On 8 November, representatives of the Kosovo government summarily threatened the Serbian Orthodox monastics and priests residing in Kosovo with deportation, according to a monk of one Kosovo monastery.
On that day, a monk of one of the Orthodox monasteries went to the office of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, as per written instruction from the same institution, in order to have pictures taken for a new residence permit. He had previously been notified that his most recent application for renewal had been approved, and this was his third time receiving one. However, when he arrived, he was made to wait for six hours, and then was led to a police car and informed that his application had been denied a month prior, and that now according to the law, he would be deported.
The government officers also informed him that he should warn the other monastics of the diocese that within one month, all monks, nuns, and priests of the Serbian Orthodox Church residing in Kosovo not possessing valid residence permits would be deported. While international representatives from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe prevented the monk’s immediate deportation, the problem of residence permits still remains.
In accordance with the Gospel command to obey Caesar, the monastics and clergy of Kosovo have long sought to obey the law, and to seek residence permits for foreigners issued by the government in Priština, regardless of how they feel about Kosovo independence. However, despite their good will and willingness to live within the legal system existing around them, the Kosovo authorities have only set up more and more obstacles for them.
In the last three years, the laws surrounding residence permits in this small Balkan country, with far more people leaving it than people trying to enter, have changed seven times, such that the monastics are mostly unable to receive the permits they apply for. While the applications are being processed, the laws concerning the requirements are suddenly changed, and the applications are rejected.
Besides frequent changes to the law and requirements for applying for these permits, the Serbian Orthodox monastics of Kosovo regularly face open hostility from government officials in their dealings with the Ministry of Internal Affairs. They have been physically removed from the office, screamed at, called names, threatened with arrest and deportation if they do not pay arbitrary fines, among other abuses.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Kosovo also regularly refuses to accept documents in Serbian or to communicate with applicants in Serbian, despite the fact that the laws of Kosovo mandate equal status for the Serbian language and the right to government services in Serbian. They equally regularly refuse to accept documents in English or to communicate in English, despite similar laws in place. Additionally, on several occasions, representatives of the Kosovo government have claimed to not know what the Serbian Orthodox Church is, despite its presence in Kosovo predating the existence of the Kosovo state by over 800 years, and the fact that the Serbian Orthodox Church is granted protection by many of Kosovo’s own laws.
Altogether, it would seem clear that the present actions of the Kosovo authorities have no real legal standing and are simply another hyper-nationalistic attempt at putting pressure on Orthodox Christians to leave Kosovo and Metohija forever. This is something which the international community must not allow. The international community must act to recognize the good will of the Serbian Orthodox monastics, and to find a way to resolve the problem such that they can receive legal residency in the breakaway state.