What is behind the attack on the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo through London?

Aljbin Kurti i Ališa Kerns
Source: Twitter/Aljbin Kurti

Accusations by the British MP Alicia Kearns, that weapons are smuggled through the administrative crossings from Serbia to Kosovo in ambulances and brought to the Orthodox churches in Kosovo, which is why Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti announced an extensive investigation, the interlocutors of Kosovo Online, Jovana Radosavljevic from "New Social Initiative and analyst Srdjan Graovac, see it as a dangerous attempt to criminalize the Serbian Orthodox Church, with the aim of shaking it as the strongest support of the Serbs.

The claims of the president of the Foreign Policy Committee of the British Parliament, Alicia Kearns, were immediately denied by the Eparchy of Raska and Prizren, insisting that the accusations be checked and that KFOR announce whether it could confirm the allegations of the British MP. They also gave a statement from Kfor, where they said that the mission had no knowledge or evidence of the alleged smuggling of weapons into Orthodox churches in Kosovo.

On the occasion of Kearns' statement, the Serbian head of diplomacy Ivica Dacic called for a conversation with the chargé d'affaires of the Great Britain embassy, Dominic Otway, to whom he conveyed his deep concern about the accusations, indicating that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Serbia was acting with full seriousness and responsibility and expected more information and an urgent verification of the aforementioned claims, both from the British side and from other competent authorities, including the KFOR mission.

The head of Serbian diplomacy emphasized that Serbia would always react to such things, protecting its state and national interests.

On the other hand, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, quickly announced that he would gather data with Kosovo's security structures, NATO, and KFOR about the accusations of smuggling weapons into Orthodox churches.

Historian Srdjan Graovac from the Center for Social Stability tells Kosovo Online that the British MP's accusations are aimed at putting pressure on the Serbs in Kosovo and on Serbia to recognize Kosovo's independence.

"The Western centers of power, especially those in Britain, clearly marked the SOC as a key enemy in achieving the goal of an independent Kosovo. Why? Because the SOC is the guardian of the cultural heritage and the Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija, and is the guarantor of the survival of the Serbs in that area. Therefore, the attack on the Serbian Orthodox Church is not accidental at all, because it aims to encourage the emigration of the Serbs, and through reducing the influence of the church or eliminating it," Graovac says.

He indicates that the negotiations regarding the Serbian Orthodox Church and its status in the southern Serbian province will continue, but we should not forget that this was largely defined by Ahtisaari's plan.

"It's no coincidence that this attack on the SOC is coming right now, in the form of ‘criminalizing’ the church. If you want to attack the church, no one in the world will accept it with approval. That's why this is a preparation for that, an attempt is made to criminalize the SOC and present it as a terrorist organization. An alibi is being created for an attack on the SOC. The very fact that the church is being criminalized has a clear background - to speed up the process of expelling the Serbs and recognizing the independence of Kosovo," Graovac says.

He says that he is not surprised that the accusations against the Serbian Orthodox Church came from London, because, he points out, Britain is currently the biggest "hawk" of Western policy against Russia, and Serbia does not follow that policy.

"That's why, when it comes to the British, all means against Serbia are obviously allowed, and therefore the attack on the Serbian Orthodox Church. It is another means of pressure on Belgrade when it comes to our foreign policy and attitude towards the war in Ukraine,” Graovac says.

He also states that it is no coincidence that Kearns' accusations were made at a debate in the British Parliament on the occasion of the anniversary of the events in Srebrenica.

"It is an obvious intention to connect Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, that is, to present the Serbs and Serbia as a disruptive factor in the Balkans. This is also the aspiration of the political elites in Sarajevo and Pristina. The Kearns’ accusations came after Albin Kurti's stay in London, where he met with her as well. Denis Becirovic, a Bosniak member of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency, was also in London. This is no coincidence,” Graovac says.

Graovac believes that it is very significant that KFOR denied the claims of the British MP.

"It is important that they acted responsibly and denied having such knowledge. It would be dangerous if KFOR, by any chance, remained silent. This would give Kurti carte blanche to react. There is no doubt that the attempt to criminalize the SOC is not accidental. When you do that, it means that you are preparing a coup, and criminalization is the justification," he adds.

Jovana Radosavljevic from the "New Social Initiative" tells Kosovo Online that such serious accusations in fragile security situations contribute to the opposite of what British MP Kearns claims in her statements, which she wants to avoid, which is a further deterioration of the security situation.

KFOR's response shows that what Kearns said is a rumor that has not been verified and that making such claims is extremely irresponsible, especially for a person in such a position. Her statements are an indicator of ignorance of the context because it is obvious that she is not aware of how good relations the SOC in Kosovo has with the KFOR mission. Let me remind you, just two weeks ago the bishop of Raska and Prizren met with the commander of KFOR, and just three days ago KFOR mediated the agreement between the SOC and the Municipality of Istok, as well as the fact that KFOR has been providing Visoki Decani Monastery for years," Radosavljevic says.

She adds that if KFOR has any doubts that Kearns' claims are true, it would definitely affect relations with the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo.

"What is particularly disturbing is that her accusations were preceded by the publication of the obscure portal 'The Geopost', which published a video that is supposed to prove her claims, which indicates a certain level of orchestration," our interlocutor points out.

When asked why the attacks on the SOC were coming at this very moment, especially this type of attack, where they were trying to criminalize the church and in some way present it as a "terrorist organization", Radosavljevic points out that this type of attack on the SOC is not new.

"Probably the reason for this is the fact that some officials of the Serbian Orthodox Church reporting about the violation of the rights of the Serbian community in Kosovo. Also, the Serbian community in Kosovo, especially the part of the community that lives in the north, is the target of the populist narrative coming from the official Pristina for the purpose of dehumanization, which consequently leads to the discrediting of the interests and needs of the Kosovo Serbs," Radosavljevic points out.

Regarding the fact that the accusations came from Great Britain, Radosavljevic points out that they come from a single MP, and not from official London, that is, the British government.

"It is questionable how much influence she has and whether anyone would even know about her if she did not talk about Kosovo in the period when the crisis in the north of Kosovo is current," Radosavljevic says.