Kosovo, February 7, 2013
Father Nektarios has been a parish priest for over thirty-seven years and is now serving at the Greek Orthodox Church, Boise, Idaho USA. Just a month after fighting first broke out in Kosovo in 1998, Father Nektarios launched the Dečani Monastery Relief Fund in cooperation with Father Sava and Archimandrite Teodosije (now Bishop of the region) which offers assistance to both the Serbian and Albanian population.
The Dečani Monastery Relief Fund has collected over $250,000s in aid, supporting now six soup kitchens, a bakery, and supporting scholarships for 61 students to attend the University of Northern Kosovo and outreach to the local Albanian population. The fund also helps refugee centers and camps; special needs for elderly; electricity bills, firewood for local schools, homes and monasteries, necessary medical and surgical procedures; and food for local villages and homes.
Despite his tireless and continuing work, Father Nektarios must always be heavily guarded by Peace-Keeping troops whenever he visits Kosovo – some six times so far. His last visit was late January to early February 2012 and he expects to visit again this summer or early spring despite the palpable threat of his own life being endangered.
I also felt that once the war ended Serbs were forgotten and no humanitarian assistance was forthcoming, and that is why I pursued the Decani Fund.
How has the situation varied since you’ve been travelling there?
Father Nektarios: Extremely shocking to me for an outside visitor… I was horrified when I saw the destroyed Serbian Orthodox Churches and Monasteries, villages, homes, schools, cemeteries, and the lack of honour towards the environment I saw in the streets and in the rivers, and lakes. I often wondered would I return safe, but my love and faith in God kept me going onward, and seeing how the monks and nuns, as well as the bishop and priests were brave as well as concerned to help those struggling and suffering.
Close to 155 Serbian Orthodox Churches and Monasteries throughout Kosovo have been destroyed. To date I have heard that five or six Monasteries and Churches have been repaired, and the Dečani Fund is doing all it can to also assist in this manner. It will take decades to repair these Churches and Monasteries as well as Cemeteries.
Father Nektarios notes that the situation is still tense. Indeed, more so since NATO peace-keeping numbers have dwindled and villages, churches, monasteries and even the Northern University are facing decreasing protection.
Keep in mind the University that exist in Priština is very dangerous for students to attend. I would believe not one Serb attends the University in Priština. Speaking about Pristina, I have also learned that less 70 Serbs live in the region.
Please tell us about your most recent visit-which graveyard was damaged and when? Has this happened in other graveyards? Frequently?
Father Nektarios: From my last visit in 2012 my fear has been the local Albanian citizens and present government has every intention of making sure more Serbs leave the region. They want to take over all the churches, monasteries and heavily tax them, as well as cut off their electricity, make sure that they are not able to obtain food and supplies – since this has now become a problem even at the borders. Humanitarian supplies for Serbs in the north have been frequently denied entry, and as of late taxed.
I am very concerned that the media has not truthfully reported and latest incidents in the region about the border problems, the constant attacks on the villages, homes, and cemeteries. I believe the press has not been forthcoming, in particular in the West. Serbs have been forgotten! The Albanian-language press have issued false reports that the destruction of cemeteries was caused by a local Serbian priest who they allege destroyed the crosses at one cemetery, which is absolutely false! That priest I am sure is weeping over this horror! So lies upon lies seems to make the situation more deplorable and unfair!
The destruction of Serbian Orthodox cemeteries has been going on throughout the region of Kosovo and Metohija for the past decade and not only the past two weeks (latest report say over 125 tombstones and crosses destroyed), but most especially since 2004.
I have visited such cemeteries where bodies had been taken out of the ground and earlier bones scattered, I have seen tombstones on the ground, and have seen high grass in these cemeteries. High grass in cemeteries? Well I learned the families who had grave sites where fearful visiting their graves that they might be shot or killed.
I once asked the convey in which I was traveling to stop so I could visit the Serb Cemetery (I did this often) and in the corner of the cemetery I saw a man watching me in hiding, and so the peace-keeping troops rushed up to bring me back to the convey truck, and the individual ran away.
Many Serbs had to flee Kosovo and Metohija, they lost their homes and businesses and left behind families already buried. Few can anyone afford to repair the cost of damages, or even return for fear of their lives!
What has been reaction of local police and government?
Father Nektarios: These matters have been reported to local police and government officials within Kosovo and Metohija and throughout the free world. With internet access, more people have become aware, and have been shocked, especially when bodies have been taken out of the graves. There has been a reaction that the Serbs are being greatly persecuted not only the living but even the dead!
My impression is that the local police have barely done anything or even reacted. I haven’t heard a word about this matter from local government authorities whatsoever! Peace begins with love for one another! Reports are that local government is spreading lies to the media that these destruction of crosses had never happened! Well we have photos!
How else have Serbs living locally affected?
Father Nektarios: I have been greatly concerned about the youth in the region, I brought one person from Kosovo to attend local University, and now I am trying to bring another person out of Kosovo as his living conditions are deplorable, and fear for his life and family, as well as his village. This is exactly what is happening throughout the whole region presently especially where Serbs live. Everyone seems to wonder how they shall be kept warm during the winter months and where their food will come from.
Local schools as well seem to be lacking in proper daily food, and if food is provided at the local schools then that is the best meal of the day for many children!
Individual homes are fired upon constantly as well as local villages as of late in Kosh, and many other areas throughout the region where Serbs live, especially during the past two weeks.
Cattle are stolen from farmers and homes. You can count on your hand how many cows a Serb has compared with non-Serbs who have 20-30 just across the road. Serbs will sleep outside all night to protect their livestock.
Serbs are constantly harassed on the highway, and in many cases taken to the local police station, especially if you are from Belgrade. A local monk named Father Hariton was driving individuals to hospitals and picking up supplies for his monastery. He was later found in Priština beheaded, and buried without his head. Another monk is missing who was very devoted. We still have many missing men, women, and children. No one wants to talk about this.
One Serb from Belgrade was visiting his family in Kosovo a few years ago. After he left his family, his head was found hanging from a tree with a note: “Warning – no Serbs allowed to return!”
Those who fled Kosovo and Metohija in fear should have the right to return back home.
The Churches and Monasteries must no longer be threatened, two monasteries recently had to build higher walls to protect from constant attacks.
Those Churches and Monasteries which have already have been destroyed (one such monastery only three weeks ago, and one Cemetery Chapel last week) must be properly rebuilt.
As the saying goes in America –that will be the day! Well that has to be our day to rebuild! Let us all offer our loving humble help and prayers too!
The Dečani Monastery Relief Fund continues its work. You can help by visiting http://www.decanifund.org
You can see photos from the fund on facebook http://www.facebook.com/decanifund