In an uplifting Christmas message, Serbia’s Orthodox Church denounced the international community for seeking to take Kosovo from Serbia. The Church also observed that Kosovo independence would “shamelessly” violate all of God’s norms as well as human justice.
Taken in a vacuum, these statements by Serbia’s Orthodox Church amount to nothing more than strong rhetoric. After all, you may say, the Church is entitled to their opinion. They can say what they want to say. No harm, no foul. So what’s the big deal?
Well, history for one. It doesn’t take too much digging into history to see the relationship between Serbia’s Orthodox Church and the rise of Serbia’s nationalist fervor against Kosovar Albanians. For instance, in 1986, bishops from Serbia’s Orthodox Church alleged that Kosovar Albanians were illegal immigrants who should be expelled, were reproducing at such a high rate as to commit “demographic genocide” against the Serbs, and were carrying out widespread rapes of Serbian women. In such an environment, it was not so surprising that Slobodan Milsovic made an astronomical leap to power by promising to protect Serbia and its shrines from Kosovar Albanian “enemies.”
Let me make one thing clear, though. I am in no way saying that the Church was solely responsible for Milosovic’s rise to power or that Orthodox religion is bad. What I am saying is history has shown a cozy relationship — or rather too cozy — between the Church and Serbian nationalist fervor. The Church is certainly not doing its part to avoid stoking the flames of ethnic nationalism.
Indeed, by using its Christmas message as a platform to stress it is God’s will that Kosovo be part of Serbia — and that anyone for Kosovo independence would be violating God’s will and thus an enemy of God and Serbia — the Church has opened up past wounds in Kosovo that have not yet healed.
The Serbian Orthodox Church used its Christmas message Monday to denounce what it called world “power-mongers” seeking to take Kosovo away from Serbia. The church, whose ancient seat was in Kosovo, said world powers were “shamelessly violating all norms of God’s and human justice” by backing independence for the separatist province.
The Serbian Orthodox Church, now based in Belgrade and counting most Serbians as members, celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7, as do Orthodox Christians in Russia, Serbia, Egypt and elsewhere. The message, read by hardline Bishop Amfilohije because Patriarch Pavle, 93, is ill, said Kosovo was “our holy land, the heart and soul of the Serbian people.” “Today, the power-mongers of this world are throwing dice for our … land and shamelessly insulting our feelings and our dignity,” the message said. “Today, for their own interests in the Balkans and Europe …. they want to take away from the Serb people their cradle, heart and soul that will forever remain in Kosovo.”
Kosovo, as the ancient seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church, still has hundreds of monasteries and churches. Serbia, backed by its Orthodox Christian ally, Russia, refuses to cave in on Kosovo, insisting it should remain part of its territory with a high level of autonomy. International envoys last year failed to resolve the issue. Kosovo’s rival parties on Monday struck a power-sharing deal to form a government that is expected to declare independence from Serbia this year. (Source: Associated Press)