Delimitation (partition) stems from the policy of ethnic cleansing

Iguman Visokih Dečana arhimandrit Sava Janjić
Abbot of Visoki Decani monastery Sava Janjic

FR. Sava Janjić, interview Vreme Weekly, Belgrade 30 August 2018

How would you assess the situation in Kosovo right now, especially as far as the safety of the local population is concerned?

The current security situation for the inhabitants of Kosovo and Metohija is a very strained one, especially following a series of official statements from Belgrade and Priština, but also from international representatives, about so-called “border demarcation” or “border correction,” which, in concrete terms, means nothing other than the creation of ethnically “pure” territories in this section of the Balkans, with the possibility of an exodus of those who find themselves on the “wrong side of the border.” In the end, in political terms, this unavoidably would result in either the recognition of the remainder of Kosovo as an independent state, or the unification of Kosovo with Albania. Such irresponsible statements, and especially the media campaign by which such a “solution” is foisted upon the public as the only real solution, have in many ways only served to worsen relations between Albanians and Serbs. Yesterday, I met with high-ranking NATO and KFOR leaders (Admiral Foggo and General Cuoci), and I believe that peace-keeping forces will do all that is within their power to prevent any kind of violence that might be used to force a partition of territory along ethnic lines and will do everything to secure peace as a prerequisite for the continuation of dialogue.

The statements regarding the issue of Kosovo that are coming out of the national government in Belgrade are extremely contradictory. Now they are speaking of “border demarcation” and many interpret this term as a euphemism for partition of Kosovo. If it were to come to that, what would that mean for Serbs in Kosovo? How much is such a resolution even acceptable?

Exactly, and the issue must be legally considered in the context of Resolution 1244 and the Constitution of Serbia, since what is actually being considered is indeed the partitioning of what is de jure the territory of Serbia in the region of Kosovo and Metohija, with the possibility of the Preševo Valley being joined to either Kosovo or Albania. It is particularly concerning when it is formulated as a border demarcation between “Serbs and Albanians,” as this would automatically imply that where one group lives, the other cannot, and the reverse. This is an outdated model which is in line with the policies of ethnic cleansing that were prevalent during the wars that took place in the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia. Furthermore, it isn’t at all strange that political support for such a partition, which both Mr. Vučić and Mr. Thaçi support under their own interpretations of such a concept, has been given by Mr. Vojislav Šešelj himself, who was one of the primary ideologues behind the whole concept of ethnic cleansing on the territory of the former Yugoslavia. It is all the more tragic and worrying that this dangerous idea is supported by several key representatives of the international community, who clearly do not see how it will harmfully radiate throughout the Balkan region and Europe, and how it will set yet another precedent that will push Europe only further in the direction of separatism and nationalistic extremism.

How would you assess the course of negotiations between Belgrade and Priština up until now?

The dialogue in Brussels between Belgrade and Priština began as a technical dialogue, and the Serbian Orthodox Church, especially those of us here in Kosovo and Metohija, supported these dialogues as a means of resolving ongoing problems in order to better the living conditions of the people who live here. However, as time went by, it became clear that first of all, the Albanian side showed no readiness to create a more secure political and social environment for the Serbian population of Kosovo and Metohija in the form of the Community of Serbian Municipalities which was agreed to in 2015, while in Belgrade, the old idea of dividing up Kosovo, of amputating Kosovo like “cancer from the wound of Serbia,” was returned to the table. This idea was first presented years earlier by Dobrica Ćosić. Instead of working on strengthening the rule of law and protections of human, religious, and property rights, the negotiators, and it would seem also their mediators, accepted the idea of ethnic border demarcation as a legitimate solution. Such a solution would seriously endanger the lives of minority populations and cultural heritage, and also would be a dangerous turn towards the creation of ethnically and religiously “pure” regions both in the Balkans and in Europe as a whole. The secret talks between Milošević and Tuđman in the 90s about the dividing up of territory that resulted in the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people, including the tragedies of Srebrenica and Krajina, are again becoming a reality and are even receiving limited support from certain international circles which seek a hasty resolution, without any concern for the negative effects which would inevitably arise sooner or later.

Do you share the impressions of some that what these negotiators say before the cameras differs from what they discuss behind closed doors?

Of course, the entire course of the dialogues was done without any real transparency, and the idea of partitioning Kosovo has been circulating for a long time, since the time of the Milošević regime up til now. Almost completely identical suggestion for resolving the Kosovo problem was put forth on the Peščanik radio show in 2008 (, while previous Serbian administrations spoke of exchanging the Preševo Valley for Northern Kosovo. We did not worry too much then because we knew that such ideas had no support among the international community. From the Albanian side, the prevailing idea for these internationally extreme structures came from former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, who still hold the power in the Kosovo government, and always supported either an ethnically pure Albanian Kosovo or the creation of a so-called Greater Albania. From the very outset, the Brussels talks were established upon the wrong basis, as clear boundaries were not set, and no method of verification was set up which would have given the talks a proper dynamic and direction. No agreement can come by force, but at the same time, it must be steered in a constructive and
responsible direction. It must be a guided dialogue which, above all, is directed towards peace for all people of the region, and not towards the special interests of political structures or of individuals.

What do you see as being the Serbian Orthodox Church’s role in finding a lasting and acceptable solution for Kosovo? And in the same sense—to what extent have the positions of the Serbian Orthodox Church been clear and unambiguous from the beginning?

The Serbian Orthodox Church is not a political organization and we cannot give a precise political formula for resolving the question of Kosovo and Metohija. At the Regular Session of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church in May of this year, the bishops discussed, among other things, the issue of Kosovo and Metohija, and proclaimed that both the options of Serbia recognizing an independent Kosovo and partition of the territory of Kosovo and Metohija are equally unacceptable. This may seem like a paradox if it is considered from a purely political point of view. However, the official stance of the Church has always been motivated by a concern for its faithful and holy sites, by a concern for the life of the Church, and not politics. An independent Kosovo presents a great danger, especially as it exists now and in the direction it is developing, since for years now, all we have seen is essentially an effort on the part of extremist circles to create an ethnically pure Albanian society in which there would be no real place for Serbs. Additionally, in recent years we have seen a strengthening of Islamic ideologies, which are dangerous both for Albanians and for other groups. Up until now, it has only been the international presence and laws, which were put in place under great international pressure which have been the guarantors for the survival of our people, since Kosovo’s institutions continue to blatantly violate their own laws and drive Serbs into an ever more difficult situation. On the other hand, a partitioning of territory along ethnic lines would be a formal and legal giving away of what is de jure all Serbian territory or an exchange of what is ours for what is already ours. The Church has always had in mind that not a single partition of territory along ethnic lines was accomplished peacefully, especially in such complicated contexts such as the present one, and that such a partitioning would unavoidably lead to a massive exodus of the majority of Serbs from where most of them live, south of the Ibar River, and furthermore, from where most of our holy sites are located. This is why the Church has always called for the rule of law, the establishment of basic rights, the return of displaced persons, the reconstruction of destroyed holy sites, adequate institutional protection of our monasteries along with strong international mechanisms, as prerequisites which must be realized in order to create an atmosphere for a responsible dialogue. The Church’s stance is most certainly not that of a so-called cold conflict as that presents a long-term danger in itself. However, in the absence of responsible political positions, and especially given the current situation of a fundamental lack of respect for the basic human rights of the non-Albanian population of Kosovo and Metohija, it is very difficult to come up with any kind of quick solution. We would prefer to speak of a dynamic process of resolving the problem along with corresponding economic support and the support of the European Union and other international elements. Only then can this part of Europe be an element of peace, and not a region, which will generate regional crisis and further instability. The foundation of future peace and stability is reconciliation and the creation of lasting conditions for a common life of all citizens without regard for their ethnic origins, and not the creation of long-lasting tensions as has taken place between Greece and Turkey and India and Pakistan, as well as in other cases. We see what a great wound Operation Storm in Krajina created in relations between Serbia and Croatia. The principle of ethnic and religious partitioning of territory has not been applied in recent history in Europe since World War II (Northern Ireland, Belgium), and this was an important prerequisite for overcoming ethnic and religious antagonism in those countries and the current prosperity of their societies.

At the beginning of August 2018, you warned about the possibility of a “planned incident” as a means of bringing about a de facto partition of Kosovo and you requested that the political leaders in Belgrade and Priština abandon any such plans. Do you believe that they have truly abandoned them, or do you think that the threat of a “planned incident” still lingers?

Correct. On the basis of several reliable sources (and maybe one day we can speak more about these sources, both from the Serbian side, whose consciences were stronger than their professional obligations, as well as good-willed international sources), we know that there was supposed to be a planned, mutually-agreed upon, and “controlled” armed conflict at the beginning of August, in which the Kosovo Police would enter into Northern Kosovo, most likely following the proclamation of either an autonomous North Kosovo or a Community of Serbian Municipalities apart from the Brussels Dialogue. This would have created a reaction from the Serbian side and casualties would have ensued. Such an escalation of violence would lead to a repeat of the scenarios we saw south of the Ibar in 2004. In short, within the space of one or two days (from August 4th to 6th), the majority of Serbs south of the Ibar would have become refugees. KFOR would have been forced to create a buffer zone between the North and the South, and in so doing, the situation would be a fait accompli, and would be but an overture for the acceptance of an ethnic partitioning of Kosovo as a reality on the ground, accompanied by an entire melodrama of peace statements and even the possibility of the actors in this horrifying scenario receiving peace awards. The media preparations began in the regime-controlled press in Belgrade in July, as can be verified by looking at what was put out then. Just prior to this potential incident, the barracks of the Kosovo Police in South Mitrovica were full of heavily armed members of the Kosovo Police. KFOR acted responsibly and effectively and prevented the development of such unfortunate events, and those who were responsible for setting up barricades and other kinds of activities in the North along with the coordinated work of the criminal structures of both sides (who are actually quite well inter-connected), returned to where they had come from. Bishop Teodosije’s appeal and the information, which we sent as a warning, were like a spotlight that suddenly drew attention to the very real possibility of the realization of these events, which were supposed to take place during the time of most people’s yearly vacation, when foreign media attention is lessened. When we publicly pointed out the reality of this scenario, any element of surprise evaporated, as then no one would be able to say that it was an unexpected event, as was, unfortunately, the case in 2004.

Following your warning, you found yourself the target of both the government in Belgrade and the tabloids which are under their control. Even from those in the highest positions of authority, you were accused of being a supporter of Kosovo’s independence. In your opinion, what is behind these attacks?

The wave of anger and fury against us, and especially against me personally, coming from the current Belgrade administration and its campaign of unprecedented hate with an entire series of manipulations and made up information, is the best proof that we were right. If it really was a false alarm in question here, then the authorities would have reacted peacefully and with actual arguments to calm our worries, but they didn’t precisely because what we said was true. We believe that we acted according to the demands of our consciences, since, if we had kept silent, then we would bear the heavy burden of our conscience and of our responsibility for a people which would suffer for an alleged “higher national purpose.” This media smear campaign clearly proves that what was at stake was a planned incident that was agreed upon at the highest level. Anyone who is familiar with the methods used by structures who engage in such activities can recognize this. It’s unbelievable how those who began this smear campaign in the media and who drew targets on our foreheads are not aware of how much all this just draws yet more public attention to their true intentions, and so they came out a month earlier than was planned with open talk of preparations for a boundary demarcation along ethnic lines. Of course, curses always return like a boomerang to those who spread them, and in this case, the more that rhetoric intensifies in the way it did in the worst period of the SPS-Radical Coalition at the end of the 1990s, the more that it becomes counterproductive for the government and deeply compromises the freedom of speech and of the press and generally shows the extremely sad state of a society in which any differing opinion is met with public lynchings and threats.

How much do you personally feel safe after all this, especially given the case of the unsolved murder of Oliver Ivanović?

The monastic philosophy of life is based upon sacrifice and readiness to suffer at every moment. Thus, a monk, as we say in our tradition, dies to the old man so that he would be born in Christ and in this way renew his baptismal covenant. So, in this spiritual context, I am not at all concerned for my personal safety. The greatest danger for us is spiritual death, which, according to our faith, is what happens when we make a compromise with our conscience and with what we know to be true, that is, to make a compromise in our relationship with God. Of course, we are careful to not unnecessarily create risks so as to not put others in danger. For us monks, and for me personally, none of what we have done here has anything to do with politics. I have never voted in elections, I do not belong to any political party, since members of the Church are to be found in all sorts of parties, and our peaceful battle in Kosovo and Metohija is not something which we see in the context of any kind of mythology or what is today referred to as nationalism. Rather, above all, we see it as a fight for the survival of our people, whom we see as the living Church of Christ. It was in this same spirit that we helped Kosovo Albanian refugees in 1999 when we kept 200 Albanians in the Monastery who had been forced out of their homes. And the next day, we would help anyone who was in danger. The fact is, I must recognize, that the threats and ruthless media campaign which is carried out at the direct orders of the government in Belgrade, and from time to time in some of the Priština media as well, the first saying that I am an American and the second that I am a Russian spy, is very familiar in its “handwriting” and reminds me of the threats that were directed at my dear departed friend, Oliver Ivanović. Today, Oliver weighs much more heavily on the consciences of those who eliminated him than when he was alive, for now his ideals inspire many young people to think and to live freely and to not be moral and political weaklings. I am certain that his name will, in the future, be numbered among the most important sons of Mitrovica, while those who threatened him will be forgotten much sooner than they think.

Can you draw any parallels between the attacks made on you now and those that were made during Slobodan Milošević’s regime?

What is it really like to live every day life in Kosovo all that time? I see them using the exact same methods. Especially I see that little has changed, just like, among other things, they haven’t even changed the people in question since that time. In both Belgrade and Priština, the same people are in all the important positions that were in those positions in the late 90s. I remember that then, they ordered articles to be written attacking Patriarch Pavle of blessed memory, who, in the summer of 1999, called for Milošević to step down, not to even mention the attacks on individual journalists which the public already knows enough about. It is interesting too that the threats against us and against our then-bishop reached their height right in October of 2000, precisely when the regime fell. It would seem that such hasty reactions always show up when an authoritarian government is sinking into the maelstrom of its own failure to control its people by the systematic forcing of false information upon them and regularly dumbing them down with various bizarre and immoral materials. Aggression always comes out of fear and insecurity. These are patterns which repeat themselves throughout history.

The government in Belgrade asserts that you are propagating a “different political agenda” than theirs, but that it didn’t bother you when they financially helped to restore churches in Kosovo and Metohija. What do you make of these statements?

The restoration of churches and monasteries in Kosovo and Metohija was mostly done with the help of international institutions from 1999 onwards, but nonetheless, the citizens of Serbia gave very meaningful support through their state institutions and numerous individual donors and companies. We do not consider this financial help to be that of the government, but rather it is the Serbian taxpayers who feel solidarity with their fellow countrymen and citizens who live in this part of Serbia, and who particularly feel for our holy sites which are not just the treasures of the Serbian people, but of the whole world. This is why we have never considered the donations that we received as being an act of personal charity from any particular party, but rather as an expression of national solidarity. On numerous occasions, Bishop Teodosije has expressed his gratitude to those who have provided support to our holy sites and we should also single out individual friends of ours who, with their awareness of the importance of helping our Church, did so much. Such people we greatly respect and will never forget. As monks, we have no private property and everything that our Monastery receives goes either to the needs of the Monastery or to helping our people.

There is also the objection that you only “rebelled” when you yourself had become the target of the regime and of the tabloids, and that before that you did not speak with so much determination about the ruinous consequences of the politics of the Belgrade government. What is your response to such allegations?

I don’t think this is accurate. Our reactions were not personally or politically motivated, but rather they followed after the extremely harsh and inappropriate reactions of some of the highest government officials to a very careful and well-thought out appeal made by our Bishop concerning the partitioning of Kosovo, which directly endangers our faithful. Our purpose in all this has never been political, nor do we wish to involve ourselves in a revolution or regime change, and this is why we have no direct connections to representatives of the opposition parties. However, I do know very good people not only in the opposition but also in the parties of the ruling coalition. As a Christian and a monk, I know quite well that human nature will never be changed by transitory ideologies, but only by a spiritual and moral transformation. Yet, this does not mean at all that we, as people of the Church, should be silent at the injustices being committed which endanger the lives of our faithful, of the living Church. Thus, we reacted only when the existence of our people in Kosovo and Metohija came into real and present danger, and when we found ourselves before a great humanitarian tragedy and potential bloodshed. Silence in that moment would have been unforgivable. At the same time, we have continuously reacted to the abuses of the government in Priština since 1999, especially with what has happened in the area surrounding Dečani, where we have been subjected to armed attacks four times, and we have constantly been under threat and the topic of smear campaigns in the media.

Members of certain football fan clubs have organized campaigns to help the Serbian people of Kosovo, however, the last thirty years have taught us that these people are often just instruments serving the use of particular government politics. How do you see these relations?

And how much have you accepted the positions of these fan clubs as your own? Personally, I have never attended a single football game, nor do I have contact with these football fan clubs on that level. I know Christians who are members of such groups, and who are actively involved in helping our people in Kosovo and Metohija and they are very dedicated and have helped those who are in the greatest need. As to what kind of politics certain fan clubs are involved in, or individual media outlets or members of other social structures, I personally really do not know about any of this and I am not obliged to judge people. I am only obliged to call all those who wish, to turn towards the values of love, respect for others without regard for their ethnic or religious background, and to call for humanness and solidarity. We should never generalize things. Repentant sinners and tax collectors gathered around the Lord Christ, while moralistic puritans and political opportunists were cast away.

What do you make of the statement that maintaining a “frozen conflict” is disastrous for Serbs both in Serbia and in Kosovo, and that as such, a resolution must be brought about as soon as possible?

This term, “frozen conflict,” is one which nobody in our Church has ever used in the context of being a “solution” to the problem of Kosovo. Every conflict needs to be resolved in peace and with understanding, while “frozenness” assumes a certain static-ness. As responsible people, especially those of us who consider ourselves to be Christians, we are obligated to be active peacemakers. Peacemaking is a constant dynamic action, just like our spiritual life. However, any alternative to a frozen conflict does not in any way mean a return to the ideology of ethnically compact and “pure” states, because it is precisely such policies which led to the suffering of so many innocent people and the destruction of so many holy sites on all sides in the wars of the 1990s. To believe that we can do this again without consequences, as a new case of “sui generis” is extremely naive for anyone who knows the Balkans, where everything is connected and functions in a certain way according to the principle of communicating vessels. Numerous people who are knowledgeable about the Balkans have said this themselves in the last few days. This is why it is absolutely necessary that dialogue be restarted as soon as possible, with clear boundaries and a strong resolve and commitment that there can be no lasting peace until all citizens are guaranteed to live in peace, dignity and freedom where they have always lived, regardless of their ethnic or religious background. Without this, we will just have continual conflict and instability. So, we are against having a frozen conflict and instead we advocate for responsible and open dialogue.

What would you say is an acceptable resolution to the problem of Kosovo for Serbs and Albanians?

I have already mentioned before that for us in the Church, for my Bishop, Teodosije, who in every way inspires and leads us, and for me personally as a monk, for any resolution to take place, first we must create the appropriate conditions for it. Unfortunately, such conditions have not been realized, neither with the systematic mining of Resolution 1244 of the UN Security Council, nor with the prevention of the return of displaced Serbs and other non-Albanians, nor with the systematic attacks on Serbian Orthodox holy sites from 1999 up through the present. At the same time, instead of seeing a democratization of West Balkan societies, we see an ever deepening connection between politics and organized crime, less and less independent judiciaries, the absence of a respect for human rights, a tragic lack of freedom of press and speech, of basic human and religious rights, especially for minority populations in specific regions. Without these basic prerequisites in place, there can be no lasting resolution. It’s just like wanting to build a roof without first building a foundation and then the walls of the house. This misled hurry towards a “solution” which is being forced by certain people for reasons known only to them will turn out to be very expensive for the Balkans, just as was the case with the errors of certain international elements at the beginning of the Yugoslavian crisis in the 1990s. Apparently, the lessons history teaches us have not been remembered, and this is why we have to warn people while there is still time that the Europeanization of this region cannot be based upon the principle of ethnic or territorial partitioning, and especially when there are autocratic regimes behind such ideas who are using a system of media control and manipulation at all levels. The most dangerous element in all this is organized crime, which is essentially supranational and which, with its own underground world, ties together the entire region of the former Yugoslavia and beyond. This dark world actively participates in political realities and ties together people who, at first glance, would seem to be ideological opposites. Without correcting these elements (especially freedom of speech and press), such a society, or rather, those who lead that society with their ideas which have not fundamentally evolved since the late 90s but have simply shifted their rhetoric, simply do not have the capacity for democracy, nor do they have the moral credibility to find a lasting resolution that will work for the good of all and which will open the doors of Europe to this part of the Continent. This is a serious problem.

Finally, what do you expect from the plan for Kosovo that the President of Serbia announced will be presented in September?

As long as it is still a plan for a historical “demarcation of the (ethnic) border between Serbs and Albanians,” which we were informed of by chance, at the occasion of the opening of a meat factory, a plan which unavoidably leads to a border demarcation between Serbia and a future Greater Albania, I can only say that it will be a huge element of instability for the entire region and for Europe as a whole, and a great tragedy for our people, the majority of whom live south of the Ibar River. Personally, I think that the people of Serbia will never accept this, regardless of how much an eventual referendum might be manipulated. At the same time, this does not at all mean support for an ethnically Albanian Kosovo whose “benefits” we have felt for years already, with various forms of discrimination, lack of respect for court decisions, various forms of breaking the law, and attacks on our faithful. Today in Đakovica there was a protest held by several hundred Albanians in front of our church, in which four elderly Serbian women live (two of them nuns). If this is the model for society being offered by Priština, then I think this is completely wrong and we will always consider it to be a form of occupation, and we lived under such a system for five centuries in the time of the Ottoman Empire. Thus, we return now to the very clear and precise stance of the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church whose decisions have always guided Bishop Teodosije and all of us who try to protect our people and holy places in Kosovo and Metohija.

This is why above all, we advocate for a peaceful solution and the creation of conditions for a peaceful and dignified life not only for our people, but for all people who live here. One person’s happiness cannot be built upon the ruin of others. Those who live here have already suffered enough and it’s time that we look towards the future, and not return to models which led to the previous tragedies. In that sense, I remain an optimist and I honestly hope that our message will be heard by the international elements who essentially determine in what direction things will develop.

Translated by Fr. Sophronius Copan, Diocese of Raška and Prizren




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