The Position of the Serbian Orthodox Church on Kosovo
A group of leaders of the Serbian Orthodox Church presented their position on the issue of Kosovo, just as the negotiations on Kosovo's status have begun. Bishop Jovan asserted that they had come, not as a political delegation, but with the consent of the Serbian government, hoped to make a case for the government's official position by describing the situation in Kosovo as experienced by Bishop Teodisije and Serbs in Kosovo to whom he ministers.
Bishop Teodisije, who lives and works at the Decani Monastery in Kosovo expressed his determination to continue the living, spiritual life of the Monastery and its surroundings. The Decani Monastery has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and is replete with young people who have responded to a vocational calling there. He argued that Serbs have lived in the region for centuries and they strive for peaceful cohabitation with other ethnic groups there.
He listed some of the difficulties faced by his fellow monks and resident Serbs. Although they are protected by international soldiers in tanks and by barbed wire, they do not have the freedom of movement. The fact that they must constantly be protected by international troops means that they cannot integrate into society and do not enjoy basic civil rights.
The status talks currently underway directly effects the everyday lives of people living there. Regardless of the ultimate status of Kosovo, the Church insists that certain standards must be met, including: bringing an end to the vandalization of churches and securing their restoration; ensuring the freedom of movement and of work to all Serbs residing there; creating conditions that would bring Serbs back to urban areas; and the restoration of property rights.
Hieromonk Irinej echoed Bishop Teodisije's caution to the international community, by stating that a hasty decision on Kosovo's status may have dire long-term consequences. The church believes that this can be prevented by careful consideration now in laying down a framework in which basic economic and political standards can be put into place in Kosovo. The status talks affect not only those living in Kosovo, but also the neighboring regions. Serbia is currently home to the largest refugee population in Europe, which now stands at 700,000, 250,000 of which are refugees from Kosovo. Father Irinej argued that repatriation of these refugees is a priority and it will require the Kosovo government to be able to offer the returned refugees security, full rights and economic self-sufficiency. Decentralization, he said would be a necessary fist step in this process.