Title: Message


• Before churches and monasteries were torched and destroyed, all precious treasures that could be removed were looted and they are already available on the illegal world antiquities market

During the five year-long "peace" under the rule of the international military and civil protectorate, approximately 150 Serbian Orthodox holy shrines - churches, chapels and monasteries - have been destroyed or desecrated, 20 percent of them originating in the 13th and 14th centuries and part of the world cultural heritage. Destroyed with them were more than 10,000 icons, church art and liturgical objects. On the other hand, immediately prior to torching or dynamiting by Albanian hordes, all precious treasures of value to the world's heritage were looted from many church treasuries and are already being sold on the illegal world market of antiquities and works of art, old manuscripts and other rarities.

"Unfortunately even after the horrible pogrom against the Serb population from March 17-20, the vandalism and looting of remaining Orthodox buildings continued. We have also learned that the same Albanians who participated in the torching and destruction of Orthodox holy shrines first stole a large number of valuable icons, icon lamps, manuscripts and other valuable church articles. We assume that these stolen works of art will also be sold on the black market, as has previously been the case," noted the Information Service of Diocese of Raska-Prizren and Kosovo-Metohija.

No one is guarding the border

A Serb from UNMIK's multiethnic Kosovo police told "Vesti" that "the thieves of Serbian art are from among the ranks of criminal groups in Kosovo and Metohija, which are numerous because the high degree of criminal activity in Kosovo society is a given fact, beginning with illegal trade in drugs, tobacco, white slaves and heritage artifacts". Thus, the remaining Orthodox churches in the province which are located outside the Serb enclaves, he says, "are exposed to the mercilessness of these groups despite the physical protection of KFOR". Another serious problem, our source said, is "the highly porous borders with the Republic of Albania and Macedonia which no one is seriously guarding".

The Information Service adds that the Diocese has appealed to UNMIK and KFOR to prevent the looting of Orthodox Christian church and cultural treasures. This is confirmed by a recent UNMIK police report stating that "three stolen bells and the main door from one of the torched Orthodox churches have been recovered near Pristina" and would be returned to the Diocese of Raska and Prizren.

In Podujevo Czech KFOR soldiers confiscated the stolen bell from St. Elijah Church in Podujevo from an Albanian family. Albanian representatives came to the KFOR base no less then three times asking that the bell be returned to them, claiming that it belonged to the municipality of Podujevo. The Czech battalion, however, refused and delivered the bell, a gift to the Podujevo church from Serbian King Alexander I Karadjordjevic in 1932, to Gracanica Monastery.

Serbian Patriarch's appeal

Serbian Orthodox Church leader Patriarch Pavle addressed the KFOR commander and the UNMIK chief at that time to undertake measures within their power "to stop the theft of icons, liturgical books and other exceptionally valuable church artifacts from Kosovo and Metohija", pointing out that the treasures had been found "on the so-called black market of antiquities and art objects in several European countries".

"Experience tells us that these cases are just the tip of the iceberg, i.e., that many more church artifacts have been removed from the region due to the impossibility of a normal and safe life for clergy and the people than is known to us. Therefore, I appeal to you to undertake all necessary measures in accordance with the powers of KFOR and UNMIK to protect the remaining property of the Serbian Orthodox Church, both real and removable, because its destruction and dislocation represents a loss not only to ourselves but to European culture as a whole. At the same time from the land of Kosovo and Metohija, the cradle of our people, in the presence of strong international military and police forces, many traces of the existence of the Serbian people and its martyred Church are disappearing," reminded the Serbian Patriarch Kyr Pavle. 

During the March violence by rampaging Albanian mobs, thieves also targeted the bell of the church of St. George in Prizren. According to Wolfgang Zillinger, the regional commander of UNMIK police, three Albanian suspects were arrested. 

The first alarming reports regarding the theft of church treasures, said sources in the Diocese of Raska and Prizren, appeared immediately following the end of the NATO bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the deployment of international peacekeeping forces in Kosovo and Metohija in mid-June 1999. British journalist Tim Judah took photographs at that time of Albanians looting the church of St. Elijah in Vucitrn. He informed Bishop Artemije of this and gave him several icons that he had managed to save.

The Bishop of Raska and Prizren then received word that the church bells from the destroyed Serbian church in Djakovica had been stolen despite the protection of UNMIK police. In Prizren a German junior officer from KFOR responsible for the protection of Serbian Orthodox Church property in the city stole a valuable icon, a 300 year-old diptych, some liturgical books and several smaller church articles. He was later sentenced in Germany to a year-long sentence, which was suspended.

Other churches concerned

The World Council of Churches and the Conference of European Churches have also expressed concern for the Orthodox heritage in Kosovo and Metohija, whose unquestionable jeopardy has thus far not gained the appropriate concern of the global cultural community, asking that "a peaceful life for the residents of this province finally be provided, as well as protection for their cultural and spiritual heritage". In letters to the UNMIK chief these ecumenical organizations expressed their serious concern "due to the continued violence with which the faithful of the Serbian Orthodox Church and its heritage in Kosovo and Metohija are confronted". Attacks on Serbian churches in the presence of international military forces are described as "scandalous indicators of extremism and instability".

In the south of Europe, in Greece, according to a report by local police, "four smugglers dealing in Serbian religious and art objects" were also arrested in Thessaloniki. In the possession of the group leader and his wife were 17 stolen books from the 19th century, stolen engravings and icons from the 18th century and other valuables dating back to Roman times. The criminals confessed that they had purchased everything in Albania from local dealers and that the items all originated from Kosovo and Metohija.

The next criminal act of this sort, as the Serbian Orthodox Church had informed the public at that time, was discovered in Slovenia when local police arrested several Albanians who had in their possession dozens of icons which the arrested persons admitted originated from Serbian churches in Kosovo and Metohija. The Slovenian state police informed Interpol, which informed the Serbian state police.

German soldier also stole

"Instead of performing the task entrusted to him and guarding the Orthodox Bishop's residence and the Orthodox Cathedral in Prizren, as well as church valuables entrusted to him, a professional German soldier betrayed the trust of KFOR international peacekeeping forces and showed himself to be a common criminal," wrote the "Berliner Morgen Post" two years ago in an article entitled "Professional soldier as church thief".

R. Loncar


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