Abbot Sava: Stop the toxic rhetoric, Serb and Albanian mothers feel equal pain

It had always been the church’s position that the talks between Belgrade and Pristina on everything connected to the normal life of people should continue. First of all, it is of vitally importance that people live normally – easier and safer, and for them to travel more easily. However, Kosovo politicians still do not show any vision for creating a truly multi-ethnic society in Kosovo where everyone would be treated as its citizen – regardless of nationality, language and religion. There is a „tacit understanding“ or rather „a kind of fear“ in the Kosovo public scene of anyone publicly standing up for the suffering of Serbs, Abbot Sava Janjic of the Visoki Decani Monastery said in an interview with Sputnik.

“A state of mind is being created that Serbs have some collective blood feud and that the Serb time has passed and it is simply over. It’s like we should disappear from this area,“ he said.

The Abbot once again expressed strong opposition to the ethnic partition of Kosovo. Apart from the political reasons to oppose this idea, according to him, most Serbs would thus find themselves on the „wrong side of the border“, but also four UNESCO Serb monuments.

„It is very difficult to believe that any Serb could survive after such an agreement is reached and that the Kosovo side would guarantee a minimum of rights to Serbs who would find themselves in that territory in the event of partition,“ he added.

Stressing that the Kosovo authorities’ level of respect for human rights and laws is at a very low level, Abbot Sava also added that speaking of any kind of recognition of Kosovo’s statehood is “absurd.”

„A society is being formed in Kosovo that is exclusively tailored only for Kosovo Albanians. The self-proclaimed Kosovo state gives no hope that a normal situation can be established if such lack of rule of law continues,“ he said, emphasizing that the Serbs stay behind in the hope that things will get better.

Below we publish the most interesting parts of Abbot Sava’s interview with journalist Senka Milos conducted at Visoki Decani Monastery.

Prejudice

„Quite a few people from the international community, through their contacts with Visoki Decani and by visiting Kosovo, have been able to see that many of the stories and prejudices are not true and they are deeply aware of the great injustice that has been done and that are being done to the Serbian people in Kosovo for twenty years – who have been subjected to systematic persecution, in particular, to legal disenfranchisement, the selective application of the law since 1999. Some are more willing to talk about it, some less so,“ Abbot Sava said, adding:

„Unfortunately, our people in central Serbia and other countries where our people live are not always fully aware of the situation in Kosovo. Sometimes, the picture is very unrealistic, for example, some things are shown in an extreme way. Many are afraid to come here. They think people are being killed and kidnapped here every day. Of course, these things happened and many went missing during the first years after the war, but thank God, people can now come here freely. People have some tremendous fear that is more a product of a one-sided view of things, but that doesn’t mean the situation is good either.”

Against partition

Abbot Sava recalled the undisputed stance of the SOC – opposing the partition and recognition of Kosovo as a state. He added that the reasons behind this stance are not only political, but primarily focuses on the „pastoral care for the people“.

It was minus 12 after the war, now it’s minus 3-4, but we haven’t crossed zero yet, so that we could say we lead a normal life. Far from it, but we remain hopeful that it will be better

„There is a general belief among our archbishops, and I really do not know of any alternative position, I have not heard of any, which does not agree with that jointly adopted position that any kind of territory partition – according to the current resolution 1244 – de jure division of the territory of Serbia, would automatically mean recognition of the rest as an independent state of Kosovo and, last but not least, the integration of Kosovo and Albania into a part of Greater Albania,” he warned.

All along, there have been words of „delimitation“ which is a euphemism for the ethnic territorial partition of our country into a territory where Serbs would live and the territory where Albanians would live – Father Sava added.

The majority of the 130,000 Serbs currently living in Kosovo live south of the Ibar – below the line referred to in the media as a possible delimitation line.

Partition and recognition are mutually conditioned

„Which means that the Serbs who are on the wrong side of the border, the majority of Serbs – a territory where most of our most important holy sites are located and all four UNESCO monuments would actually be in the territory where there would be no more Serbs because it is very difficult to believe that any Serb could survive after such an agreement, and that the Kosovo side would guarantee a minimum of rights to the Serbs who would find themselves in that territory in the event of partition.“

A society tailor-made only for Albanians

Stressing that the Kosovo authorities’ level of respect for human rights and laws are at a very low level, Abbot Sava also added that speaking of any kind of recognition of Kosovo’s statehood is “absurd.”

„This is not just a matter of principle for one state or country, but above all a matter connected to the life of the people. Recognizing a territory in which Serbs are treated in a completely disenfranchised way, systematically preventing their return, and systematically crushing their existence. So, we have years of destruction of Serbian shrines, and now we are facing a new process of staking claim to Serbian shrines, which no longer has anything to do with either the Serbian people or the Serbian church,“ he underlined.

We are under the impression that society is being formed here that is exclusively tailored only for Kosovo Albanians and should become a purely Albanian territory, where all traces of Serbian cultural spiritual existence will be completely suppressed

„Our basic position and what we, at least as representatives of the church openly say is that it is very difficult to find a stable solution if there are no stable conditions. The gospel teaches us that we cannot build a house where we do not have a solid foundation, on sand, mud, where there is no rule of law, no law, where corruption reigns, where there is no genuine respect of people, regardless of religion, nationality or language. We cannot talk about more permanent solutions, so insisting on the formal recognition of Kosovo as if it is the only thing that would solve something is not realistic, and we regularly say this to international representatives,“ Abbot said.

I haven’t noticed so far that Kosovo politicians show any vision to create a truly multi-ethnic society in Kosovo where everyone would be treated as a citizen – regardless of nationality, language and religion

According to Abbot Sava, insisting on the recognition of Kosovo that would solve the problem – as it is being presented – would not only not solve the problem, but it would practically lead to a petrification, a solidification of a situation based on discrimination against an indigenous ethnic community that has lived here for centuries and which would open a path for the creation of ethnically clean Albanian territory.

There is „a tacit understanding“ or more some kind of fear of anyone publicly standing up for the suffering of Serbs – Father Sava pointed out, citing as an example the fact that there are no humanitarian CSOs dealing with discrimination against Serbs, for example – discrimination against the Serbian language, exclusion of this language in practice, even though the Serbian language has equal rights to the Albanian.

„We have a complete silence as if there is a fear that this will provoke the outrage of those extreme circles in Albanian society and the question is immediately raised that the Serb side also does not condemn crimes against Albanians.“

However, he cited the example of Visoki Decani as contrary to this thesis – the monastery is the most frequently attacked site, it was shelled four times, fortunately without human casualties, however, the monastery was not damaged. Out of all these incidents, only one case was resolved, an attack with an anti-tank rocket-propelled grenade, when a Kosovo Albanian was sentenced to two years imprisonment, but was released only two months later.

„Although it was openly a terrorist attack, he was convicted of disturbing public order and peace.“

According to the Abbot, when an armed group close to ISIS was captured near the monastery in 2016, „the whole case was fantastically covered up.“

We have never approved of this policy and they know it very well, and it is really hard for me to see no willingness to condemn such a thing unless the foreigners put pressure, but in essence, a state of mind is being created that Serbs have some collective blood feud and that the Serb time has passed and it is simply over. It’s like we should disappear from this area

Father Sava said that he is hurt by the silence of the majority community, because on the other hand, the former and current Bishop and he personally spoke publicly about violence against Albanians, and the monastery took in 200 civilians during the war, saving the lives of their neighbors.

„We do not deny that Albanians have also lived here for a very long time. Everyone should nurture their customs, rights and culture, but they must respect ours as well.“

He recalled the lives of Serbs in Western countries who enjoy the freedom of religion and the gathering of their community.

„And here we have one territory that Serbia should officially recognize, where the majority of the Serb population who have been forced to move out are not allowed to return, where all of our churches were not rebuilt, where even what is there is not adequately protected, where neither the laws of Kosovo nor the decision of the Constitutional Court are respected.“

When asked about his view of the US, that is, the Russian Federation policy, Janjic said that while Russia’s position is to respect the UNSCR 1244, which is important, the US has a stance that the rights of Serbs must be protected, which the Church supports – that religious rights and shrines must also be protected.

Our Serbian monuments are a treasure for all who live here

The very fact that we have very important monasteries and shrines here should not be considered in a view of excluding anyone. I always say, these are Serbian Orthodox churches and shrines but these are also shrines and cultural and historical sites of all the people who live here.

The State Department has repeatedly supported this – Father Sava said, recalling the decision of the Constitutional Court of Kosovo that 25 acres of land is returned to the monastery, which has not been done so far.

Father Sava expressed hope the new government of Kosovo will be consistent with what the Self-determination leader, Albin Kurti advocated for – the rule of law.

„It will be an opportunity to see what the relationship of the new Kosovo prime minister will be to the constitutional court and his own institutions,“ he said, recalling Kurti’s insistence on the rule of law.

Speaking about large states, Abbot Sava said he expects further integrity in insisting on protecting the Serb people in Kosovo and recalled past experiences, such as the case of Austro-Hungary, which insisted on the protection of Roman Catholic buildings under Turkish rule in the Balkans and the Russian Empire on the protection of Orthodox sites.

He then said he expects Russia to continue advocating for the preservation of Resolution 1244, despite the fact that it is largely a failed mission, given that one ethnic community has virtually disappeared while the resolution was in force.

Return completely halted after the partition idea

He recalled the overwhelming desire of Serbs to return to Kosovo immediately after the war, adding that it was also a period when many opportunities were missed. At a time when Serbian authorities were not ready for dialogue with Albanians and the international community, the Eparchy played a key role in the normalization and relaxation of those post-war months, even in the first pilot project of return to Osojane, which Father Sava estimated as maybe the only successful example of return of Kosovo Serbs.

Apart from this place and the selective return to several villages, there was no other major success, but the return was completely halted especially since the partition idea was proposed – he added.

„On the one hand, this has further discouraged Serbs from any idea of ​​returning, and on the other hand, in certain places, the Albanian side increased pressure and systematically prevented Serbs from returning to their homes, or accessing their property, such is the case of the village of Muhutiste,“ Abbot Sava emphasized.

He recalled the case of Bogdan Mitrovic, who led a group of compatriots for years in exercising the right to return to their village, but who was eventually falsely accused and arrested. Father Sava also reminded of other examples of how the return of Kosovo Serbs is prevented, such as looting and burning of houses, noting that there are far fewer similar cases today, but also that there are „extreme examples of barbarism“.

One such case is the funeral of an old lady from Djakovica/Gjakova, who requested that she be buried in a Christian city cemetery, and afterward, a cross from her grave was ruined in an otherwise demolished cemetery in a city not inhabited by Serbs for years. The response of the Pec/Peja prosecution to the incident reported by the monastery in 2011 arrived only recently – the investigation was closed and the statute of limitations expired.

Serbian Orthodox Church is also recognized by the Kosovo constitution, Albanian Orthodox Church and SOC have good relations

When asked about the danger of the Albanian Orthodox church being formed in Kosovo, the Abbot of the Visoki Decani said that the Archbishop of the Albanian Orthodox Church, Anastasios, whom he described as „first and foremost a holy man“, fully adheres to the canonical position.

„They have a very fair view that their jurisdiction extends only to the territory of the Republic of Albania. The territory of Kosovo is the canonical territory of the Serbian Orthodox Church, that is, of the Patriarchate of Pec, officially recognized by the final act of recognition of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1920, when the territory of the Diocese of Raska-Prizren was specifically mentioned,“ he explained.

No matter to who it belonged to politically, it is the canonical territory of the Serbian Orthodox Church

According to the Abbot, if anything else is proclaimed, it „will not be legal“ and will have no significance in the Orthodox world. He then raised the question of who would be a member of such an organization and community given that all members are Serbs and that there are no Orthodox Kosovo Albanians.

He also stressed that relations between the SOC and the Orthodox Church in Albania are good. „It is a martyr’s church and they themselves know what they went through during communism,“ he said, adding:

„Forming some kind of Kosovo church would be an adventure, and it would blow up in the face of those who would eventually enter it, and it is not realistic.“

He then shared his belief that one should not think in that direction and that it would be very important to take additional measures to prevent such an adventure and that its consequences are as minimal as possible and have no effect on the SOC.

Our people to stay and survive

The Eparchy of Raska-Prizren is trying to find solutions that would contribute to the survival and the survival of the Serbian people and to preserving its identity in Kosovo – he said.

„Secondly, the name of the Serbian Orthodox Church is recognized in the Constitution of Kosovo, due to international pressure, there are currently laws and constitutional provisions in force. We will see if they will remain, but which clearly indicate that there is the Serbian Orthodox Church and the traditional church in this region, as well as the Islamic Community, the Roman Catholic Church, but no Kosovo church is mentioned.“

„It is important that the conflict does not turn into a frozen conflict because it all has negative consequences for the people. All those political statements, the toxic rhetoric we see in the media on both sides, where words are carelessly spoken… All these people have to bear in mind that their every statement has a great impact on our people here,“ he warned.

„The majority of Serbs in Kosovo, almost all of them, have Kosovo documents not because they are overjoyed to have them or because it says Kosovar in their IDs. Nobody even asked us what they would write (in the IDs), but so that we could live and survive here. It is simply not related to politics and it is completely unfortunate when one sees this as an example of the recognition of Kosovo, or for someone to say – they have recognized Kosovo because they have Kosovo documents.“

We live here, we want to stay here, we respect these laws that exist here because we have no other choice and that is the only way we can protect our rights right now

A conversation with the President of Serbia

„Well, look at our documents here in Decani from Turkish times, we had seals with Turkish text, that Arabic script – documents, seals. Simply, it was the current law whether or not the monks liked it at the time – it existed. Our monastery exercised its rights by writing to Constantinople. We have a correspondence of receiving a ferman (cf. royal mandate or decree issued by a sovereign) from 1506 until the end of the Ottoman Empire, where the Ottoman authorities repeatedly intervened to protect our monastery, which clearly shows that denying the rights to the Christian population, especially the Orthodox, was something that existed much earlier.“

Sputnik had information that Abbot Sava Janjic met with the Serbian president, Aleksandar Vucic. When asked what they talked about, Janjic replied:

„Mr. President knows personally what we talked about, and so does my bishop and patriarch. I think that – to put it briefly as I’d rather not get into the specifics, I am not obliged to make any statements of that kind – I expressed the concern of our people and conveyed that concern. I hope that the President will bear that in mind and it would be good if he does because our people remain deeply concerned and what is very important is that one never forgets that our people here look to Serbia with a great hope that they will stay and survive here in the most difficult conditions.“

The task of the church is also to react to some events, but never narrowly politically and party motivated, but from the position of our people whom we represent because the people are the church. A church is not a priest or monk. The definition of a church is the people with its priesthood, gathered in a liturgy.

Obligation to normalize fields of possible cooperation: Stop toxic rhetoric, work on finding missing persons

Abbot Sava Janjic said he believes that, currently, there is no basis for a stable solution for a „rather long term period“, because the process of European integration has stopped. It is also uncertain how the dialogue will continue, he added.

„Certainly, it does not absolve anyone of their responsibility to try to normalize relationships as much as possible – from changing the rhetoric and finding where we can work together like commerce, a common concern in finding missing persons.“

In addition to the missing Serbs, there are a number of missing ethnic Albanians. Their families are concerned – Abbot underlined. Relaxation of relations also involves a more open conversation about what happened in the 1990s in order to „emotionally relieve oneself,“ because, in his words, „there both Serb and Albanian mothers feel equal pain, especially when civilians were killed.“

„The suffering of civilians is a huge burden. I think much can be done here, finding out what happened, burying them with dignity and doing symbolic gestures leading to reconciliation.”

It would relax a lot of things and perhaps lead to a more responsible political dialogue, which is now taking place in a greatly tense atmosphere and in the way it started, it cannot lead to a positive result – Father Sava said.

„Any hasty solution can be incredibly destabilizing for the entire region and it is very dangerous. Therefore, I support working towards this reconciliation, addressing everyday life issues and, when conditions are created, opening political dialogue for which politicians would be held responsible – not priests. And this dialogue should not lead to the abandonment of homes, the burning of churches and the excavation of graves, for such a thing would signify a defeat.“

Kosovo goes beyond a narrow national ethnic designation

„For the majority of its history, Kosovo was under the rule of various world powers and there was not even a state of Serbia for a long time, but Kosovo was always a sort of headquarters, a heart that brought our people together and made them what they are. It is one of the key elements of our spiritual identity, which goes far beyond a single narrow national ethnic designation,“ he stressed, adding:

„Kosovo is an essential, civilizational, cultural element that makes the Serbian people what they are, not just a territory. It is very important to emphasize that Kosovo is actually a spiritual concept above all else.“

„Orthodox Serbs, Serbhood, is not an ethnic term. We cannot speak of ethnically pure peoples, we can speak of a spiritual commitment, and that is why an authentic Orthodox nationalism has never been the dedivinized nationalism that unfortunately emerged after the fall of communism in a dishonorable union with atheism, which unfortunately bore its terrible fruits throughout the 1990s and the Kosovo war. And to this day, we are witnessing such attitudes that are very easily transformed into something that is a negation of Serbian identity and practically questions everything that has preserved the Serbian people for centuries.“

Statements such as – why do we need mythology, why do we need the kingdom of heaven, we are a kingdom on earth, or as one politician who is no longer active says – Christianity is the religion of death, we need the religion of life. These people have never met Christianity – he stressed.

„The holy sites and monasteries in Kosovo are something that should connect us, not separate us. They should not be a stumbling block. And that is why I would really like for many Kosovo Albanians to feel respect for these churches as Orthodox (sites), which have never been questioned in earlier history,“ Abbot Sava concluded.

The church must not separate but connect – but not connect on the basis of transient ideologies and interests or some geopolitics, but to connect us on the eternal foundations of truth in Christ, which has sustained us for centuries. This has preserved our people for centuries, otherwise, we would have long ago disappeared from both the historical and the cultural map, but just take a look at our holy sites

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