My friend, Stephen Schwartz , sends this note from Kosovo:
Although now independent, the republic of Kosovo remains subject to United Nations jurisdiction, regarding, among other issues, protection of the Serbian minority in the territory. UN policies on the Kosovo Serb minority have become inseparable from the political metastasis of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Serbian Orthodox religious leaders promoted violent ultranationalism during the recent Balkan wars, and in Kosovo they now anticipate that the church will become the sole foundation of Kosovo Serbian communal identity. In the constellation of Serbian enclaves designated by the UN or demanded by the Serbs in Kosovo, many are structured around church properties. In some cases UN schemes provide for state and other public assets to be annexed to ownership by the Serbian church for inclusion in the new protected zones.
The historic and beautiful Kosovar city of Prizren offers disturbing indicators of how this policy may go wrong. Prizren is the offical center for the Serbian Orthodox church in Kosovo, but is also the Kosovo seat of the Albanian Catholic church, headed by archbishop DodÃ« Gjergji. Further, Prizren includes the headquarters of the Sunni Muslim Sufi orders in Kosovo, and the city’s chief imam, Ali Vezaj, is an outspoken Muslim moderate.
Several Serbian Orthodox churches in Prizren have been designated as special protected zones, with the intention of annexing their surroundings. This will likely result in the removal of Albanian shops and houses near the churches, as well as the possible closure of the city’s main square. Additionally, the present plan for special Orthodox church-centered areas in Prizren would involve usurpation of paleo-Christian sites. One major complex includes the Monastery of the Archangels, which was built by the 14th century Serbian ruler Tsar Dushan on the foundations of a paleo-Christian church. On the hill above it stands the “Castle of the Maiden,” which includes the foundations of another paleo-Christian church, dedicated to St. Nicholas.
In a recent visit, I was informed that foreigners supervising the rehabilitation of Serbian Orthodox churches in Prizren (some of which were damaged in inter-ethnic fighting in 2004) have ordered that the pre-Orthodox archeological remnants discovered during reconstruction should be covered with concrete. Albanian Catholic representatives in Kosovo believe they, like their Sufi and other Muslim colleagues in Prizren, will be allowed no voice in determining the future of the city’s multifaith heritage, marked for sacrifice to ethnic separation in the name of peace.