Magazine article The Spectator

Christmas Desecrations

Magazine article The Spectator

Christmas Desecrations

Article excerpt


BY a happy millennial coincidence, the holy Muslim fasting season of Ramadan falls this year at the same time as Christmas. In Kosovo, Orthodox monks and Mohammedan imams wilt therefore be fasting at the same time. Outside the mosques and churches, however, neither feast is likely to be celebrated much in the war-torn province.

Although nine out of 10 mosques in Kosovo have emerged apparently unscathed from the fighting, their white minarets glinting above the red roofs in the bright winter sun, the Albanians, most of whom are nominally Muslim, are a pretty secular lot. Ramadan is more likely to be celebrated with a beer and a kebab at lunchtime than with fasting during the daylight hours or by answering the evening call to prayer.

There is, in any case, precious little for the Albanians to celebrate. Six months after its liberation by Nato, the province continues to wallow in chaos and squalor. Despite the presence of an almost obscene number of international organisations, not to mention the military forces of a score of nations, the main electricity generator in the capital, Pristina, which was destroyed by Nato's bombs, has still not been properly repaired. The power is more often off than on. Oil-fired generators may whirr loudly outside certain shops, but at home people must make do with torches and candles and with whatever heating arrangements they can cobble together.

By day, Kosovo resembles India. The throng and press of people on the streets are matched only by the appalling traffic jams, caused by the sudden influx of stolen cars, the constant flow of articulated lorries bringing aid, and the endless gigantic tanks which Kfor troops unnecessarily use to move around in. There is mud everywhere. In the euphemistic words of one Canadian squaddie, 'There are far too manV military forces here. It's way more than is needed: Meanwhile, the great self-referential world of international organisations has installed itself in force. There are more than 400 foreign non-governmental organisations registered in Kosovo, each of which seems to have its own fleet of white jeeps. The somewhat jaded members of this new global elite sit around in the main hotel in Pristina. discussing whether their next posting will be in Jakarta or Geneva, while upstairs seminars are held on the rights of the child in Cambodia and on gender equality in the Balkans. Outside, an army of stubbly young men in leather jackets and sunglasses hangs around on street corners, while a strange pall of brown-grey smog hangs over the city like a bad memory.

Of the Serbs, meanwhile, there is little trace. During the summer, Kfor and the United Nations turned a blind eye as all non-Albanians were systematically chased out of Kosovo, thereby flouting the very principle invoked to legitimise the Nato war in the first place. Whereas during the Nato bombing tens of thousands of Albanians were able to remain in Kosovo unmolested by the Serb police, any Serbs who have been foolish enough to venture out since Kfor entered the province have been beaten to death or shot in the street. In towns where previously tens of thousands of Serbs used to live, now not a single family remains. Their houses have been looted and burned.

The specifically ethnic nature of these attacks is emphasised by the systematic bombing campaign which the Albanians have waged against Serb churches. Since June, some 80 churches, including some of the greatest jewels of mediaeval Christendom, have been desecrated or professionally dynamited. …

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