Exchange on Christians in the Albanian Lands
The Albanian Persecution
by Michael Redmond
First Things [New York]
In "Broken Promises" (April), Stephen Schwartz bears eloquent witness to the bloody persecution that Albania's Catholics endured under that nation's Communist dictatorship. One regrets that Schwartz chose to limit his eloquence to events past and his Christian solidarity to Roman Catholics.
In passing, Schwartz refers to "the liberation of Kosovo in 1999." He appears to be unaware that one of the things Kosovo was "liberated" from was Christianity.
In testimony before the U.S. Congressional Task Force for Human Rights on March 15, His Grace Teodosije, auxiliary bishop of Lipljan and vice-chairman for Kosovo and Metohija of the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, spoke of the plight of the 200,000 Serbian Christians who have fled their homes in the face of Kosovar Albanian violence and of the dismal prospects of the remaining Kosovar Serbs for anything resembling a normal life.
"Our children are growing up in constant fear and uncertainty because the society being built around is not a society where all citizens are equal, but a society that is being tailored exclusively to meet the needs of the majority Albanian community, in which Serbs and other non-Albanians live as more or less welcome guests and strangers," Bishop Teodosije testified.
"Unfortunately, this sort of relationship takes us right back to the organization of society in Kosovo which led to armed conflict and the intervention of the NATO forces. Did U.S. soldiers come to Kosovo in order to make it possible for one form of repression to be replaced with another? They certainly did not but, unfortunately, that is the reality that exists not only in our eyes, but also in the eyes of many objective international observers," Bishop Teodosije said.
His Grace also provided documentation, yet again, of the systematic "torching and destruction of 150 holy shrines (in Kosovo and Metohija), several dating back to the Middle Ages, of irreplaceable value," which fact has been corroborated by UNESCO, as well as "the eradication of cemeteries where almost all crosses have been obliterated."
Here is a God-sent opportunity for the Holy See to put some teeth into its talk about Catholic-Orthodox rapprochement.
Princeton, New Jersey
I visit all the Albanian lands frequently and speak and read Serbian and Albanian. The claim that Orthodox Christians in Albania suffer any discrimination of any kind at the present time is not only a total invention, it is so novel I have never encountered it before. Orthodox Christians and people of Orthodox heritage – whether Albanian, Greek, or Vlach (a Romanian-speaking minority) – not only enjoy rights in Albania that Albanian and Vlach minorities do not possess in Orthodox Greece, they are highly placed in the Albanian state and media. If there is any controversy involving Orthodox Christians in Albania, it has to do with the scandalous fact that the head of the Albanian Orthodox Church, Anastasios Yannoulatos, is an ethnic Greek and citizen of Greece, rather than an Albanian.
While the Albanian Communist regime repressed the Orthodox church, ethnic Greeks and Vlachs of Orthodox background were favored cadres in the system of dictator Enver Hoxha. Many of them were former members of the so-called Democratic Army of Greece, a Communist terror force, which retreated into Albania.
The claim that Kosovo was "liberated from Christianity" is a despicable distortion. The Albanian Catholic church maintains its houses of worship in every major Kosovo town. I visit them about twice a year. The Serbian Orthodox Church is protected by NATO troops. While numerous Serbs fled Kosovo after their brutal terror over Kosovar Albanians ended, the figure of 200,000 is exaggerated; Serbia did not and does not have the capacity to absorb 200,000 Serbian refugees from Kosovo.
It is undeniable that some Serbian Orthodox churches have been vandalized or demolished in Kosovo. It is also undeniable that most of those that were damaged were established in the period of Serbian imperialist rule beginning in 1912, with such construction expanded after 1987, to symbolize Serb domination of the province. Similarly, in the 1920s, with the independence of Poland from tsarist rule, the enormous and hideously ugly St. Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Cathedral that had been erected in Warsaw to represent Russian power over the Poles, was leveled. I oppose double standards on these matters. The Albanians were, are, and will be the overwhelming majority in Kosovo, and they will soon be its masters. There is no reason they should be compelled to preserve or protect structures intended not for legitimate worship but as a form of cultural aggression.
The old Orthodox monasteries and churches of Kosovo, many of which were originally built by Macedonians, Bulgarians, and Vlachs, and which were then seized and taken over by Serbs, deserve to be and will be preserved, protected, and, where damaged, restored. The figure of 150 Serbian "shrines" torched and destroyed in Kosovo is misleading and exaggerated; indeed, the manipulation employed in advancing this argument is obvious in the phrasing of Bishop Teodosije, who said only that "several" of the sites were ancient. At the same time, some 250 Muslim mosques were destroyed in Kosovo in the 1998-99 period, by Serbian terrorists. The latter acts have been fully documented without rhetorical excess, which is unnecessary since the vandalism speaks for itself.
It is seldom mentioned that the clerics of the Serbian Orthodox hierarchy who loudly protest their situation in Kosovo maintain an abusive usurpation over the properties of the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches of Montenegro and Macedonia. The rights of the latter are completely denied. Now that Montenegro has declared its independence, the Montenegrin Orthodox should attain restoration of control over their churches. Albanian Catholics and Muslims, who are a substantial minority in Montenegro, support this position, as they also do regarding the Macedonian Orthodox Christians.
It is even less often mentioned that Serbian clerics from Kosovo and its neighboring regions, who continually come to the U.S. to bewail their situation, such as Bishops Artemije Radosavljevic and Amfilohije Radovic, are fanatical advocates for one of the worst Jew-baiters in 20th century history, the Serbian Orthodox cleric Nikolai Velimirovic. Men like Artemije and Amfilohije (both of whom I know personally) have proved extremely adroit at hiding their real views when they deal with Westerners. I myself was fooled more than once by Artemije.
The Holy See should be more concerned with justice for the memories of the martyred Croatian, Bosnian, Albanian, and other Catholics slain by Slobodan Milosevic's terrorists, the latter who were blessed in their murderous activities by clerics like Amfilohije, than with an attempt to create a Catholic-Orthodox intrigue to defame Albanians, whether Muslim or otherwise.
Related Topics: Balkan Muslims, Kosovo
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