Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People
People on the Move - N° 90, December 2002, p. 169-174
who seek revenge
dig two graves
Fr. Frans THOOLEN, S.M.A.,
of the Pontifical Council for the
care of Migrants and Itinerant People
the introduction in 1974 of a new constitution in the Socialist Federal
Republic of Yugoslavia, Kosovo gained autonomous status within the Republic of
Serbia. Kosovo had a kind of "in-between" status. It enjoyed
extensive home rule and had a seat in the collective presidency, the state's
highest authority. Slobodan Milosevic's rise to power in Serbia saw the first
moves, in 1989, to do away with Kosovo's autonomy. In the following years a
large number of institutions in Kosovo were brought under the Serbian
government. The police were responsible for numerous serious abuses, including
extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture, brutal beatings, and
arbitrary arrest and detention. This ended in a civil war with the involvement
of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In March 1999, they began
bombing the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Serbian police and Yugoslav Army
forces and paramilitaries continued brutal attacks and atrocities on
June 2001. Military vehicles are all over the place. They drive around,
soldiers on top, behind heavy machine guns. Vehicles and soldiers are covered
up. Many different nationalities. Germans, Americans, Ukrainians, Finns. It
looks as if the whole world is here.
some places barbed wire, walls of double sandbags, military personnel in
combat-gear, armoured vehicles. It shows the presence of a checkpoint or ...
an orthodox church or cemetery. The soldiers have to protect these places
against the Albanian Muslim. If they were not there, the Albanians would
destroy the buildings and desecrate the cemeteries. In Kosovo even the dead
are no longer safe! The feelings of revenge are very high against the Serbian
Orthodox inhabitants and their culture. Too much has happened. More than eight
hundred thousands Albanians were forced to flee their country. People were
brutally murdered. Women and
girls raped. Thirteen thousand persons lost their lives. Whole villages burned
down. Almost one hundred thousand houses were destroyed. That’s why these
protective measures of sandbags, barbed wire and military are in existence.
is also the scene at the entrance to the Orthodox seminary. The whole complex
is heavily guarded and protected. Though our visit had been announced,
Archbishop Hamao and I were meticulously screened. Our passports are taken in.
After ten - fifteen minutes we are allowed to enter. Somebody guides us to a
common room. There we meet 20 people, the last ones of a group of 300 who took
refuge in the complex. The others had returned to Serbia or Montenegro.
Most of them are elderly and disabled. The oldest woman is more than
one hundred years old. The
youngest is a boy of twelve years old. They have been inside this building for
two years already. They do not dare go out into the streets. They tell
their stories. Each one has his or her own history.
tried to return to their homes. Certain neighbours told them that they were
most welcome. However, others stated that if they stayed, they would kill
them. So they returned to the seminary.
ask us what should they do? What would be their future?
Should they also jump from the third floor as one woman did in 2000?
They explain their situation, they tell their stories, they cry. People of
youngest man is sixty years. He stayed all the time here. He does all kind of
small activities but never got any recognition for his activities. He does not
dare to return to his village. He himself did not do anything wrong against
the Albanians. But his sons have been in the Serbian army. “Why do they not
bring the people who did criminal acts before the courts? Then at least I
could go home.”
Hamao visited some sick people who are confined to bed. People who could
hardly walk or were paralysed. For me it was not clear what danger these
people could be to the Islamic population. An Albanian women, 102 years old
had her face covered with cancerous tumours, an open wound full of blood, her
eye terribly mutilated, Her sons worked for the secret police. People would
take revenge on her.
rooms present a cheerless prospect. Shabby and badly in need of repair.
Cockroaches are scampering over the cupboard.
Orthodox church has a presence here. A young Orthodox priest remains with the
people. Two weeks stay, then somebody else will come. A rotation system. He
cannot go to town. This would be too dangerous.
leave the seminary and see the small courtyard where tomatoes are grown.
Happily the boy of twelve years showed us some young chickens. He also has
stayed two years here. What must this mean for him? During our visit, many
asked for help, for assistance. We do not have an answer. We can only be
silent. Our hands are empty.
leave, our passport are returned by German soldiers at the checkpoint and we
enter the street. A blue sky. Splendid summer weather. Twenty metres from the
entrance of the seminary there is an outdoor café. People are seated, and
drink tea or coffee. Children play around. It seems normal, daily life. But
the armed vehicles on the bridge, the barbed wire, the wall of sandbags and
the presence of the soldiers indicate something different. This whole nation
and its inhabitants are wounded. What should be done in order that the
different ethnic groups can start living again?
experience originates from the neighbouring country, Macedonia, during the
same time. The situation had become tense. Macedonia was at the brink of a
civil war. The Albanian rebels occupied certain areas of the country, and
daily fights were ongoing.
is important to stress the fact that the conflict in Macedonia is not a
religious conflict. It is a political one. On 13 of June 2002 the leaders of
the Macedonian Orthodox Church, the Islamic Union of Macedonia, the Catholic
Church, the United Methodist Church and the Jewish Community in Macedonia
stated that the recent violence and conflicts were not based on religion or
religious differences. Faith in God cannot support violence. The churches and
religious communities are not involved in the conflict. They strongly reject
any effort to allow themselves to be involved and to be manipulated, as well
as any misuse of religious symbols and language for the purpose of violence.
the conflict is politically based. The social-economic situation in general is
one important element in the tension. Moreover the ethnic Albanian population
wants to be recognized as a specific ethnic group, with wide powers for the
local communities so that ethnic Albanian communities can make decisions about
their own situation,. They also want to have Albanian recognized as the second
morning Archbishop Hamao and I, accompanied by somebody from Caritas
Macedonia, went to a village, thirty kilometres east of Skopje. During this
journey we were several times checked by the military. Driving along we saw
villages which had been already occupied for many days by the rebels, just a
few kilometres from the road, in the hilly surrounding area. Police and the
army had closed off the whole area. We were allowed to leave the motorway and
continued on unpaved roads, through fields with abundant crops. Normal country
side. After some kilometres we entered a village. Almost immediately we notice
a slim line tower, the minaret of the mosque. At the other side of the road,
the dome of an Orthodox church. Though we are just a few kilometres from the
fighting zone, the atmosphere is quiet and peaceful. The inhabitants remain in
the village. The different groups of Macedonian society are living here.
Somebody was looking forward to us and invited us to go along to his house.
Chairs were standing outside the house, in the shadow of a tree. They offered
us tea. As soon as our glasses were empty, we received more. They also served
goat’s cheese. Sometimes the deafening noise of a helicopter, flying low
over the village, interrupts our conversation
counts 550 families. Half of them are Macedonian Orthodox, the other half are
Albanian Muslims. All together 4000 inhabitants. The father of our guide
explains the situation. He is 78 years old, wears a checkered blue shirt, a
stubbled grey beard of some days. His head covered with a crocheted white cap.
His family is muslim. His son, as many people from the village, lives as a
migrant worker abroad. The father tells us that all people descend from one
father, though they have developed different religions. He explains the
history of the village. Oral history tells that long ago the Albanian part of
the village protected the Macedonian part against the Turks. Everybody was
informed to hide the headgears. So the Turks could not distinguish between the
different sections of the community and nobody was harmed. During the Second
World, which also led to a bloody civil war in the country, both fighting
groups had agreed not to fight in the village.
at this moment it is still calm in the village. The inhabitants want to keep
it that way. In order to keep the existing good relations, they formed a
common council. Seven representatives are Orthodox Serbs and seven are
Albanian Muslim. Each second day they sit down, discuss and decide what has to
be done in order to promote peace in the village. To discuss ways and means to
lessen possible tensions which arise. At present one in ten inhabitants is a
refugee. 400 refugees have been taken in. They stay with guest families. These
refugees are from both sides and have experienced terrible events. This has
increased the possibility of tensions. That’s why the council has to be more
opinion is that ordinary people do not want war. If war would be profitable,
we, farmers would all grow it in their fields and harvest it. However,
conflicts lead to nothing. For hundreds of years we lived together without
real problems. The political parties are behind the armed combats. They use it
for their own means. A great Albania or a great Serbia. Ordinary people have
other interests and other problems: my home, to have regular income, a job.
However, human beings are manipulated by politicians”. But in this village
still ordinary horse sense prevails.
to deal with the situation?
question can be raised whether reconciliation is possible between the
violators and the victims? History teaches that this can take many years. The
generation who experienced such trauma often transmits its emotions to the
next generation. The events has caused too many deep wounds. It evokes
disgust. People are deeply shaken.
who fought one another, who caused nightmares to one another, have to live
together. They were neighbours or people living in the same region. That can
hardly be changed. There should be a way out to live as citizens in one
requires a careful approach. Expectations should not be raised. Nevertheless,
time and time again, examples of daily life show that it is possible.
Individuals show, even after the most atrocious events, that they can be
merciful, that forgiveness is possible, that a new beginning can be made.
the broader community this can also be accomplished by identifying issues of
common concern. The community is encouraged to seek solutions to practical
problems. People are brought together on the same interest, sometimes in small
initiatives. To start a common kindergarten, a place where the elderly can
meet and where the songs in different languages can be sung. To improve the
living conditions of people.
of healing in the form of a common commitment. Every
gesture to restore a family's sense of dignity, home, routine, productive
capacity, soundness of health and reunification is fundamental to the process
possibility is to develop official programmes in tolerance building. To have
workshops at local level with people from opposing groups. An atmosphere must
be created that people feel free and secure. They should have the opportunity
to speak out, to shout, to scream. After all, people are still in pain. Now
they get the opportunity to express their feelings. People who were
opponents/adversaries are put together. During a workshop a change in attitude
of the participants appears. Their views are changing. People recognize that
life goes on despite the suffering and that the region should become a place
for all of us.
our concern should also be focussed at the early stage of a conflict.
Conflicts and war should be nipped in the bud. This requires the development
of models of preventive action.
It means intervening in situations where the first signs of an approaching
crisis are evident. Calming down tempers and situations so that the
development of the crisis will be stopped. It would require the setting up of
an early warning system.
times, as churches, we know what is going on and we also have close contacts
with the people at the grassroots. People should get prepared to work at
different levels in this process. It would demand involvement with leadership
at grass roots: local leaders, community developers, local health officials
and refugee camp leaders. To set up training at the grass roots level, to
develop local peace commissions, to recognize prejudices.
the same time attention should be paid to leaders from different sectors,
academically educated persons, leaders of non-governmental organisations.
Attention could be placed on conflict resolution and problem solving. It will
create an opportunity for the participants to reflect on their experience of
the conflict and at the same time develop skills for dealing with it. This
group of persons could be very important since they know about the conflict,
and at the same time they have access to the top policymakers. Influencing
them could indirectly make the difference.
focussing in this way one can prevent conflicts from developing into
unverifiable events which destroys the livelihood of populations.