Unfinished: The Religious Architectural Schism of Prishtina.

The Religious architecture of Prishtina reveals much about it's political, of the people,  priorities. Walking down George Bush Street, past the gleaming, part unfinished, Catholic Cathedral, past the incomplete shell of the Orthodox Cathedral (started in 1995), echoes of the Great Schism; the split between Orthodox east and Catholic west of 1054 resonate. Could it be that this religious rift has somehow dramatically re-surfaced in the centre of Europe's youngest capital city? 

The unfinished Orthodox Church of Christ the Saviour with the Catholic Cathedral of Mother Teresa in the background. Photo: M.Perry
The short answer is, intended or unintended, it's a consequence of global geopolitics. 

Fast forward to recent times and one can say that while Serbs v Albanians fought on the ground during the late 90's, Eastern and Western interests jostled for geopolitical position on the grand chess board above - the West quite literally from the air. NATO's military objective: "Serbs out, NATO in, Albanian refugees back," was achieved. Serbian enclaves were left behind in Kosovo, but not in Prishtina. On ousting Milosevic and his forces the West's peace-building calling card was surely the promotion of religious diversity. Yet fifteen years on why does diversity appear frozen in time in the capital's Architecture?

It has been reiterated in the media time and time again that the ethnic conflict of 1998/99, culminating in the NATO 'intervention,' was not a religious war but an ethnic territorial dispute. 
Though religion did not drive conflict, it was however, manifestly lurking in the back seats. Ethno-religious overtones are unavoidable in the Balkan psyche. Between 1998 and 99 Seventy six Orthodox Churches and 218 Mosques were destroyed or desecrated by rival factions attempting cleansing, revenge and counter cleansing. 34 Orthodox sites were similarly attacked in 2004. Religious-ethnic identification may not have started the fire but it certainly fanned the flames.

As Ghandi once said: "Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics don't know what religion is."

The consequences of conflict have produced a seismic shift in the religious geopolitics of Kosovo. Today Catholicism is visibly on the up swing, with new Cathedrals in Gjakova and Pristina, while Serbian Orthodoxy is on the down swing, with a significantly reduced post war Serb population and low rates of returnees. Among Kosovar Albanians Catholicism is seen as the acceptable face of Christianity while Orthodoxy is tarnished with the oppression of the Milosevic years. Kosovo Albanian Muslims exploring Christian heritage are more likely to choose the Catholic or Protestant Evangelical fold should they wish to convert. The Catholic Church carefully tries not to antagonise it's Orthodox or Muslim neighbors, while flourishing in today's growing young population and post-conflict political ground. 

While viewing the cityscape of  Cathedrals on George Bush street, in largely mono-ethnic Prishtina, the laudable desire of liberal democracies to create a multi-ethnic society in Kosovo's capital seems distant, if sometimes, grossly naive. Albanian bravadolike Serbian, is openly expressed on respective streets. In Prizren an Orthodox monk suggested the unruly scenes following the Autchronous-flag-flown-from-drone-during-football-game incident had setback local inter-ethnic relations by years. Ethnocentric, exceptional and exclusionary politics bubble below a sometimes ever-so-ethnically-sensitive surface presented to the outside world. Deep denial of historical fact continues on both sides, there is little catharsis, and there is little sense of justice for victims across the board, both Albanian and Serbian.

Before attempts to resolve the politics of the unfinished Orthodox Church can commence, realpolitik requires majority Muslim satisfaction in the building of a new Grand Mosque — due to start in 2015. Then and only then could an Orthodox Cathedral vaguely conceive of joining it's Catholic and Muslim cousins in a holy architectural trinity. A small step took place in late September 2014, when the site was secured by the Ministry of Environment and handed over to the Serbian Orthodox Church. Even so, finishing or rebuilding remains a political hot-potatoe whose process to fruition would require sensitive management and a profound deepening in reconciliation between Serbs and Albanians. 

The European prize for both nations will continue to be the carrot and stick that could bring about winning that reconciliation. Orthodox Archbishop, Father Sava's wish for a church that: "Becomes an adornment for all citizens, no matter what their national or religious origin is," could be a solution. Orthodox monks come from all around the globe these days and Albanian Orthodoxy is no oxymoron. Some of this international Orthodox essence could be replanted into an Church setting in Kosovo's capital. If so, it will be part of a profoundly different, more multi-ethnic and tolerant Prishtina; provided the walls to minority integration come down. 

Walls do come down, efforts are in place, yet the road to a multi religious 'Jerusalem' is a long one indeed. 



Popular posts from this blog

The Brits in Kosovo

Christians, Muslims, Brothers.

Following in refugee footsteps