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A Bishop's Lonely Struggle

Srdja Trifkovic

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Excerpt:

"The victory of jihad in Kosovo would be a local triumph pointing the way to further victories to come, eventually to a worldwide victory. They would point and say: "Where is their God?" As Christians, our hope of victory is not an earthly one. "Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God." I remind you that in our part of the world, we suffered centuries under shari'a rule, and no man knows the numbers and names of all the martyrs from those times. We do not prefer to repeat that nightmare, but we are prepared for it if it comes. But my plea to you, as American citizens, is that your country would not help hasten that day for the Christian Orthodox people of Kosovo."

Full text:

When various Balkan potentates come to Washington, you can guess their ethnicity by the kind of treatment they receive. Albanian terrorists like the KLA leader Hashim Thaci do rather well. They are received at the State Department, which but a decade ago would have deemed them untouchable. They have full access to the mainstream media and publically-funded think-tanks to propagate independence for their mono-ethnic criminal fiefdom.

When Bishop Artemije of Rashka and Prizren, the spiritual leader of Kosovo's beleaguered Serbs, comes to Washington, he stays with friends in suburban Maryland who drive him hundreds of miles to meetings in Chicago, Pittsburgh, or Cleveland. He is received in Washington by low-to-middle ranking bureaucrats who listen to him politely but repeat stock platitudes that should be too embarrassing to utter by now ("we want a democratic, multi-ethnic Kosovo, in which each group will be able to prosper in peace and security," und so weiter, und so weiter).

The reason for the discrepancy is simple. Bishop Artemije has no money because he is not dealing drugs; he has no armed thugs under his command; and he is telling the truth, warning that "working for Kosovo's independence is to prepare, consciously or unconsciously, the ground for a militant jihad and terrorism in the heart of Europe, which will put at risk all democratic values of Europe and of America itself." That is not what the U.S. government and its European partners want to hear.

Bishop Artemije will not give up, even if the times appear desperate. His diminutive frame conceals a fighter unused to admitting defeat. In the final years of the Milosevic regime Bishop Artemije was accused of "treason" and had no access to government-controlled media because of his opposition to violence and condemnation of any crime, regardless of the culprit's ethnicity. This earned him no friends across Kosovo's ethnic divide, however. After the KLA took over the province under NATO's occupation in June 1999 and started blowing up Serbian churches and monasteries by the dozen, his life was in danger. Since then he has emerged willy-nilly as a political figure, although politics for him "has never been an ambition but a necessity" in order to save what can be saved of his people's lives and lands.

Bishop Artemije is an accomplished master of rhetoric but on this occasion his tone is somber. The "final status talks" in Vienna, he suspects, may lead to the creation of yet another Muslim state in Europe. Since 9-11, he says, "the United States has been engaged in a global struggle against jihad terrorism, which threatens not just America but peaceful people of all faiths and nationalities. That is why we who live in the Serbian province of Kosovo and Metohija find it difficult to understand why so many voices of influence in Washington support a course of action that would hand to the terrorists a significant victory in Europe."

But that "course of action" is pretty firmly cast by now, although the U.S. government has taken no formal position on the outcome of the talks. Many on Capitol Hill, in the Administration, and among NGOs believe that independence is the only "democratic" outcome for Kosovo in accordance with the demands of its Muslim Albanians, who greatly outnumber the province's Christian Serbs.

The Bishop warns that independence would reward ethnic cleansing of non-Albanians: "During the years of international control, the violence directed against us had been decreased only by the reduction of the possible targets: fewer Christian Serbs to be attacked or kidnapped, fewer remaining churches and monasteries to be demolished by perpetrators who are never apprehended":

I have come to America, once again, to bear witness to the agony that has befallen the Christian people of Kosovo and to warn against the path that lies before us. Detaching Kosovo from democratic Serbia would mean a virtual sentence of extinction for my people in the province-the larger part of my diocese-who continue to face unremitting violence from jihad terrorist and criminal elements that dominate the Albanian Muslim leadership. Even today, while the international community maintains formal control, Kosovo has become a black hole of corruption and organized crime, including trafficking in drugs, weapons, and slaves. All too often these things happen under the noses of NATO soldiers, who fear to confront these criminals directly.

Indeed, the Bishop points out with a wry smile, the sporadic outbreaks of violence are themselves cited as justification for independence, as if appeasing Muslim "frustration" in the form of an ongoing intifada will bring peace anywhere. He readily admits that the situation prior to 1999, before the initiation of international administration, was far from satisfactory; but now, "to empower men of violence with state authority is no solution to problems that go back many years. Forcibly detaching Kosovo from democratic Serbia, contrary to all accepted legal principles, cannot resolve the absence of the rule of law and of elementary standards of human rights."

A workable solution for Kosovo, according to Bishop Artemije, needs to proceed from the fact that Kosovo is part of sovereign Serbia, and that a solution must be found that provides for the human dignity and respect for all its people. Viable and balanced plans have been put forward, he says, and they can ensure safety for all citizens with a fullest degree of self-rule, in accordance with all accepted standards ("The question of status is one of legality and not of politics"). Kosovo Albanians have engaged all available resources to convince the world that the independence of Kosovo is a panacea that will solve all of Kosovo's problems and automatically improve all basic standards, and bring peace and stability to the region, but, according to His Grace,

the push for independence for Kosovo is neither inevitable nor desirable. I think many Americans would be shocked to learn that key sectors in their government-heeding the pressure of a noisy and well-funded lobby-is pushing for Kosovo independence, which would consign the remaining Christians of Kosovo to the mercies of a violent Islamic jihad movement. At a time when money and radical propaganda pour into Kosovo from around the Islamic world, I ask: does it make sense for America to hand them a great and unnecessary victory? Even aside from what may happen to my people-which is my first responsibility-what can be gained from such an outcome in terms of peace in the Balkans, or in Europe? What can America gain?

The Bishop is well aware that people in the West do not like to think in terms of "winners and losers" when it comes to matters of religion and ethnicity. He supports a solution that address everyone's needs and fears within a democratic European country, Serbia, "but that is not how the radicals on the Muslim Albanian side and their jihadist supporters around the world see it":

The victory of jihad in Kosovo would be a local triumph pointing the way to further victories to come, eventually to a worldwide victory. They would point and say: "Where is their God?" As Christians, our hope of victory is not an earthly one. "Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God." I remind you that in our part of the world, we suffered centuries under shari'a rule, and no man knows the numbers and names of all the martyrs from those times. We do not prefer to repeat that nightmare, but we are prepared for it if it comes. But my plea to you, as American citizens, is that your country would not help hasten that day for the Christian Orthodox people of Kosovo.

But help it will; as an American analyst commented for the Voice of America last week, no Serbian politician can have a more flexible stance than a high level of autonomy, with the most likely result that the "final status" will be imposed by force: "the Kosovo status solution could be imposed regardless of the objections of the Belgrade officials, with the knowledge that Serbia is not in a position to do anything about such a decision."

In Washington the desired modalities of that status solution have acquired an explicitly Clintonesque flavor over the past few months, most notably with the return of Nicholas Burns to the center stage. Never a paragon of original thought or principled consistency, his nominal boss Dr. Rice has internalized the views of Mr. Burns, and other Albright proteges like him, on what needs to be done on Kosovo and Bosnia. She has become a vocal advocate, within the Bush team, of the Balkan startegy hardly different from that advocated by candidate John Kerry in 2004.

Not all is lost for the Serbs, however. The EU position is far from unified. Formally it has not changed: Kosovo must not be partitioned, the "rights" of the Serbs must be respected, and the pre-1999 status of direct rule from Belgrade is not acceptable. But there is more than meets the eye. Several states-including the Czech Republic, Spain, Greece and Italy-are publicly or privately promoting their own ideas, which are different from the EU's common position, and notably more favorable to the Serb point of view than are the policies advocated in London, Berlin, and Vienna. Czech prime minister Jiri Paroubek has suggested that partitioning Kosovo could be the best solution.

Russian President Vladimir Putin weighed in on January 31 by stating that independence for Kosovo could create a dangerous precedent in the troubled regions of the Caucasus, for provinces such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which gained de facto independence from Georgia in the early 1990s and are now propped up by Russia. "If someone considers that Kosovo can be given full state independence, then why must we refuse this to the Abkhazians or South Ossetians," Putin said. "I do not want to say that Russia will immediately recognise Abkhazia or South Ossetia as independent states, but such precedents exist," he said. A day earlier Putin said that the six-nation Contact Group monitoring international policy in Kosovo must make "universal decisions" as conflicts remain unresolved in the former USSR. "We must not follow the way of applying some principles to solve one problem and others to solve another," Putin declared, clearly hinting that an independent Kosovo would provide an international legal precedent that Moscow would feel authorized to apply in its own back yard.

A creative diplomatic game-plan from Belgrade is needed at forthcoming negotiations. The process will include diplomats of the Kosovo Contact Group, with a representative of the EU as well as the United States, Russia, the UK, France, Germany and Italy. With this line-up the potential for creative lobbying and button-pressing is considerable. It is only to be feared that, with Belgrade's diplomacy in the highly dubious hands of Vuk Draskovic, that potential will not be used.

Read the entire article on the Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture website (new window will open).

Posted: 19-Feb-06



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