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September 11, 2006  (the date of publication in Russian)

Roman Bagdasarov

SELF-DETERMINATION OF KOSOVO: APART FROM CULTURE

A strategy of new barbarianism

From time to time, dozens – hundreds sometimes thousands of idly wandering persons surround Christian churches and cemeteries of Kosovo. Assembling in a sufficiently large crowd, they start demolishing one or another Orthodox Christian sanctuary. The demolition is carried out by any means at hand, from a sledgehammer to a dragline. Ancient cathedrals are mined and torn down, graves destroyed, human remains being scattered and stamped into the ground, while the places of worship are used for storing garbage.

These persons are the Šiptars, or the Kosovars the potential titular nation of a new statehood on the former territory of Serbia. One may point at extremists, but in this case, too many male Kosovo Albanians would fall into this definition. The churches which they destroy were built since the XIV till the end of the XX century. Since 1999, the destroyed Orthodox buildings alone make up around 150. All of them are regarded by local Barbarians as a part of a hostile culture.

It is almost impossible to receive detailed information on the destruction of Kosovo and Metohija's cultural heritage. The whole score of the weekly acts of vandalism could hardly be verified. The Serbian population in these areas almost does not exist any longer, while the Albanian side is reluctant to comment for clear reasons. UNESCO's experts arrive only at the end of large-scale pogroms like that in March 2004, when Europe lost 34 churches for one day; they aren't even physically able to visit all the objects that required protection.

Moreover, during the talks in Vienna, the number of officially registered old relics has reduced from 1300 to 40(!). Everything, except a number of masterpieces of XII-XV centuries, was thrown into the furnace of the swiftly unraveling "peacekeeping process".

 

AT THE CRADLE OF EUROPEAN RENAISSANCE

Speaking about the relics of Kosovo and Metohija, one has to admit that their significance far exceeds the ethnic and religious borders of Serbia. In the period between 1300 and 1371 (the date of the Marica battle, resulting in the collapse of the medieval Serbia), Kosovo, Metohija and the adjacent Slavonic-dominated Macedonia gave birth to most advanced schools of Eastern Christian art. Painters from Constantinople and Saloniki, as well as the masters of art, assembled by King Milutin (deceased 1321), shaped the stylistics of the so-called Paleologue Renaissance, which predetermined the next century's West European Renaissance.

What are the major features of the Byzantine-Serbian Renaissance? First of all, the perfection of painting, strictly following the classical proportions of the Greek-Roman canons. In this period, Serbian art makes a huge progress. Painting is becoming more and more refined, acquiring the rhythm of ancient reliefs. Figures acquire dynamism, fragments of the composition constituting a single visual continuity. This produces a unique realistic impression. The artistic narration conveys not only the motion of the figure but also a psychological dramaturgy of the subject.

During the Paleologue Renaissance, Serbian and Greek painters develop new artistic principles, plunging a spectator into a peculiar artistic space. Several systems of prospective projection are used at the same time; each of them had been used alone, but in a combination, they create an essentially new artistic language. Combining several vista points, King Milutin's painters convey a maximum effect of presence.

The iconography of Kosovo and Metohija's churches is the most mysterious in the whole history of Christian art in the Balkans. In particular, the murals of Our Lady Ljeviška Church in Prizren present the fist comprehensive subjects with involvement of figures of philosophers and sibyls, and living pictures from the Old and New Testament. A century later, a real masterpiece, the icon of Our Lady of Eleus with Christ the Nourisher, was created in the same church.

In the mid-XIV century, under the rule of King Dušan, monumental murals were created in the Visoki Dečani Monastery. Specialists later recognized them as an artistic encyclopaedia. "Twenty enormous cycles, presented on the walls, depict the whole scope of education of its masters and the vast knowledge of the painters", emphasized Vojislav Djuric, one of the most prominent Byzantinists of the second half of the XX century. "In a multitude of compositions, as well as particular figures, the contemporaries expressed their attitude towards belief, the Divine, and the mundane affairs. Visoki Dečani's murals express the views on the art's mission in its service to religion. Such traditional subjects as the Great Holidays, the Passions, the Miracles, the Parables, the Our Lady cycle, the Oecumenical Councils, the Calendar, the Day of Judgement, the cycle, dedicated to St. Nicholas, along with eucharistic and Old Testament compositions, involved new principles, which had earlier been rarely or never present in mural art. Thus, the Decani Monastery has developed into a richest treasury of Byzantine iconography, its frescoes, due to its thematic abundance, becoming an inexhaustible source of inspiration for new masters.

Academician Vojislav Djuric died three years before the terrible threat rose over Visoki Dečani, Gracanica, and dozens of other relics. Today, a large number of the relics are not a subject of protection, as they have perished. The magnificent murals of Our Lady Ljeviška Church, the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and St. Nicholas Church in Prizren, the Church of Our Lady Hodegetria in Mušutište, the Monastery of St. Archangel Gabriel in Binac, the Monument of St. Marcus in Koriša village, as well as many others, are irreversibly destroyed. The "generous" $10mln., which UNESCO is planning to disburse for reconstruction, won't help.

 

A WAR AGAINST STONES, REMAINS, AND TREES

For the Šiptar extremists, the Serb population is the enemy number one, while the Serbian cultural landscape is the enemy number two.

The "architectural genocide" of Kosovo includes three periods of massive destruction: 1) year 1941, under the occupation by the Powers of the Axis; 2) year 1999, under the NATO occupation, and 3) year 2004, when 34 churches were demolished or damaged in a March 17-18 pogrom.

Add a number of particular but regular acts of destruction of relics under various pretexts: in the XIX century wars, under the Communist regime, in the interval between 1999 and 2004, and today. We are speaking only about the sites of worship, not mentioning the demolition of Serbian quarters in major cities of Kosovo, along with complete destruction of 130 villages across the area.

Each historical relic has a life span of its own. After four centuries of desolation, the surviving churches of Kosovo and Metohija were revived for a very short time. Research in Serbian ecclesiastic started only since the late XIX century. A lot of frescoes were cleaned from superseding paintings only after World War II. Even by the 1970s, many compositions were not yet studied. Meanwhile, the assaults on them started already in early 1990s, and since 1999, they are being systematically ruined by the winners of the territory.

Destruction of Orthodox relics is an old manner of the enemies of the Serbs, as they are regarded as symbols of Serbian identity. In 1459, the Turkish invaders, overtaking Smiderovo, the last stronghold of Serbian statehood of that time, started with demolition of the churches. Many relics perished during the Italian occupation of Kosovo in 1941. In particular, the Nazi robbed and destroyed four churches of the Devic Monastery, burning down medieval manuscripts and the ancient iconostasis.

The Kosovar barbarians are especially focused on the church architecture lately reconstructed or built anew. St. Elijah’s Church in Bistradina, Djakovica district, demolished in 1941, was reconstructed 50 years later. In 1999, its interior was damaged, but this seemed insufficient: in 2004, the building was swept down to the basement.

St. Trinity Cathedral, erected in 1994-1999 in Djakovica, on the site of an original church of the XIX century, was ruined before being opened. In March 2004, the last remains of this once impressing building were torn down. The adjacent Virgin Mary Church of the XVI-XIX centuries was destroyed along with the parish house, while the living quarters were blasted.

The Kosovars hate towards Serbian culture sometimes acquires a completely irrational quality, a sort of a mass psychosis. On March 17, 2004, the Kosovars invaded the deserted Devic monastery, crashed the sepulchre of St. Joannichius and performed a dance on the remains, before the eyes of the indifferent KFOR's peacekeepers. This performance, looking wild for a civilized European, can be interpreted only as a ritual outrage upon a sanctuary, a desecration.

It is not so easy to explain the motives of other vandals who mined and burnt down the XIV-century Holy Archangels Monastery near Gorne Nerodimle. After the desecration of the cemetery, they burnt down even the pine wood around it. The only imaginable reason was that this wood existed since the XIV century. Were trees also viewed as an element of the hated Serbian culture?

 

A DISORDER OR A STRATEGY?

Why are the international authorities so indifferent to the barbarian activity? Their tolerance to the extermination of a culture with centuries of precious heritage could hardly be explained otherwise as with political considerations of today. The government of Serbia insists that the remaining Serb population of Kosovo have a right for local autonomy. After the massive exodus of the Serbs, the historical quarters of Metohijan towns could still serve as a material base for probable post-war repatriation.

Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni, Council of Europes Director for Education, Culture, Heritage, Youth and Sports, believes that the reconstruction of the demolished relics would be useful for reconciliation and a new dialogue among the Kosovo communities, and facilitate the return of displaced persons. Still, while the negotiations are going on, the Serbian environment is being deteriorated, gradually and sometimes instantaneously, like in March 2004.

Meanwhile, representatives of UČK, the paramilitary "Kosovo Liberation Army", outspokenly blackmail the parliament, threatening it with a new warfare in case Kosovo's independence is not declared immediately. At the same time, more "civilized" Kosovars, assembled into a "Group for Self-Determination", demand that Serbia be excluded from the negotiations over the political status of Kosovo.

On the background of this pressure from the Kosovars, the UN discussion of the report, delivered by Special Commission's chairman Kai Eide, is frankly speaking obviously out-of-date. The eight years of involvement of the peacekeeping forces have demonstrated that the peacekeepers, in the best case, care only for their own security, and lose control over the situation at any critical occasion.

Serbia has fulfilled the conditions of the global community, concerning withdrawal of its army and police units from Kosovo. But are the NATO and the United Nations today able to justify the occupation of this land? The international institutions have actually failed to reach all of its declared objectives, and there is no hope for an improvement in the future. The situation in Kosovo is developing in favor of UČK and other radical forces in the area, which pursue self-determination not only from Belgrade but from history and human civilization as well.


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