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Kosovo: Orthodox Christians severely persecuted since 1990s, with anti-Christian pogroms and destruction of churches

Persecution of Christians in Kosovo: former Kosovo President Hashim Thaci (2016-2020) made life exceedingly difficult for Kosovo’s Orthodox Christians. Two-thirds of the prewar population of Orthodox Christians were forcibly removed from their homes in the Province of Kosovo and Metohija. 40,000 Orthodox Christian Serbs were driven out of the city Pristina, and many were murdered.

Orthodox Christians have been attacked on buses and even while mourning their dead in cemeteries, and have been targeted economically. Over 150 Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries, as well as other sites of immense cultural and religious significance, have been vandalized and set ablaze, and some have been destroyed entirely.

The Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, is in prayer for our Orthodox brothers and sisters in Kosovo and Metohija as they are persecuted for their faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

For more ChristianPersecution.com coverage of the persecution of Christians in Kosovo, see here.

“The Silent Persecution of Christians in Kosovo,” by Solène Tadié, National Catholic Register, January 15, 2021:

The Christian Serbs of Kosovo have been undergoing severe and almost systematic persecutions since the 1990s within the context of the Yugoslav Wars (1991-2001), especially since the Kosovo War in 1999. 

Located at the center of the Balkans in southeastern Europe and bordered by Serbia, Albania, Montenegro and Macedonia, Kosovo has long been a disputed territory, for ethnic, religious and cultural reasons. 

When Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, 100,000 to 150,000 Serbs — most of whom are Orthodox Christians — chose to remain on this land, which they consider to be the birthplace of their culture and faith, despite the harsh economic context there and the difficult coexistence with the Muslim Albanian majority (representing 90% of the population). 

Christians, who were a majority on this territory for centuries, now represent only about 6% of the whole population. Yet this land still concentrates an impressive part of the Orthodox heritage, as well as Serbia’s most ancient monasteries.   

While the underreported persecutions against Kosovo’s Christian minority have occurred over the past 20 years since Serbia lost control of the territory, the violence against them reached its peak with the March 2004 pogroms, during which 935 homes and some 30 Orthodox churches and monasteries were burned, leaving approximately 4,000 Serbs displaced.

It is in this context that Arnaud Gouillon, a French citizen age 19 at that time, decided to found the NGO “Solidarité Kosovo” (Solidarity Kosovo), in order to assist the families living in Christian enclaves there. With the support of more than 12,000 donors from across France, the association has provided schooling for hundreds of Kosovar children over the years, as well as supplying 400 tons of food and clothes to Christian villages, which have a very restricted access to the job market and to public services because of the sensitive political context. 

Gouillon’s untiring commitment in favor of the Christian Serbs of Kosovo has earned him remarkable renown among the Serbian population and religious authorities. Indeed, the national press ranked him among Serbia’s 20 most popular people  in 2015, alongside famous tennis player Novak Djokovic. He was also the recipient of several prestigious national distinctions, including the Order of St. Sava, the highest distinction of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which he received from Patriarch Irenaeus in 2018. Now 34 years old and a naturalized Serb since 2015, he was recently appointed secretary of state in charge of the diaspora in the Serbian government last November.

While discussing his singular path in this interview with the Register, Gouillon highlighted the stakes of the survival of this Christian presence in Kosovo. Their disappearance from such a historic land would be unprecedented in the history of the evangelization of Europe.

Why did you found Solidarité Kosovo in 2004, and what is the significance of the organization in the region today?

I saw the images of the anti-Christian pogroms carried out by Albanian extremists against the Serb populations of Kosovo on the television and was terribly moved by that at that time. Churches and villages were burning. … It was horrible — all the more so because Kosovo, which is today predominantly Albanian and Muslim, is the historic cradle of Serbia and has one of the largest concentrations of Christian religious buildings in Europe. So, I decided to act, instead of remaining powerless. I was 19 years old at the time. Together with my brother and a few friends, we organized a Christmas convoy to bring toys to the children there. Sixteen years later, Solidarité Kosovo is the first humanitarian actor in the region. We fund long-term projects, to enable the inhabitants of the Serbian enclaves to survive in autarky [economic independence or self-sufficiency] (through farms, schools …), and we have been maintaining the symbolic tradition of the Christmas convoy!…

And on the medical level, it should be known that Serbian Christians are excluded from the health system of Kosovo. They can only go to a Serbian hospital, in the north of the province, or to another, in the south, where there are only two respirators. For all these reasons, it was vital to trigger an emergency operation.

What is the situation of Christians in Kosovo today?

Extremely difficult. The Serbs, who were the original population of Kosovo, have undergone a slow ethnic cleansing that has been accelerating since the war of 1999. 

Today there are just over 100,000 of them. They live in enclaves (in a street, a neighborhood, a village …) which are open-air prisons from which they cannot get out without risking a skirmish. They are regularly attacked, beaten, looted and pushed to leave. They live in great poverty; they are systematically discriminated against; their schools are abandoned. They are condemned to a form of autarky. The objective of many radical Islamists is to eradicate the Serbian and Christian presence in Kosovo; hence, the importance of ensuring their autonomy and security. 

I remember a couple who, after the third burglary they underwent, found a box of rat poison on the kitchen table. That was the last warning.

You report that there is still silent ethnic cleansing of Serbs in the region. Do you think that this hostility is still fundamentally religious, after the anti-Christian pogroms of 2004? 

In Kosovo, ethnic and religious issues are mixed. There is thus a general hatred of the Slavs that affects the Serbs, but also the Gorani people, who are Muslim, in the south of Kosovo. Solidarité Kosovo also provides support to them. 

In addition, there have been anti-Christian pogroms and the targeted destruction of 150 churches or monasteries in the last 20 years. In particular, we support the monastery of Visoki Decani, which is regularly targeted by Islamist terrorists but also by Kosovar Albanian media and politicians. It was attacked with a rocket launcher and defiled by a tag saying “The Caliphate is coming.” In 2016, the NATO forces stopped four jihadists armed with Kalashnikovs in front of the monastery’s gate. They were filmed by the surveillance cameras we have equipped the monastery with. We also built a security airlock, made of traditional stone, with iron gates. We still hope for the arrival, one day or another, of a peaceful cohabitation, because the majority of Albanians are moderate. But extremists are very powerful, and international condemnation of their abuses is very rare….

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