Jewish Journal

The religious impetus for a sovereign Kosovo

by Brad A. Greenberg

February 18, 2008 | 11:25 am

I’ve been looking for some discussion of the religious motivations behind the new nation of Kosovo but have been disappointed to see it left out of most media coverage. In fact, the headline for today’s frontpager in the LA Times was “Kosovo takes a big leap of faith,” but only offered this reference to religion:

Most of Kosovo’s nearly 2 million people are Muslim but are largely secular and pro-Western. Serbia is an Orthodox Christian nation with historical cultural ties to the Kosovo region, part of the reason it is so valued by Belgrade.

As I imagined, GetReligion has gotten around to a pretty good run down of the the centuries-old conflict. See, the Balkans are viciously, well, balkanized among Albanian Muslims, Croat Catholics and Orthodox Christian Serbs.

(Coincidentally, I spent a bit of time writing about this yesterday for an article for this week’s Jewish Journal about a Muslim from Macedonia who was the first to speak at the Orthodox seminary and helped diffuse a near civil war six years ago. I’m also reading “A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide,” a Pulitzer Prize winner that began with Samantha Power’s years reporting on the Serbian massacres of Muslims in Sarajevo.)

Here, Terry Mattingly of GetReligion quotes from a 1999 column he wrote trying to give context to the Balkans problem and the thugocracy of the late Communist ruler Slobodan Milosevic.

The roots of this crisis are astonishingly complex, ancient and bloody. . . . In 1389, Serbian armies fought — virtually to the death — while losing the Battle of Kosovo, but managed to stop the Ottoman Empire from reaching into Europe. The Kosovo Plain became holy ground.

Leap ahead to World War II, when Nazi Germany tried to use Albanian Muslims and Catholic Croats to crush the Serbs. Then Communists — such as Milosevic — took over. In the mid-1990s, the United States all but encouraged Croat efforts to purge Serbs from Krajina, where they had lived for 500 years. The West has been silent as Turkey expelled waves of Eastern Orthodox Christians.

Since morphing from Communist to nationalist, Milosevic has skillfully used Serbia’s array of fears, hatreds and resentments to justify terror in Kosovo and elsewhere by his paramilitary and police units. The Serbian strongman knows that Kosovo contains 1,300 churches and monasteries, many of them irreplaceable historic sites.

Retired New York Times editor A.M. Rosenthal, who once won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting in Eastern Europe, put it this way: “I do not get emotional about the history of Kosovo. I am not a Serb. Serbs do. . . . Serbs are as likely to give up Kosovo willingly because the Albanians want it as Israelis are to give up Jerusalem because the Arabs want it.”

(Map and image)

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