Diocese Raška-Prizren (Serbian Orthodox Church) warns of escalating repression by the Kosovo authorities against the Serbian people and its Church

Despite international calls for de-escalation in northern Kosovo, Serbia’s release of three arrested Kosovo police officers, and a clear denial yesterday by KFOR in connection with unfounded and dangerously malicious accusations by British Parliament member, Ms. Alicia Kearns, against the Serbian Orthodox Church regarding alleged “arms smuggling”, Kosovo’s Prime Minister Mr. Kurti, regrettably, has continued with making inflammatory statements, which openly incite ethnic and religious intolerance against the Serbian people and the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo. These statements, which call for the collective criminalisation of Serbs, further exacerbate an already extremely difficult and fragile situation.

The Serbian Orthodox Diocese in Kosovo has received confidential and reliable information indicating that in the coming days and weeks, the Kosovo government allegedly intends to launch a series of activities aimed at further discrediting the Serbian Orthodox Church. These activities may involve continued systematic media defamation of our Church and its believers, planting false evidence, repressive actions, and further encouragement of ethnic and religious intolerance. The Diocese will share all additional information we manage to obtain with leading Western embassies and KFOR in Pristina for further verification and taking necessary measures to prevent further escalation of ethnic repression and attacks against the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Yesterday Mr. Kurti initially stated in a press conference that the allegations against the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) would be thoroughly investigated and the Kosovo government would provide the ultimate conclusion. However, following a meeting with a high NATO representative later in the day, he accused via Twitter the SOC of using ambulances to transport and subsequently store weapons in Orthodox churches within Kosovo. This all happened after KFOR stated in its media announcement yesterday morning that there was no substantiating evidence for such grave allegations against the Church. This whole situation illustrates a disturbing reality in Kosovo: the Prime Minister is the chief prosecutor and the primary adjudicator.

At the same time we consider the allegations of British Member of Parliament, Mrs. Kearns, against the Church to be a perilous misuse of information and a blatant libel. It should be noted that her statements do not reflect the official position of the UK Government or NATO, but are more likely based on information received from Mr. Kurti during his recent visit to London. In her interview yesterday, Mrs. Kearns maintained her accusations against the Serbian Orthodox Church, disregarding the KFOR’s statement that declared these allegations as baseless. We must underscore that this is just one example among many of the perilous media manipulations that the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo and Metohija has endured over the years. Such false reports have served as a pretext for attacks on our holy sites, 150 of which have been ruthlessly destroyed and desecrated.

Manipulating public opinion by spreading false information is, in fact, part of the political platform of Mr. Kurti’s Self-Determination movement, which is well known to at least part of the impartial and objective public. We sincerely believe that many moderate Kosovo Albanians do not support such behaviour, as such policy does not pave the way for the European future of this part of the Balkans, but rather leads to prolonged conflicts and instability.

On this occasion, we emphasise that our Church has maintained a peaceful but determined stance for years that we want a dignified and safe life for all citizens in this region. Therefore, we feel obliged to condemn all forms of violence and repression. Regrettably, we simultaneously recognise that our stance is a hindrance to what appears to be the ultimate goal of Mr. Kurti, who for years has been a fervent adversary of Serbian-Albanian coexistence and an outspoken proponent of an ethnically pure Greater Albania. It is absurd that Mr. Kurti and his closest associates who until recently attacked EULEX and the police (both international and Kosovan), threw Molotov cocktails at government and police buildings, launched tear gas in the Assembly, destroyed public property, endangered human lives and were arrested, now portray themselves as purported defenders of the law, which they brazenly violate on multiple fronts, ignoring even all international warnings.

Therefore, it is no surprise that our role among the Serbian people and the international reputation of our Church in Kosovo poses an obstacle to the efforts of the current Kosovo government to carry out the ethnic cleansing of the Serbian people from Kosovo; this time not yet through open attacks and vandalism, in which a considerable number of Mr. Kurti’s followers and the “Network for Kosovo Action” (from which his current party developed) participated in the 2004 pogrom, but primarily through the special forces of the Kosovo police. Over the past few years, our people have come to perceive this police unit as a kind of paramilitary and occupation force that instills fear, rather than as a police force meant to ensure peace and security for all citizens, without distinction.

According to our Diocese’s findings, over 2000 Serbian families from northern Kosovo have been compelled to abandon their homes due to police repression in just the past few months. The repression continues to escalate, with authorities demonstrating force in Serbian neighbourhoods and conducting arbitrary, extra-judicial arrests. Reputable individuals are being publicly targeted on ethnic and political basis and arrested Serbs are kept in detention without clear legal bases. Mistreatment of arrested Serbs in detention centres has also been reported. This is all occurring in conjunction with an aggressive media campaign, particularly on social networks where party bots openly disseminate hate and call for violence. This behaviour by the Kosovo authorities further intimidates the remaining Serbs, pushing them to leave their homes. Therefore, we can rightfully say that we are facing a repetition of the March Pogrom of 2004, only with different methods, but evidently with the same objectives.

The Serbian people have never lived in harder circumstances and greater legal and physical insecurity since the end of the armed conflict in 1999, and this is yet another reason for all of us to show unity and steadfast resolve, and to endure together in the areas where we have lived for centuries. By doing so, we will honour our ancestors who passed through similar trials and injustices over the centuries.

As a Church that has stood by its people for centuries, and that condemned equally strongly the repression against Kosovo Albanians during the rule of Slobodan Milošević, selflessly providing protection to all those endangered during the armed conflict, we have full moral right to raise our voices against this current injustice, which, unlike the previous one, is being carried out despite the presence of international representatives and KFOR forces. At the same time, we once again condemn any form of violent opposition to police repression and call on the Serbian people to oppose injustice peacefully, with dignity and perseverance.

We warn that the aggressive behaviour of the current Kosovo authorities, which disregard even the most recent political and economic measures by the EU introduced due to the Pristina government’s unwillingness to comply with the international requests for de-escalation, directly leads to a further deterioration of the security situation and wider regional instability in the Western Balkans. Under such conditions, it is completely unrealistic to talk about the normal resumption of dialogue. Trust and respect for what has been agreed upon are indispensable for dialogue. Trust cannot be built on threats, dictate and blackmail, especially not on mounting repression against the non-majority population.

Therefore, on this occasion, we call on international representatives and the KFOR mission to prevent this new pogrom being conducted by the misuse of institutions intended to work for the benefit of all citizens, instead of acting as а tool of a single political organisation, causing immense harm not only to Serbs and other non-majority populations in Kosovo and Metohija, but also to Kosovo Albanians. In recent years, the number of young Albanians who have left Kosovo has significantly increased because they do not see a future in a society going towards isolation, conflict, and ethnic hatred. The systematic thefts and ethnically-biased implementation of justice, which are triggering the exodus of the remaining communities in Kosovo, further highlight the region’s political and economic instability.

The Serbian Orthodox Church remains consistent in its firm commitment  to work on building peace and cooperate with all people of goodwill, but also oppose all lawlessness, untruths, and repression in a Christian manner, with truth and fearless testimony about the injustice that is being perpetrated today against the Serbs in Kosovo.

Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Raška-Prizren

July 6, 2023