The recently published US State Department’s 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom warns that the number of violent incidents targeting religious sites in Kosovo increased by 50 percent compared to the previous year.
“National police said they received reports of 87 incidents targeting religious sites during the year, compared with 57 incidents in 2020. The incidents targeted 56 Muslim, 30 SOC [Serbian Orthodox Church], and one Roman Catholic property,” reads the report.
“Police classified two cases as incitement of discord and intolerance but did not give details. The BIK [Islamic Community of Kosovo] said incidents targeting mosques were likely financially motivated, citing, for example, a cash charity box in the Kacanik Mosque that was robbed several times during the year. According to the BIK, the thefts negatively affected their humanitarian activities,” it continued.
The State Department’s report said that the Serbian Orthodox Church believes that violent incidents targeting religious sites and property in the country were religiously and ethnically motivated.
“Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was sometimes difficult to categorise incidents as solely based on religious identity,” reads the report.
The State Department’s report was published a day after the Serbian Orthodox Church said the Kosovo Police did not allow its priests to perform a liturgy in an unfinished church at Pristina University.
“As soon as we reached the door to unlock it, first a police officer came up behind us, and then at least seven other appeared after him. They asked us for identity documents,” said Pristina priest Stanica Arsic, “Although they spoke Albanian, which I do not understand very well, I realised that they were not allowing us to unlock the door of the church. After that, they soon returned the IDs to us.”
The Raska-Prizren Diocese described the incident as an “open discriminaiton” against the Serbian Orthodox Church.
“Kosovo institutions continuously convey the message that our people cannot live freely and that basic religious and human rights do not apply to Orthodox Serbs,” said the Raska-Prizren Diocese.
The unfinished church on the Pristina University campus has been at the centre of controversy in Kosovo for the past two decades. Its construction began in the mid-1990s, when Slobodan Milosevic sought to consolidate Serbian control over the then-Serbian province of Kosovo.
Both Pristina municipality and the university challenge the Serbian Orthodox Church’s claim over the land.
According to the State Department report, a lawsuit brought by the university against the Serbian Orthodox Church was still under consideration at the Pristina Basic Court as of December 2021.
Photo by Mariakray