News Spring 2000

Kosovar Leaders Appeal for End to Hate

Ethnic Albanian political leaders Hashim Thaci, Ibrahim Rugova, Rexhep Qosja, and Mahmut Bakalli joined Serbian Orthodox Archbishop Artemije, Father Sava, and Rada Trajkovic in signing an appeal to all Kosovars on April 19. They called for an end to hatred and the development of an atmosphere of tolerance.

A statement issued six days before by Kosovo’s religious leaders — Mufti Rexhep Boja, Archbishop Artemije of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and Bishop Marko Sopi of the Roman Catholic Church — condemned “all acts of violence and all violations of basic human rights. The acts that have happened and that continue to happen against innocent persons are evil and cannot be condoned in any way by any of our respective religious traditions.”

The signers committed themselves “to pursue more active cooperation … among our communities. We will work to develop our own structures and means for cooperation through the Interreligious council of Kosovo. In addition we are encouraged by the fact that we will all be participating in the Kosovo Transitional Council and look forward to using that venue to further our work together.”

Promising to work together “to rebuild the many destroyed and damaged religious buildings in Kosovo,” they appealed “to our friends and partners in various international agencies to assist us with the necessary resources to accomplish this essential task.” They also called on international organizations “to work harder on finding and resolving the situation of all the prisoners, missing and abducted persons whose unknown fate remains as one of the deepest wounds of our tragic conflict.”

In a joint statement published in February after a meeting in Sarajevo, Kosovo’s three principal religious leaders declared their recognition “that our religious and spiritual traditions hold many values in common, and that these shared values can serve as an authentic basis for mutual esteem, cooperation and free common living in the entire territory of Kosovo.” They said that “violence against persons or the violation of their basic rights are for us not only against man-made laws but also breaking God’s law.”

Bishop Artemije addresses US Congressional meeting

Speaking in Washington, DC, in February, Kosovo’s Bishop Artemije said that the NATO peace-keeping mission has been a disaster for Kosovo’s Serbian minority, as NATO troops turn a blind eye to violence against Serbs.

“Kosovo Serbs and other non-Albanian groups in Kosovo live in ghettoes, without security, deprived of basic human rights of life, free movement and work,” Artemije told a congressional audience. “Their property is being usurped, their homes burned and looted even eight months after the deployment of KFOR. Although Kosovo remained more or less multiethnic during the ten years of Milosevic’s repressive rule, today there is hardly any multiethnicity at all. Ethnic segregation is greater now than almost at any other time in Kosovo’s turbulent history. Not only are Serbs being driven out from the province but also the Romas, Slav Moslems, Croats, Serb speaking Jews and Turks. More than 80 Orthodox churches have been either completely destroyed or severely damaged since the end of the war. The ancient churches, many of which had survived 500 years of Ottoman Moslem rule, could not survive eight months of the internationally guaranteed peace. Regretfully, all this happens in the presence of KFOR and the UN. Kosovo is being ‘ethnically cleansed’ while organized crime and discrimination against the non-Albanians has become epidemic.”

He estimated that two-thirds of the pre-war Serb population — 200,000 people — have now fled Kosovo, plus more than 50,000 gypsies, Slav Moslems, Croat Catholics and other minorities.

“This is a tragic record for any post war peace mission,” he said, “especially for this mission in which the Western Governments and NATO have invested so much of their credibility and authority.”

Artemije urged that KFOR “should be more robust in suppressing violence, organized crime and more effective in protecting the non-Albanian population from extremists.” He called for a strategy “to return displaced Kosovo Serbs and others to their homes soon while providing better security for them and their religious and cultural shrines.” He said that the international community, especially the US, “should make clear to Kosovo Albanian leaders that they cannot continue with ethnic cleansing under the protectorate of Western democratic governments. Investment policy and political support must be conditioned to full compliance.”

He asked for the support of moderate Serbs “in regaining their leading role in the Kosovo Serb community and thus provide for the conditions for their participation in the Interim Administrative Kosovo Structure.

“Since the cooperation of moderate Serb leaders with KFOR and UNMIK has not brought visible improvement to the lives of Serbs in their enclaves, Milosevic’s supporters are gaining more confidence among besieged and frightened Serbs, which can obstruct the peace process. Moderate Serbs gathered around the Serb National Council need their own independent media, better communication between enclaves and other forms of support to make their voice better heard and understood within their community.

“International humanitarian aid distribution in Serb inhabited areas currently being distributed more or less through Milosevic’s people, using this to impose themselves as local leaders, should be channeled through the Church and the Serb National Council network.”

At a meeting with Secretary of State Albright, Artemije agreed to take the Serb seat on the interim administrative council in the province but will remain on it only if progress is made in bringing Serbs and other minorities who fled back to Kosovo.

An advocate of democratic reform, Artemije has often castigated the Serbian government for nationalist aggression. Long before last year’s war, he denounced atrocities against ethnic Albanians. At the same time, he warned President Clinton that bombing Yugoslavia would only harm more innocent civilians. At the height of ethnic violence by Serbs against Albanians, his monks entered burning towns to rescue Muslims and bring them to monasteries for protection.

Belgraders fill streets in peaceful demonstration

An estimated 100,000 Serbs took to the streets in central Belgrade April 14 to support the joint opposition’s first joint rally. The protesters called for elections and an end to terrorism. The protesters were addressed by the leaders of major opposition parties and representatives of the student movement Otpor and the Independent Association of Serbian Journalists. No incidents of violence were reported during the three-hour rally.

About 200 students who had walked all the way from Novi Sad were warmly greeted by Belgraders on the city’s central Branko Bridge.

Police stopped buses bringing people to the rally, ordering drivers to present their vehicles for inspection.

In a novel bid to distract Serbs, one of the official television stations screened a marathon of pirated copies of Oscar winners including American Beauty and The World is not Enough. Politika TV called on its viewers “to stay indoors on Friday.”

Just before the rally, Belgrade’s Studio B Television, Serbia’s largest independent station, found itself without power.

A poll carried out by the Center for Political Research and Public Opinion found that two-thirds of the population are not satisfied with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, while only nineteen percent expressed satisfaction.

Blocked Danube brings tide of ruin to Romania

Though the Danube River port of Galati is 500 miles east of Novi Sad, the Serbian city where NATO airstrikes destroyed three bridges during the Kosovo conflict, the city still feels that the war’s impact. Massive debris blocks Europe’s longest waterway. Many Galati residents say the bombs might as well have fallen on them, so severe has the economic fallout been.

Ten months after the war’s end, the Danube is still blocked, choked as much by politics as the steel and concrete. While the West pours tens of millions of dollars into the stabilization and reconstruction of Kosovo, communities along this broad, deep river, which flows through ten countries, are living with the largely forgotten costs of the war. Trade on the Danube has collapsed, social costs are rising and the ruined bridges could yet cause a flooding catastrophe in northern Serbia and southern Hungary.

The economic effects have been felt from Germany to Bulgaria, but nowhere more acutely than in Romania, which has the largest fleet of barges and tugboats on the 1,500 miles of navigable river.

Eighty percent of Romanians who worked on the Danube — 4,000 people — have lost their jobs and 23 shipping companies are on the brink of bankruptcy. Total losses to Romania’s already beleaguered economy were $800 million last year.

The anger Romanians feel at paying such a steep price for the war — a war in which they offered logistical support to NATO despite deep misgivings about the bombing campaign against Yugoslavia — is giving way to desperation.

“We are losing everything,” said Silviu Grigorescu, a river officer on a tugboat who lost his job seven months ago, lives on $40 a month in unemployment benefits and last week was forced to pawn his wedding ring to help support his wife and two children. “There is great discontent, and everyone blames NATO.”

In fact, a theory has taken hold here that NATO bombed the bridges not to hobble the Yugoslav army and cut off its supply routes but to damage southeastern Europe and boost trade on the Rhine, Europe’s other major trade river, to the benefit of Western Europe. The shipping industry has received little compensation from the hard-pressed Romanian government, and a letter the industry sent to NATO has gone unanswered.

Mircea Toader of the Association of Shipowners and River Operators pulled out photos of a destroyed bridge sticking in the water in the shape of a V. “We consider that these bridges were destroyed not for strategic war aims but to isolate southeastern Europe,” Toader said. “I think Western Europe wanted to boost the Rhine. Why destroy the bridges in the middle? With those precision rockets they have, why not hit them on the bank so the river could have remained open?”

The Belgrade government has accepted an Austro-Hungarian plan to clear the river and erect a temporary bridge at a cost of $24 million, which will be financed largely by the EU, but the project is still only on the drawing boards. [Peter Finn. The Washington Post, February 6]

Displaced Serbs, Gypsies and ethnic Albanians under the same roof

More than a thousand people found refuge in Saints Cyril and Methodios Serbian Orthodox Seminary in Prizren since the end of Kosovo war in June, Fr. Nectary said in an interview in February. He is one of the remaining Orthodox priests in Prizren. Most guests eventually asked for UN help in moving to Serbia but about 100 displaced persons still live in the seminary because they have nowhere else to go. At the time of the interview the majority of guests were Serbs and gypsies, but there were also three ethnic Turks and seven Albanians who had been living there more than six months.

“We treat all people equally, no matter to which religion they belong. Our gates are open for all who are in need and danger,” says Fr. Nectary.

The Seminary was founded in 1880. [www.decani.yunet.com/pw_prizren.html]

The “Unword” of 1999

Linguists at the University of Frankfurt have cast their lots for 1999′s “Unword of the Year.” The winner, the jury announced January 25, is kollateralschaden — “collateral damage” — a term used by NATO officials in reference to civilians killed during the bombing of Kosovo.

According to jury spokesman Horst Dieter Schlosser, the euphemism was picked from more than a thousand suggestions that had been submitted.

The first Unword was chosen 1991 as a counterpoint to the “word of the year” traditionally selected by the Society for German Language in Wiesbaden. The Unword may be any expression used in science, technology, public affairs or the media that is grossly inappropriate or that shows a disregard for human dignity.

Ecumenical Patriarchate aid to the people of Ethiopia

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos has donated $20,000 to Patriarch Pavlos of Ethiopia for the purchase of food to be given to those in need as a result of the drought plus the disruption caused by war.

Famine threatens eight million people in the country and again that number in the wider region. According to the World Food Program, Ethiopia will need at least 800,000 tons of food aid this year.

Meanwhile Ethiopia has rejected calls to end war with Eritrea in order to concentrate on the famine. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi refused to rule out that Ethiopia might launch a new offensive in the conflict. Zenawi refused to confirm or deny estimates that the war was costing Ethiopia a million dollars a day.

Moscow’s Patriarch accuses West of double standard over Chechnya

Speaking in Moscow April 7, Patriarch Alexei accused international human rights organizations of applying a double standard to Russia’s policy in Chechnya. Russia’s Western critics, he said, “do not see what they don’t want to see and do not hear what they don’t want to hear.”

The Patriarch was responding to reporters’ questions about the possible suspension of Russian membership in the Council of Europe unless Moscow called a cease-fire and engaged in dialogue with a cross-section of the Chechen people.

“Western observers see only what has been assigned for them to see, and accuse the Russian government and the Russian army of sins and crimes, failing to notice crimes which have been committed by [Chechen] fighters who take hostages, torture and kill them.”

People in the West “often remind us that one has to think about civilians, but civilians lived in the buildings in Moscow and Volgodonsk which were blown up, and civilians live in Dagestan which was invaded by the [Chechen] fighters.

“That is why the West must end the double standard which it applies to Russia’s actions in Chechnya,” the Russian church leader said. He added that the West had also applied double standards last year with its policy on the Balkans. “The crimes of Albanian terrorists were ignored, and Serbs were blamed for all that was happening [in Kosovo],” he said.

In March the Russian Church’s Synod urged state and church bodies to provide as much help as possible to Chechen and Russian civilians in the Northern Caucasus so that peaceful life could be restored in the region. It also urged the Russian government to give humane treatment to Chechen fighters who surrendered.

The Synod called on the government to be “in permanent dialogue with the elders, Muslim clergy and other people who enjoy authority in the Northern Caucasus. One should have respect for the way of life prescribed by Islam, especially in the fields of education, family values and norms of behavior,” the Synod said. “Otherwise the forces interested in the confrontation of Christianity and Islam will have a fresh excuse for the provocations.”

Catholic theologian calls for rethink of “Uniatism”

The head of Poland Ecumenical Institute at the Catholic University in Lublin has urged Uniate (Greek Catholic) Christians to begin a “sincere dialogue” with the Orthodox Church. Professor Waclaw Hryniewicz is a member of the Catholic-Orthodox International Commission, the highest-ranking body linking the two oldest Christian traditions,

Hryniewicz made the call in April at a critical moment in Orthodox-Catholic relations. In June, the commission is due to reconvene and will have to deal with a number of obstacles to closer relationships between the two sides.

Uniate churches use the Orthodox liturgy but are in union with the Pope. The Catholic Church has regarded the Greek Catholic churches as a possible bridge between the churches of East and West, but the “bridge” has been a wall. Many Orthodox regard the Uniate churches as having been established simply as a means of luring Orthodox Christians into the Roman church.

Professor Hryniewicz agreed with a recent statement by the Patriarch Bartholomeos that Uniatism was an “artificial phenomenon” which has impeded ecumenical reconciliation.

“Greek Catholics have a right to exist, but they should take both sides into consideration,” Hryniewicz said. “If the latest discussions get stuck on this issue again, they could take decades to resume. I hope enough people on both sides understand the seriousness of the situation.”

The Uniate churches began with the Union of Brest in 1596, at which the Orthodox Metropolitan of Kiev, together with five of his bishops and millions of followers, all of the Byzantine rite, joined the Roman Catholic Church, but with permission to retain their liturgy. Hryniewicz said the Union of Brest “degraded” Orthodoxy by reflecting the view that “there was no salvation outside the Roman Catholic Church.” He added that this explained why the issue would again dominate the commission’s meeting in June.

“It can be resolved only when the most important point of divergence between Catholics and other churches — the Pope’s primacy — is settled, and we move toward a genuine ecclesiology of sister churches,” he said. “It isn’t a question of liquidating Greek Catholic churches … but of allaying Orthodox accusations of proselytism.”

Hryniewicz has also criticized Orthodox Christians who persist in viewing Roman Catholics as heretics, as well as Christians on all sides who remained “prisoners of past stereotypes.”

“We have to be critical, not of the people, but of the method, so that it will never again become a model for reuniting the churches,” said Hryniewicz.

The International Mixed Commission for Catholic-Orthodox Theological Dialogue, inaugurated in 1979, was suspended amid disagreements in 1989. A decision to reconvene the commission this June was confirmed in 1998 by Patriarch Bartholomeos and Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore.

Vatican to give Roman church to Russian Orthodox Church

The Vatican will turn over a church in central Rome to the Russian Orthodox Church in a goodwill gesture, it was reported in January.

Russian Patriarch Alexy II, the head of Russia’s Orthodox Church, will be invited to take possession of the 17th-century Saint Basil church after restoration work, La Republica reported.

Pope John Paul has for years sought a meeting with the Russian Patriarch in Moscow to end a controversy that arose after the Catholic Church renewed its activity in Russia beginning in the Gorbachev era. The Orthodox Church has regarded Roman Catholic activity in Russia as proselytism.

Greek Archbishop calls on youth to resist globalization

In March, while visiting the city of Thessalonika, Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens called on youth to resist the steamroller of globalization by using Greek tradition and history as weapons and not allow Greece to turn into a European resort.

Addressing a large audience at the Ecclesiastical Lyceum, the Archbishop cautioned students on the pitfalls of life and warned of the dangers entailed for the survival of Hellenism by the phenomenon of globalization. Christodoulos also referred to an Arabic proverb according to which “he who learns from his mistakes is wise, but he who learns from the mistakes of others is even wiser.”

Christodoulos — the most popular public figure in Greece, according to a recent poll — is well-known for his outspoken views. Last year he said that President Clinton’s hands were bloodstained because of the bombing Yugoslavia.

Albanian Archbishop preaches tolerance

Visiting Lebanon in March, the Archbishop of Albania, Kirios Anastasios, called on Lebanon’s young Orthodox generation to be more open and tolerant of other religions. “Young people must show that the Orthodox faith is not an isolated and restricted one,” Anastasios said at the Balamand University and monastery.

“The only way for people to live in peace and justice and to achieve prosperity is to respect one another and respect all minorities,” he said. “Only by tolerating one another can we overcome difficulties and live in real peace and freedom.”

Serbian Church excommunicates those who perform abortions

The Synod of bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church reminded its priests in March to exclude from communion medical professionals who perform abortions.

“Abortion is a grievous sin before God, condemned by the Scriptures,” the Synod’s letter read. “As such, it threatens the entire Serbian nation with extermination.” Abortion is a common practice in Serbia.

Romanian Patriarch asks forgiveness

In March Patriarch Teoctist, head of Romania’s Orthodox Church, asked for forgiveness for churches destroyed under communism and concessions made by his church to the late dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. “I personally ask for forgiveness and I am doing it now because I didn’t have enough courage before … in my heart I am sad … because I made a great number of the faithful suffer,” Teoctist said.

In the last decade of communism, some 17 churches were demolished by Ceausescu, whose building schemes meant that whole villages, important buildings and cultural heritage sites were razed.

“His statement is a gesture of reconciliation,” said Fr. Constantin Stoica, head of the Church press office. “There were mistakes made in communism and concessions the church made in order to survive. It was a terrible period. Ceausescu made churches disappear.” Since 1989, there has been a revival of the church and many new churches and monasteries have been built.

Bartholomeos expounds on role of Orthodoxy during Poland visit

Patriarch Bartholomeos chose the Catholic stronghold of Poland to develop his vision of the role and challenges faced by Orthodox Christianity.

Speaking before a plenary session of the Polish parliament, he recalled the long historical presence of Orthodoxy in Poland, the home of an estimated 800,000 Orthodox Christians. The missionary activity of the Saints Cyril and Methodios, the Thessalonians, left indelible marks on Poland, said Bartholomeos. “One may say that European civilization began its foundation with the Orthodox faith.”

“The Orthodox Church does not confront the challenges and tensions of the contemporary world as something different from those in any epoch. She knows that these challenges are expressions of an inner disharmony of humanity in relation to that which humanity was called to be.” This role, he said, is to reflect the three Persons of God in the Trinity.

Because of the estrangement of man from God, there is a “continual projection of power throughout the centuries as the goal to be pursued. This resulted in the great tensions and conflicts between those who sought to dominate one another. This chase after power, this pursuit of glory, this drive for dominance — whether by means of physical strength, economic wealth, scientific knowledge, military arms or by any other means — marks the root of all tensions and challenges of the past and present.”

“If not halted,” Bartholomeos added, “the continual increase of rival powers will provoke the final titanic conflict that will bring about the complete self-destruction of the human race.”

The Christian view, however, is not pessimistic. “Wherever others see death, the Orthodox Church sees the future Resurrection; wherever others see the triumph of evil, the Orthodox Church sees the final victory of the good. And wherever others see unresolvable problems, the Orthodox Church beholds with optimism not only their resolution, to be sure, but always the possibility of surmounting them.”

Bartholomeos concluded by recapitulating the recent message of all Orthodox leaders issued in Bethlehem on the occasion of the 2,000th anniversary of Christ’s birth, noting the issues of “environmental protection, the great social problems of unemployment, hunger, the gap between rich and poor and cruel working conditions,” and the need to combat the “commercialization of human life” and to “train and protect the youth and the family.”

“We did not hesitate to say that the changes in the international order must be conducted in the spiritual light of the Gospel and on the basis of the criterion of respect for human rights.”

Speaking to journalists shortly before his departure from Poland, the patriarch said disputes over Byzantine Catholic (Uniate) communities, who are loyal to Rome while preserving Eastern rites, would dominate the next meeting of the Catholic-Orthodox International Commission, scheduled for June in Baltimore, in the United States.

He added that a solution was needed to the issue of Uniatism, which he described as a “fake phenomenon called into being in the name of proselytism,” before the central questions of papal primacy could be tackled.

Bartholomeos hails improvements in Greek-Turkish relations

While on a visit to Thessalonika in January, Patriarch Bartholomew said Turkey was forging closer ties with Europe and had made significant progress in relations with rival Greece.

“I believe Turkey will have a rapid course toward integration with the European Union,” he stated.

Turkey was named as a candidate for European Union in December. Greece lifted long-standing objections to the agreement after the two neighboring NATO members pledged to peacefully resolve regional disputes that have repeatedly brought them close to war.

Bartholomew said Greece and Turkey had made “significant progress” toward easing tension in the region. He renewed a call on Ankara to reopen an Orthodox seminary on the island of Halki, near Istanbul, which the Turkish government ordered closed in 1971. Many Greek Orthodox leaders were trained at Halki.

Orthodox-Lutheran panel backs single date for Easter

In April a panel representing the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Orthodox churches in North America endorsed a call for all Christians to celebrate Easter on the same date.

The group said consideration should be given to the Orthodox view that Easter should come after the Jewish holiday of Passover. According to the New Testament, Jesus was crucified the day before Passover and rose from the dead on the day after the holiday.

Since the fourth century, churches have observed Easter on the Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. But because Eastern and Western Christians use different calendars, they mark the equinox on different days.

Next year both churches will celebrate Pascha on April 15. A 1997 meeting of churches, held in Aleppo, Syria, proposed that 2001 would be an ideal time for all Christians to adopt a common date based on “the most accurate astronomical scientific knowledge” available.