Bishop of Raska and Prizren Artemije
Statement of Bishop Artemije to the Helsinki Commission Hearing
Released by the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Raska and Prizren, February 28, 2000
WASHINGTON, DC, February 28, 2000 Mr. Chairman, respected members of Congress, ladies and gentlemen. It is my distinct pleasure and privilege to be here with you today and speak about the latest developments in Kosovo. The last time I spoke here was in February 1998, just before the war in Kosovo began and on that occasion I strongly condemned both Milosevic's regime and Albanian extremists for leading the country into the war. Unfortunately the war came and so many innocent Albanians and Serbs suffered in it. Many times we have strongly condemned the crimes of Milosevic's regime in Kosovo while our Church in Kosovo supported suffering Albanian civilians and saved some of them from the hands of Milosevic's paramilitaries.
After the end of Kosovo war and return of Albanian refugees the repression of Milosevic's undemocratic regime was supplanted by the repression of extremist Kosovo Albanians against Serbs and other non-Albanian communities in full view of international troops. Freedom in Kosovo has not come for all equally. Therefore Kosovo remains a troubled region even after 8 months of international peace.
Kosovo Serbs and other non-Albanian groups in Kosovo live in ghettoes, without security; deprived of basic human rights the rights of life, free movement and work. Their private property is being usurped; their homes burned and looted even 8 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 multi-ethnicity at all in fact the reverse is true. 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 8 months of the internationally guaranteed peace. Regretfully, all this happens in the presence of KFOR and UN. Kosovo more and more becomes ethnically clean while organized crime and discrimination against the non-Albanians is epidemic.
Two thirds of the pre-war Serb population (200.000 people) fled the Province under Albanian pressure. In addition more than 50.000 Romas, Slav Moslems, Croat Catholics and others have also been cleansed from Kosovo. More than 400 Serbs have been killed and nearly 600 abducted by Albanian extremists during this same period of peace. Tragically, this suffering of Serbs and other non-Albanians proportionally (with respect to population) represents more extensive suffering in peacetime than the Albanian suffering during the war. This is a tragic record for any post war peace mission, especially for this mission in which the Western Governments and NATO have invested so much of their credibility and authority.
Despite the sympathy for all of the suffering of Kosovo Albanians during the war, retaliation against innocent civilians cannot be justified in any way. It is becoming more and more a well-orchestrated nationalist ideology directed towards achieving the complete ethnic cleansing of the Province. The extremists believe that without Serbs and their holy sites in Kosovo independence would then become a fait accompli. The present repression against non-Albanians is carried out with the full knowledge of the Albanian leaders. Sometimes these leaders formally condemn repressive actions but in reality have not done anything to stop the ongoing ethnic violence and discrimination. Even more, some of them are instigating rage against Serbs developing the idea of collective Serb guilt and branding all remaining Serb civilians as criminals. There is much evidence that the KLA leaders bear direct responsibility for the most of the post-war crimes and acts of violence committed in Kosovo. As soon as KFOR entered the Province KLA gunmen took over the power in majority of cities and towns and immediately organized illegal detention centers for Serbs, Romas and Albanian "collaborators". They began killing people listed as alleged criminals and seized a large amount of property previously owned by Serbs and other non-Albanians. KLA groups and their leaders are directly linked with Albanian mafia clans and have developed a very sophisticated network of organized crime, drug smuggling, prostitution, white slavery, and weapons trading. According to the international press Kosovo has become Columbia of Europe and a main heroin gateway for Western Europe. The strategy behind the KLA purge of Serbs was very simple quarter by quarter of a city would be cleansed of Serbs and their property would be either burned or sold for a high price to Albanian refugees (including Albanians from Albania and Macedonia who flowed into the province through unprotected borders along with the hundreds of thousands of Kosovo refugees). The KLA, although officially disbanded is still active and their secret police are continuing their intimidation and executions. Now more and more of their victims are disobedient Kosovo Albanians who refuse to pay their "taxes" and "protection money" to extremists. The Albanization of Kosovo is proceeding in a way many ordinary Albanians did not want. The gangsters have stepped into the vacuum left by the slowness of the West to adequately instill full control over the Province. Kosovo is becoming more like Albania: corrupt, anarchic, and ruled by the gun and the gang.
Serbs and many non-Albanians still do not have access to hospitals, the University and public services, simply because they cannot even freely walk in the street. They are unemployed and confined to life in poverty of their rural enclaves out of which they can move only under the KFOR military escort. The Serbian language is completely banished from the public life. All Serb inscriptions, road signs and advertisements have been systematically removed and the usage of Serbian language in Albanian dominated areas is reason enough for anyone to be shot right on the spot. Thousands of Serb books in public libraries have been systematically burned while all unguarded Serb cultural monuments and statues have been torn down and destroyed.
The Serbs who remain in major cities are in the worst situation of all. Out of 40.000 pre-war Serb population in Pristina today there remain only 300 elderly people who live in a kind of house arrest. They cannot go into the street without military protection and only thanks to KFOR soldiers and humanitarian organizations do they receive food and medicines, which they are not allowed to buy in Albanian shops. Almost all Serb shops are now in Albanian hands. In other areas Albanians are greatly pressuring Serbs to sell their property under threats and extortion. Those who refuse usually have their houses torched or are killed as an example to other Serbs. Grenade attacks on Serb houses; on few remaining Serb shops and restaurants force more and more Serbs to leave Kosovo. If this repression and persecution is continued unabated it is likely that soon most of the remaining Serbs will also be forced to flee Kosovo.
On one hand, KFOR's presence in Kosovo has given Albanian extremists free hands to do what they want because one of KFOR priorities has been so far to avoid direct confrontation with the extremists in order to escape possible casualties. On the other hand we cannot but say that if KFOR had not been in Kosovo during this rampage of hatred, not a single Serb or Serb church would have survived. We sincerely appreciate the efforts of many men and women from all over the world who are trying to bring peace to Kosovo even within a rather narrow political framework in which KFOR must act.
An especially volatile situation is in Kosovska Mitrovica the only major city where a substantial number of Serbs remain. During the most intensive wave of ethnic cleansing in June and July many Serb internally displaced persons from the south found refuge in the north of the province in the Mitrovica area. In order to survive they organized a kind of self-protection network and prevented the KLA and mafia to enter the northern fifth of the city together with civilian Albanian returnees. KFOR, aware that the free access of Albanian extremist groups to Mitrovica would cause a Serb exodus, blocked the bridge connecting the southern and northern part of the city. Albanian extremists have since then made many attempts to make their way into the northern part of Mitrovica saying that they wanted undivided and free city. Serbs on the other hand state that they are ready for a united city only if Serbs would be allowed to go back to their homes in the south and elsewhere in Kosovo. Serbs also hold that only Kosovo residents be allowed to return to their homes. A few weeks ago, after two terrorist attacks against a UNHCR bus and a Serb cafe, in which a number of Serbs were killed and injured, radicalized Serbs began retaliatory actions against Albanians in the northern part of the city causing the death of several Albanian innocent citizens and served to broaden the crisis.
The Mitrovica crisis is not playing out in a void by itself and must be approached only in the context of the overall Kosovo situation. The fact remains that after the war extremists Albanians have not been fully disarmed and have continued their repression and ethnic cleansing of Serbs and other non-Albanians wherever and whenever they have had opportunity to do so. Unfortunately, such a situation as we have now in Kosovo has opened a door for the Belgrade regime, which is now trying to profit from this situation and consolidate the division of Mitrovica for their own reasons. Each Serb victim in Kosovo strengthens Milosevic's position in Serbia. Albanian extremists on the other hand want to disrupt the only remaining Serb stronghold in the city in order to drive the Serbs completely out of Kosovo. Regretfully, the international community seems not to be fully aware of the complexity of the Mitrovica problem and has despite all Albanian crimes and terror in the last 8 months one-sidedly condemned Serbs for this violence. This skewed view of the problem will only serve to encourage Albanian extremism, confirm Milosevic's theory of anti-Serb conspiracies that he uses to solidify his hold on power and will eventually lead to final exodus of the Serb community in Kosovo. Milosevic obviously remains at the core of the problem but he is not the greatest cause of the current round of violence and purges the international community must find ways for controlling Albanian extremists.
We maintain our belief that the present tragedy in Kosovo is not what Americans wanted when they supported the policy of the Administration to intervene on behalf of suffering Albanians. In fact international community now faces a serious failure in Kosovo because it has not managed to marginalize extremist Albanians while at the same time Milosevic has been politically strengthened by the bombing and sanctions (which ordinary Serbs understand as being directed against innocent civilians). Therefore we expect now from the international community and primarily from United States to show more determination in protecting and supporting Kosovo Serbs and other ethnic groups who suffer under ethnic Albanian extremists. A way must be found to fully implement UNSC Resolution 1244 in its whole.
We have a few practical proposals for improving the situation in Kosovo:
1. KFOR should be more robust in suppressing violence, organized crime and should more effectively protect the non-Albanian population from extremists. This is required by the UNSC Resolution.
2. More International Police should be deployed in Kosovo. Borders with Macedonia and Albania must be better secured, and UNMIK should establish local administration with Serbs in areas where they live as compact population. Judicial system must become operational as soon as possible. International judges must be recruited at this stage when Kosovo judges cannot act impartially due to political pressures.
3. International community must build 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. Post war ethnic cleansing must not be legalized nor accepted private and Church property has to be restored to rightful owners. Law and order must be established and fully enforced. Without at least an initial repatriation of Serbs, Romas, Slav Moslems and others Kosovo elections would be unfair and unacceptable.
4. The International Community, especially US, should make clear to Kosovo Albanian leaders that they cannot continue with the ethnic cleansing under the protectorate of Western democratic governments. Investment policy and political support must be conditioned to full compliance by ethnic Albanian leaders with the UNSC Resolution 1244. KLA militants must be fully disarmed. The ICTY should launch impartial investigations on all criminal acts committed both by Serbs and Albanians.
5. The international community should also support 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 remaining enclaves, Milosevic's supporters are gaining more confidence among besieged and frightened Serbs, which can seriously obstruct the peace process. Moderate Serbs gathered around 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 own community. International humanitarian aid distribution in Serb inhabited areas currently being distributed more or less through Milosevic's people who have used this to impose themselves as local leaders, has to be channeled through the Church and the Serb National Council humanitarian network.
6. The last but not least, the issue of status must remain frozen until there is genuine and stable progress in eliminating violence and introducing democratization not only in Kosovo but also in Serbia proper and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. It is our firm belief that the question of the future status of Kosovo must not be discussed between Kosovo's Albanians and Serbs only, but also with the participation of the international community and the future democratic governments of Serbia and FRY and in accordance with international law and the Helsinki Final Act.
We believe in God and in His providence but we hope that US Congress and Administration will support our suffering people, which want to remain where we have been living for centuries, in the land of our ancestors.
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