Magazine article The Christian Century

Orthodox World Responds to Kosovo Crisis

Magazine article The Christian Century

Orthodox World Responds to Kosovo Crisis

Article excerpt

A leading official of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has suggested that the main responsibility for a peaceful resolution of the Balkan conflict lies with the Yugoslav government. Marin Varbanov, a spokesman for the church's synod, also suggested that the Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic, is pursuing "vicious" policies which are creating problems in the region.

Varbanov's comments came as Orthodox churches around the world issued statements of concern about the conflict in the region. He denied that Orthodox church leaders are unconditionally backing Serbia--where the Serbian Orthodox Church is the biggest religious community--in the Balkan conflict.

Most Orthodox churches have tried to address both sides "without prejudice,"

Varbanov said, but added that the chief responsibility for a peaceful outcome could rest with Milosevic. Referring to links between predominantly Orthodox countries in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, he said: "It's one thing for the Orthodox commonwealth to intervene on behalf of a sovereign country. But it's quite another to contemplate the vicious way the ex-communist Milosevic behaves toward the population of the Balkans, creating problems between Serbia, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Albania."

The Kosovo conflict is being "perceived at different levels" by Orthodox churches abroad, Varbanov said. However, he added that most concurred with the "mood" of statements by the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Pavle, who had "addressed the expectation of a positive solution" to the Yugoslav authorities. "The most prophetic voices are calling on people to stop committing crimes against each other, irrespective of which side they are on," Varbanov said. "But the Serbian government's attitude toward its own citizens of Albanian origin is a particularly sensitive issue here in the Balkans. Orthodox churches are not blindly following some single ideological slogan."

In a message to coincide with the Orthodox Easter liturgies on April 11, Patriarch Pavle condemned the "merciless blows" delivered by NATO. However, in a statement at the end of March, he said war could be justified "only as a war of defense," adding that Serbs should remember that their need for peace is shared by other nations too, as well as by "followers of other religions and outlooks living with us." Other Orthodox churches have condemned the air strikes, while also urging equal rights for Albanians. For example, Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos I described nationalism that appeals to Orthodoxy for support as "heresy" in an interview with a Greek daily newspaper, Eleftherotypia, published March 30.

During a one-day visit to Belgrade on 20 April, Patriarch Alexsy II, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, condemned NATO, claiming that its bombing campaign is intended not to protect lives but to impose a new world order based on "brute force." Without naming individual countries, he also rebuked the leading nations in the NATO alliance, accusing them of trampling on the rights of countries that hold values different from theirs.

The patriarch also called on the Serbs to establish a "just peace" in Kosovo, prevent further deaths and provide for the return of refugees to the war-torn province. In one of his speeches in Belgrade the Russian church leader spoke out for the rights of the ethnic Albanians to live in Kosovo. …

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