I cam back last week from Kosovo, after my third visit since 2010. In 1999 there was much fighting between the Kosova Liberation Army and Serbian forces. NATO air support enabled the KLA (Albanians) to win. In 2004 there was renewed violence between hostile local communities. As a result NATO troops have been guarding two world famous Serbian Orthodox monasteries at Pec and Decani. The former is also the official seat of the Orthodox patriarch (archbishop), though he normally lives in Belgrade.
A small English voluntary organization called The Soul of Europe has been working with the monasteries and their immediate neighbours over the last four years. I therefore greatly enjoyed observing a meeting in a hotel in Pec. This brought together the mayor and the bishop responsible for the Orthodox patriarchate, also the Kosovan Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, the British Ambassador, representatives of official international bodies and members of local Albanian and Serb voluntary groups. The Soul of Europe had commissioned a report from two of the latter. This gave details of current popular perceptions of the Patriarchate, its monastic community and historic churches. It recommended methods for handling and improving relations between the parties.
We trust that these will soon make it possible for the NATO guards from KFOR to be removed. Demilitarising the situation, while at the same time respecting the privacy of a religious community and providing access for visitors and pilgrims, would mark a return to norman relations of trust beween neighbours.