300 Kosovar Albanians" threw stones at the bus. No injuries were reported. UNMIK police said three people threw stones, breaking one of the windows of the bus.
The Christmas liturgy at Decani monastery was also attended by the head of UNMIK, Harri Holkeri, who was accompanied by KFOR peacekeeping troops and UN police units. Earlier, Holkeri had sent a Christmas message to the Orthodox believers living in Kosovo, praising them for their "courage and perseverance", adding that UNMIK is "aware that the conditions under which many Kosovars live are still unacceptable". Later, Holkeri expressed "deep disappointment" over the stoning of the Russian pilgrims, a 7 January UNMIK press release reported.
Fr Sava Janjic, deputy abbot of the monastery, described the attack on the Russian pilgrims as a "demonstration of utmost religious intolerance". "On one of the most significant Christian holidays, a holiday of peace and forgiveness - Christmas - Albanians in Decani attacked the guests of Decani monastery, who only half an hour before thanked Mr Holkeri for his assistance in organising their escort through Kosovo and Metohija," he told Forum 18 from Decani monastery on 8 January. "What a paradox, that the attack was made at a moment when the head of UNMIK, only a hundred metres away, was speaking with the local Decani assembly president and appealed to him to show tolerance and understanding towards Decani monastery."
During the Christmas holiday, Kosovo was visited by Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle, who served liturgies in several churches and monasteries, including the monastery in Pe? (Peja).
For more background information, see Forum 18's latest religious
freedom survey at
A printer-friendly map of Kosovo (map title Serbia and Montenegro) is
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.
19 December 2003
Forum 18 News Service has learnt that an Orthodox church in Urosevac has been attacked with a hand grenade, even though it was guarded by Greek troops of the NATO-led KFOR. Since 1999 there have been many such attacks on Orthodox sites, without any arrests being made of perpetrators. Expressing gratitude to the Greek KFOR troops for their protection, the local Orthodox diocese told Forum 18 that "if the Church of St Uros had not been under the constant protection of KFOR, it is likely it would have been destroyed like other Serbian Orthodox churches in the Urosevac and Nerodimlje region."
1 December 2003
In the first such incidents since August, Forum 18 News Service has learnt that two Serbian Orthodox churches have been vandalised. As with all such attacks since 1999, when the UN took over administration of the province, no perpetrators have been identified or charged. The NATO-led KFOR, which has overall control of security, claimed to Forum 18 that it had "no knowledge of the alleged events". Despite this, Fr Sava (Janjic), of Decani Monastery, told Forum 18 that the Orthodox Church remains grateful to KFOR troops for their concern and protection, "We do not know what would happen to us without them," but also commented on continuing problems, such as the 10 hours it took to assemble a military escort for priests to travel 15 kilometres to a village to comfort families whose children had been shot, killing and wounding several. Forum 18 has also learnt of numerous Orthodox graveyards being completely destroyed, including in one instance a French military cemetery from the First World War. This war cemetery is now used as a city rubbish dump.
9 September 2003
In its survey analysis of the religious freedom situation in ethnically-divided Kosovo (Kosova in Albanian), Forum 18 News Service reports on the continuing systematic attacks in Serbian Orthodox churches, monasteries and graveyards. Although more than 100 have been damaged or destroyed since the international community took control in 1999, Forum 18 has found no evidence that anyone has been prosecuted for these attacks (just as no-one is known to have been prosecuted for Serbian paramilitary and army attacks on 215 mosques during the 1999 war). Protestant leaders have complained that ethnic Albanian church members from Muslim backgrounds at times suffer "persecution", often from family members. The international bodies ruling Kosovo have done little to promote religious freedom.