Kosovo: along with Albanian radicalism, here comes the threat of Islamic terrorism. An interview with Father Sava Janjic – Part I

Fifteen men were arrested in the counter-terrorism operation led by Kosovo security forces in September. They are suspected of links with ISIS (the Islamic State) and Jabhat al-Nusra. Previously, in August, Kosovo’s police had conducted a major operation in which they arrested forty people. Police report that up to 200 Kosovar citizens are believed to have moved to Syria and Iraq for the purpose of combat, and twenty of them have been killed there.

Father Sava Janjic stands in front of the 14th century Decani Orthodox monastery, 100 km (70 miles) west of the Kosovo capital Pristina, May 15, 2006. The Serbian Orthodox monastery is under heavy NATO guard. More than 30 Orthodox religious sites were destroyed or damaged in Albanian riots in March 2004, and as the United Nations moves to decide the fate of Kosovo, the Serbian Orthodox Church is fighting for survival and international protection. Picture taken May 15, 2006. Photo REUTERS

“Since 1999, many Islamic NGOs that were previously active in Bosnia have been moving to Kosovo. Hidden behind humanitarian purposes and excuses to build new mosques, those NGOs sowed the seeds of the new jihadist generation that is providing the men that are now fighting with ISIS in the Middle East.” This is what Father Sava Janjic told East. Father Sava Janjic is the Archdeacon of the Visoki Dečani Monastery in Western Kosovo, and is a key figure in the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Founded in 1327 by King Stefan Uroš III, the Dečani Monastery is one of the most important Christian sites in the Balkans, and is a designed UNESCO World Heritage site. However, despite being protected by KFOR (the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo), the site has been attacked several times. The most recent attack occurred just a few days ago, when new graffiti in support of ISIS and the KLA (the Kosovo Liberation Army) appeared on the walls of the monastery.

Can you describe the situation you are currently going through?

The Dečani Monastery is a monastic community that has 24 monks. Despite having been a safe shelter for anyone seeking help during the Kosovo war in 1999, with no distinction whatsoever in ethnicity or faith, the monastery is still constantly threatened by the local Albanian community.

We have been attacked several times since the end of the war. The most recent attack occurred in 2007, when a rocket propelled grenade hit the monastery. The monastery is an easy target for the provocations by Albanian nationalists: we found threatening graffiti in April, and then again a few days ago. We found them inside the monastic site, even though it is monitored 24/7 by the international peacekeeping force. The last graffiti are even more alarming, because there were not only those in favor of the Albanian nationalist cause, but also those supporting the Islamic caliphate.

What is the role of the international community vis-à-vis those threats and attacks?

The international representatives in Kosovo have firmly and repeatedly condemned Albanian radicalism. However, they have no choice but to work with KLA former leaders who have all the political power in their hands. There is no visible moderate political option: every political force is based on a radical idea of Albanian nationalism that envisions Kosovo as integral part of the “Greater Albania” project.

The presence of KFOR is particularly important because it represents one of the main guarantees for minority groups to be able to survive in a very hostile situation. Kosovar leaders need the EU and US financial support, which, I believe, should be conditional on the protection of minority groups and Christian holy places. The international community should take a clear and firm stand against Islamic terroristic activism that is turning into a serious threat for Kosovo. Extremist nationalism and religious radicalism are making their way into a society plagued by pervasive organized crime, producing a culture based on ethnic and religious intolerance against minority groups in the country.

Kosovo is witnessing an alarming rise of Islamic radicalism…

The majority of the Muslims living in Kosovo is still laic, but there is a radical minority that is growing because of preachers and imams who bring the Salafi methodology into the Balkans. Salafi groups operate in the main cities of Kosovo, and we suspect they could become more aggressive. The less firm the UE regarding the integration process of Western Balkans countries, the more religious radicalism and nationalism will grow.

Edited by Sayuri Romei 

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