Message of the Holy Assembly of Bishops on Kosovo and Metohija

The Assembly of Bishops specifically demands the inviolability of the religious rights and freedoms of the Serbian people and of other peoples in Kosovo and Metohija.
Natalya Mihailova | 15 May 2018

We, the bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the ancient and glorious Patriarchate of Pech, gathered by the grace of the Holy Spirit, for the regular convocation of the Holy Assembly of Bishops in the historic See of Serbian archbishops and patriarchs, the Monastery of the Patriarchate of Pech, and in the republic capital Belgrade. During this preparatory year for the Commemoration of the 800th Anniversary of Autocephaly of our Church of Saint Sava (1219-2019), concerned with the survival and wellbeing of the Serbian people and their holy sites in Kosovo and Metohija, headed by His Holiness the Serbian Patriarch, direct this message to all faithful sons and daughters of our holy Church, as well as local and international media.

The question of Kosovo and Metohija represents a Serbian church, national and state question of the first order. Our Church, the spiritual mother of our people, as a whole, and of Serbia, the country in which the largest number of Serbian people reside, to which the territory of Kosovo and Metohija belongs, bears the greatest burden of responsibility for the preservation of that historic province within the borders of Serbia and for the future of the Serbian people in it.

Kosovo and Metohija, with its one thousand and five hundred Serbian Orthodox monasteries, churches, foundations and monuments of Serbian culture, represents the inalienable central part of Serbia. This is convincingly witnessed by the traditional spiritual conscienceness of our Church, in which the Kosovo Testament signifies the expression of the central message of the New Testament. Concretely,  experienced in the historical experience of the Serbian people, as well as the conscienceness of the Serbian people with regard to their indentity, spiritual and ethical values and historical path. Kosovo and Metohija, from our standpoint, is neither a question of national ideology or mythology nor, even less, of mere terminology, but represents the very core of our being and existence as a church and people, without which we will be lost in the overall process of globalization and secularization. The prosperity of Serbia cannot be built on the disintegration of that which represents the cornerstone of its identity, history and statehood.

The Serbian Orthodox Church reiterates and confirms its centuries-old position on Kosovo and Metohija, identical to that which it has held during the time of the holy Nemanjich Dynasty; from the Battle of Kosovo to this day; and, in our time, from the issuing of the 2003 Memorandum of our Church on Kosovo and Metohija, and forward. It has never abandoned Kosovo and Metohija, nor will it ever depart from it. Under any and all circumstances and misfortunes, the Church will remain with its ancient shrines and its faithful people.

Regarding the state-legal status of our nation in Kosovo and Metohija, or, its full sovereignty and integrity, the Assembly reiterates the clear, repeatedly stated, position of the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, His Holiness Patriarch Irinej: “We appeal to our statesmen, not to give their consent to the alienation of Kosovo and Metohija, as that which is taken by force will be returned; however, that which is given to another is lost forever, and that, the Serbs and Serbia cannot allow.”  We sincerely hope and pray to God that the problem, created initially by the armed rebellion of Albanian separatists and then, by the occupation of the province, will be solved exclusively by peaceful means on the principles of justice and law. Peace is a necessary condition for the Serbs of Kosovo-Metohija to live freely, without fear for their very lives, and at the same time, that justice for them, also will be a just solution for the Albanians living there, indeed, for all communities living in Kosovo and Metohija.

The preservation of Kosovo and Metohija as an integral part of Serbia, according to all international standards, and in accordance with the Constitution of Serbia and with UN Resolution 1244, does not imply confrontation with the world, rather the affirmation of a position that, without the fundamental rights and freedoms of one nation, of its identity, spirituality and culture, a stable long-term solution cannot be found. We have never had a greater obligation than now to make the argument, in every place and in all circumstances, that the society being built in Kosovo and Metohija is not one of a people with equal rights and freedoms, rather a society that is, in every respect, contrary to the basic values on which democratic societies rest.

Kosovo Albanian institutions, since the end of the war in 1999, and especially since the declaration of so-called independence in 2008, have shown, clearly and openly, that they desire to create an ethnically clean Albanian state in this area, one in which there is no place for Serbs, or for other non-Albanians. The obvious violation of the human rights of Serbs and the massive expulsions following the end of the war; stopping the process of returning expelled Serbs; preventing the return of usurped property; and disregarding the rights of the Serbian Orthodox Church, does not give hope that the position of the Church and the people could be improved in some “independent Kosovo”. This, regardless of whatever or whosoever guarantees the same, as the current Kosovo authorities do not respect even their own laws. The most poignant example of violating the rights of our people and the Church is seen in preventing the establishment of functional community of Serbian municipalities and disregarding the decision of the Constitutional Court of Kosovo regarding the property of Visoki Dechani Monastery, recognized by key international actors in Kosovo and Metohija, by blocking the regulation on the legal position of the Serbian Orthodox Church and Serbian cultural heritage. The recent decision by the so-called Kosovo government to build a main road next to Visoki Dechani Monastery is in direct violation of elementary legal norms. Although EU and OSCE offices, as leading Western missions in Kosovo and Metohija, clearly pointed out such a road is illegal. Kosovo’s “government”, however, does not desist from the planned road, which would, in the long run, endanger Dechani Monastery, the most important UNESCO monument in Metohija. These are just initial hints of how the “independent state of Kosovo” would behave towards our Church and its faithful people.

The Assembly of Bishops specifically demands the inviolability of the religious rights and freedoms of the Serbian people and of other peoples in Kosovo and Metohija. These rights and freedoms are inseparably related to the position and status of our sacred sites – monasteries, churches, cemeteries, and cultural monuments. Serbia has done everything – and will do so in the future – to protect, renovate, restore and preserve these sacred sites and, sacral and cultural heritage monuments. And, in this endeavor, Serbia has the undivided support of relevant international institutions, primarily UNESCO. The highest representatives of our Church are constantly and tirelessly advocating for them, as this is not an everyday political issue, but an essential historical reality and an identifying value of the Serbian people. We cannot be passive and keep silent, given the fact that a significant part of this church/spiritual and cultural heritage has already been destroyed before the eyes of the entire world, and that the remaining heritage is now threatened with the same destiny. Relative to this, we wonder and ask how they, who initiated their rebellion by burning the nuns’ sleeping quarters of the Pech Patriarchate (1981), will protect it and other Serbian sacred sites and cultural monuments in the future?

We remind all that international legal order, established in the world following the Second World War, fully justifies the position of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the state of Serbia and the Serbian people regarding this painful issue. This also applies to public opinion in most countries in the world, and among them many of the largest countries, including some European countries, as well as EU member states, which do not recognize this illegal secession and unilaterally declared “independence”. Even the most relevant international institutions (the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) do not recognize it.

Without the consent of Serbia and the UN Security Council, and without the consensus of all European countries (including as many as five EU members that do not recognize Kosovo’s independence), this situation cannot be changed aggressively despite all political pressures faced by both Serbia and some other countries that do not recognize an “independent” Kosovo. After several decades of persecution and discrimination against our people and the destruction of one hundred and fifty of our holy places, unfortunately, in the presence of international forces, the recognition of the illegally proclaimed independence of our southern Province, which is persistently being imposed on Serbia, would endanger the survival of our Church and people in the long run and contribute to the proclamation of Serbian holy shrines as Kosovo’s or Albanian cultural monuments. All this would quickly lead to the disintegration of the Orthodox Christian identity among the Serbian people and would constitute memorycide – the “killing of  memories” of the Serbian people.

The idea of ​​dividing Kosovo and Metohija between Serbia and the self-proclaimed “Kosovo state” remains on in public opinion. As such, consciously or unconsciously, one fact is overlooked: that the division would be nothing more than the recognition of an “independent state of Kosovo” and the giving away of the largest part of the territory of the Province. There is no example in world history in which a people in peace, two decades after an armed conflict, would give away their own for their own. In so dividing, the people of a large part of Kosovo and Metohija would automatically be left to the mercy and mercilessness of the regime of the so-called state of Kosovo; exposed to a pogrom similar to that of March 2004 or, under pressure and quiet terror would be forced into an exodus.

We note that the difficult situation in Kosovo and Metohija is a consequence of the systematic failure to fulfill and thereby undermine Security Council Resolution 1244, which guarantees the return of exiles and freedom to all, regardless of their origin. Persistent attempts by certain countries in building at all costs on the shifting mud of Kosovo have brought the world to the situation in which Kosovo and Metohija, under the authority of former KLA leaders, today is more than ever a black hole in Europe and a precedent which threatens the disintegration of many countries throughout Europe and the world. That which has been created in lawlessness cannot bring peace and prosperity, not even to the Kosovo Albanians themselves.

The motive for this pastoral message and this paternal appeal is not only an effort to protect the vital religious, national and state interests of the Serbian people, but also our evengelical love for everyone, including the Kosovo–Metohija Albanians, and the prayerful desire that God, the Only Lover of Humankind Who desires that all should be saved (I Timothy 2:4), may enlighten all of us and all peoples with the light of Divine love and fraternal love for one another. May God grant it! Amen!

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