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Ethnic violence festers unabated.

In December 2003, the American Catholic weekly The Wanderer reported that Orthodox churches were under assault in Kosovo, a province of Serbia. Muslim extremists in Kosovo were continuing their destruction of Orthodox churches and monasteries, begun earlier during the 1999 war.

The Italian news magazine Chiesa reported that the last week of November saw the destruction of two more Orthodox churches, in Gornja Brnjica and Susica, a region under the control of the KFOR, the NATO command's peacekeeping force.

"Since the war ended with the defeat of the Serbs in 1999, more than 100 Orthodox holy places have been assaulted and destroyed in Kosovo, many of them going back to the 13th and 14th centuries. Earlier, while the Serbian army of Slobodan Milosevic had control of the region, it calculated that 212 of the 560 Muslim mosques in the area were damaged or razed," reported Chiesa.

"In Kosovo today, the Orthodox Serbs are a besieged and endangered minority. Of the roughly 250,000 who fled following NATO's military intervention, only a few thousand have returned. Together with the 130,000 who remained, they are herded in restricted zones and kept under constant threat. Power rests in the hands of the Muslim Kosovar Albanians."

The destruction of Orthodox churches resumed in mid-March 2004, following a presumed attack by Serbs against a Muslim boy. Albanians torched dozens of Serb churches, some dating back to the 13th century. Among them was St. Nicholas, the only working Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo's capital, Pristina. It was practically burned to the ground, with only the four stone walls remaining upright.

Hours later, Serbs in Nis and Belgrade, Serbia's largest cities, retorted by setting fire to two of the region's most important mosques. At the 17th century Bajrakli Mosque in downtown Belgrade, rioters broke into an adjacent library, burned Korans, and smeared the interior walls with excrement and graffiti.

In Nis, when firefighters arrived at the burning mosque, the rioters, mostly soccer hooligans, lay down on the street to prevent the fire trucks from getting to the building" (National Post, April 14, 2004).

Despite the targeting of religious institutions, experts close to the situation say neither the Serb nor the Albanian vandals are especially religious. It may well be a result of the transformation of religious monuments into symbols of ethnic heritage and nationalism.

In the late 1980s, Slobodan Milosevic, today on trial for war crimes in The Hague, whipped up Serb nationalism by invoking ancient conflicts between Muslims and Othodox Christians in Kosovo.

On the other side, according to Fr. Sava Janjic of the Decani monastery in Kosovo, "Kosovo Albanians have an obsession to create an ethnically clean Albanian state, and believe that as long as there is a single Serbian Orthodox church either from the Middle Ages or the modern age, they would never be able to say Kosovo fully belongs to them." They see churches and monasteries also as marks of Serbian culture, statehood, and tradition" (National Post, Apr. 14, 2004).

Antonio Raimondi, president of International Volunteers for Development, a Catholic group present in the area, says, "This is what happens, if after a conflict there is no action taken to remedy the most profound causes.... It is not enough to guarantee a forced pacification with an international military presence, as has happened in Kosovo since 1999, and in Bosnia since 1995. Instead, one needs to promote social justice and reconciliation, essential elements for a genuine and lasting peace" (Zenit, March 19, 2004).

In another report, Metropolitan Kirill of the Department of External Relations of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate in Moscow, stated that the situation in Kosovo should be a "priority of international politics." He invited "all European countries and all religious communities to participate" in a solution to the conflict in Kosovo. Given the international community's preoccupation with Afghanistan and Iraq, however, there appears to be little hope for the participation of European states.

Meanwhile, the West's motivation for going to war in Kosovo remains unclear. George Jonas, of the National Post, has suggested three possible motivations: "One, to make the world safe for multiculturalism; two, to appease the Muslim world; and three, to avert another humanitarian tragedy in Europe." All three motives, he stated, amount to "a profound misreading of the time and place to which they were being applied."

But the West, and NATO in particular, according to the same columnist, failed to understand three things: neither the Serbs nor the Albanians are interested in multiculturalism; the Muslim world is not appeased; and the humanitarian disaster has not been averted. By "holding an umbrella over the Kosovo Liberation Army, the Western democracies merely opened the door to ... warriors arriving from Iran, Algeria, Afghanistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Chechnya" to bolster the Albanian Muslim cause (National Post, March 22, 2004).
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Title Annotation:Serbia
Publication:Catholic Insight
Date:Sep 1, 2004
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