What is behind the intrusion of a self-proclaimed Albanian priest into a Serbian church near Podujevo?

Rakitnica Crkva svetog Arhangela Mihaila
Source: Kosovo Online

Break-ins, thefts, and desecrations of Serbian churches in Kosovo are unfortunately no longer a novelty. However, the event from three days ago, when a self-proclaimed Albanian priest named Nikolla Xhufka broke into the 15th-century church of St. Archangel Michael in the village of Rakitnice, in the Municipality of Podujevo, to perform a "church ritual", has raised an additional alarm regarding Serbian cultural and spiritual heritage in Kosovo.

Xhufka, an Albanian citizen, broke into the church with a small group of people. The responsible parish priest, Stanisa Arsic, who visited this sanctuary in the company of the Kosovo Police after receiving information about the committed criminal act, found the doors locked with a new padlock.

The spokesperson for the Orthodox Church of Albania, Toma Dima, confirmed to our portal that Nikola Xhufka was not a priest but a "fraudster". Analysts believe that serious political structures are behind the incident, question who financially supports him, and see a desire for public attention among his motives.

The Eparchy of Raska and Prizren has characterized this case as a gross assault on the property of the SOC with the aim of spreading ethnic and religious hatred and instability in Kosovo, and with the goal of seizing the heritage of the SOC, namely its "Albanization" or "Kosovarization".

"In this case, we are dealing with a fraudster and a person who is not a priest. This is the basic thing. He is not recognized by the state, any other institution, or the religious communities of Albania. No one recognizes this man. Only a few people outside the Orthodox Church, who are trying to use him for various purposes, perhaps even financing him, recognize him. This is the essence of the matter", Toma Dima, the spokesperson for the Orthodox Church of Albania, said to Kosovo Online.

He explains that according to the agreement between the Albanian state and the church, there is only one church in Albania, the Autocephalous Church of Albania.

"And that is a guarantee against individuals who misuse its symbols. As for this individual, everything has been clarified through the statement of the Elbasan Metropolis from a year ago, the declaration of the Religious Council of Elbasan, as well as various statements from the Orthodox Church of Albania, addressed to the media", Dima says.

Historian Aleksandar Rakovic believes that the intrusion of Xhufka into the church in Rakitnice could not have happened without the knowledge of Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti.

"Kurti is certainly behind the whole story. Whether he personally is behind it or his system, is less important, but surely nothing is done without his knowledge and approval. Can we really imagine that something in Montenegro was done in a similar situation without Djukanovic's approval and knowledge? Just think about it, and you'll see what it's all about. This is now the biggest problem we have in Kosovo and Metohija, and a similar problem in Montenegro and Croatia, where fundamental agreements were signed with the SOC, was much easier to solve. We need to think about how to respond to this to prevent the problem from escalating. We have no allies in the Albanian quasi-state structures in Kosovo and Metohija, nor in the international factors that pretend to mediate, but in fact, these things are always resolved in favor of the separatist Pristina", Rakovic says for Kosovo Online.

He assesses that there is no fear for Serbian sanctuaries in Kosovo while the current archbishop leads the Albanian Orthodox Church, but the problem could arise in the future.

"As long as Archbishop Anastasios is at the helm of the Albanian Orthodox Church, there is no fear that this canonical eparchy will have any intentions to occupy Serbian churches and monasteries in Kosovo and Metohija. However, a problem may arise when he is no longer at the helm of the church, when someone else, an Albanian nationalist, who will agree with the Greater Albanian policy and the Albanian state and the so-called Kosovo structures that all our Serbian churches and monasteries should be taken over by Albanians, whether it is the Albanian Orthodox or Catholic Church. After all, let me remind you that Albania has requested that our four churches and monasteries on the UNESCO list be included in the heritage of the so-called Kosovo and excluded from the heritage of the Republic of Serbia", Rakovic notes.

He believes that all of this represents, as he says, a "Greater Albanian project".

"Therefore, Albania did this with the so-called state of Kosovo, as it is their Greater Albanian project. Behind this self-proclaimed person, there are some serious political structures. It started in Montenegro 30 years ago with various self-proclaimed individuals who broke into churches, and it ended with Djukanovic's regime adopting a law confiscating the property of the SOC. That process lasted 30 years; it was interrupted by processions, Djukanovic's defeat in the elections, the correction of his law, and the signing of a fundamental agreement with the SOC. However, the situation is different in Montenegro because there, the Serbian Orthodox people are the majority. In Kosovo and Metohija, the Serbs have been expelled, the Albanians are the ethnic majority, they have their quasi-state structure, and they see that they can do whatever they want, and we need to devise our reactions to what is coming. This is not an act of some madman; we see that he has an organized group, that even some officials of the Municipality of Podujevo were with him, that they changed the lock, and practically, they have already appropriated that Serbian church in Podujevo", Rakovic believes.


Moreover, the property of the SOC has been targeted by troublemakers several times in the last few months. Specifically, the Church of the Ascension of the Lord in the village of Devet Jugovica near Pristina was broken into and robbed, the Church of St. Archangel Gabriel in the Serbian returnee village of Osojane was robbed, a road was dug through the old Serbian cemetery in the northern part of Mitrovica, the Church of St. Petka in Suvi Do was broken into twice, and the Church of St. Elijah in Varosh Selo near Urosevac was desecrated...

Religious analyst Drasko Djenovic assesses that the main motive for the invasion of the Church of St. Archangel Michael by the self-proclaimed priest Nikola Xhufka is for him to get the public eye.

"These are marginal groups within the Orthodox Church that are not actually representatives of the Orthodox Church. I don't know if the gentleman in question was ever ordained by any canonical church, but I think in his case, this is more an attempt to come into the public eye. It's something like certain circles within the Croatian Orthodox Church, and even the Montenegrin one. These are churches that do not have their canonicity, that are not recognized, and actually, they live off the media. That's why I say it's best to ignore such outbursts and not mention them in the media at all because, simply, without the media, they don't exist"m Djenovic said for Kosovo Online, adding that "the more the media ignores them, the less reason they will have to create certain incidents".

He emphasizes that Albanians are not predominantly Orthodox Christians, and the potential creation of an Albanian Orthodox Church in Kosovo would not mean much to them.

"We know that all churches have certain financiers in one way or another. It's possible that he has someone among the Albanians from abroad who financially supports him, however, even they won't do it when they realize that what he's doing no longer resonates in the media. Because, simply, they will also understand that it is money spent in vain", Djenovic said.

Although the Kosova Post reported that representatives of the Municipality of Podujevo had participated in the break-in at the church, the municipality stated in a press release that none of their representatives had "officially" taken part in the ritual at the Church of St. Archangel Michael in the village of Rakitnice.

"Anyone who can simultaneously have other functions represents themselves and nothing more", the Municipality of Podujevo said.

As they added, every official activity of the municipality and its delegated representatives was announced with an official statement, while under other circumstances, no one could represent the municipality and its official stance.