PRIZREN, Kosovo — Being a monk is never easy. But Brother Benedict, a friendly 29-year-old with the ever-present beard that characterizes Orthodox Christian clerics, cheerfully welcomed three foreign visitors to his humble abode.
The original Monastery of the Holy Archangels was destroyed in the 16th Century by the invading Turks. Four centuries later the Orthodox Church constructed a small church, residence, and workshop among the ancient ruins. Two years ago a mob of 600 descended from Prizren, just 1.5 miles away, burning down the buildings and destroying anything that remained. Earlier they wrecked churches, the presiding bishop’s residence, a seminary, and private Serbian homes in town.
Although the monastery was nominally guarded by German soldiers serving in the international Kosovo Force (KFOR), most of them packed up when the crowd began crossing the shallow creek separating the monastery from the road. They took the monks along but left the buildings and contents unprotected; a few remaining soldiers played tourists, photographing the monastery’s destruction. This shocking behavior was the norm on a day of violence around Kosovo. Complained Rachel Denber of Human Rights Watch: “In too many cases, NATO peacekeepers locked the gates to their bases, and watched as Serb homes burned.”
Since then the Church has built a small two-story building on the site of the workshop, where Brother Benedict and five other monks worship, eat, and sleep. The site is now surrounded by barbed wire, though Brother Benedict has little confidence in his supposed protectors. After the monastery’s destruction the German commander downplayed a mob attack on one of his units as it guarded a German TV crew. After the monks publicized the incident, their “protectors” left them isolated for two weeks. Even now the KFOR soldiers refuse to escort the monks to buy food in Prizren, suggesting instead that they turn to the Kosovo Police Service — which includes many former Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas. Instead, the monks drive substantially further to the nearest Serbian community for supplies.
Unfortunately, any Serb who travels outside of few remaining enclaves does so at his own risk. At the quasi-border dividing Serbia from Kosovo (which nominally remains part of Serbia), drivers routinely replace their Serbian license plates with ones marked Kosovo to disguise their identities. To do otherwise would risk not only their cars but their lives.
Even foreigners are at risk. Some British tourists recently were roughed up and their car was destroyed because the vehicle had been rented in Belgrade. Had they been Serbian their lives probably would have been forfeited. More than 900 Serbs have been murdered since the allies took control and ethnic killings continue in the territory. But you will look long and hard to find an ethnic Albanian jailed for committing the crimes.
HIGHLIGHTING THE PLIGHT OF THE MONKS at the monastery, as well as other Christians in Kosovo, is a delegation led by Bishop Artemije (Radosavljevic) of Raska and Prizren, which is visiting the U.S. this week at the invitation of the Religious Freedom Coalition. The visitors are hoping to slow the apparent administration rush to grant independence to Kosovo.
Kosovo is an unpleasant bit of unfinished business that the West would prefer to forget. A fair and sensible resolution is well nigh impossible, especially since the behavior of Washington and NATO has been truly disgraceful. Far from creating a tolerant democracy, the allies have presided over one of the largest episodes of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans. And if the U.S. continues on its present course, virtually everyone expects the ethnic majority to complete the job in just a few more years, if that long.
Like most of the Balkans, the problem of Kosovo goes back centuries. Serbian identity is rooted in both Kosovo’s military history, particularly the 1389 defeat by the Turks in the Battle of the Blackbirds, and spiritual significance, represented by ancient churches and monasteries.
Over the years history was unkind to the Balkans, torn by conflict as the Ottoman Empire declined and in both World Wars, and then mostly dominated by communist regimes until the end of the Cold War. During the 1980s the territory (in Yugoslavia) enjoyed substantial self-rule and resulted in ethnic Albanian mistreatment of Serbs (behavior covered in the New York Times, among other publications). Roughly two decades ago Slobodan Milosevic launched his grab for power with a speech in Kosovo that played upon Serb nationalism. Then it was Albanians who suffered, leading to an increasingly bitter guerrilla war and NATO military intervention in March 1999.
The 78-day air war never made sense. Over the years most European states had mirrored Yugoslavia in fighting to suppress secessionist movements.
Although the conflict was ugly, it was nothing compared to the simultaneous humanitarian disaster in Sierra Leone, which killed a quarter of a million people but was ignored in the U.S. and Europe. Moreover, it was NATO intervention that sparked the worst Serbian crackdown and the mass Albanian exodus.
In any case, Western officials, starting with American Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, developed policy in a dream world. They thought that a couple days of bombing would bring Belgrade to heel, completely missing the nationalism that animated most Serbs, even democrats and human rights advocates. Worst, the allies believed that they would be able to concoct a multi-ethnic Kosovo in which Albanians and Serbs would join hands singing Kumbaya around communal campfires. In fact, having used their American-supplied air force to eject the Serb military units, the victorious ethnic Albanians saw no need to compromise.
After the war — under the occupation of the West — the Albanian community kicked out a quarter million Serbs, Roma, Jews, and non-Albanian Muslims. Over the next five years isolated Serbs were killed, beaten, and kidnapped. Even Serbian enclaves were vulnerable to drive-by shootings.
Although Serbs disappeared from much of Kosovo — roughly 40,000 in the capital of Pristina turned into about 120 mostly terrified elderly residents today — around 100,000 remain, with many concentrated in the north, around the town of Mitrovica. In March 2004 a series of coordinated riots and assaults broke out, killing 19 people, injuring about 1,000 more, displacing 4,000 Serbs, destroying 36 churches and monasteries, torching numerous homes and farms, and despoiling cemeteries. (All told, about 150 churches, monasteries, and seminaries have been destroyed since 1999. “They destroy them, we rebuild them,” commented one determined Church member.) With good reason many Serbs called the March violence Kristallnacht, after the infamous Nazi assault on Jews the presaged the eventual attempt to exterminate the entire people.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?