News 06 Jan 15

Kosovo on Alert Over Serb Orthodox Holiday

A heavy police presence is being deployed across Serbian municipalities in Kosovo, as local Serbs prepare for Orthodox Christmas and visits from Belgrade officials.

Una Hajdari, Petrit Qollaku
BIRN
Pristina

 

Police have boosted their presence throughout Kosovo in preparation for the main religious holiday of the Serbian minority.

Ice thrown at Serbian Pilgrims in Gjakova

Kosovo police arrested two members of the nationalist Vetevendosje Movement for throwing ice at a bus carrying pilgrims to Serbian Orthodox ceremonies in the western town of Gjakova.

About 100 people had gathered in Gjakova to protest against the visit. After the attack, the pilgrims decided to call off their visit to the church.

Kriste Gjoka, Gjakova police spokesperson, told BIRN that police were guarding the pilgrims and guaranteed their full safety.

“Two citizens were arrested because they threw ice and damaged one of the windows of the bus. One of the pilgrims… then said they had decided to return and not enter the church because of the weather,” Gjoka told BIRN.

In its press release, Vetevendosje said local citizens staged the protest against the pilgrims because one of the visitors was a war crimes suspect.

Police have drawn up “an operational plan that aims to preserve order and ensure security", police spokesman Baki Kelani told BIRN.

“We foresee additional security measures and an increase in police vigilence in places where we estimate it is needed, so that these events unfold in a holiday spirit," he added.

Serbs celebrate Christmas two weeks after the Catholic Church, as do most, but not all, Orthodox Church members elsewhere.

The main celebration in Kosovo will take place at Gracanica monastery, a large Serbian community centred on a medieval church about 15 minutes from the capital, Prishtina.

The head of the Kosovo Office in the Serbian government, Marko Djuric, will attend the festivites in Gracanica on Christmas eve on Tuesday afternoon.

Aleksandar Vulin, Serbia's Labour Minister, will attend the Christmas ceremony at the monastery in Zociste.

Miroslav Vasin, deputy president of provincial government of Vojvodina in northern Serbia, will spend Christmas in the ethnic Serbian village of Gorazdevac and attend the Christmas liturgy in the famous monastery of Visoki Decani in western Kosovo.

Serbian Church leader Patriarch Irinej has used the occasion to urge Kosovo's remaining Serbs not to leave Kosovo in his Christmas Message on Monday.

“This Christmas we are joint with our brothers and sisters in Kosovo and Metohija and we urge them to remain living in Kosovo,” Irinej said.

Only about 100,000 Serbs remain in Kosovo following a post-war exodus. The country is home to roughly 2 million mainly Muslim Albanians.

Under Kosovo's independence plan, protection of Serbian religious and heritage sites in Kosovo is shared between NATO peacekeepers in KFOR and the Kosovo police. At Visoki Decani, KFOR offers round-the-clock protection for the monks living there.

Despite these efforts, monasteries are still targets of nationalist graffiti and hooliganism, as tensions remain high between the two ethnic communities.

 

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