Patriarch turned back from Merdare; Pristina sets condition for his visit; What does the law and Brussels’ say?

Patrijarh Porfirije Gazimestan 2022.

The Serbian Patriarch Porfirije, as the SOC announced yesterday, was not allowed to visit the Patriarchate of Pec ahead of the Orthodox Christmas. Pristina claims that they did not ban the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church from visiting, but that his visit was dependent on whether the SOC would distance itself from „acts of violence and actions“. In the meantime, the Patriarch was turned back at the Merdare border crossing earlier today.

The Cabinet of the Serbian Patriarch announced yesterday that Porfirije received the news that the Pristina authorities did not allow him to travel to the Patriarchate of Pec for the holidays – „with dismay“.

The news was soon condemned by the Serbian side, including the Eparchy of Raska-Prizren.

The Serbian Orthodox Church stressed that this decision violated basic human rights.

The head of the Kosovo Office, Petar Petkovic, alleged that whoever made the decision „practically banned Christianity in Kosovo“.

Conditional visit

Kosovo Ministry of Foreign Affairs said today that they accepted Patriarch’s request for a three-day visit, noting that the visit is actually conditional.

„The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Diaspora of the Republic of Kosovo announces that on Friday (December 23rd), it officially accepted the request to allow a three-day visit (December 26-December 28, 2022) of the Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC), Porfirije to the Republic of Kosovo,“ Kosovan MFA said.

On the other hand, they say that there were still conditions for that approval.

„After considering the request, the MFA responded that Porfirije’s visit can only be approved after the Serbian Orthodox Church condemns, that is, distances itself from the actions of members of the Serbian Orthodox Church, who by illegally entering Kosovo support criminal groups in the North, and who are responsible for the barricades erected there.“

Once again, they emphasized that they did not refuse the request for the visit of Patriarch Porfirije, but that it was dependent on whether SOC would distance itself from the mentioned „acts of violence and actions“.

Elaborating on its position and conditions, the MFA states that it was caused by the visit of an Orthodox priest from Belgrade, who purportedly visited the barricades in Leposavic last week.

„This attitude of the Kosovo institutions is conditioned by the fact that the Orthodox priest Predrag Popovic, from the Church of Holy Apostles Bartholomew and Barnabas in Rakovica near Belgrade, publicly admitted a few days ago that on Tuesday of last week he illegally crossed the border of the Republic of Kosovo and by using back roads – as he said, in order to avoid KFOR patrols, he visited and supported the demonstrators at the barricades in Leposavic.“

This ministry added that after the SOC announced that the Patriarch’s visit was not approved, it reached out to Quint countries and notified them that this was a false claim and that the visit was not prohibited.

„Because the request was not rejected as such, but is linked to distancing from violence and the statement that he does not stand behind the actions of his representatives, as in the case of the Orthodox priest Popovic,“ they point out.

Patriarch turned back from Merdare today

Serbian pro-governmental media, however, have been reporting since this morning that the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, is conditioning Patriarch Porfirije to „condemn the barricades after which he would allow him to go to Kosovo.“ In their reports, these media outlets referred to Pristina’s response to the visit request.

KoSSev had an insight into the response of the Kosovo authorities to the Patriarch, written in English. In this response, the last paragraph states: „Accordingly, the Government of the Republic of Kosovo expects the Serbian Orthodox Church to condemn such acts, as a precondition for the approval of the visit request.“

In the previous allegations, the case of the alleged kidnapping of six Serb citizens and the arrival of a priest from Belgrade to the barricade in Leposavic was presented.

Patriarch: The doors to my home are locked for me today

In the meantime, the patriarch also confirmed that he was not allowed to enter Kosovo. “The doors to my home were locked for me today,“ he said in an Instagram post.

„As Patriarch, I was on my way to the first and most important seat of my Church. As a priest, I set out to be with my people on the eve of the most joyful holiday. As a citizen, I went to my house, to my home,“ said the Patriarch, adding that Kosovo is the only place he feels „at home“.

„From the moment I set out on this path, I repeat: wherever I was outside of Kosovo, I was in a foreign country. I am only at home in Kosovo. Today, the doors of my home are locked for me and I pray to God to unlock the hearts of those who closed them and that the love of Christmas and the birth of the Savior touch the minds and consciences of all people,“ he underlined.

Some media outlets also shared footage of Patriarch Porfirije sitting in his car and turning back to Serbia proper.

As the Patriarch returned to Serbia proper, the Serbian Minister of Defense, Milos Vucevic, arrived in Raska.

Kosovo law provides for respect for the hierarchy of the SOC and stipulates no arbitrary ban on entry to priests

In the Kosovo Law on Amendments to the Law relating to the conclusion of international monitoring of Kosovo’s independence (from 2012), Article 7A regulates the status of the Serbian Orthodox Church, i.e. amendments were made to the then existing law on religious freedom.

The first paragraph of this article stated that the SPC in Kosovo is considered an integral part of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

„The name and internal organization of the Serbian Orthodox Church, including its hierarchy and activities, will be respected,“ reads paragraph 2 of this article.

While third paragraph 3 states: “There will be no arbitrary ban on entry into Kosovo or residence within Kosovo for priests, priest candidates, monks, nuns and visitors.”

Srpska pravoslavna crkva član status

The Brussels Agreement provided for the submission of notification on the visit of religious leaders

On the other hand, the Brussels Agreement on Official Visits, which was adopted on December 1st, 2014, foresees that the visit of the patriarch will be organized through a liaison officer – the same as the procedure for the visit of state officials.

The religious leader is not included in the first category but in the second. For this category, the notification must be done at least 48 hours directly to the Liaison Officer in Pristina.

„b. The second group consists of all other ministers, deputy speakers of the parliament, directors of governmental offices and security related agencies, presidents of the constitutional and supreme courts, state prosecutor as well as all other persons, such as religious leaders, that are under regime of close protection. For this category the notification must be done at least 48 hours in advance and any objections must be raised within the first 24 hours,” the agreement states.

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