Kosovo

Muslim Kosovars Rediscover Their Long-Forgotten Roman Catholic Roots

Photo via Valerie Plesch / RNS
Catholics attend Christmas Eve Mass at Mother Teresa Cathedral in Pristina, Kosovo. Photo via Valerie Plesch / RNS

Under the Ottoman Empire, which ruled Kosovo from the early 15th century until 1912, most Albanian Kosovars converted to Islam.

But today, Jakaj and others are on a mission that they say reflects a renaissance of Catholicism in the country. Muslim Kosovars are supporting the effort, too, even though most of Brod is now Muslim.

“This is our history of our nation,” said Ademi, whose forefathers were Catholic.

“These are our first steps toward reclaiming our cultural heritage.”

A Move to Ban Cluster Bombs

The movement against land mines has achieved moderate success since the mine ban treaty became international law in March 1999. Though some signatories continue to use mines and an estimated 250 million remain stockpiled, trade in the weapon has nearly ceased and some 22 million have been destroyed.

Now movements are forming against another indiscriminate killer: cluster bombs. Dropped from planes, these weapons release many smaller "bomblets" over a large area. These bomblets are brightly colored, and often attractive to unsuspecting children who comprise a large number of the 151 civilians killed by them in Kosovo in the last year. By NATO's estimates, 10 percent of the 290,000 bomblets dropped on Kosovo remain unexploded.

Mennonite Central Committee decried the weapons, saying, "Cluster munitions are so abhorrent, so inherently indiscriminate, and so likely to cause unnecessary suffering that they should be banned." The Red Cross has also called for a moratorium on cluster bombs.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 2000
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Conduct Unbecoming

A tall, ramrod straight combat arms officer faced the graduating class of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. "I tell my men every day," he said, "there is nothing worth one of them dying for....Prohibiting casualties is the top-priority mission I have been given by my battalion commander." In other words, if the mission conflicts with force protection, the mission gets scrubbed. Gone is the moral tenet, as stated in Samuel Huntington’s military classic The Soldier and the State, "for the soldier to respond effectively when called upon to defend the defenseless, even to the point of death."

The officer corps of the U.S. Army is in an ethical muddle. In a provocative paper titled "Army Professionalism, the Military, and Officership in the 21st Century," three West Point teachers are challenging the U.S. military and, by inference, NATO’s policy of "radical force protection." They believe that this policy is the latest example of the erosion of the soldier’s ethos of self-sacrifice and "corroding the professional military ethic." They place the blame in part on changes in international politics since the end of the Cold War, the new nature of conflict, and undue political pressure for "force protection." Apparently the problem is so widespread that West Point has opened a Center for the Professional Military Ethic—an oversized camouflage couch on which the Army can work through its identity crisis.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 2000
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Kosovar Religious Leaders Appeal for Peace

Defying the assumption that Serbs and ethnic Albanians are incapable of peaceful coexistence, leaders of the religious communities of Kosovo issued a common statement for reconciliation.

Signed by Rexhep Boja, Mufti of the Islamic Community of Kosovo, Marko Sopi, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Prizren, and Artemije Radosavljevic, the Serbian Orthodox Bishop of Raska and Prizren, the statement calls on believers of all faiths to "establish a durable peace based on truth, justice, and common living."

Proclaiming that each of their faiths considers human life a gift from God, they declared that "Violence against persons or the violation of their basic rights are for us not only against [human]-made laws but also breaking God’s law." They specifically spoke against the acts of revenge, including the destruction of Serbian churches and monasteries, that peacekeeping troops have done little to prevent.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2000
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Insult to Injury

While the U.S. military has spent more than $30 million on its fortress-like base in Kosovo—complete with a Burger King—Kosovars themselves are left with a war-ravaged homeland, including among other hazards radiation from depleted uranium (DU) ammunition used by NATO forces.

In Iraq, where armor-piercing DU shells were used extensively, doctors found an exponential increase in child cancers and birth defects. It has also been linked to the so-called "Gulf War Syndrome," as doctors have found high levels of DU in U.S. veterans’ urine even after eight years.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2000
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Kosovo's Peaceful Rugova

IN YOUR JULY-AUGUST 1999 issue both Glen Stassen ("Nonviolence in Time of War") and David Hartsough ("Creative Courage") point out the lost opportunity for governments, nongovernment agencies, and religious groups to support nonviolent direct action on behalf of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo beginning in the early 1990s. Unlike prominent activists Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar (Burma), Guatemalan native Rigoberta Menchu, and the exiled Dalai Lama of Tibet, all of whom are Nobel Peace Prize recipients with high international profiles and published biographies or interviews, Kosovo’s peaceful leader Ibrahim Rugova has not received press attention until recently.

Despite his profound effect on maintaining peace among Albanians after Milosevic’s suspension of Kosovo’s autonomy in 1989, Rugova received only limited audiences in government circles. Rugova was apparently not invited to speak before congregations or at universities, religious or secular, which would have provided him with general recognition as the chosen leader of an autonomous Kosovo.

The misguided policy of believing (or hoping) that Milosevic would somehow provide a nonviolent solution led policymakers to ignore any realistic engagement with Rugova. Milosevic did not become evil only in the early months of 1999—his policy of persecution of Albanians persisted for 10 years before the NATO deployments. Christians, unable to justify inaction in the face of property destruction and ethnic cleansing, were forced to take sides on the impossible question of determining the Christian response to Serbian violence.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1999
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A Laboratory of Reconciliation

In a seventh-century cathedral on the Adriatic coast of the former Yugoslavia, a massive stone carving over the portal depicts the life of Christ. In true Balkan fashion, however, the scenes are not arranged according to time. In the first scene, Christ is baptized; midway he hangs on a cross; at the end the Wise Men gaze at him in adoration, and Mary smiles. Here, specific order is not as crucial as generating spiritual fervor. Who you were is not as important as who you are becoming. And suffering is the rough road one must take to love.

Bosnia is a spiritual laboratory, a place where spiritual hypotheses can be tested and observed. I first visited in 1996 at the end of the vicious four-year siege of Sarajevo. The question I asked then was: What makes average people in extraordinary circumstances behave as sinners or as saints? Now, during Bosnia’s long post-war reconstruction period, and particularly in the aftermath of Kosovo, I ask: This is a people who had raging evil sit on them like a stalled hurricane. Is it possible for them to be born again? Initial evidence suggests that they can.

An Antidote for Fear

Vjeko Saje, project director for the Center for Religious Dialogue in Sarajevo, is a passionate, energetic man in his mid-40s. Saje was an architect before the war. He spent five years working in Baghdad for an engineering firm before NATO air strikes in Iraq sent him home to Sarajevo in 1990. Saje is Catholic, though not Croat; his wife, Azra, is Muslim. The witnesses at their wedding were Serbs. They have an 18-year-old daughter, Irma. They are a fairly typical Sarajevan family.

In 1993, Saje was assigned to dig trenches along the front lines outside Sarajevo. There were three other engineers with him a little further down the line. In a flash of mortar fire one morning, he tells me, all three were killed. He and I are silent. What is there to say?

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1999
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Spiritual Reconstruction in Kosovo

Pristina, Kosovo—At the Macedonia-Kosovo border, kids on the roadside are selling Coke and fresh brown eggs. They are swept with a metal detector every time they cross the invisible line between countries. Their arms-up gesture is automatic. The raised shoulders next to the road are covered with wild flowers—blue chicory, yellow lupines, bull thistles—and land mines. Men swing scythes through grain and hay. Where the fields are not yet clear of mines, farmers send in the cattle first. German soldiers lounge on tanks, casually pointing anti-rocket guns at the sky. The houses are pockmarked with bullets and small mortar fire. The roofs are burned off.

We meet Terry Heselius at the Mercy Corps office in Pristina. Mercy Corps began working there in 1993. Heselius’ first project in the region was to deliver 40 tons of flour from Budapest to Pristina. The trucks had to go to Supotisa, Novi Sad, Belgrade, Nis, and finally Pristina. After the first convoy, Mercy Corps sent 250 tons per week. Every one of the trucks was prayed over. Theirs was the only relief agency that managed to get trucks through.

According to Heselius, Kosovar president Ibrahim Rugova is the region’s only hope. Rugova once asked Heselius what the answer was for Kosovo. Heselius quoted 2 Chronicles 7:14. "If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."

This kind of conversion does three things—it lifts hearts and combats despair, it teaches forgiveness, and it undercuts propaganda and fear. Economic and political reconstruction is essential in Kosovo, but it must be built on a foundation of spiritual reconstruction.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1999
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Nonviolence in Time of War

The war in the Balkans has created a moral dilemma for those committed to peacemaking. The atrocities of "ethnic cleansing" must be opposed. But so too must the massive bombing of Serbia by NATO forces, which has brought widespread destruction but done little to alleviate the suffering in Kosovo.

There are no easy answers to these questions. While the media have blanketed the airwaves and the front pages with coverage of the Balkan crisis, other voices fly beneath the radar: advocates of nonviolence grappling with the grays of real-world peacemaking; people of faith—Serb and Albanian, Christian and Muslim—on the war’s front lines; humanitarian workers seeking to bring a balm to ravished victims of war.

As we listen to these voices in the pages that follow, it becomes clear that the principles of faith and courage that undergird their lives may be under fire, but they have not diminished in strength or significance. We would do well to heed their lessons. —The Editors

this spring, Fuller Seminary students organized a forum on the NATO bombing of Serbia and Kosovo. The pro-NATO speaker asked those who supported NATO’s action to raise their hands. Not one person did. But everyone deplores the Serbian "ethnic cleansing."

Wherever I have gone, people have been asking, "How might the international community have prevented war in Serbia if ‘just peacemaking’ practices had been applied?" "What is the role of nonviolence in the time of war?" "How do peacemakers respond to people who ask, ‘What should we do now?’" "How can just peacemaking practices help recovery from war and contribute to long-term peace in the Balkans?"

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1999
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Begin with Disillusionment

War is the great evangelizer. As NATO tosses Tomahawks into Milosevic’s tinderbox, Madeleine Albright says she’ll pray for Serbia. At the same time, in the foxholes of Belgrade basements, cultural atheists are coming to Christ. While Belgrade burns and Pristina becomes a ghost town, prayer seems to be the most powerful weapon in our arsenal. But how do we separate the arrogant petitions of the powerful and the desperate pleas of the weak from that revolutionary act that "moves mountains"?

Authentic prayer brooks no illusions. It is a process of disillusionment. Disillusionment requires education. Education requires context. What is the context for the war in Yugoslavia and what questions must be addressed as we go forward?

FOR MORE THAN 40 years, Tito and his successors squelched religious affiliation or ethnic identity for the sake of a "unified" Communist Republic of Yugoslavia. After Tito’s death in 1980, the country went into sharp economic decline. In 1982, The Wall Street Journal ran a story on the upheaval caused by an International Monetary Fund austerity program in Yugoslavia. The program was causing unrest, especially in a small province called Kosovo.

Lesson one. The end of communism’s enforced monoculture produced a renaissance of ethnic and religious identity and pride in the Balkans. Genuine pluralism cannot be produced by force.

Lesson two. Budgets, international monetary systems, and structural adjustments are moral issues with real and ethical consequences.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1999
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