The Cybermonk of Kosovo
by Stephen schwartz
On November 23, Bill Clinton and his daughter, Chelsea, took a trip around Kosovo. With Thanksgiving close at hand, it could almost have been described as a holiday tour.
They began at the Prishtina airport, still jointly run by NATO and the Russian troops who seized it at the end of the war last June. The president ate Thanksgiving turkey with American troops at Camp Bondsteel, the massive base near Ferizaj housing some 6,000 U.S. personnel, while Chelsea dined vegetarian.
Clinton also visited the main players in the present phase of the Kosovo crisis: the United Nations chief administrator of the province, Bernard Kouchner; the U.N. commander, general Klaus Reinhardt; the two rival leaders of Kosovo's Albanian majority, Ibrahim Rugova and Hashim Thaci; and the chief representative of what remains of the Serb minority in Kosovo, archbishop Artemije Radosavljevic of the Orthodox archdiocese of Raska and Prizren.
From each of these encounters, the spirit of ethnic reconciliation spilled forth like holiday stuffng. To the Albanians -- long repressed by their Serb masters, and only newly freed as a result of NATO's bombing of Serbia -- Clinton preached forgiveness, declaring, "No one can force you to forgive what was done to you, but you must try." To the American troops, he stressed their rainbow hues -- African-American, Hispanic, Asian -- as "an example" of cultural togetherness worthy of imitation by the fractious Kosovars.
Altogether, the visit was classic Clinton. Certainly, it did nothing to discomfit the various representatives of the "international community" administering the province, whose policy for dealing with Kosovo can be summed up as "aid blackmail." Before the local populace gets any services or serious economic assistance, there have to be major group hugs between Albanians and Serbs. As a result, the foreign governments running Kosovo have yet to come up with funding for the U.N. mission there. In Brussels last month, a "donors' conference" pledged $1 billion for reconstruction next year. But that included only $88 million for the U.N. program, and none of the money is likely to become available before the end of what is shaping up as an exceptionally hard winter all over Europe.
Part of the shortfall has been made up by two major financial powers, the World Bank and George Soros. Together, the bank and the Soros-funded Kosovo Foundation for an Open Society announced in mid-November that they would grant $20 million for small-scale local-government and community projects.
That won't make much of a dent; but then the Kosovars aren't waiting for an international bailout. By contrast with Bosnia-Herzegovina, where economic progress is at a standstill, Kosovo is alive with entrepreneurship.
As undersecretary of commerce David Aaron observed after a visit here, Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic did the Kosovar Albanians a macabre sort of favor. In attempting to destroy their economic base, he cut them out of the dying Yugoslav command economy. "There was a blessing in the last 10 years of martial law," Aaron noted. "Ethnic Albanians were kicked out of managerial and administrative positions by the Serbs. The result was to create thousands of small entrepreneurs -- shopkeepers, retail distributors, builders -- and they are a vibrant group for recovery."
Almost every home in Kosovo is being rebuilt, Aaron said. Certainly Prishtina has more small businesses on a single muddy lane than can be found the length of Marshal Tito Street in Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital. In Kosovo, shops are selling roof tiles, floor covering, window glass, furniture, rugs, and satellite dishes, all to an Albanian clientele. Serbs, meanwhile, continue either to leave the province or to hole up in ethnic enclaves, surrounded by NATO's protective troops, known as KFOR. Although Clinton met with Archbishop Artemije, he might have learned more about how the Serbian remnant in Kosovo is faring from a visit to Gracanica, a Serb redoubt only five miles outside Prishtina.
Gracanica is the headquarters of Father Sava Janjic, the man who, as the crisis of the Milosevic regime wears on, has come to be seen as offering Serbs the only real alternative to aggrieved nationalism. Nick-named the "cybermonk," Sava has revolutionized communications from the Serbian archdiocese. The Orthodox clergy being the key cultural institution for Serb society, he is assumed to have something important to say. His actual titles are Hieromonk Sava and secretary to Archbishop Artemije; and he is a former deputy abbot of the monastery at Decani.
In the monastery at Gracanica, Sava and his Web facilities are besieged. British KFOR units maintain a barricade at the perimeter, though entry is easy enough with a press ID, readily issued by KFOR and treated in Kosovo as indistinguishable from a KFOR personnel credential. Here, Father Sava candidly names the cause of the Serbs' problems: Milosevic, "the cancer of Europe," who is "holding the entire Balkans hostage." But unlike such wavering and unreliable Serb "opposition leaders" as Vuk Draskovic, who bears considerable responsibility for the coming of war to Yugoslavia, and Zoran Djindjic, who gave moral support to the Bosnian Serb forces during the war in Bosnia, Sava admits the Serbs' crimes against Kosovo's Albanians.
In July, he told the Belgrade magazine NIN (Weekly Illustrated News) why Serbs have fled Kosovo. Many refugees, he said, were motivated by their "direct responsibility in the systematic deportation of the Albanian population, the eradication of [the Albanian] identity, and the destruction of a cultural heritage." This is balder language than that employed by Draskovic, who blends his attacks on Milosevic with racist diatribes against Albanians. Sava views as morally equivalent the forces of Serb extremism and the former fighters of the Kosovo Liberation Army who dominate Albanian politics.
"The KLA and the supporters of Milosevic have the strongest political bases in Kosovo today," he warns, while the U.N. mission has failed to establish a real government in the province. He also favors every attempt at interfaith dialogue in Kosovo, describing meetings with Albanian Muslim and Albanian Catholic clerics. Nevertheless, foreign observers have accused Sava of circulating Serb propaganda. A recent English-language pamphlet on the alleged vandalizing of 52 Serb holy sites entitled "Crucified Kosovo" has an introduction by Sava charging the existence of "a systematic strategy . . . to annihilate once and forever all traces of Serb and Christian culture in Kosovo."
More likely, Albanian villagers have carried out isolated acts of revenge for the suffering they, their relatives, and their neighbors underwent before and during the NATO intervention. Sheik Xhemali Shehu of the Rifa'i Islamic community in Prizren, who fled to the United States during the recent war, asks, through "all the centuries we [Albanian] Muslims lived in Kosovo, how is it that all the Serb monasteries were left intact? We could have destroyed all of them, but because we followed Koran, which recognizes the sacred in past traditions, we respected the Serb holy sites."
Furthermore, if anything is apparent on the ground in Kosovo, it is that nothing here is happening in a "systematic" fashion. As for attacks on Christianity, there is no local support for Islamic fundamentalism or "Wahhabism" in Kosovo (nothwithstanding the unwelcome influx of extremists from the Arab countries, Afghanistan, and Pakistan after NATO's intervention), and Sava himself admits that Albanians do not consider religion a major issue in their own lives or that of others.
Nevertheless, Serbs and other non-Albanians in Kosovo have been driven from their homes; and Albanians have seen their houses looted. The KLA and its supporters look upon their joint victory with NATO as an opportunity for personal enrichment -- at whose expense being a secondary issue. That is the main reason a recent poll showed that if an election for the Kosovo presidency were held today, KLA boss Hashim Thaci would lose 4 to 1 to Ibrahim Rugova, the pacifist whom Western chatterboxes typically label "utterly discredited."
From the beginning of the war in Kosovo in early 1998, destruction of holy sites presented one of the worst features of the conflict. Hundreds of mosques, as well as some Albanian Catholic churches, were damaged or destroyed. No summary documentation has yet been produced on the vandalism of Islamic sacred structures.
However, in an interview, H. E. Rexhep Boja, president of the Islamic Community of Kosovo, stated that in addition to 200 mosques damaged or destroyed, the homes of 150 imams were devastated, his own office in Pristina was ransacked by Serbs and all its archives destroyed, 30 imams were killed, 15 were missing or in prison after the intervention, and up to 4 Islamic spiritual (Sufi) centers were wrecked.
Of the Orthodox and Islamic holy sites destroyed in Kosovo, a significant number were of recent construction. Vandalism seems to have been motivated more by political than religious feeling. Serb extremists and Albanians alike resented the building of structures that each side saw as representing the encroachment of the other. The proliferation of new mosques reminded Serbs that the Albanian population might eventually outnumber them in Serbia proper, as it had long since in Kosovo. Similarly, to the Albanians, new Orthodox churches symbolized Serb political domination. It seems likely to require all the wisdom of the holiest sages to achieve religious peace in Kosovo.
Which brings us back to Father Sava. The cybermonk, once described as "the most interviewed person in Kosovo," meets the press every morning at 10. He is a large man in a black cassock, with hair past his shoulders and wire-rimmed glasses. He speaks almost-perfect English.
He answers questions in an open, candid way. His personal history may be the most interesting thing about him. He is 33 years old. His mother was Croatian, his father a Serb, and he was born in Dubrovnik, the historic cultural capital on the Dalmatian coast, where flourish the arts, liberal philosophy, antifascism, and in recent times, extreme dislike for Croatian quasi-dictator Franjo Tudjman.
Father Sava is an outstanding representative of cosmopolitan Serbdom. He grew up in the Herzegovinian town of Trebinje (whose beautiful mosques were destroyed by Serbs in the 1992-95 Bosnian war), but his family was never nationalist. His ancestors included Germans and Hungarians. As an infant, he was not baptized although his parents were not Communists. He says almost shyly, "I never saw myself in ethnically exclusive terms."
His Serbian grandmother took him to services at the Orthodox church, his Croat grandmother to Catholic mass. His best friends in school were Bosnian Muslims. When he himself became religious, he followed a path familiar in the West. Spurred by the sense that his life was empty, he turned first to Zen Buddhism and Japanese poetry; then made his way to Mount Athos, the world-wide center of Orthodox monasticism. The spiritual seeker had found a home.
Thus, the most committed opponent of Milosevic in Serbia, the veritable conscience of Kosovo's Serbs, turns out to be not a diehard traditionalist, but a man who parachuted into Serbian Orthodox culture in midlife, one who spurns its vocabulary in favor of the vague idealism of international pop religiosity.
There is something infinitely tragic in this. The same Sava who points out that religion is not the basis of the Kosovo conflict sadly admits that the Serbs are no more devout than their Albanian neighbors. "Archbishop Artemije spoke out against Milosevic here for years, and nobody listened to him," he notes. Sava cannot expect to realize his aim of seeing Serbia free of Milosevic, with churches and mosques once again side by side in Kosovo.
But like Clinton, whose sensibility was formed amid the hippie excitement of the '60s, he is a man of the past, the New Age '70s and '80s. For such a man to be representing the Serbian Orthodox church is absurd. When he states that "the majority of Serbian Orthodox bishops did not see Kosovo in political terms," he is simply deluding himself and participating in the attempt to delude others. Clinton should have visited Father Sava. They might have had a lot in common.
So in the end, the phrase "crucified Kosovo" turns out to be appropriate. The crucifixion is being carried out by self-interested Serb and Albanian politicians, abetted by incompetent foreigners. That Father Sava Janjic should seek to wash the bodies of the victims before they are buried may be laudable. It is certainly curious that a man who exemplifies both contemporary soft spirituality and the narcissistic temptations of the Internet should be doing this. But much more is needed to rescue the Serbian nation from darkness and bring to Kosovo the democracy promised when NATO bombers were screeching overhead. Appeals to multiculturalism, whether by trendy monks or American presidents, are not enough.