Reverend Donald Reeves MBE responds to a recent statement by Serbia’s Minister for Kosovo and Metohija, Goran Bogdanovic, and reiterates the need to initiate a sustainable peace building process in Kosovo centered around the monasteries of Pec and Decani.
By Reverend Donald Reeves MBE
Please click here to watch a short film, entitled ‘Shoes, walls, land and tables’, which documents Reverend Donald Reeves to the Monasteries of Peć and Dečani.
On June 11th, B92 published some strong words from the Minister for Kosovo and Metohija, Goran Bogdanovic. He was responding to the vandalism of the Serbian Orthodox church at Samodreza. He wrote that the Kosovo Albanian police force was “all talk, while in practice it only showed gross negligence, irresponsibility and carelessness” about the security and protection of the Kosovo Serb heritage. He noted that this vandalism will not encourage displaced or expelled Serbs to return to their homes; he said that this act of vandalism should be condemned, and the perpetrators found and punished. He ended by saying that international representatives should see that “effective mechanisms are in place for the protection of this heritage”.
It is doubtful if this request will be heeded; the International Community’s record on catching vandals is patchy.
The protection of church buildings – and, in some places, mosques – is of course a serious matter. But it becomes urgent when working monasteries and convents are involved. Here it is not just the protection of buildings but also of people.
The monasteries of Gorioc, Zociste and Budizavci are now being guarded by local police. How secure the monks and nuns feel is not known.
But Decani Monastery and Pec Convent are still guarded by KFOR.
A solution to this problem is not more and more protection by police, but establishing healthy community relations between the Kosovo Serbs and Kosovo Albanians.
So why is this not happening?
First, Serbs say that they can do nothing because their government does not recognise Kosovo – to enter into conversations would not be right. Moreover, they say these monasteries and convents are our home. We are not going anywhere.
Second, Albanians say that these monasteries and convents belong to Kosovo, so the sooner the Serbs understand that the better.
Third, internationals are told that Kosovo is a ‘special case’ in view of its history – so those who are involved in mediation and reconciliation are supposed to be put off by these remarks.
Lastly, international organisations and some NGOs say “this is too difficult; we cannot guarantee a successful outcome; it is too emotional an issue, too risky. Better to do nothing…and anyway we will have to wait for the results of the deliberations between Pristina and Belgrade in Brussels.” To which I respond – “this is a pathetic excuse; there is no guarantee that anyone will take any notice of what is decided at these talks. The Balkans do not work like that.”
These reasons for doing nothing are repeated again and again in different forms.
The answer is simple – Kosovo Serbs and Kosovo Albanians need to sit down together and talk.
Start talking now. Draw on the deep nostalgia which many older Kosovo Albanians have for Decani, for example. Let the Serbian Orthodox Church undertake some public relations. Albanians do not understand monasticism, which has no place in Islam. And at the same time educate secular internationals. Decani and Pec are not museums or just cultural heritage. Men and women live in these places to worship God. They are not caretakers of museums. Albanians need to understand this and respect that commitment.
Both sides should make a rule not to slag-off the other. Make a rule to stop name calling or, to give it a more fancy word, ‘demonising’.
If there has to be blame for this very stuck state of affairs, it lies with the cocktail of international organisations based in Pristina – UNMIK, KFOR, EULEX, etcetera. It is to their shame that since 1999 there has not been one attempt at bringing the monasteries together with the local municipalities on any sustained basis. This is simply a disgrace.
No excuses. The Soul of Europe has been involved in mediation and reconciliation work in the Balkans for eleven years so we recognise the difficulties but we are not put off by them.
So let us – together with others who have experience of this sort of work – get together and help Kosovo Serbs and Kosovo Albanians to start talking.
Reverend Donald Reeves MBE is the founder of the Soul of Europe. The Soul of Europe works as catalysts and mediators to ensure a peaceful resolution to conflicts, particularly in the Balkans.