Skip to comments.God's houses in ruins: The world keeps silent as Serb churches, monasteries are destroyed in Kosovo
Posted on 05/17/2005 10:47:55 AM PDT by piceapungens
The Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas, in the Kosovo village Banjska, was probably not an international treasure.
As far as we know, it was just a modest house of God in an area dotted with the same.
But no one may ever be sure. On Jan. 30, 11 kilograms of explosives were detonated at the altar, leaving much of the building in ruins.
The explosion forms part of a sad and continuing pattern. Since a wary peace took shape in Kosovo in June 1999, nearly 80 of its Orthodox churches and monasteries are known to have suffered heavy damage or destruction. The total may be higher, given that a lot of churches are located in remote areas where few, if any, Serbs still live.
These attacks did not occur during the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's bombing campaign last spring. They have happened since the return of Kosovo's Albanian majority. Extremists, usually assumed to be linked to the Kosovo Liberation Army, have carried out a systematic campaign of destruction under the eyes of international peacekeepers.
The unanswered question is why this devastation has caused so little outcry. British and French media have paid some attention to the attacks; but the North American media have carried few reports. Dozens of non-profit groups are now working in Kosovo; they have said next to nothing.
"The Western world is rather fed up with the Balkans," suggested Colin Kaiser, chief of the unit for southeast Europe and the Arab states in UNESCO's Division of Cultural Heritage. "The wars, first in Croatia, then in Bosnia and most recently in Kosovo, became more and more intense in terms of damage. But the cumulative effect has been that the Western sensibility to it all has been dulled."
True enough. But beyond that, it also seems true that after the wars of the past decade, few Westerners dare to sympathize with anything Serbian.
Last September, Bishop Artemije, the head of the Orthodox diocese of Raska and Prizren, charged that while the first aim of the Kosovo Albanians "is to expel all Serbs, the second is to eradicate all traces and witnesses that could serve as evidence that the Serbs have existed at all.
"But who and what are the witnesses? Churches, monasteries and holy places. So they set out to destroy the witnesses, to obliterate the traces. In 21/2 months more than 70 monasteries and churches were burned or demolished. Among them were the churches built by our illustrious and holy ancestors in the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries. The churches and monasteries, which survived 500 years of Turkish occupation, did not endure two months in the presence of a 50,000-strong international 'peacekeeping' force."
Peacekeeping troops from the United Arab Emirates, serving in the United Nations' multinational KFOR mission, had been stationed near the Church of St. Nicholas. But in late January they withdrew, leaving the church unprotected. It was soon blown to pieces.
The presence of the UN soldiers has slowed the rate of destruction in recent months, but foreign troops can provide no guarantee of safety. On Jan. 14, for instance, the Church of St. Elias, in a village called Cernica, was partly destroyed by explosives. It stood just 70 metres from a checkpoint of U.S. soldiers.
Almost everyone would agree that the destruction of St. Elias's and St. Nicholas's churches is regrettable. But what has so far escaped much notice, particularly in North America, is that dozens of the earlier victims were not just Serbian village churches, but buildings of great beauty and historical significance. Among them:
- The Church of the Holy Virgin in Musutiste, built in 1315. Frescoes painted in the following years were among the finest examples of medieval wall-painting in the entire region. The church was looted, burned and mined by explosives.
- The Church of St. Nicholas in Prizren, which is said to date to 1348 or earlier, and which contained medieval icons. Five explosives went off, causing extensive damage.
- The Monastery of the Holy Trinity near Musutiste, built from 1465 on. It held a unique library of manuscripts as well as a collection of recent icons. The monastery was first plundered, then burned and finally leveled with explosives.
- The Monastery of the Holy Archangels in Gornje Nerodimjle, built in the 14th century, renewed and extended in 1700. The monastery was looted and burned; a great pine tree, said to date from 1336, was chopped down and burned; the cemetery was desecrated.
The stories go on and on. The pattern is undeniable - and for once, no one is even trying to claim that Yugoslavia's notorious president, Slobodan Milosevic, is behind it.
So far, thanks to a 24-hour guard by foreign soldiers, the greatest of all treasures in the region - the monastic churches of Gracanica and Decani - have survived. Writers have waxed eloquent about them for generations; Rebecca West, for one, called Gracanica "as religious a building as Chartres Cathedral. The thought and feeling behind it were as complex. There is in these frescoes, as in the parent works of Byzantium, the height of accomplishment."
Some of the buildings were jewels of European civilization. Now they are rubble.
Throughout the Balkans, politics and art, history and myth, oppression and religion are intertwined. The ruined Orthodox buildings of Kosovo were not only centres of worship and art; they were political symbols.
Since the mid-1980s, writes Michael Sells, professor of comparative religion at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, "Serb nationalists have manipulated concern for the (Kosovo) shrines to motivate, justify and implement 'ethnic cleansing' and annihilation of centuries of non-Serb artistic and religious monuments.
"In exploiting Serbian monasteries and the heritage they represented to foment hate and violence, they desecrated a great Serbian heritage that deserves better."
It must also be said that if the KLA is behind the devastation, it's following a path already trod by Serbs themselves. In Sarajevo, Banja Luka and other Bosnian cities, the Serbs blew up historic mosques and Islamic shrines, as well as burning the Oriental Institute and the National Library.
Moreover, between March and June last year, while NATO was bombing Serbia and hundreds of thousands of Albanian-speaking Kosovars were seeking foreign refuge, many buildings in Kosovo were subject to deliberate Serbian attack.
The main targets, however, do not seem to have been mosques. Serbian forces aimed most of their destruction at Albanian houses and marketplaces.
Now the Serbs are reaping the whirlwind. Since the Kosovars poured back into their ravaged homeland, any buildings where Serbs lived or prayed have been vulnerable - even if they were homes built in Ottoman style during the long centuries of Turkish rule.
Another of the recently damaged buildings is the Kosovo Battle Memorial, built on the famous battleground of 1389. That losing fight against the invading Turks became a cornerstone of Serbian memory and folk history. It also became a useful symbol for Milosevic when he wanted to stir up nationalist fervour in the 1980s.
In recent months, the Yugoslav government has bitterly protested against the desecration of Orthodox buildings in Kosovo. But the protests have fallen on deaf ears.
"I don't know how many times we have said this already," complained Ljiljana Milojevic Borovcanin, first counselor at the Yugoslav embassy in Ottawa. "We have raised the issue at the United Nations and also bilaterally, with the countries participating in KFOR."
Those countries include Canada. About 1,450 Canadian troops are now in Kosovo, serving mostly in the central and northern areas alongside soldiers from Britain, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the Czech Republic. The international community has a lot at stake in the peacekeepers' success.
Under KFOR, Kosovo has been divided into five sectors, each run by a NATO-led brigade. The peacekeeping force is made up of 42,500 soldiers from 28 countries, in addition to a further 7,500 troops based in neighbouring countries. For each soldier in the KFOR mission, only about two Serbs remain in Kosovo.
Borovcanin says she has spoken to Canadian officials about the continuing destruction of Orthodox churches, "and the response was always diplomatic. The Canadian government says it regrets all the damage, but at no time will it take any action.
"Yet it's the non-implementation of the UN resolution that has enabled this barbarism to occur."
She was alluding to Security Council Resolution 1244. Under its terms, the mandate of the KFOR troops involves "demilitarizing the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and other armed Kosovo Albanian groups - establishing a secure environment in which refugees and displaced persons can return home in safety - (and) ensuring public safety and order."
UNESCO has been in touch with KFOR leaders, Kaiser told The Gazette.
"We provided them with lists of heritage sites that were much longer than what they could actually handle. We were told that they have many responsibilities, and can't possibly station soldiers in front of every monastery."
Speaking from Pristina last week, KFOR spokesman Lt.-Commander Philip Anido said that "KFOR and its soldiers have static guards on the sites that are active. Some of the churches are guarded by moving patrols, and it's up to the brigade commander to decide on the level of sensitivity and the level of risk."
About 800,000 Albanian refugees are thought to have fled Kosovo before and during the war last spring. Perhaps it's not surprising that Canada - a full participant in the NATO bombing campaign - should be reluctant to speak out publicly against the Kosovo Albanians whom it spent so much time, effort and money in helping.
Canada even contributed $200,000 to help pay for a cultural festival in Kosovo last September. On hand along with international stars like Mikhail Baryshnikov, Meryl Streep and Elton John was the Cape Breton choir Men of the Deeps, flown in to sing coal-mining songs.
"Canada is helping rebuild Kosovo," Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy said at the time. "That rebuilding effort must not only focus on bricks and mortar; we must also help rebuild the human spirit."
But as elements of the KLA were quick to realize, the best way to crush the spirit of Kosovo's remaining Serbs was to destroy significant chunks of their bricks and mortar. The day after the cultural festival ended, the 14th-century church of Saints Cosma and Damian in the village of Zociste was razed. The church was noted for its frescoes of Old Testament prophets.
On the same day, near the town of Vitina, the remnants of the 14th-century monastery of the Holy Archangel Gabriel were destroyed by explosives. The monastery had already been looted and burned.
So much for the human spirit.
What is surprising, if not downright shocking, is that the destruction of churches and monasteries in Kosovo has aroused so little attention from international groups that are supposedly dedicated to the preservation of cultural treasures.
To an outsider, it looks very much as though the ancient buildings and artworks are somehow tainted by their association with present-day Serbia. When it comes to the monasteries and churches of Kosovo, silence has become an unofficial policy.
Consider the following:
- The World Monuments Fund (a private, non-profit group based in New York and funded extensively by American Express) placed no Kosovo buildings on its recent list of the 100 most endangered sites around the world.
- The fund has given money for architectural restoration and preservation to 165 projects in 51 countries - not including Kosovo. Its Web site includes no mention of Kosovo, and a request for an interview with its president, Bonnie Burnham, was turned down.
- If you believe the Web site of the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property, this awkwardly named group is a "catalyst for action." But it has remained silent about the dangers to cultural property in Kosovo. An E-mail asking for an explanation went unanswered.
- At UNESCO's headquarters in Paris last July, a six-day official meeting took place under the auspices of the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. Member nations debated the threats to heritage sites in no fewer than 55 countries, including Canada (a proposed open-pit mine near Jasper National Park came under scrutiny); but Kosovo received only a brief general mention.
UNESCO did sponsor two missions of inquiry to Kosovo in July and November. Yet Colin Kaiser, who led one of them, admitted that "UNESCO is not tooled to work quickly for emergencies."
Part of the problem, he said, is that proper documentation is not available for Kosovo. The agency intends to resume work there in co-operation with a Swedish group called Cultural Heritage Without Borders.
"But we can't become involved in saying who did what," Kaiser emphasized. "UNESCO cannot take sides."
- Last April, at the height of the war in Kosovo, a statement went out from the International Committee of the Blue Shield (a joint endeavour that unites librarians, archivists, museum curators and preservation officials). The statement expressed a generalized "concern about all damage to the cultural heritage of the peoples of Yugoslavia." Once the war was over, the Blue Shield Committee had nothing more to say.
Last week, Manus Brinkman, the secretary-general of the International Council of Museums, told The Gazette that "ICBS has not issued any new appeals, because the first one is still as valuable as ever."
Asked about the response to the April statement, Brinkman said that "there have been a lot of positive reactions and the appeal invoked much discussion. Sadly enough, there was no reaction from the parties involved in the fighting in Kosovo, neither from the official Serbian or Albanian side, nor from NATO."
- Canada is one of many nations represented on ICOMOS, the International Council on Monuments and Sites, whose aim is "the conservation of the world's historic monuments and sites." The Web site of ICOMOS Canada includes statements from 1997 onward. None mentions Kosovo.
The Canadian group's administrative secretary, Victoria Angel, said that ICOMOS Greece has tried to raise awareness about the cultural monuments in Kosovo. But Greece was not one of the NATO members that bombed Yugoslavia; and anyway, a little-known non-profit group based in Athens can scarcely be expected to kindle public attention in other countries.
"North America is still stuck with the message that there's a good guy and a bad guy in Kosovo," said Dinu Bumbaru, the head of Heritage Montreal and a vice-president of ICOMOS Canada. "And what the good guy does at the end of the movie is fine with us."
Bumbaru noted that while a great deal of information is available about the Kosovo destruction, especially on the Internet, "there's no communications campaign. Frankly I just wonder if, in the West, this is of interest."
In 1992, following Yugoslavian attacks on the magnificent Croatian city Dubrovnik during a previous Balkan war, Bumbaru led a UNESCO-sponsored mission to assess the damage. International funds were provided to help Croatia, and Dubrovnik has largely been rebuilt.
But Croatia was widely seen as a victim, so, in the case of Dubrovnik, it was politically easy for other countries to do the right thing.
The Serbs, on the other hand, were widely seen as aggressors. Now they're outnumbered in Kosovo nearly 20 to 1; and in Kaiser's words, "the problem is that ultimately, the defence of anything depends upon local people.
"Ideally, both Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo will realize that the loss of the monasteries and churches, like the loss of the mosques and Ottoman houses, will impoverish the whole area."
But that's a remote ideal. In the meantime, there appears to be no political will outside Kosovo to stand up for an Orthodox heritage so fraught with beauty, so redolent of pain.
Not the Koran. Just a SINGLE COPY of it.
Crazy islamics are too busy rioting over alleged using koran as toilet waste (which BTW isn't a bad idea) and the media lying and using half truth reporting that the real important news gets overlooked and not reported.
Looking in my crystal ball, I see another Crusades in the future...
It can't come soon enough. Only when we confront the violent religion of Islam can we ensure our safety and security.
Keep in mind....they're only white Christian peoples whose only offense is trying to coexist with brown Muslim peoples. Don't expect Kofi, Mohammed and the third world islamafia to give an iota....
To most of the atheists in the MSM, this probably counts as good news.
It is already coalescing. There will be a final showdown.
It is already coalescing. There will be a final showdown.
I have known about the desecration of Orthodox Churches in Kosovo for a number of years and not a peep from the media. Years ago I met a Serbian bishop named Arsenije hear in NY who gave a little talk on what was happening there. This is about 7 years ago.
I know second-hand that he's manic-depressive and that the mere mention of his name gets a lot of the "Checked Pants" Republicans here frothing at the mouth but I first learned of this from Micheal Savage. I thought that he was merely on a tear but checked it out and learned otherwise. In fact he was talking about it yesterday or the day before. I haven't heard a peep from anyone else though.
There will be no outrage whatsoever from Western liberals. There was only some minor outrage when the Islamist Taliban used artillery to destroy the ancient Buddhist shrines in Afghanistan. The fact that Muslims have defiled churches for centuries on end is conveniently left unmentioned. No stern condemnation of the destruction in Kosovo from the alleged Christians Condelezza Rice or George W. Bush, either.
Muslims consider the Koran to be desecrated if an infidel does so much as touch the book containing the writings of their prophet. Why the double standard? Liberals hate Christianity more than they fear Muslims. In the liberal wotrldview, it's not a double standard. Christianity is the relgion of the oppressor who must be destroyed in order for the free and equal supermen, the "other" (which includes Muslims), to emerge and take their rightful place in the new world order - utopia.
Very well said.
Remember when the Crusades were regarded as a bad thing?
"Remember when the Crusades were regarded as a bad thing?"
not in my house...
of course we "take out the trash" on a daily basis! LOL
Catholic Ping - Please freepmail me if you want on/off this list
Michael Savage covered it yesterday.
I see the double standard of the liberals and secularists. The West should be protecting its Churches with armies.
I am nostalgic of the good old days of the Cold War. At least we knew who the enemy was and treated him as such.
Today our government knows that islam is the enemy but is unwilling to state so because of its preference to be politically correct. Remember we need muslim oil because of our giving in to the wishes of environmental wackos.
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