Sunday, June 16, 2024
 
 

If God created Earth, he was surely generous when he created Metohija

EPA-EFE//VALDRIN XHEMAJ
Serbs in Kosovo celebrate Orthodox Christmas on January 6, 2020.

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If we look at our planet as a consequence of plate tectonics, then the whole area bordered by Mokra Gora, Mounts Prokletije and Pastrik, and the Junicke and Sharr mountains can, without it coming across as false modesty, be considered the most beautiful.

Metohija has every reason to be called an earthly paradise. According to recent written history, this “land under church management” is associated with an area where churches, monasteries, monks, and nuns have left a most valuable legacy whose existence and history exemplify everything that makes Metohija the special place that it is.

This is a land whose beauty and value have never been disputed. The area has been described since time immemorial by travel writers and historians as one of unspeakable beauty.

The Orthodox Christian faith in this native Serbian land was first mentioned by Byzantine Emperor Basil II in two chrysobulls, or imperial decrees, known as the 1018 Eparchy of Prizren and the Eparchy of Raska in 1020.

It is no coincidence then that this land is the birthplace of Serbia’s spiritual and secular statehood. Prizren, was the capital of Serbian Emperor Dusan’s 14th-century empire and the Patriarchate of Pec, the centre of the Serbian Orthodox Church, are both in Metohija. In the 13th and 14th-centuries, Serbian emperors built numerous churches and monasteries, all of which are now protected as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, on this uniquely Serbian land.   

A Serbian Orthodox monk walks in the 14th-century Visoki Decani Monastery in the mountainous region of Metohija. EPA-EFE//VALDRIN XHEMAJ

The sound of church bells and liturgical chanting from the Patriarchate of Pec Monastery and the medieval churches of Visoki Decani, Our Lady of Ljevis, and Zociste go far beyond what can be described with mere words, they are the cradles of the Serbian nation where the most consequential events for the Serbian people took place. Throughout much of history, from the Turks 700 years ago to the Albanians of today, these holy sites have tragically and repeatedly ben burned and desecrated.

The historical record shows that countless invading armies have attacked and conquered this land and many of the wounds that they caused have never healed. The target of radical Albanian extremists during the UN mission in Kosovo and Metohija from 1999 were the most significant acts of cultural vandalism in Europe since the end of the Second World War.

More than 40 churches and monasteries were destroyed during the UN mission in Metohija. The Visoki Decani Monastery and the Pecka Patrijarsija were only preserved because soldiers from the UN’s Italian contingent were there to keep the sites from being destroyed by Albanian terrorist groups. All others should be ashamed by their dishonourable acts because, right in front of their eyes, the Serbian nation’s most holy sites were systematically looted and set on fire.

These heinous acts continue today as certain parties attempt to eradicate all that is Serbian from Metohija. Churches are being demolished and mosques are being built. Even the name Metohija – a Greek word that dates back to the early Byzantine period – is being cleansed from the public registry by Albanian separatists in favour of Dukagjini, a term from their own language. The Serbs from Metohija are actively being banished from their native, ancestral homelands and are being replaced by those who neither have a claim to the land and who don’t belong there. Simply put, they want to erase and collectively forget the true essence of this area – its churches, monasteries, the Serbian people, and Serbia itself – all of which they consider to be unnecessary excesses, including the name Metohija.

Everywhere in the region false narratives and a revisionist history is imposed and stealing has been legalised.

Most regretfully, the centres of power who are trying to create a new state from Kosovo and Metohija, which they will call “Kosovo”, continue to fully back the separatist Albanian authorities who continue to carry out such shocking acts of cultural genocide right in the heart of Southeastern Europe.

The churches and monasteries in Kosovo and Metohija that are the source of Serbian spirituality and statehood. The ongoing eradication campaign is designed for one purpose – to destroy everything that is Serbian – the people, the church, and the Serbian state.

But those who have the truth and justice on their side have no reason to fear. What is left for us is a fight – a fight that includes struggling against the rewriting of recorded history, but for our Orthodox holiness, for the historical capital Prizren and the Patriarchate of Peć, for our people, and for our country.

The Serbian Orthodox Church has the right to take care of, manage, and accomplish its honourable mission on church property. The doors of all churches and monasteries should be open to anyone who, for religious or any other principled reason, wants to visit them

. Monks and nuns will always have open hearts and souls for every visitor. They will give words of comfort, support, and understanding to all who seek their guidance. That is why we must preserve, nurture, support, visit, and do all that we can to save this more than 1,000-year religious heritage of ours.

What’s paramount, is that we need it because it gives us hope and faith.

As long as our churches exist, we will exist. Just as others are in the canon of Christian civilisation and values, our churches and monasteries exist for all well-intentioned people. Their mere presence and survival throughout the centuries is a clear confirmation of the true civilisational value of this blessed land. Only when they are preserved, protected, and independent can they fulfil their rightful and most honourable mission.

If the above was the criteria for measuring value, we wouldn’t have a reason to worry.

For those ignoble parties who continue with their attempt to purge Metohija of its rightful Serbian identity, we mustn’t give up. The laws of this world and the heavens will come soon. When that time comes, those that continue to use force and support the policy of legalising what they achieved through crime and violence, should live what remains of their life in fear. They need to know that many conquerors have passed through Metohija, but none has ever come close to destroying it. Neither will today’s horde of vandals.

During the time when Nazis and Fascist Italy occupied Metohija during World War II, the German-aligned Albanian nationalist organisation – the Balli Kombetar – murdered, raped, and robbed the Serbian population and burned their churches and thousands of their homes.

Justice is slow, but it reaches everyone sooner or later, even those who are not afraid of it.

When thousands are killed and still missing. Crimes against humanity cannot be concealed.

Writing about Metohija is a challenge and it is also a great responsibility.

I am a contemporary witness to all of the developments that have happened in recent decades and I feel a great responsibility to be sure that everything is told and proven.  Furthermore, I do not feel as though I am at a disadvantage for not having been born in Metohija. From Mount Goles, which is in central Kosovo and below which I was born, Metohija can easily be seen. I spent all of my life with Metohija, exploring its churches and monasteries and becoming acquainted with the good people who live there. 

Even today, whenever I am able, I go there to drink its pure mineral water, breathe clean air, and to be inspired by the power of its churches and history while drinking some rakija, our plum brandy, or a glass of wine. I always come back home richer in memories and experiences, but also sadder. Many people who once lived there are gone now. The cities and villages are destroyed. The churches, monuments, and houses have been ruined by vandalism and attacks as well.

I do not want anyone to think that this territory is owned by those who are trying force their will on this land. Metohija belongs to all good people. They should be equal, regardless of religious, national or racial diversity.  Metohija can be home to both Orthodox and Catholic churches, as well as mosques and synagogues. Serbs, Albanians, Montenegrins, Bosniaks, Roma, Jews, Ashkali, Gorani can live there equally and in peace.

Unfortunately, there are no present-day guardians who dedicate themselves to protecting sites like the Patriarchate of Pec or the Veliki Decani. And instead of words or acts of support from the Albanians who were proud to be called defenders of these sacred places, only shots are heard. The current reality is that there are now tens of thousands of banished Serbs and Montenegrins from cities all across Metohija and the dozens of holy places that make the region what it is for the Serbian nation remain as endangered as ever.

I hope that Metohija will not blame me for everything I have said or kept silent. Rather, these few lines are simply my humble contribution to what I think and feel about Metohija, the place that I love and am a part of, and what I hope will be a better future for her and the good people who live there.

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