Date: Mon, 19 Jul 1999 22:27:20 -0500 (CDT)
From: Greek Helsinki Monitor <>
Subject: [balkanhr] BETAWEEK: Political Crisis in Serbia
Article: 70303
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <>

Serbs in Kosovo

BETAWEEK, E 1, 8 July 1999


According to the Church's estimates, 100,000 Serbs and Montenegrins have left the Serbian province of Kosovo, since the withdrawal of the Yugoslav army and police. The are no fixed figures on the number of Serbs and Montenegrins left in Kosovo, but not one assessment surpasses 20,000 people. The last population census, published in 1991, said 190,000 Serbs lived in Kosovo. Many have left in the meanwhile prior to new political developments.

Demographic changes in Kosovo caused by violence, the massive expulsion of Albanians, NATO's air campaign, and the coming of Kosovo under international control appreciably influence political life in the whole region, particularly in Serbia and Yugoslavia. Following the withdrawal of the Yugoslav army and police from Kosovo, a massive outflow of Serbs from the province has begun. Side to side with the refugees from Kosovo were the most fanatic supporters of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. New conditions on the ground have created possibilities for the strengthening of opposition political groups, which were previously systematically suppressed and pushed to the sidelines.

Political initiative in Kosovo has been taken over by the Serbian Orthodox Church and local Serb organizations, such as the Serbian Resistance Movement, headed by Momcilo Trajkovic. The church and Trajkovic have been striving to cooperate with international forces, after realizing they were they only remaining force which could guarantee a minimum of safety.

On Friday, July 2, a group of church leaders from Kosovo, headed by Bishop of the Raska and Prizren region Artemije and Momcilo Trajkovic, met with representatives of the Kosovo Albanians in Pristina. The Albanian delegation was headed by the leader of the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army, Hashim Thaqi. This was the first meeting between Serbs and Albanians since the beginning of NATO's air campaign against the FRY and marked the beginning of new relations between the clashing sides. The two sides signed a joint statement on the occasion in which they favored the return of all refugees and gave their support for the idea of a multi-ethnic Kosovo, condemning the regime of Slobodan Milosevic.

The temporary chief of the U.N. civilian mission in Kosovo, Serzio de Melo, who supervised organizing the meeting, did not invite representatives of the Serbian government in Kosovo, who are reflected in Zoran Andjelovkic, the president of the Kosovo temporary executive council and Nebojsa Vujovic, the president of the Yugoslav committee for cooperation with the U.N. Thus the international community has made known that it supports the local authorities and that it is against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

The Parallel Government

The Church and Trajkovic continued to consolidate their forces at the beginning of this week. A constituting session of the Serbian National Church and Political Council was held in the Gracanica Monastery near Pristina on July 6. It declared it would uphold the interests of the Kosovo Serbs. It was decided at the session that the council would have working bodies, including a human rights committee, a committee for humanitarian issues, a committee for the registration and preparation of Kosovo Serbs refugees for return, and an information center. The council also intends to establish a church-to-people financial fund. The leaders of the national council are set to be appointed by the end of the week, while the assembling of a work rule book is planned in ten days time.

The National Council is essentially the seed of a kind of Kosovo Serb parallel government which will oppose the central Serbian authorities. It is likely that leaders of the council will be Bishop Artemije and Trajkovic. Sources within the Church say the political role of the Church was imposed by the situation and that Artemije did not wish in any way take a role similar to that of Archbishop Makarios in Cyprus. The Church regards Kosovo as its spiritual center, with 1400 orthodox churches and monasteries including the most important Serbian middle-ages monasteries. This fact most certainly had a strong influence in defining the Church's role in the province. The Church is, also, the only organization which has taken the role of defending the Kosovo Serbs, its representatives braving to stay in regions unsafe for Serbs.

De Melo attended the constituting session of the National Church and Political Council again. Following the session, he met with Hashim Thaqi, an influential ethnic Albanian leader, to whom he passed on his concern for the safety of the Serbs, given that on the same day, protests were held in the city during which several monuments of Serb historical figures were demolished, while violence and acts of reprisal against Serbs occurred throughout the province. Bishop Artemije and Trajkovic threatened to discontinue their contacts with Albanian representatives unless their leaders condemned such violence against the local Serb population.


The authorities in Belgrade strongly condemned Bishop Artemije and Trajkovic for meeting with the Albanians, accusing them of acting conversely to the interests of the state and people. The state and pro-state media initiated a strong campaign against them. They were heavily criticized for signing the agreement at the meeting with Thaqi. The agreement, among other things, concedes to the authority of the Hague-based international war crimes court, which indicted Milosevic and a group of chief Serbian and Yugoslav officials.

The July 7 issue of the pro-state Politika commented that the agreement signed in Pristina “aids the U.S.'s attempts at establishing the KLA and Thaqi as the only legitimate Albanian representatives.” Bishop Artemije and Trajkovic were chewed out for supporting covert NATO efforts to squeeze official Belgrade out of the Kosovo peace agreement's implementation and the quest for a political solution to the Kosovo crisis.

Belgrade's criticism will hardly sway Trajkovic and Bishop Artemije, as the Serbian authorities simply have no influence on the situation in Kosovo and cannot guarantee safety. The Church is practically the only remaining Serbian institution of authority in Kosovo, and it will continue to gather the remaining Serbs.


For years, Serbs from Kosovo have been a strong pillar for Milosevic, playing a key role in his rise to power ten years ago. Through them, Belgrade has strongly fueled the feeling that it was the only and chief defender of Serbian national and state interests in the province. Hence, the Kosovo Serbs and their organizations had acted primarily as an extended arm of the central authorities for years, refusing any form of political cooperation with the Albanians. After all structures of Serbian authority left the province, the Serbs were left at the mercy of the vengeful armed groups of Albanians, who plundered and set ablaze the majority of Serb villages. Serbs were expelled from their homes and apartments in cities, and their shops looted.

Representatives of the international community have exclusive contacts with church representatives and the Serbian Resistance Movement, while contacts with the Belgrade authorities are limited to information exchange. The chances of the Belgrade regime gaining any power at the expense of the local Serbs, given the situation, are very meek.