The Christian Church of the Serbian people, which has shared the fate of its people throughout their entire historical, cultural and spiritual existence, has demonstrated that even today it remains the most reliable witness of their trials, more dangerous now than perhaps ever before. These trials are nowhere greater and more tragic than in Kosovo and Metohija, the Holy Land of the Serbian people. What Jerusalem is to the Jews, Kosovo is to the Serbs, and Kosovo, like a Jerusalem, is not just geography or demographics. It is a matter of identity: national, spiritual, cultural, Christian and human, i.e. theanthropic. This is why the Serbian Orthodox Church is at this moment so deeply concerned about the fate of Kosovo and Metohija and with all who live there, and all the holy shrines that exist there. This Memorandum is truly yet another impartial reminder, in a countless series of such reminders, of the complete truth and justice of Kosovo and Metohija, in the past and the present, for the common future of all in Kosovo.
Name and territory
The name KOSOVO, imposed by the Communist regime after 1968 to replace the full name of KOSOVO AND METOHIJA, is not adequate for the territory the name strives to represent. Geographically and historically, the name Kosovo signifies, first and foremost, Kosovo POLJE (Kosovo field – Field of Blackbirds), a plain stretching from Zvečan in the north to Kačanik in the south. The flatland region of Metohija, encompassing primarily the Beli Drim river basin, is located between the Drenica plateau and the high mountains bordering on present day Albania.
Today the Province of Kosovo and Metohija covers a surface area of 10,850 square kilometers. Intentional repression and erasure of the name Metohija from the name of this Serbian province served the purpose of pushing out and denying the church character of this region with the goal of its complete secession from Serbia.
History of the Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija
During the Great Migration of Indo-European peoples, the Serbs finally settled in the area of present day Kosovo and Metohija in the seventh century, and soon thereafter became Christianized joining the Christian civilization of Orthodox Byzantium. Attesting to this is the existence of over 1,300 churches and monasteries, especially near Prizren, Peć, Istok, Klina, Mt. Čičavica, Novo Brdo, and the region of Pomoravlje. Among the pious endowments in Kosovo and Metohija are several important religious, cultural and historical monuments, such as the Peć Patriarchate, Visoki Dečani, Gračanica, and Bogorodica Ljeviška, unique in the world spiritual and cultural heritage. This area, which the Serbs would later name Kosovo, was inhabited prior to their arrival chiefly by Romanized Dardanians, as well as by Greeks, Romans, Vlachs, Aromanians, Tzintzars and remnants of the Illyrians and the Thracians, i.e. by the ancestors of those who would later take part in forming the Albanians with other groups. With the arrival of the Slavs these indigenous peoples withdrew toward the coastal cities or into remote mountain regions. Even before creating an independent state, the Serb people lived in the Kosovo and Metohija area since its arrival, which is clearly evidenced by the existence of an abundance of local Slavic place names, even in parts of present day northern Albania. The biography of Nemanja, written by St. Sava, attests to the inclusion of Kosovo and Metohija in the independent Serbian state in the 12th century. Listed among Nemanja's inheritance "from the land of the Greeks" are districts in Metohija, and then in Kosovo.
Serbian Church in Kosovo and Metohija
Out of a total of 10 dioceses of the autocephalous Serbian Church, organized by St. Sava of Serbia (1219-1221), three were located in the area of Kosovo and Metohija, which means that at the time these regions were densely populated by Orthodox Serbs. As early as 1253 the seat of the Serbian Church (which became a Patriarchate instead of an Archdiocese in 1346) was transferred to the Great Church of Christ the Savior in Peć. The fall of the Serbian medieval state under Turkish rule (1455-1459) resulted in a loss of state and Church independence. However, one hundred years later, in 1557, the Serbian Patriarchate of Peć was restored and many other churches and monasteries were also restored and built. Serbian medieval rulers and lords bequested large estates throughout Metohija to the great endowment monasteries of Chilandar, Studenica, Banjska, Gračanica, Bogorodica Ljeviška, Visoki Dečani and Holy Archangels, as eloquently documented in the Royal land charters preserved to this day. In the Royal charters issued for local monasteries, the names of people, as well as the names of places, show that the population of farmers in Metohija and Kosovo was entirely Serb. Only beginning with charters from the fourteenth century are Vlachs and Arbanasi (Albanians) also mentioned, although in a very small number. From this and other information it clearly follows that there was no conflict between the Serbs and the Albanians in medieval Serbia. These problems would begin only since the end of the 17th century with the intensified Islamization of Albanian newcomers.
Battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389
An especially important, event marking the Serbian presence in Kosovo and Metohija was the Battle of Kosovo Polje, fought on Vidovdan (St. Vitus Day), June 15 / June 28, 1389.(1) It has been and remains the central event in all of Serbian history in the national consciousness of all Serbs. The Kosovo battle has resulted in the best Serbian patriotic and freedom-loving traditions and the most beautiful epic poems. The epic poet does not dwell on Serb victories as much as he lauds the Serbs' defeat "for the honorable Cross and golden Freedom". In the words of Serbian historian Vladimir Corović: "He who sings of his defeat is not convinced that the defeat is final. He dwells on his defeat believing he can atone for it and to him it is, no matter how painful, by virtue of the honorable, great effort invested therein, at once both consolation and motivation."
Appearance of Albanians in Metohija and Kosovo
When the Turks occupied Kosovo and Metohija (in 1455 with the fall of Novo Brdo town) and neighboring regions, they conducted a census of the population, which was almost exclusively Serb, with only 2-3% Albanians west of Đakovica. Their records and other surveys, frequent in the 16th century, indicate that the ethnic and religious profile did not change quickly. The Christian population, largely Serb, was incomparably more numerous, even in the cities. In the 17th century the Islamization of the Albanians began, first in central Albania (over 50%) and then beyond. Problems for the Christian Serbs in Metohija and Kosovo began at the same time, even though in the 17th century the demographic percentages still had not changed significantly. The Serb populace, despite wars, epidemics, increased violence and looting, had lost only several percentage points of its total numbers in Kosovo and Metohija. The fateful disruption occurred with the Great Migration of 1690, followed by the descent of the Albanians in increasing number into the Metohija and Kosovo area, as well as by the partial Islamization and subsequent Albanization of the subjugated Kosovo and Metohija Serbs in the first decades of the 18th century. When the Ottoman Empire began to lose its strength, forcible conversion to Islam intensified and in that process the Albanians, unfortunately, became the chief fist of the Ottomans and a bloody whip against the Christian Orthodox populace of Kosovo and Metohija and throughout the Balkans.
Great Migration of 1690 and continued Serb migrations
The Great Migration of the Serbs of 1690 led to a double tragedy for Kosovo and Metohija Serbs because the migration itself thinned their ranks, while those who remained, still as the majority population, suffered further abuse and mistreatment by both the Turks and the Albanian newcomers. Namely, after the collapse of the Christian, Austro-Serbian army at Kačanik at the beginning of 1690, where the Turks were assisted by considerable numbers of Tartars and Albanians, came their revenge attack on the lands of Old Serbia, with the greatest destructive frenzies taking place in Kosovo. A total of 37,000 Serb families (or 185,000 to 200,000 souls) left Kosovo and Metohija at that time. These Serbs, who migrated to the north, significantly strengthened the ranks of the Serb population on the other side of the Sava and Danube Rivers, and took with them the living and unforgettable traditions of Kosovo and Metohija.
Even after the Great Migration, and despite all decimations and migrations, the Serb population in Kosovo and Metohija and throughout the territory of Old Serbia still remained in the great majority. Until the middle of the 18th century, Kosovo and Metohija remained a homogenous environment with a Serb majority. However, in the first decades of the 18th century the Albanians began to massively descend from the mountains into the cultivated regions of Kosovo and Metohija, where they formed military bands notorious for crimes, or volunteered as Janissaries in order to gain special privileges with the Turks, and then proceeded to loot and confiscate Serb villages, churches and monasteries, and ultimately began to settle here. Some of these Albanians came as Roman Catholics and converted to Islam in Kosovo and Metohija. Records exist even today of how and when villages or entire regions of Kosovo and Metohija were usurped by the Albanians, and the Serbian Orthodox population living there forcibly Islamized, and then Albanized. A second, likewise numerous migration of Serbs from Kosovo and Metohija took place in 1737 during the time of Patriarch Arsenije IV Jovanović-Šakabenta, after the second great Austrian-Turkish war.
The suffering of Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija continued during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries until the liberation of Kosovo in the year 1912. There are numerous examples of the pogroms carried out against the Serb population, especially during the second half of the nineteenth century. The Serb people lived under the heavy yoke of the Turks and the Albanians, as evidenced by numerous written records, including the well-known "Plač Stare Srbije" (The Cry of Old Serbia) by Visoki Dečani Abbot Seraphim Ristić and the writings of Janićije Popović, a Serb teacher in Gračanica. The suffering of Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija was particularly intensified after the Berlin Congress in 1875.
Kosovo and Metohija from liberation in 1912
After the liberation of Kosovo and Metohija in 1912-13 there was no expulsion of the Albanian population from this area, nor did the Serbs take their revenge against them. At that time the great powers created the state of Albania, not including, of course, Kosovo and Metohija, which was recognized by the European states as a historically Serbian region. The persecution of the Serb population in Kosovo and Metohija during World War I and the Austrian-Albanian occupation was also great, beginning with the withdrawal of the Serbian army through Albania and continuing through the entire occupation, especially in the quelling of the Serbian Toplica Rebellion of 1917, when the Albanians actively fought on the side of the Germans, Austrians and Bulgarians. During the occupation of 1915-18, twenty-two Serbian priests were killed in a bestial fashion in Kosovo and Metohija. Following the liberation in 1918 and the creation of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, and then the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the Serb population of Kosovo and Metohija, thinned out by the war and occupation, was reinforced by partial colonization. However, it was not systematically implemented nor did the state pay proper attention to the population of Kosovo. As a result, it created the conditions and possibility for Communist propaganda directed by the Comintern to conduct an anti-Serb and anti-Orthodox campaign during the period between the wars, which was fanned and utilized by the Albanians. Consequently there were several "rebellions" by Albanian outlaws (kachaks) during this period, and as a result the Serb population had no peace and quiet. After the defeat of Yugoslavia and the Nazi occupation of April 1941 the Serbian lands were divided up. Kosovo and Metohija fell to the Germans, Italians and Albanians, who during the occupation had their own army, the Ballists, who carried out great crimes against the Serbs, Serbian shrines, priests and monks, and the people. The Nazis created a Greater Albania including the territory of Kosovo and Metohija.
During the occupation of World War II about 15,000 Serbs were killed and approximately 100,000 expelled from Kosovo and Metohija. A large number of Serb villages and churches were destroyed and burned down, especially in Metohija. The Ballists also murdered 24 priests of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and Bishop Seraphim of Raška and Prizren was sent to a prison camp in Albania, where he died in exile.
Kosovo and Metohija under Communist rule 1945-1990
After the end of the war, Tito's Federal Peoples' Republic of Yugoslavia (FPRY) banned, at a parliamentary session held on March 6, 1945, the return of expelled Kosovo and Metohija Serbs in order to placate the Albanians and win their loyalty. This unjust decision has not been repealed to this day, and resulted in a seriously compromised ethnic profile of the population to the detriment of the Serbs.
Serbs were gradually but systematically persecuted in Kosovo and Metohija, especially after 1965, and during the period from 1966 to 1971 about 35,000 Serbs were forced to leave their homes. From the end of the war to 1961 a total of 338 Kosovo and Metohija settlements were ethnically cleansed of Serbs. From 1961 to 1989 220,000 Serbs left the Province under pressure, while during the period from 1961 to 1981 a total of 606 Kosovo and Metohija villages were left without Serbs. At the same time the Albanian population was rapidly increasing thanks to the highest birth rate in Europe.
The large Albanian demonstrations in 1968 and 1981 resulted in increasingly greater and more frequent persecution of the Serb population and increasingly more brutal attacks against Serbian churches, monasteries, and cemeteries. Everything of Serb character or markings was systematically destroyed, as reported by the Western press (Serbian Orthodox Church published a book with a large collection of documents – Kosovo Endowments). The goal of the Albanian secessionists was the separation of the Province from Serbia and Yugoslavia, and ultimately its unification with Enver Hoxha's Albania. Immediately after a large demonstration in Priština in the evening of March 16, 1981, on the ’Sunday of Orthodoxy’, the residence hall of the Peć Patriarchate was set on fire.
Kosovo and Metohija under Milošević's rule to the NATO bombing
The regime established by Milošević in Kosovo and Metohija after 1990 only formally sought to prevent the secession of the Province. In actuality, the difficult life of the Serb population living largely in poverty continued. The new administration only benefited those who sympathized with the regime while both Serbs and Albanians who did not support the regime lived under repression. The regime did not work on creating long-term conditions for the survival of the Serb people nor even attempt to rectify the historical mistakes of the Communist government.
The tragedy of the Kosovo and Metohija drama intensified, especially at the end of the 1990's when the Kosovo Albanians, through intensive activity by their lobbies abroad and procurement of large quantities of weapons after the state crisis in Albania in 1997, created the necessary conditions for the organization of an armed rebellion. Unfortunately, the erroneous policies of Milošević's corrupt state government gave even greater stimulus to the decades-old plans of the Albanians based on the idea that all Albanians throughout the Balkans should be unified "in one state" whose new center would be Kosovo, the richest and most developed region where they live.
Even though the first serious armed campaigns by the Albanian separatists began as early as 1996, sporadic violence continued throughout 1997 and 1998, when the armed conflict in Kosovo and Metohija, that would gradually grow into open rebellion and war, finally began. The Western countries, headed by the United States, saw the cause of the entire problem exclusively in the Serbs who still "kept Milošević in power" while at the same time "denying rights to the Albanian minority". During this period the West solidified its view that Milošević must be stopped, even by NATO military intervention if necessary. Increasingly stronger political and diplomatic pressure followed on the government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, ultimately leading to the bombing of FRY by the NATO alliance.
The conflict between the NATO alliance and the FRY began with a massive bombing of the FRY on March 24, 1999, and lasted 78 full days. It concluded on June 10 the same year by the signing of the NATO-dictated military technical agreement in Kumanovo (FYR Macedonia). The bombing of the FRY resulted in a more robust phase of the conflict in Kosovo and Metohija. During this period FRY security forces set out to finally settle accounts with the Albanian rebels. Even though some Albanians had left the Province of their own accord out of fear of repression as well as with the encouragement of Western friends and allies in order to create the negative impression of a "humanitarian catastrophe," a significant number of Albanians - out of the 700,000 refugees who left the Province by June 1999 according to UNHCR statistics - left under pressure from the state police and army.
Tragic situation of Serbs and the
When the Belgrade government finally accepted the international community's plan for deployment of KFOR (Kosovo Force) and the withdrawal of the Yugoslav Army and Serbian police by the signing of the so-called military technical agreement in Kumanovo, chaos and panic broke out among the Serb people in the Province. During the several days it took the Yugoslav Army to withdraw, together with Serbian security forces, a significant number of Serbs and Roma also fled from Kosovo and Metohija out of fear. The first wave consisted of some 30,000 people and after the first several months the total number of new refugees exceeded 250,000.
More people left after a series of crimes committed by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) in the presence of KFOR peacekeeping forces. Throughout the Province Serb civilians, elderly and women, were murdered and abducted, Serb houses were burned down, and shrines destroyed. Among the victims of the first wave of violence was Fr. Stefan Puljić from Budisavci and Fr. Chariton Lukić, a monk from the Holy Archangels Monastery near Prizren.
The UCK broke into Devič Monastery on June 10 and stayed until the arrival of French KFOR on June 12. For three days they looted the monastery and maltreated the nuns and Fr. Seraphim, who was beaten up in the church sanctuary until he bled from injuries to his teeth and jaw.
In just the first few months of the "peacekeeping mission" over 100 Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries were destroyed and damaged. Sveti Vrači Monastery in Zočište (14th century) and Holy Trinity Monastery in Mušutište (14th century) were already burned down in summer 1999. Not far from Suva Reka in the village of Mušutište the medieval church of the Most Holy Theotokos (from 1315 with frescoes) was destroyed. On July 24, 1999, fourteen Serb farmers were killed while harvesting their fields in Staro Gracko village near Lipljan.
In the entire newly created situation the Serb people acted in a completely disoriented fashion because the state administrators of the Milošević regime were among the first to leave Kosovo and Metohija after proclaiming a "victory." The only organization that continued to function, albeit under difficult conditions, was the Serbian Orthodox Church, gathering people in its parishes and encouraging them to stay and survive in these difficult conditions. Under the leadership of Bishop Artemije in September 1999, the Serb National Council (SNC) of Kosovo and Metohija was established as a politically independent organization for coordinating the work of the Serbs in the Province with the Church, the only institution active in all Serb regions and one enjoying high moral respect and influence.
The number of murdered and kidnapped persons has exceeded 2,000. UNMIK and KFOR have not shown the willingness to bring an end to the violence, avoiding every possible conflict with the Albanian extremists. Many written and verbal protests, appeals and letters by the Serbian Patriarch and Bishop Artemije were ignored.
Serbs have survived primarily in a few enclaves, while the biggest cities, except Mitrovica, have been left almost entirely without their Serb populations. In some cities such as Priština, Gnjilane and Orahovac only scattered groups, existing under the protection of KFOR forces remain.
At the beginning of 2000, the international community apparently began to realize that the attacks by Albanians are not just the result of furious revenge for violence committed during the time of the conflict but have the clear intent of expelling all the non-Albanians from Kosovo and Metohija. However, no concrete measures have been undertaken to change the situation on the ground. Reports by the Kosovo Ombudsperson bear witness of the lack of basic human rights for the Serbs.
The destruction of Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries, the eradication of cemeteries and cultural monuments are part of a broader Albanian strategy, whose goal is to change not only the demographic but also the cultural and historical identity of the Province. Newly revised Albanian history and the educational system are working in tandem to impose a pseudo identity upon some of our great shrines, such as Dečani, Patriarchate of Peć and Bogorodica Ljeviska cathedral in Prizren. In this process some Albanian Roman Catholic circles have pursued a very dishonorable role, primarily among the Albanians themselves, who claim that the Serbs have occupied supposedly Albanian Catholic churches built by "Illyrian and Albanian kings"!?!
The change in the political situation in Serbia on October 5, 2000, and the departure of Milošević from power at first created great hopes among the Serbs in the Province; however, they were soon faced with the reality that the state, after ten years of destructive policy, was not in a position to change the situation overnight. The Albanians have become impatient, resulting in an intensification of violence at the end of 2000 and the beginning of 2001, accompanied by parallel revolts in southern Serbia near Bujanovac and Presevo, and in northern FYR Macedonia. During this period the process of desecration of churches and cemeteries has continued, as well as frequent attacks on the remaining Serb population. In February 2001 Albanian extremists blew up a Serb bus, killing 11 and wounding 40 Serb civilians. As in numerous other incidents, the perpetrators of this crime have never been found.
In August 2001 the first successful return of Serbs took place to the village of Osojane, Istok municipality, and work began immediately on the restoration of destroyed homes. The program continued in 2002 with the return of a few dozen Serb families to the nearby villages of Biča, Grabac and Tučep, near Klina. However, it quickly became apparent that the returnees could subsist only in enclaves where they are protected by KFOR troops.
During the fall and winter of 2002 and in the first half of 2003 there have been numerous armed attacks as Albanian extremists sought to frighten the Serb population and expel it from its ancient home. The areas surrounding Vitina and Obilić have been especially targeted. The highest representatives of the Security Council were forced to concede in their June report that security and freedom of movement remain the chief problem in the area for Serbs and other non-Albanians.
For us Serbs, Kosovo is not some imaginary, mythical past but the reality of a historical, Christian fate that is ongoing, and continuing even today, not ending even with the most recent tragedy. "This is our holy, martyred Kosovo and Metohija, our Holy Jerusalem, the soul of our souls, our honor, the root of our being, our fate. Without it, we would cease to be what we are because it is in Kosovo and Metohija that we became a mature and historical people and, in the words of the Holy Great Martyr Lazar of Kosovo, chose once and for all times, the Kingdom of Heaven." (Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro and the Littoral, on Annunciation, March 25 / April 7, in the year of Our Lord 1999)
Nonetheless, we still also believe in the good will of the international community, and that the powerful states of the Western world, in Europe and America alike, will reestablish justice and freedom, peace and coexistence for all who live in Kosovo and Metohija. We therefore appeal, beseech and request for the following fundamental necessities:
What remains for us is hope in the God of Justice, Truth and Freedom, in the Triune God of evangelical love and stauropaschal(2) resurrection and salvation, that will help us in our Golgotha-like crucifixion. For only God can help us today. On our part we seek no revenge, but together with the righteous Job we cry: "If we have received good things at the hand of the Lord, shall we not endure evil things?" (Job 2:10) And together with the right repentant sinner on the Golgotha Cross we pray: "Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom! " (Luke 23:42)