Report prepared for OCP News Service
Bishop Teodosije of Raska-Prizren and Kosovo and Metohija of the Serbian Orthodox Church interviewd by Artyom Mahakeev
Artyom Mahakeev: Your Excellency, the year 1999 witnessed the terrible and tragic events the consequences of which we can still observe nowadays. The operation of the NATO forces laid the foundation to the occupation of the Serbian region of Kosovo and Metohija, and since then these lands are often called “the crucified Kosovo”. What were these years marked with for the people of Kosovo and for a Serbian Orthodox church?
Bishop Teodosije: 15 years have already passed since the time when the international forces invaded Kosovo and Metohija. And, as a result, two-thirds of all the Serbian Orthodox population of these lands have left their home forever. Besides, approximately 150 churches and monasteries were desecrated, burned down or destroyed. Also in the year 2004 on the 17 of March we came through the so-called exodus, which was the result of an ethnic cleansing committed by the Albanian extremists. At that time about 30 churches were destroyed and approximately 4 thousands of Serbians had to leave their land. This points to the fact that currently the Orthodox Serbians in Kosovo and Metohija live in a very hard situation. And despite of the fact that the international forces still are in the region there is no justice. The thing is that the Albanian people, who are the majority here, forces the ancient Serbian nation out of this territory and the proof is the state of those of our medieval relics which are located in Kosovo.
Artyom Mahakeev: Your Grace, you have noticed that two-thirds of Serbians left Kosovo since 1999. How many of Serbians are now living here? Are they risking with having stayed in their motherland?
Bishop Teodosije: I can say that nowadays there are approximately 100 thousands of Serbians in Kosovo and Metohija. People who live here now meet a lot of problems. Safety is the first of these problems. These people risk their lives and the lives of their children and relatives. Very often the Serbians are attacked and their children are not the exception. The property of Serbian people is also under threat because thieves impinge on their cattle and agricultural machinery. The living of Serbians on this land is under threat. The fact that Serbian people have left the cities is the most difficult and tragic for us in Kosovo and Metohija. Now there are few Serbs there. And there are a lot of cities, for example Djacovica, Dečani , Urosevac, Podujevo, Štimlje, where now there are no Serbs at all.
Recall the town of Prizren. Officially it was always the throne of the bishop of Raska-Prizren and now my throne is there too. Before 1999 from 8 to 10 thousand Serbians lived there and now there are only 15 of them in Prizren. They are the old people who don’t want to leave their home. And there is only one Serbian child there – an eight-year-old Serbian Orthodox girl. She attends a school – the school where there is only one teacher and one child. We organized the school in a parish building. We had to do it because this Serbian child can’t go to the same school with the Albanian kids as the studying there is in Albanian. There was a single possibility to create our own school and we fulfilled it.
Artyom Mahakeev: In the Northern Cyprus Greek cemeteries were destroyed and desecrated by Turks. Here a lot of cemeteries are desecrated too, both in Kosovska Mitrovica and in other cities and villages. What does it speak for?
Bishop Teodosije: You know, from the year 1999 the Albanian population, one can say Albanian extremists, had the intention to expel Serbians from the region of Kosovo and Metohija. The thing which prevents them from doing it are our traces, the marks of our ancient presence here: our monasteries, our churches and cemeteries, the tombstones. They destroyed all these objects in order to delete the traces of the Serbian presence here. Of course, they didn’t live with a clean conscience. All these things were done with the help of the Western forces in order to conquer this land, to conquer it completely and to banish the Serbs. And then they started to delete the traces of the Serbian past here. And the hardest thing for us is that they desecrate the cemeteries, the tombs of our ancestors. And if you look at the cemeteries in Kosovo and Metohija, you will see that all the monuments are overturned and destroyed. Also one can often see that the graves were digged and the bones – the remains of Serbs – were taken away. This was done in order to hurt us in a most painful way, to make us understand that life is impossible for us in Kosovo and Metohija and we should leave for good. But we – the Serbs – have deep roots in Kosovo and Metohija. We understand that it is a hard time for us. But this is our time and we must bear our cross till the end. The church, the clergy, the monks, some of the Serbian people – we all stayed here in order to live on the land of Kosovo and Metohija. And our goal now is to restore both our monasteries and every tombstone so that every monument witnessed about us and so that in this way we could preserve both our ancient past here and our presence here now.
Speaking about Kosovska Mitrovica, if you have a look on a Serbian cemetery in the southern part of Mitrovica you will see that it is desecrated and destroyed. If you cross the bridge and have a look on an Albanian cemetery in the northern part of the city you will see that everything is intact. And it speaks for the fact that Serbs are not likely to destroy the monuments of the other nation and especially to fight with dead people. It is insane to hurt people in the way of destroying the tombs and the monuments of our ancestors who lie in these tombs, to attack them, choosing them as victims.
Artyom Mahakeev: Recently it was reported that the European Union prepared the project of the tribunal on the war crimes committed in Kosovo in the years 1998-2000. Is there any hope that this body would be able to investigate the scandalous crimes and punish the criminals including those mentioned in the report by Dick Marty who blamed the Albanian authorities of Serbian Kosovo in the illegal trade of human organs, arms and drugs?
Bishop Teodosije: Speaking honestly, I don’t have many hopes when there is a question of investigating the crimes committed by Albanians towards Serbs. Such attempts never succeeded because many witnesses were eliminated – either killed or intimidated. The thing is that there is such an atmosphere now among Kosovo Albanians that even those who want to tell the truth, to witness and testify about the crimes committed can’t do it because of the fear for them and their family and the necessity to find the ways to survive. Albanian criminals always kick back, they revenge for everything said about them. These crimes are now concealed.
A lot of crimes were committed by Albanians and we can say that not a crime was solved. Some of the most famous crimes are: killing of children in Gorazdevac, murdering of reapers on the field in Stari Gratsk, the explosion of the bus moving from Nis to Podujevo. Then during the years 1998-1999 there was a so-called “Yellow House” in Albania where the imprisoned Serbs had their organs removed for the organ trafficking. So just nobody wants to solve these crimes or is interested in it. So I am afraid to say that this tribunal and these attempts to investigate something can become just another mockery. Speaking about the importance of the results. I don’t think that we will see any significant outcome. We should highly appreciate the efforts of those people who work in this direction and who wants to do something. But I’m not sure that anything would be done.
Artyom Mahakeev: It’s a common fact that the most diverse people and organizations want to help Serbs in Kosovo. Among them are the representatives of the Western organizations who once visited Kosovo and saw the tragedy of this land. Russian Orthodox Church also renders some assistance. How important is it for the Kosovo Serbs?
Bishop Teodosije: Of course it means much to us to receive the help from all sides. It’s very hard for us to survive alone and to save everything we have on the land of Kosovo and Metohija. I can say that with the help of the European Council we managed to restore and to bring back to life some of the churches and monasteries which suffered in 2004. The European commission also helped to restore the bishop’s residence and the building of the seminary in Prizren. About two or three years ago with the blessing of Patriarch Cyril and due to the special efforts of the Sretensky monastery in Moscow and its archimandrite Tikhon and hieromonk Ignatius Russian Orthodox Church helped our church in Kosovo and Metohija. Most notably they helped to the monkery, the monasteries and the seminary in Prizren. Thanks to this help we reestablished the seminary in Prizren where now we have 8 teachers and 36 students studying on three grades. And these relations between us are so close and important nowadays that we feel a profound and significant aid – the aid of the Russian Orthodox Church and a Russian nation, Russian people. We hope that our relations will exist in the future. The Russian nation cares a lot about Kosovo and Metohija and wants to support us, to support the people trying to survive on this land. Russia also helped a lot in restoring the most significant of our monasteries: the monastery of the Patriarchate of Peć, Visoki Dečani, Gračanica monastery and the church of Our Lady of Ljeviš, which are under the protection of UNESCO. With this help we restored both the architectural elements and the frescoes because the help was really significant.
Those people who what to support us should better do it with the help of the Russian Orthodox Church. And one can help not just the church in Kosovo and Metohija but also the Serbian people. The point is that the Serbs in Kosovo are most of all devoted to their church, they trust it because the church always stayed with the people on these lands. We are grateful to everybody who wants to help in any way. And we pray to Our Lord so that He blessed all the benefactors for all the good things they do.
Artyom Mahakeev: How could sponsors, businessmen or just the people of good will eager to donate funds for restoring the monasteries of Kosovo or supporting the Serbs, who live in the conditions of ghetto, help you? Can they do it with the help of your eparchy?
Bishop Teodosije: Yes, they can do it through the eparchy. The work here in the eparchy is organized really well. As concerns monasteries and churches, if a person really wants to help we put these funds to good use: the aid will reach the final target. The same, if a person wants to help people in Kosovo we have a voluntary society at our eparchy which is called “The mother of nine Yugovichs”. There are also public kitchens where every day more than 2 thousand people take meals. Also there is a charity office at our eparchy. This office helps pupils, students, multi-child families. So as an eparchy we indeed can act as an intermediary and if somebody wants to help in a specific way we can help. This aid would be delivered.
Artyom Mahakeev: Your Excellence, what could you wish to the Orthodox people due to the coming of the Feast of Feasts – the Easter?
Bishop Teodosije: I can say that fast and prayer lay the foundation of our life in Christ, the foundation on which we create all our righteous life. Fast and prayer are two wings which help us to get off the ground to the sky in a spiritual sense. And it is the blessed time of the Lent when every Christian should get closer to God with the help of severities, restraint, prayer and fast. This is especially important now when we are waiting for the great feast of the Resurrection of Christ when Our Lord trampled down death by his death and with His Resurrection opened the door for us to the Resurrection and the eternal life. It’s necessary to prepare to this great and bright Feast with fast and prayer. Also we know from experience that during the Lent – the greatest of all fasts – the great temptations happen. The strongest weapons we can use to fight them are precisely fast and prayer. We can see that a Russian people too often are involved in a spiritual battle and have to deal with temptations. That is why both personally and in our families, as a society and as a state, we have to give God the most precious thing – our fast. May the God bless all those who trust Him and prays to Him! May He give us energy and inherit us with patience and humility so that we went all the way of the Lent without wrecks and reached the celebrating of the Resurrection of Christ who is honored in His saints!