Information Service of
the Serbian Orthodox Church

September 8, 2004


The second regular session of the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church was held from September 6-8, 2004 in the Patriarch’s residence in Belgrade. The session was presided over by His Holiness Serbian Patriarch Pavle and included participation by most hierarchs from Serbia and abroad.

The Assembly deliberated the most urgent and prevalent spiritual and existential problems of the Serbian Orthodox Church at this moment and made the appropriate decisions. First and foremost, in connection with the tragic events and difficult situation in Kosovo and Metohija, the Assembly addressed an appeal to domestic state officials, international factors and the general public for the protection of the endangered Serbian people and non-Albanian ethnic communities in Kosovo and Metohija, and the no less endangered Orthodox holy shrines and monuments of Serbian and global cultural heritage. The Assembly then prayed for the repose of the souls of the murdered innocent children and other victims in the city of Beslan (Ossetia, Russia) and sent a telegram of condolence to His Holiness Patriarch Alexey II of Moscow and All-Russia regarding the recent crime by terrorists in that city.

The Assembly also devoted due attention to the position of the autonomous Archdiocese of Ohrid, as well as to further efforts for finally overcoming the church schism in the FJR of Macedonia. With the goal of fully regulating the life and work of the Archdiocese of Ohrid, the Assembly decided to prepare an official Tomos [proclamation] on autonomy. The Assembly also established that the Archdiocese of Ohrid, as an autonomous Church, has the right to canonically try those who remain steadfast in apostasy but also expressed its prayerful wish that canonic awareness and responsibility may prevail in circles of the champions of apostasy instead of further such trials so that the schism may become a part of the painful past and complete, blessed unity our common future. For that purpose, the Assembly yet again calls with love on all Orthodox faithful in the FJR of Macedonia to canonic unity under the wing of the ancient and glorious Archdiocese of Ohrid lest they be completely and finally excommunicated from the community of the Orthodox Church, the essential prerequisite for spiritual life and salvation, in the hope that they, together with the flocks and other local church archpastors and pastors will return to the canonic order of the ecumenical Church, and thus to the eucharistic community and holy unity.

The Assembly further deliberated relations with other local Orthodox churches as well as with other Christian Churches and communities.

It made the decision to promote the St. Basil of Ostrog Spiritual Academy in Srbinje (Republika Srpska) to the level of a Theological Faculty.

The Assembly also discussed the pre-draft of the Law on Religious Freedoms and the legal position of the Churches and religious communities. The position adopted by the Assembly is that further time is needed for more in depth analysis and enhancement of the proposed text with mandatory consultations between appropriate officials of the republic of Serbia and appropriate services of the Serbian Orthodox Church and all other traditional Churches and religious communities in the country.

The Assembly calls on the Government of Serbia and the Government of Montenegro to enact just laws for the return of illegally confiscated property of the Serbian Orthodox Church, other Churches and religious communities, and citizens as soon as possible, and in the interim to prohibit the sale and destruction of church property to be returned.

The Assembly also discussed the need to prepare for possible new solutions with respect to the number and scope of dioceses in the Serbian Orthodox church in order to adequately address new spiritual and pastoral circumstances.

Of the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church
For the protection of human rights in Kosovo and Metohija, the return of refugees and restoration of destroyed homes, churches and monasteries, and patrimonial sites

The Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church sends the following appeal to the state officials of Serbia, the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, and the international community from its regular session held from September 6-8, 2004 in Belgrade:

Everyone knows that the agony of the Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija has lasted no less than five full years. Namely, from June 1999 to March 17, 2004 the greatest ethnic cleansing ever conducted “in a time of peace” has been carried out under UNMIK’s rule and in the presence of KFOR international peacekeeping forces. In that period all the cities in Kosovo and Metohija were ethnically cleansed (with the sole exception of Kosovska Mitrovica) as well as entire regions (Metohija) because two thirds of the Serbian people – over 200,000 Serbs – and 50,000 other non-Albanians were expelled; over 1,300 Serbs were killed and as many kidnapped and nothing has been discovered regarding their fate to this day. Over 40,000 Serbian houses and homes of other non-Albanians were looted, torched and destroyed; hundreds of Serbian villages have been erased from the face of the Earth; thousands of acts of violence and crime were committed (robberies, rapes, physical assaults) against Serbs; and 115 churches and monasteries were demolished and destroyed.

At the same time the one third of the Serbian population that stayed in Kosovo and Metohija struggled through its bitter fate in enclaves large and small, ghettoes and camps stripped of all human rights (the right to life, the right to freedom of movement, the right to work, the right to adequate education of its children, the right to medical care, the right to protection of property, etc.) Living under these abnormal and inhuman conditions, exposed to constant pressure and violence, humiliation and mistreatment at the hands of the Albanian majority and terrorists, the Serbs were forced to continue to leave from Kosovo and Metohija, and their numbers gradually shrank even further.

Despite all these difficulties and the intolerable conditions in which they were living, the Serbs tried to cooperate with the international community and officials of the Kosovo provisional government by voting in elections and taking part in the institutions of government, including the parliament. However, despite their participation in the provisional institutions of government, the Serbs were not able to solve a single one of their problems or improve their position. These institutions, created and supported by UNMIK, are exclusively solving the problems of local Albanians, including tens of thousands of Albanians who, in the meanwhile, moved from Albania to Kosovo, taking over the property and homes of the expelled non-Albanian population. The passage of a series of other laws and other activities of the same sort are creating conditions for the separation of Kosovo from the constitutional and legal framework of the State of Serbia and Montenegro, of which Kosovo is an integral and inalienable part as reiterated by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244. The Serbian presence in these institutions only served to give them legitimacy and created a false picture of multiethnicity in them.

As the entire world knows, instead of the resolution of their problems, starting with security, the right to life and freedom of movement, and the return of refugees to their homes, on March 17, 2004 Serbs experienced a horrible pogrom at the hands of Albanian extremists hitherto unseen and unprecedented in modern world history. In just two days, March 17-18 (the anniversary of the torching of the Pec Patriarchate by Albanian extremists in 1981), 4,000 more Serbs were expelled from their homes, 19 people lost their lives, and hundreds were injured and beaten up. Nine hundred sixty Serbian houses were torched and looted, seven villages completely destroyed, and 35 more churches and monasteries burned down and destroyed. The Albanian terrorists did not spare UNMIK or KFOR, either, in their wild rampage.

More than five months have since passed. The situation has not changed at all. Despite verbal condemnations of this violence and evaluations that it was a well organized, synchronized and orchestrated pogrom against Serbs, Roma and other non-Albanians, and despite promises that everything torched and destroyed would be rebuilt during the course of this year, and refugees returned to their homes, everything remains as it was. After March 17 the violence, attacks and murders, as well as the pressure, only resumed. Restoration of what was destroyed in March, as far as homes are concerned, is symbolic and serves primarily for manipulation and self-promotion by Kosovo officials. As far as the renewal of destroyed churches and monasteries is concerned, not a single stone has been moved for the purpose of rebuilding. The only thing happening is the removal of the last vestiges of all churches and monasteries destroyed since 1999, many of them dating back to the 14th and 15th century, not only those torched and demolished in March of this year.

Taking into account this tragic situation and the existential endangerment of the non-Albanian population in Kosovo and Metohija, the impossibility of refugee returns, the continuation of ethnic cleansing, and the destruction of the cultural and the comprehensive historical presence of the Serbian people in this region, the Holy Assembly of Bishops feels it is its duty and responsibility to make domestic officials and international factors aware of the following:

1. Supporting independence as the final status of Kosovo and Metohija would not only mean sanctioning all instances of persecution, destruction and crimes in Kosovo and Metohija listed above and those not listed but also the legalization of all (World War II) occupation (Fascist) and post-war (Communist) crimes, instances of persecution, decisions and their consequences in this region cited in our Memorandum submitted with this Appeal.

2. The Serbian Orthodox Church most resolutely demands that the United Nations and UNESCO, as well as the European Union, not only enable the return of all expelled persons and the restoration of their homes and normal living conditions but urgently renew all churches and monasteries – patrimonial sites in Kosovo and Metohija destroyed during the administration of the international community, i.e. UNMIK and KFOR, in Kosovo and Metohija. Kosovo and Metohija is the only region in Europe and the world where so many monuments of Christian culture and civilization have been destroyed in our times, and in the presence of the international community! It is good that the bridge over the Neretva in Mostar has been renewed through joint efforts. However, the Church expects and hopes that the United Nations and the European Union will live up to their historical responsibility and undertaken commitments for the renewal and protection of the spiritual and cultural heritage of Kosovo and Metohija, which is undoubtedly of global significance. Failure to meet this demand by the Church would be tantamount to rewarding the perpetrators of crime and terror in war (by Fascists), the post-war period (by Communists) and in modern times (by terrorists) against the Serbian Church and people.

3. The Holy Assembly of Bishops expresses its satisfaction that all political parties in Serbia and the Serbian Assembly have adopted the plan of the Serbian Government for decentralization and self-government of minority communities in Kosovo as the only realistic prerequisite for the preservation of the multiethnicity of Kosovo and protection of human rights. The Assembly wholeheartedly supports this plan. We expect the international community, after its tragic experience in recent years in Kosovo, to soberly and justly review this problem and to contribute to an appropriate solution for the organization of social relations in Kosovo and Metohija in the spirit of this proposal.

4. The Church in principle supports the democratic right of participating in elections everywhere, including Kosovo and Metohija. However, it is with sorrow that we must ask the following question of everyone who insists that the Serbs and minority communities vote in the upcoming October elections in Kosovo and Metohija: in what country in the world can one demand participation in elections under conditions where people are not only deprived of elementary security and basic human rights, including the right to freedom of movement and even the right to life? A slave must first be freed on the bondage to which he has been subjected and led from the dungeon that he might act freely and freely chose or be chosen.

5. In regard to the solution of this problem, the Church expects the governments of Serbia and Montenegro individually, as well as the highest officials of the state union, to reach a consensus with respect to the issue of Kosovo and Metohija as an issue of vital importance not just for us but for the sake of establishing peace and order throughout the Balkans and beyond in Europe. We consider the recent meeting and views of the leaders of the European Union in Maastricht with respect to the state union of Serbia and Montenegro to be an important stimulus and roadmap to all those who truly want to embark upon European integration to create all necessary preconditions for acceptance into the European Union through joint efforts, by strengthening unity and the community in European fashion. At the same time, such cooperation and reciprocity on the part of the members of the state union of Serbia and Montenegro would undoubtedly be of precious significance for resolving the problem of Kosovo and Metohija as well as the advancement of every aspect of social, economic and political life of Serbia and Montenegro, and the Balkan peninsula as a whole.

[Serbian Translation Services]

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