and the Erasure of Culture
When the revered fourteenth-century Monastery of Sveti Anastasi in Leshok was blown up earlier this week, Macedonian Government Spokesman Antonio Milososki summarized the event concisely: "This," he said, "is barbarism."
Milososki's simple statement captured the essence of the matter: that the destruction of such a historical and cultural treasure as the Leshok Monastery was an act that could only be described as barbaric, a thoughtless, misanthropic destruction of a unique and irreplaceable piece of the common European heritage. Yet for all its ignorance, this act meant something more than a bunch of unemployed young terrorists playing with explosives (though such individuals no doubt executed the destruction). It was a deliberate attempt to erase any trace of Macedonia's historical continuity, to wipe the presence of the past clear off the map. As such, the destruction of the Leshok Monastery was a calculated attempt by Albanian terrorists to exert their territorial dominance, by obliterating a valuable part of Macedonian heritage, a treasure of art and religion that had been listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO.
This is not the first time such a thing has happened. In the dark aftermath of the Kosovo bombings by NATO occurred the wholesale destruction and desecration of over seventy-five Orthodox churches and monasteries (and this only between June-October 1999)! Unsurprisingly, over one-quarter of these churches were located in the zone under control of the U.S. (we have to forgive American laziness, though – after all, Camp Bondsteel has that great espresso bar and gym). Together with the forced removal and intimidation of the Serbian people from Kosovo, the policy of destruction of Orthodox churches was undertaken by the KLA so as to strengthen Albanian claims to Kosovo. By forcing Serbs to leave their ancestral homeland, and then destroying all traces of Serbian culture, the Albanians would have a stronger case for claiming the 'ethnic purity' of Kosovo, and so, uniting it with Albania.
The same pattern is being repeated in Macedonia, which should come as no surprise, since the NLA is basically the KLA rechristened. Even before Leshok, Albanian strongmen have been attacking Orthodox monasteries in Macedonia, occupying and desecrating one in early May near Kumanovo.
The purpose of this intimidation and barbarism is both psychological (intended to demoralize and wound the Macedonian people), and tangible: that is, the 'cleansing' of the monastery from the hills of Leshok is a precursor to the ethnic cleansing of the Macedonian people in the area.
Intimidation of the Serbian population and the destruction of Serbian monasteries in Kosovo has not stopped since 1999. In the lawless U.N. 'protectorate', Albanian gangs have a free hand to terrorize and desecrate. A recent press release from the Decani Monastery in Kosovo illustrates the abysmal situation: "The Decani Monastery as well as all other Serbian Orthodox monastic communities still remain in complete isolation from the majority ethnic Albanian community. Our monks and nuns do not enjoy basic human rights and in most cases cannot leave the monastery walls. We in Decani are in great risk if we leave our monastery estate." The press release goes on to document the seizure of monastery property by the Kosovar Albanian authorities, and a litany of abuses committed: "First they (the Albanians) started to damage our forest last year in June in order to build a water tower. As soon as we reacted and had Mr. Kouchner (Bernard Kouchner of the UN) stop their works the monastery was attacked by nine mortar grenades."
Although Albanian barbarism has (so far) spared the monastery's buildings, various other activities conducted there show the general contempt in which the monks are held: "In the second half of this past July we noticed that Albanian swimmers who come to the river beneath the monastery (on our property, which we do not deny them), began damaging the wooden bridge and burning the wooden beams. In addition they leave lots of garbage near the river and near the spring of mineral water which we use. The entire surrounding is also polluted with feces which they also leave behind."
Given the fact that the monks want to "allow the swimmers to use the nature in a civilized way", there would seem to be room for nothing but gratitude on the part of the Kosovars involved. Yet the barbarism of wanton destruction at work here, a product of of ignorance and boredom, is the rule in 'liberated' Kosovo.
No Casualties – Only Macedonia's Cultural Heritage
Although the destruction of Leshok Monastery has triggered a firestorm of protest, the dust will soon settle and eventually, as has already happened in Kosovo, Western observers will forget. They will forget that what was destroyed was priceless, to scholars, travelers – and, most importantly, to the people of Orthodox faith who loved these structures, which attested to the genius and creativity of previous generations. The ignorant destruction of Leshok Monastery is a loss not only to the cultural heritage of Macedonia, but to Europe, and indeed, to the whole world.
Part of the reason that people will forget is that no one was killed in the mining of Leshok. The same was true earlier this year, when the equally barbaric Taliban blew up several immense and ancient Buddha statues in the mountains of Afghanistan. Why did they do this? Because, as Diderot said, barbarism is the next step from fanaticism; and the gaze of fanaticism destroys whatever it looks upon. The Buddhas of Afghanistan were intolerable to the Taliban because they represented the beliefs and values of another culture; and so they had to be destroyed. But since no one died in their destruction, the 'world community' could only throw up its hands in despair, UNESCO could only plead in vain, and the Taliban was left alone to fulfill its pig-headed designs. The point is, no one cared too much because there were no fatalities. Yet at work here was a subtler form of 'ethnic cleansing'; the erasure of a whole culture, its legacy and its history, which could not possibly have posed a threat to the Taliban. Tibet was not poised to attack it, and there were no Buddhist armies bearing down; but it was unthinkable to the Taliban that their 'pure' state had ever experienced a different culture. And so they attempted the erasure of our collective memory regarding that culture.
The obvious connection between the destruction of the Buddhas and the Albanian attacks on Orthodox monasteries in the Balkans is the Muslim one. Many commentators have latched on to this, and there is some truth to it.
After all, religious fighters from Chechnya, Iran, Afghanistan, etc., have long been at work with the KLA and NLA in Kosovo and Macedonia. Yet Albanian barbarism seems to be less overtly religious in tone (that is, less fanatical),and more politically-motivated; what I would call a 'lazy barbarism.' As Muslims, the Albanians are not in the same league as the Saudis, Iranians or the Taliban. They were only converted from Catholicism and Orthodoxy by the Ottoman Turks relatively recently, and even then not completely. Islam has never been central to Albanian identity, except insofar as it has proved a useful tool for gaining military assistance from more 'fanatical' Muslim countries, and in making cynical appeals of religious persecution to the West. In every case, religious war is less about the spiritual than about what kind of society people want to live in. In this, it can be said that the Albanians express their devout Muslim religion mainly in their disdain for birth control. This – the uncontrolled spiralling of Albanian population – is a war Macedonia cannot win.
The Lazy Man's Barbarism
If the NLA is not motivated by religion, per se, than what can explain their tactics? Basically, it is the desire (as seen in Kosovo) to deny the existence of another culture; but here, unlike in Afghanistan, it is done merely to exert territorial control. After enough Macedonians have been driven from their homes, and enough signs of Macedonian culture have been obliterated, the Albanians will press their case more strongly. "We have a right to keep this land," they'll argue. "Look, there are no Macedonians here!" The cultural forgetting that inevitably follows such acts greatly empowers what I call the lazy man's barbarism – a creeping, sinister sort of barbarism that spreads slowly until the common perception of reality (i.e., the status quo) has been eroded and transformed into a different reality, one more amenable to the barbarians.
As such, the Albanian destruction and desecration of Orthodox monasteries and churches in the Balkans has less to do with religious fanaticism and more to do with erasing the traces of Slavic culture, so as to press their territorial claims. Almost no one except the English-speaking media still believes the statements of the NLA, that they are fighting for equal rights and not territory. It is now even being admitted by these same news sources that Western journalists are much more likely to interview Albanians than Macedonians, and that the NLA has effectively been legitimized by its PR work.
Little wonder. There's no need to recite the litany of violations and deceptions perpetrated by the U.S. government as it has surreptitiously changed the status quo in the last few months, from Aracinovo and Prizren, to the blocking of Ukrainian aid to the recent installation of a no-fly zone for the Macedonians on their own territory. A recent account of one eyewitness in Tetovo says it all: "The sight of the U.S. choppers prompted the ethnic Albanian villagers to cheer wildly, waving their arms to encourage 'their' airforce." The same observer was greeted by the NLA with the shout of "God bless America and Canada too for all that they have provided us!" After being shown the 'impressive arsenal' of the local NLA unit, this observer was told, "Thanks to Uncle Sam, the Macedonians are no match for us." Another Albanian was quoted in Skopje with the same belief: "I know the big powers are on our side," he said with certainty. "I would love for them (NATO) to be here for twenty years."
Twenty years is certainly more than enough time for the world to forget about Leshok. By failing to prevent such an outrage against the very principles of the civilized world, the West betrays its tacit complicity in this barbarism. It should come as no surprise that the U.S. has tolerated the KLA/NLA's ignorant but purposeful policy of the destruction of culture. After all, it has been in collusion with Albania for the past decade in hopes of creating a destabilizing Albanian-Turkish Balkan axis. And the U.S. is without a doubt the most barbaric empire of any of those that ever claimed to be civilized. The enlightened nation that bombed Belgrade and tolerated the destruction of Serbia's cultural heartland is to this day still encouraging its NLA lackeys, confident that Macedonia will not dare defend itself.
On the theme of the barbaric, we will leave off with a quote from one of America's finest, Lieutenant General Mike Short (recorded in D. Halberstam, "Clinton's war with the generals," Vanity Fair, September 2001). This article, which chronicles the rise to power of the 'fiercely competive' and bellicose Wesley Clark (and his later falling-out with the administration), gives us a glimpse into the clever mind of an American general. Long on American bravado and threats, Short allegedly told the Serbians, before the Kosovo bombing, "Why don't you go out now and drive around your city and take one last look at it as it is today, because it will never look that way again."
The proud malice of the oppresser, the ignorance of the barbarian; it is not hard to see how American and Albanian barbarism stand together as one. On the hills of Leshok, where only rubble is left to attest to a great gift of Macedonia's cultural heritage, things will never look the same again.
Christopher Deliso is a San Francisco-based travel writer and journalist with special interest in the Balkans. He received his BA in Philosophy and Greek (Hampshire College, 1997) and an M.Phil with distinction in Byzantine Studies (Oxford University, 1999). From 1997-2000 Mr. Deliso lived and worked in Ireland, England, Turkey and Greece, and he spent one month in Macedonia in January, 2000. He is currently involved with investigating media and governmental policies regarding the Macedonian crisis, and he publishes regularly on European travel destinations."
Back to Antiwar.com Home Page | Contact Us