Liberation of Kosovo: The Serbs - Milosevic blamed for nation's plight

The Serbs
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The Independent Online
IT WAS a dramatic illustration of the decline in Serbian power: 10 years ago, a million fervent Serbs gathered on the Field of Kosovo to watch Slobodan Milosevic mark the holiest date in the nation's calendar. Yesterday only a handful joined the Serb Orthodox Patriarch to mark the 610th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo Polje, where Prince Lazar and the flower of Serbia went down before the Ottoman invaders.

Yesterday priests and celebrants were out-numbered by journalists and the few Serbs there were bitter about their erstwhile hero, Slobodan Milosevic. The triumphalist rallies have given way to a sombre recognition that the tables have turned in Kosovo. The day which Serbs have venerated as the defining moment in their history was marked with a low-key religious service and a short ceremony at a monument north of Pristina.

Patriarch Pavle, head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, led a morning service at the14th-century monastery in Gracanica, at which nuns and priests sang the liturgy amid clouds of incense and the frescoes of saints and heroes.

But the aggressive rhetoric of Serbian nationalism that propelled Mr Milosevic to power, and which drew the largest post-war gathering of Serbs to the battlefield in 1989, has given way to a more anxious tone. "Our Lord Jesus Christ said that there is no greater love than to give up one's life for one's neighbours," the Patriarch said after mass, at the stone tower marking the battle site. "We pray that what happened to us and to this country never happens to anyone else."

At a later press conference, Bishop Artemije of Prizren, the only bishop in Kosovo, and Momcilo Trajkovic, head of a local Serbian political party, struck an aggrieved note, demanding greater K-For protection for the few thousand Serbs remaining in Kosovo. The Serbian leaders threatened to cease co-operation with the Nato-led K-For, which offers the Serbs their only hope of protection in Kosovo. Bishop Artemije complained of murders, kidnappings and intimidation of Serbs in the past two weeks. "If this trend is not stopped immediately, the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo would occur and Serbs would disappear," he said.

He did not have much to say about the deportation of almost 1 million Albanians and the killing of about 10,000 since 25 March.

Fr Sava Janic of the monastery at Decani in western Kosovo, known as the cyber monk because of his anti-war activity on the Internet, stood outside the small church in Gracanica throughout the service dispensing lectures.

"Our message has always been the message of reconciliation and peace," he said. "We hope that our people, in this difficult situation, will see that this is the only way."

The bishop and Mr Trajkovic launched into fierce criticism of Mr Milosevic, calling him "the root of all evil", and called for his immediate resignation. There was no acknowledgement that Mr Milosevic had built his career upon the Serb cause in Kosovo, still less that he had been enthusiastically supported by most Kosovo Serbs. Mr Milosevic "has done a lot of evil to all - but the most evil he did to the Serbian people", the bishop said, ignoring the punishment meted out to non-Serbs in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo over the past decade.