Persecution of Kosovo Christians Said to Reveal Larger Threat
By Sherrie Gossett
CNSNews.com Staff Writer
August 15, 2005
(CNSNews.com) - International intervention to halt the persecution of Christians in Kosovo is a "complete failure," according to a former diplomat and other political analysts who briefed Capitol Hill staff late last week, pointing to the destruction of 150 churches and the simultaneous construction of 200 mosques.
Cybercast News Service obtained video of the burning and desecrating of the churches by ethnic Albanians, most of them Muslim. See Video
The new mosques are funded by "Wahhabist nations," the diplomats said, raising the specter of radical Islam incubating on the doorstep of Europe in a province rife with illegal arms and narcotics trafficking.
The religious persecution is also part of a political strategy of violence, which if rewarded in the granting of independence to Kosovo, could trigger similar violent secessionist movements throughout neighboring states and countries, they warned.
Unfolding events in Kosovo have already sent shock waves to as far away as China, which has now expressed concern to the U.S. over possible copycat attempts at secession in its predominantly Muslim Xinjiang Province.
Kosovo, an international protectorate administered by the United Nations, is part of Serbia and Montenegro, but the legal authority of the region is the U.N. Interim Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).
The province is considered one of the jewels of Christian heritage, having served as the "Vatican" of Christian Orthodoxy from the 12th century onward.
Serbs, who are predominantly Orthodox Christians, constitute a minority, as do Turks, Roma (gypsies) and Muslim Slavs. Eighty-eight percent of Kosovo's population is made up of Muslim Albanians.
The attacks and ongoing persecution are seen by some as the purposeful targeting of the very symbols of Christian European civilization.
Between 1999 and 2004 approximately150 churches, monasteries, seminaries, and bishop residences were attacked by ethnic Albanian mobs. Many of the churches contained priceless Byzantine frescoes and other religious artifacts dating as far back as the 13th century. Many of the sites were reduced to rubble.
In a Capitol Hill press conference Aug. 11, former U.S. Ambassador Thomas Patrick Melady called for a heightened international presence in Kosovo and the continuation of that presence for another 12 years. Melady, former ambassador to the Vatican, Uganda and Burundi, is senior diplomat in residence at the Institute of World Politics. The Capitol Hill briefing was sponsored by the Institute on Religion and Public Policy.
Melady cautioned politicians against rushing into decisions regarding Kosovo's status. Final status talks are expected this fall with Albania pushing for an independent Kosovo.
"Undersecretary of State [R. Nicholas] Burns was recently in Kosovo and he is drafting a policy paper for [President Bush]," said Melady. "Sometime between now and November, we'll hear the decision" on how the Bush administration will handle the independence movement in Kosovo.
Those attending the Aug. 11 press conference, and a follow-up congressional briefing on Aug. 12, expressed disappointment over the lack of media coverage of the church destruction. "I've been quite disappointed," Melady told Cybercast News Service, "It wasn't a major headline story."
He compared the destruction to Kristallnacht, or "the Night of Broken Glass" -- the Nazi-sponsored violent persecution against German Jews launched on Nov. 9, 1938. Gangs of Nazi youth fanned out into Jewish neighborhoods vandalizing and burning Jewish property and businesses, including 101 synagogues.
The official Nazi government response at the time was that such outbreaks were spontaneous, not organized. In the Kosovo situation, analysts are also expressing doubt over a similar line touted by the government.
Referring to the destruction of 34 churches in March of last year Melady said, "Thanks to a few amateur films that were made when the protests broke out, we can see how things unfolded. At all the scenes someone would climb to the top and tear down the cross, then stomp on it. Then they would set fire to the church."
During the Aug. 12 congressional staff briefing, Melady's research assistant, Ivan Djurovski, showed footage of the destruction of St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Podujevo.
The 17-minute video obtained by Cybercast News Service shows crowds of men ranging in age from about 15 to 50, calmly and methodically fanning out around the church after marching through town. After setting the church on fire, one of the vandals enters the bell tower to ring the church bell, which draws cheers from the crowd. Men scale the roof of the church to tear down three crosses, resulting in more cheers. Cybercast News Service edited the 17 minute video down to approximately two-and-a-half minutes.
The video also shows the presence of a Kosovo Force tank and soldiers. The Kosovo Force (KFOR) is a NATO-led international contingent responsible for establishing and maintaining security in the province. French and German forces later said their mandate was to protect lives, not property. However, according to Djurovski, "Italian and American KFOR soldiers risked their lives to not only save people at monasteries, but to also protect the sites.
"In these villages the church is the physical and spiritual center of the town," said Djurovski. "This is the center of hope for the people. This is where they go to learn about their faith. Where can they go now?"
Melady, who recently visited the area, said that sisters and monks at the historic monastery in Pec could not go outdoors to fetch water without military escort, for fear of being shot by snipers.
Some 200,000 Serbs have fled from Kosovo and those remaining are encircled in military-ringed enclaves. "It's not a normal life. There's no freedom of movement due to fear," said Melady. Djurovski added that many are not able to obtain needed medicine and there are no high schools or universities in the enclaves, resulting in a "brain drain." Those who have assets have sold them and fled, while most of the poor remain.
More than 18,000 legal complaints have accused Albanians with confiscating church and private property and building on the property, according to Djurovski. Whether church property remains as such or is handed over to the government remains a serious concern, he added.
Melody R. Divine - judiciary counsel and foreign policy advisor to Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz), who attended the briefing - said, "Albanians have also overtaken entire areas where Roma lived.
"Congressional interest and involvement will be key in ensuring that the international community places a high premium on the protection and integration of the minority communities within Kosovo and the preservation of the remaining cultural sites, "Divine said.
Defense analyst Frederick Peterson said the media around the globe are ignoring the issue of Saudi Arabian and other sources flooding the economically depressed region with money to pay for new mosques as the churches are being destroyed.
"With money comes influence," Peterson told Cybercast News Service. "They are building a substantial ideological and brick and mortar infrastructure there." Peterson is a defense and counter-terrorism analyst with the Institute for Security Studies at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. He also serves as military policy advisor to Joseph K. Grieboski, president of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy.
Peterson and Djurovski both said many of the new mosques funded by Saudi and Iranian funds are currently empty, but reflect plans to indoctrinate residents with the radical Wahhabist form of Islam. The new mosques carry plaques acknowledging funding from Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates, said Grieboski.
"This is a very grave threat," said Peterson. "With final status changing from Serbian Orthodox hegemony into at very best a gray line, the dividing line between the Christian and Islamic world moves closer to the European Union, and we're at great risk of tolerating what should not be tolerated in order to buy some peace in our time."
In the war against an expanding radical Islam, Peterson said, "We have three choices: convert, submit or die. But there's a fourth choice and that's to fight.
"What is going on in Kosovo today is the future of Europe tomorrow," he added.http://www.cnsnews.com/ViewSpecialReports.asp?Page=\SpecialReports\archive\200508\SPE20050815a.html