Kosovo – time for reconciliation

TransConflict is pleased to present a report, published as part of the project ‘Mediation through Monasteries in Kosovo’, which calls for the establishment of a Community Relations Council to strengthen relations between Peć/Pejë municipality and the Patriarchate.

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Table of Contents

1) History of the Peć Patriarchate/Patriarkana e Pejës

The Monastery of the Peć Patriarchate/Patriarkana e Pejës is located at the entrance of the Rugova gorge near Pejë/Peć. The Patriarchate of Peć/ Patriarkana e Pejës, the complex of churches is the spiritual seat and mausoleum of the Serbian archbishops and patriarchs. It consists of a group of four domed churches featuring series of wall paintings. The 13th-century frescoes of the Church of Holy Apostles are painted in a unique, monumental style. The oldest is the Church of the Holy Apostles, raised in the 13th century, its benefactor the second Serbian archbishop Arsenije I.

At the beginning of the 14th century, within the space of a decade or so, new churches were built on both sides – on the north side the Church of St Dimitrije, on the south side the Church of the Mother of God, and against this church the small Church of St Nicholas. To the west side a narthex was added.

A complete history of mediaeval wall painting styles can be seen on the walls of the church. The oldest frescoes are found in the area beneath the dome of the Church of the Holy Apostles (13th century). The frescoes in the narthex were painted in a number of stages over the period from the 14th to the 18th century. Immediately by the entrance is the depiction of the Nemanjić dynasty family tree.

The church of St Dimitrije houses the monastery’s treasures, with numerous icons, manuscript books and silverwork. The icons came from the iconography workshop of Pejë/Peć, which was particularly active in the second half of the 16th century. Emperor Dušan the Mighty (r. 1331-1355) raised the Archbishopric at Pejë/Peć to Patriarchal status. From the 13th to the 15th century, and in the 17th century, the Serbian Patriarchs and Archbishops of Pejë/Peć were buried in the churches of the Patriarchate. Within the church, marble sarcophagi house the relics (bones) of Pejë/Peć archbishops and patriarchs. Because of their ornate sculpture these sarcophagi are valuable works of art.

As a result of severe Turkish repression Patriarch Arsenios III left Peć with several thousand Christian families and immigrated to southern Hungary at the end of 17th century. Although this monastery jurisdictionally does not belong to the Diocese of Raška and Prizren it is nevertheless closely tied to the monasteries of the Diocese. The monastery is directly under the jurisdiction of the Serbian Orthodox Patriarch from Belgrade, together with a smaller monastery in Budisavci village near Klinë/Klina, where four nuns are protected by local police.

Today, the Pejë/Peć monastery is one of the most important Serbian Orthodox centers in the region with the sisterhood of around 30 nuns and a vicar Bishop of Lipjan/Lipljan Jovan Ćulibrk as a representative of Serbian Patriarch Irinej, who was enthroned in September 2011. A year before, believers gathered at the Peć Patriarchate to attend the enthronement of the 45th head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Irinej. According to tradition, the patriarch is enthroned in Pejë/Peć as well since his official title is Archbishop of Peć, Metropolitan of Belgrade and Karlovci.

Especially after the war 1998-1999 the monastery became an important centre for the remaining Serbs in the area. Now the monastery is under Slovenian military protection.

2) Status of Peć Patriarchate/Patriarkana e Pejës

The Peć Patriarchate/Patriarkana e Pejës is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In April 2012, the Serbian monasteries in Kosovo were listed among the five most important holy sites of the Mediterranean along with Jerusalem, Mt. Athos, Mecca and Vatican.

A decision about the importance of the Serbian monasteries in Kosovo was expressed at an EU meeting in Brussels attended by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. Barroso underlined the need for special protection of the Serbian holy places in Kosovo adding the monasteries should be a source of inter-cultural dialogue, rather than conflict. At the Brussels meeting the Kosovo Serbian Orthodox monasteries alongside Mecca, Jerusalem, Mount Athos and the Vatican, were declared the most holy sites in the Mediterranean region.

“I insisted on the difference between legal protection of sites which have a friendly environment such as Mt. Athos, Vatican and Mecca, unlike those which are in potential danger, such as Jerusalem and Kosovo”, said professor of the Faculty of Law at the University of Belgrade Sima Avramovic, who took part in the Brussels meeting. The professor declared it a major success that the Serbian holy places in Kosovo were to have the same treatment as Jerusalem, and thus gain an additional guarantee for the preservation of the Serbian identity in the area.

3) Serbs in Pejë/Peć

Around fifteen thousands Serbs lived in Pejë/Peć until 1999. Now there are around twenty returnees living in the city and around one thousand and one hundred living in Goraždevac/Gorazhdevc and other villages in the Pejë/Peć vicinity.

There are only a few Serbian and villages with mixed ethnicity close to Pejë/Peć: Ljevoša/Lëvoshë is closest to the Patriarchate; Goraždevac/Gorazhdevc has the biggest number of Serbs, around one thousand; Belo Polje/Bellopojë is the village from which Serbs were expelled twice, in 1999 and in 2004 and the church was burnt in both periods; Siga/Sigë and Brestovik/Brestovikë.

Serbs from Ljevoša/Lëvoshë visit the monastery most frequently as they can walk there. Ljevosa is n about two kilometers away from the Patriarchate. Visitors come to help the monastery when needed and if any work needs to be done. The monastery helped this village with supplies and humanitarian aid when people were returning about ten years ago. The people we interviewed from Ljevoša/Lëvoshë told us that they come to the Patriarchate almost every day. Peć Patriarchate/Patriarkana e Pejës is a holy place for them where they meet other Serbs from other villages and visitors. They describe Peć Patriarchate/Patriarkana e Pejës as “a place they feel as a shelter in which they can cure their souls”. This is also an opportunity for them to get in touch with the outside world. However, all those interviewed said that much has changed after the war. Now they can now meet with a few people in the Peć Patriarchate/Patriarkana e Pejës while before the war, thousands of Serbs would gather for holidays. “Now, the biggest number of people, guests, visitors and pilgrims are coming on the Celebration of Peć Patriarchate/Patriarkana e Pejës, 14th October.” More people were present at the enthronements of Patriarch Irinej and Bishop Jovan. All Serbs in villages around Pejë/Peć consider the Patriarchate a special place where “they go to search for peace in their hearts”. It is a sanctuary for them. The place holds many memories of past weddings, baptisms and church feasts. People were gathering for a service and then a meal afterwards. They feel proud to live close to such a holy place: “they can feel its closeness.” They say that “The Patriarchate is a holy place” so there is “no place like it for them in the world”. The person interviewed from Belo Polje/Bellopojë said that in the past Serbs were happier to visit the Patriarchate. “After the war, it is all just about survival and people lost enthusiasm for anything, while in the past the Peć Patriarchate/Patriarkana e Pejës was a place of happiness for the whole community where we went very often, but now not that often and always with some kind of a risk to pass through the city.”

The church, more familiar as ‘’Mitropolija’’ in Pejë/Peć was burnt during the March riots 2004; the work on its reconstruction and the reconstruction of the parish house were finished in 2012. A priest and a deacon moved in with their families in August 2012. On September 2012 the church was officially consecrated by Bishop of Raška and Prizren, Teodosije. The church will serve the remaining Serbian community in Pejë/Peć. Every Sunday and on holidays liturgy will be celebrated. The priest says that “ringing of the bell will remind everyone that Orthodoxy is present in Pejë/Peć “. The priest hopes that now with the renewal of Orthodoxy in Pejë/Peć, more Serbs might decide to return.

4) Security, Safety, Incidents

“Italian KFOR had been protecting the Peć Patriarchate/Patriarkana e Pejës up to 2011. At present it is protected by Slovenian troops. There is no more international community mediation between the monastery and local authorities. The nuns rarely leave it in fear of provocation. They are no longer escorted by KFOR and say security is their biggest problem. They say that the police do not respond to their complaints and are prejudiced. According to the nuns, Albanians want to expel them. They allege that the monastery’s forests are regularly and illegally cut down and its crops stolen. The monastery has owned about sixty hectares of land till 1999: thirty hectares of land and thirty hectares of forests. At present, say the nuns, these lands are either taken over or strewn with rubbish. Now it is said that the forest is being completely cut down and the land not fit for use”. – “Serb Community in Kosovo”, report by the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia

Since 1981 there have been regular low-level incidents of aggression towards the Patriarchate and to Kosovo Serbs – by far the worst incident occurred in March 1981 when a fire destroyed few buildings of the Patriarchate complex, the treasury and library. The initial police report said that the fire was caused by an electrical fault. The sisters testified that it was a deliberate attempt to destroy the monastery.

These incidents are not systematically planned, and certainly most Kosovo Albanians do not approve. But they create mistrust and fear among the sisters and those who visit the Patriarchate.

As Patriarch Irinej has said, “I rather fear that we will not survive if KFOR and the international mission withdraw…because even now with international peacekeeping, the little that remains of our people surviving there, fear for their lives….”

He also voiced concern about KFOR’s intention to reduce the number of troops guarding the Peć Patriarchate/Patriarkana e Pejës Monastery.

Bishop Jovan pointed out that the Serbian Orthodox Church representatives were endeavoring to convince the international community through ongoing diplomatic activities that KFOR’s presence around the monastery should not be reduced.

He concluded that the representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church must not be left unprotected and that Serbia should help in this regard.

Patriarch Irinej’s statement on the protection of SOC monasteries:

Patriarch Irinej declares that he does not believe in the possibility of effective territorial autonomy in Kosovo for the Serbian churches and monasteries, nor for the Serbian enclaves modeled on Mount Athos in Northern Greece:

‘’I have no hope for this form of protection. I rather fear that we will not survive if KFOR and the international mission withdraw from the field. Because, even now with the international peacekeeping, the little that remained of our people surviving there, fears for their life, the murders are frequent, the deliberate intimidations are almost daily.’’

5) Office of the Serbian Orthodox Church for Kosovo and Metohija and Resource Centre

The office of the Committee for Kosovo and Metohija of the SOC Synod was opened in the autumn 2011 at the Peć Patriarchate/Patriarkana e Pejës, along with a resource centre which will serve as an archive. Bishop Jovan also plans to open a museum. “The aim of establishing the office in Kosovo is to restore the dignity of the Peć Patriarchate/Patriarkana e Pejës as a centre of Serbian Orthodoxy”, the bishop stated on the occasion of opening the office.

The office already possesses books, documents, video materials, maps, paintings, statements of international representatives and mediators which “drafted Kosovo destiny”, Bishop Jovan says. “A special place is dedicated to books about the ‘pogrom’ of Serbs, from 1999, through 2004 and to the present day, photos of Serbian families from Pejë/Peć who lost everything they had, testimonies and reports. “A true treasure”, as bishop Jovan says. People are bringing documents, books and papers every day.

Bishop Jovan believes it is very important that the people hear about the intentions of the Office to collect everything that can testify to the past in Kosovo. “I am inviting all who have relevant documents, original or a copy, books, photographs that they want the Serbian Orthodox Church to have, they should bring them. If they are unable to do it somebody from the church will find a way to come and take them”.

Bishop Jovan states that one of the tasks of the Office is the care of Kosovo and Metohija and everyone should be involved. “Testifying that the Peć Patriarchate/Patriarkana e Pejës is a living witness to the Serbian Orthodox Church and its people is the most painful and therefore blessed task for any Serb. The Americans, by signing an agreement on the protection of cultural heritage in Kosovo take on the obligation to protect the heritage of all national, religious and ethnic groups residing or resided in its territory and which were victims of genocide during the Second World War. If this relates only to the Jews, the term holocaust would have been used. The term genocide makes clear that it relates to more groups. This agreement acknowledges that Serbs and Roma experienced genocide in Kosovo and Metohija during the Second World War and so the protection of their cultural heritage is especially important. There is no a magic way to improve the current situation except by persistent effort. We see the results in the presence of the most important holy places in Kosovo and in the reconstruction of many others.”

Asked whether he believes in the possibility of a shared life between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo, Bishop Jovan replies that despite terrible events in Kosovo and Metohija, both before and after they took place, Serbs and Albanians lived together as neighbors. “Today, a lot depends on how the Albanian community in Kosovo and Metohija defines its identity and it establishes itself with positive values. The international community which took responsibility for Kosovo and Metohija did not care much for values, so it treated Kosovo as an adopted child to be rid of at the earliest opportunity. This can not be good, neither for Serbs, nor for Albanians”, concludes the Bishop.

6) Inter-Faith Relations

Donald Reeves writes: “In Kosovo as in many parts of the world where there has been conflict in which religion has played a part in strengthening the identity of one or more of the parties involved, it has been difficult to create any forum because interfaith dialogue can only take place when there is a willingness to revisit the past, and to be self critical. Without that readiness there can be no real dialogue.

Kosovo is no exception in spite of various attempts at creating an Interreligious Council.

However there was one successful occasion at the Patriarchate in May 2006 when an Interfaith Conference took place, involving all the religions present in Kosovo including representatives of the small Protestant Churches. Unfortunately this Conference was not followed up owing to internal difficulties within the Serbian Orthodox Church.

The conference has been fondly remembered by those who took part.

Meanwhile our research showed that in Pejë/Peć there are good relations between the leaders of the Islamic and Catholic community though not with the Patriarchate.

“We have excellent relations with Catholic community; we meet on regular basis to discuss common issues and concerns. I have visited the Patriarchate few years ago and it’s a pity why we don’t meet with orthodox representatives more often, we really are open but they seem not to be interested in establishing contacts. Why does there always have to be a third party to organize something for us.” – M.A. Kosovo Albanian (Muslim), Pejë/Peć; Interviewed in August 2012

“Inter-faith relations were never a problem in Kosovo; we have always had good relations and regular contact with Muslim community. Besides other cases we always visit Muslim representatives for religious Holidays and they as well visit us. We have reciprocal respect for each other. We would also like to have good contacts with orthodox leaders but we notice they are not willing to cooperate with us” – P.V. Kosovo Albanian (Catholic), Pejë/Peć; Interviewed on August 2012

7) Findings

The Patriarchate of Pejë/Peć

Our research carried out by a small team of Kosovo Serbs and Kosovo Albanians interviewed a range of citizens in Pejë/Peć. Many said they would like to know more about the Patriarchate, and would like to be able to visit. Some said that the Patriarchate was ‘political’. But all those interviewed felt that the Patriarchate was part of the life of the city. Once there were some fifteen thousand Kosovo Serbs living in Pejë/Peć, now no more than fifteen of them.

On the other hand, the Soul of Europe was conscious of ‘incidents’ of harassment against Kosovo Serbs. This has made the Sisters at the monastery anxious and fearful. They felt they had to be guarded by KFOR, whereas some interviewed reminded the Soul of Europe that at one time the monastery was guarded by local people.

“The Patriarchate belongs to Pejë/Peć, it has always been a sacred place and as such we have treated it.” – L.B. Kosovo Albanian, Pejë/Peć; Interviewed on July 2012

“The Patriarchate is an important institution for all Pejë/Peć inhabitants; it presents the values of our communities in Centuries.” – E.M. Kosovo Albanian, Pejë/Peć; Interviewed on August 2012

For centuries the Serbian Orthodox Monasteries have been guarded by Kosovo Albanian families. This tradition came to an end many years ago. We had the opportunity to meet members of the families who were in charge of taking care of the monasteries in Decan/Dečane and Pejë/Peć. They have strong attachments to these monasteries and care about them.

In spite of heavy conflict in the Balkan region in the past decades, Pejë/Peć and Graçanicë/Gračanica churches are working monasteries and remain spiritual centers. Graçanicë/Gračanica and Pejë/Peć Patriarchate monasteries were not damaged during the war in Kosovo, largely because local communities of all ethnic origins respected them.

Albanians perceive KFOR guarding the Patriarchate as a political rather than a security issue.

“There is no need for having KFOR guarding the monasteries, we have always and still are taking care that the monasteries are not attacked and destroyed. This is the reason why they were not destroyed during the war in Kosovo on 1998-1999” – G.Q. Kosovo Albanian, Deçan/Dečane; Interviewed on June 2012

“The Patriarchate is not being guarded due to security issues, there were no attempts to attack it ever. This situation is convenient for Serbia to use it for political issues.” – A.K. Kosovo Bosnian, Pejë/Peć; Interviewed on August 2012

Although the Sisters of the Patriarchate have free access to public services, they prefer not to use services provided in Pejë/Peć. They seek medical services or supplies in Mitrovica or Graçanicë/Gračanica.

About 18% of the interviewed people claim to have seen the Sisters outside of the Patriarchate. Reactions of people are normal when they see nuns around the city as cited by interviews.

“I have seen nuns outside of the monastery; their presence was accepted normally by the citizens” – S.K. Kosovo Bosnian, Pejë/Peć; Interviewed in August 2012

“I have seen nuns, not sure if they were Serbian Orthodox or Catholic Albanian nuns, cannot really tell the difference” – M.H. Kosovo Albanian, Pejë/Peć; Interviewed in June 2012

Community members are not allowed to visit the Patriarchate unless officially, this was confirmed by 90 % of interviewees who would like to have the opportunity to visit it. Some of them have attempted to visit it but they were not allowed to.

“It’s a pity to have such a place right in the heart of our town by not being able to visit it and not knowing how it looks like.” – V.A. Kosovo Albanian, Pejë/Peć; Interviewed on June 2012

“I would really like to visit the Patriarchate; we heard from elderly people that it is a marvellous place, but we are not allowed to enter there.” – B.E. Kosovo Albanian, Pejë/Peć; Interviewed on July 2012

“I tried to visit the Patriarchate, but I was not allowed to” – N.L. Kosovo Albanian, Pejë/Peć; Interviewed on July 2012

Most of those interviewed think the Patriarchate should be open to everybody and be integrated into Kosovo society; the statements emphasize that there were many attempts to offer cooperation but with no response from the Patriarchate.

The municipality says that it has good relations with the Patriarchate; there have been several occasions when the municipal representatives and the mayor have met with the representatives of the Patriarchate.

“The Patriarchate is a Serbian religious institution, but it is influenced politically to keep it as a part of Serbia and this is what actually bothers people. Religious institutions should not be politically involved.” – V.A. Kosovo Albanian, Pejë/Peć; Interviewed on July 2012

“There was a mistake by building the walls of the Patriarchate, because it belongs to all and should not become isolated place, and it should be more open to interact with others. There is no need to be guarded by KFOR” – S.K. Kosovo Bosnian, Pejë/Peć; Interviewed on August 2012

Many Albanians feel that the walls built around the Patriarchate represent a Serb desire to for keeping themselves apart. (There is little understanding of the life style of religious communities. See Recommendations below.) Many elderly people remember the time when they could walk near the Patriarchate and enjoy the beauty of the buildings and the environment.

It appears that the Patriarchate does not want to be involved with the city. The Sisters it seems like to keep themselves apart.

“The Patriarchate is a religious, cultural and very important place, the people in decision making both in Kosovo and Serbia, especially the Orthodox Church shall have on mind that this place is not an object to be used for separating people, but in contrary it should and can be used for bringing people together. This could lead a positive change for Serbs and also for other communities” – M.A. Kosovo Albanian, Pejë/Peć; Interviewed on July 2012

“Interference of Serbia is preventing Serbs in Kosovo to integrate, its on their hand. And when we talk about monasteries it is obvious, they should not close they should be open as the monastery Deçan/Dečani started to open the doors” – R.A. Kosovo Bosnian, Pejë/Peć; Interviewed on August 2012

“It would be very useful if the road near the church would be unblocked by the Patriarchate, so the citizens can again use it to go for picnics” – K.G. Kosovo Albanian, Pejë/Peć; Interviewed on June 2012

“There are not many Serbs in Pejë/Peć town, most of them are concentrated I villages, but we see them coming to town for various services, shopping of just having coffee. I also know some Serbs who work in institutions and I am happy for this because Kosovo belongs to all its inhabitants and we shall all feel free, feel home.” – A.M. Kosovo Bosnian, Pejë/Peć; Interviewed on August 2012

“I could say that last few years we can encounter more intra-ethnic problems almost none of inter-ethnic ones. Economic situation, unemployment and other social problems can lead to various tensions and this does not have to be always inter-ethnically motivated” – RR.K. Roma, Pejë/Peć; Interviewed on August 2012

“As a minority we have some privileges, but when it comes to employment there are nepotisms on one side and nationalisms on the other side” – D.A. Bosnian, Pejë/Peć; Interviewed on July 2012

“Inter-ethnic relations are much better than they were on 1999-2005. Various projects of NGOs have made a big impact to establish contacts among ethnicities. We have lots of people of different ethnicity socializing or working together. This is really important and normal because Kosovo societies have always been diverse and lived together” – D.N. Kosovo Albanian, Pejë/Peć; Interviewed on August 2012

8) Recommendations

This report has noted that at the level of the municipality and the Patriarchate there has been some progress, and with Ambassador Dimitris Moschopoulos’ intervention, as EU facilitator for the Protection of the Religious and Cultural Heritage of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo, sometimes facilitating meetings there are links being set up.

However as the report makes abundantly clear there is little trust between the Kosovo Albanians and the Sisters, and little trust in the KFOR soldiers guarding the Patriarchate.

The purpose of this report has been to see if there is a basis for establishing healthy community relations between the Patriarchate and the people of Pejë/Peć. We believe this is possible, and the recommendations below indicate a way forward.

However one thing needs to be noted: Kosovo Serbs are reluctant to return to their homes. The number of Serbs in Pejë/Peć and in the surrounding areas is very small, and mostly elderly. Numerically the Patriarchate is minute compared to the population of Pejë/Peć. Any proposals for developing relations between the municipality and the Patriarchate should not forget this obvious point. Not so much should be expected so quickly.

The following six recommendations are hereby proposed:

  • 1. A Community Relations Council should be established for strengthening relations between the Municipality and the Patriarchate. This should be the means by which relationships are developed.
  • 2. The Council should be the forum where local problems can be aired such as access to the Patriarchate by the people of Pejë/Peć, anxieties about KFOR and security, and ways whereby the Sisters can meet local people, especially Kosovo Albanian women, in a safe and welcoming environment.
  • 3. The Council should consider holding an Interfaith Conference at the Monastery following a successful Conference in May 2006.
  • 4. The Serbian Orthodox Church needs to recognize how strange the monastic tradition is to many people. There is no parallel tradition of Monasticism in Islam. Therefore opportunities for explaining the Church’s faith and understanding of monastic traditions would help dispel the ignorance, prejudice and fear among Muslims and those who have only a slight religious affiliation. One of the advantages of a public relations program is that people will begin to understand the life style of religious communities, a way of life which requires a modest degree of separateness from the world.
  • 5. The Council should create opportunities for debate about contentious issues – for example, the status of Serbian Orthodox Monasteries in Kosovo.
  • 6. The Council should stimulate religious tourism and the idea of Pilgrimage open to all, thereby promoting economic development, and reconciliation. Given the regional and international significance of the Patriarchate, this recommendation is particularly important.

This model needs to be established elsewhere in Kosovo.

9) Next Steps

The following next steps will be taken:

  • 1. The report will be presented to the Mayor of Pejë/Peć, Bishop Jovan and Patriarch Irinej.
  • 2. If the Recommendation to establish a Community Relations Council is agreed then questions arise about the authority of the Council, and its membership. In its initial stage, an experienced mediator should be appointed to help the Council in its early deliberations.

Should you have any questions – or require further information – about ‘Mediation through Monasteries in Kosovo’, then please do not hesitate to send us an email by clicking here.







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