An article this past summer on Balkan Insight’s website titled “New Cathedral Symbolises Catholic Rebirth in Kosovo” attempted to demonstrate progress on religious pluralism in the independence-seeking province.

Josip Palokaj is leaving mass, rosary in hand, from the old Cathedral of the Virgin in Prizren, a city in southern Kosovo that for centuries has been the heartland of the Catholic faith in this mainly Muslim land.

He says he feels comfortable in Kosovo, though ethnic Albanian Catholics make up only five per cent of the roughly 2 million population.

“As a member of a Catholic congregation I never had a single problem in Muslim-dominated Kosovo,” he maintains.

Far from being marginalized — as is the story in so many mainly Muslim societies — in Kosovo the small Catholic minority has seen a resurgence in its fortunes as Kosovars of all faiths look to Europe to resolve their political destiny.

One sign of their new-found confidence is the construction of a cathedral in the capital, Pristina. It is to be named after Mother Teresa…

Here’s something else that’s named after Mother Teresa, from The Coming Balkan Caliphate:

[The charity] Al Waqf Al Islami had developed a banking network with the Western-funded Micro Enterprise Bank branch in Sarajevo, Fefad Bank in Albania, and Nova Ljubljanska Bank in Slovenia, “to launder money and link with the other Saudi organizations in those locations.” According to [former OSCE security chief Tom] Gambill, this and other [Saudi Joint Relief Committee]-affiliated charities liased with a local Albanian one, the Mother Teresa Society, which regularly sent lists of Albanian Muslim families prepared to become “stricter Muslims” in exchange for receiving $300-500 per month...”

But back to the article:

Kosovo Catholics are deeply aware of the problems concerning the province’s future status and are convinced that Kosovo’s chances of independence rest on support from the United States and other Western powers, including the Vatican…[Kosovo parliament Speaker and Catholic] Kole Berisha has visited the Holy See several times whilst Kosovo’s Catholic Bishop, Dode Gjergji, told Balkan Insight that the Vatican was “very influential in the province and not just among Catholics.” Most Catholics in Kosovo are just as supportive of independence as their Muslim compatriots.

“Kosovo should be an independent and democratic state. Serb efforts to thwart Kosovo’s independence are futile because it’s a foregone conclusion,” a prominent Catholic academic, Mark Krasniqi, told Balkan Insight.

This certainly wouldn’t be the first time in the Balkans that the Catholic Church formed an alliance with Islam against Orthodox Christians (e.g. Croatia-assisted Bosnian independence, which backfired on Croatians). Further, the rosy depiction that “most Catholics in Kosovo are just as supportive of independence as their Muslim compatriots” mischaracterizes the situation. As one reader wrote me: Albanians’ religion isn’t Islam; it’s Albanianism. In other words, Albanian supremacy supercedes all religion. Until it doesn’t. A reminder from Jim Jatras on this point:

Typically these begin as what are represented as “national liberation movements,” the desire of a group of people described in national or ethnic terms — Algerians, Afghanis, Kosovo Albanians, Pakistanis, Palestinians, Iraqis, etc. — to have their own independent national state. But at some point — either after achieving that goal…or in the process of the “national liberation” struggle…the movement shifts to a primarily Islamic jihad orientation, in which the national element is downplayed and the jihad element is emphasized. This transition coincides with the marginalization or elimination of the non-Muslim social elements (Christian Arabs, Albanian Catholics, etc.), some of whom may have been militant supporters of the first, national phase but who will have no future in the Islamic new order.

Indeed, does the name Edward Said ring a bell? Said, an icon of the jihadist Palestinian statehood movement, was a Christian. Which leads us to yet another congruence between Islam and Albanianism: Islam — whether it be in its “Albanianist” or “Palestinianist” incarnation — has always had its Christian proxies.

But back to the cosmetics:

…Since NATO drove Serbian forces from Kosovo in 1999, Catholics have increasingly emerged from the sidelines in Kosovo. A high school in Prizren was promptly named after Gjon Buzuku, a 16th century Catholic priest who wrote the first known printed book in Albanian, and a music school was named after Lorenz Antoni, a prominent 20th century composer and musician from Prizren.

For now, Kosovo’s Muslims and Catholics have sound relations — bound together by their joint struggle against the Serbs. Top Muslim politicians regularly visit Catholic churches for festive masses while their Catholic counterparts duly extend their congratulations on Muslim religious holidays.

About that binding struggle against the Serbs, there is also a binding struggle against the “Zionist enemy.” Here is what one Christian Palestinian, quoted by Mideast expert Daniel Pipes, had to say about that: When there is a Palestinian state, “the sacred union against the Zionist enemy will die. It will be time to settle accounts…It saddens me to say so, but Israeli laws protect us.”

Similarly, from The Coming Balkan Caliphate:

Despite the opportunism [Albanians] have shown in siding at various times with the Turks, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Mussolini, Hitler, and, most recently, NATO, the national narrative has it that hostile outside powers have always been to blame for the Kosovo Albanians’ chronic failure to achieve independence. Yet with the practical liquidation of the Serbs and the imminent replacement of the post-Yugoslav UNMIK regime with some sort of independence, Kosovo’s Albanians are for the first time being stripped of that external threat which has historically caused them to rally around their national identity. Without any threats, real or perceived, to their ethnic cohesion and nationhood, Kosovo Albanians will soon suffer two forms of internal conflict: one, the struggle for political and economic control between the various clans and mafia groups; and two, challenges for spiritual and social control from religous groups.

Back to the Balkan Insight article:

Some tensions appeared after the war. In its December 1999 report, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation, OSCE, said that following the withdrawal of Serbian troops from Kosovo, ethnic Albanian fighters of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, were harassing Catholic Albanians over their alleged lack of commitment to the KLA cause.

The OSCE report said: “Catholic Albanians and evangelical groups have faced continued intimidation and harassment.” It went on: “A common feature of many attacks was the underlying intention to force minorities to leave and/or to ensure their silence through fear. This strategy was effective.”

According to a US State Department report for 2003, certain Catholic-populated areas within Kosovo had previously been “under suspicion of collaboration with the Serb regime,” adding: “Such suspicion was fuelled by the fact that Catholic Albanian villages suffered relatively little damage during the conflict.”

The Catholic Church in Kosovo condemned ethnically-motivated riots in 2004 when dozens of Serbian Orthodox Churches and other properties were damaged or destroyed. “I felt ashamed after what happened in 2004. We were under some pressure as well,” said a Kosovo Albanian Catholic who has since moved to neighbouring Montenegro.

Who has since moved to neighbouring Montenegro.

Meanwhile, note that this article is hailing a temporary situation, one consisting of the familiar M.O. of displaying good behavior and upkeep of appearances for the sake of the immediate goal.

But the situation has improved since and the 2006 International Religious Freedom report released by the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor said last year that Catholic institutions were no longer targets of incidents or attacks.

“We have very sound relations,” with the Islamic community, Bishop Gjergji told Balkan Insight.

Resul Rexhepi, advisor to the presidency of the Kosovo Islamic community, says that “ties between Kosovo’s Islamic Community and the Catholic Church are good… We have mutual respect.”

As a result, few Kosovo Albanians seriously object to the construction of the new cathedral in Pristina. Instead, they see it as a gesture of gratitude for everything the Catholic world has done for Kosovo in recent years, especially during the papacy of John Paul II.

While certainly the papacy has been, in classic form, instrumental in Serb-killing and cleansing, I wonder if the following Kosovo Catholics would agree with the above assessment. Here is a picture of how Albanian Catholicism works, from a chapter titled “The Croats of Letnica” in Hiding Genocide in Kosovo by a member of the international mission there:

The first to be killed in the area was a Croat man from the village of Shashevici; his name was Petar Tunic and he was 70 years old. A Catholic nun went with KFOR to look for him when he went missing. They found the corpse in the woods near his house. According to the nun every organ had been ripped out of his body and then he was shot…This event was enough to frighten most of the rest of the remaining Croats. [Village representative Froka Djokic] explained that the Croat community decided to leave after this killing believing that the Albanians did not want anybody who was not Albanian to stay. That one killing was seen as a warning and the continuing campaign of harassment has underlined the same message as far as the Croat community in the area is concerned. On 27 October 1999, two days before the “Day of the Dead” the Croatian government sent buses to rescue the remaining Croats and 400 left that day. More left later.

Most of the houses belonging to the 400 who left that day were later handed over to Albanians from Macedonia who were temporarily displaced by the war in Macedonia in 2001. This was presented by UNHCR as a humanitarian gesture. But, they are still there six years later although it is safe for them to return to Macedonia. The Croats who left Letnica on October 27, 1999, have never had the chance to return and even if they wished to return they could not in the present circumstances given that their houses have been occupied by Albanians from Macedonia with the official approval of a UN organisation. According to Froka, one French representative of UNHCR asked him why could the Macedonian Albanians not keep the occupied Croat houses. In reply, Froka asked her that if they were occupyng her house in France whether she would be happy to let them keep it. She did not reply. She did not seem to understand that the displaced Croats as the rightful owners of the properties should be allowed to return. This attitude by the international community towards the return of displaced Serbs, Roma and Croats is not uncommon.

The Catholic priest who replaced the Croat priest, Fr Gerge Crista, is an Albanian; he says Mass in Croatian every Sunday at 9 am but all other masses are in Albanian. The Albanian priest is seen by the Croats as unsympathetic; they say he gives no support to them. He never talks to them. After the earthquake some years ago, he visited all the Albanian villagers including the Muslims but none of the Croats. The Croats receive no support from him and he does not voice their needs.

No NGOs except the Serbian Red Cross assist this village; they bring stuff, food and non food items to Vrbovac and they share it out with the Croats in Letnica.

In 2005 in all the Croat villages there were 63 people left compared with 1999 when there were 570. In the early 1990s there were 6,000. All that remain are the old and sick. When returnees have visited Letnica they have been subjected to threats and intimidation.

The Macedonian Albanians have recently become increasingly belligerent, making insulting remarks to the Croat women in front of their men-folk in an apparent attempt to provoke some sort of incident. Certain women in the village have been threatened with rape. Froka, his Serbian son-in-law Milorad and the other Croat men express their shame that they cannot protect their female relatives and friends. Albanian Catholics do speak to the Croats in Letnica but Albanian Muslims, mainly from Macedonia never speak to the Croats except to swear at them and their women folk telling them they should not be here anymore.

The first written mention of the Catholics in this area is by Pope Benedict XII in 1303, mentioning Janjevo as the centre of the Catholic parish of Sveti Nikola. I once asked Dom Matteo, the Catholic priest of Janjevo, if having just celebrated the Croatian Catholic community’s 700th anniversary would they last another 700 years. His reply was simple and stark. He said that he doubted if there would be any Christians in Kosovo in seven years time, never mind Croats. The reference of course is to the increasing efforts to Islamize Albanians, especially Albanian Catholics.

Here is a glimpse into Janjevo in June, 1999, just after the NATO-KLA war against Yugoslavia and its Serbs, from the Croatian newspaper Vecernji List (via Tanjug news agency):

Albanians have, “for the first time in the decades long history under different rule”, taken off the building of the primary school the tablet with the name of the poet Vladimir Nazor. Reporters of the Zagreb newspaper quote the words of the Croats from Janjevo, who state that it had been a lot easier for them while “the Serbs were in power” in their town. No one bothered them, they could get food and cigarettes through Serb policemen and the Serb army and, when leaving, a Yugoslav Army unit left 350 kilograms of flour for the Croats at the local bakery…

To finish off is Chris Deliso, with a reality check for Balkan Insight as to what Kosovo independence will actually mean, based on developments in long-independent Albania:

Perhaps the most significant emerging trend in the case of Albania is the rise of internecine strife based on religious difference. Rallying a decade ago under the nationalist banner of “one nation, three religions,” the paramilitary KLA claimed support from Muslim, Catholic, and Orthodox Albanians during its war in Kosovo. Today, while most Albanians still do feel their ethnicity strongly, religious tensions have nevertheless been growing. In october 2003, police arrested author Kastriot Myftari, charging him with inciting religious hatred against Muslims for writing that Albanian Muslims should convert to Catholicism.

In the northern, Catholic majority city of Shkodra, which borders on Montenegro, mutual provocations between Catholics and Muslims are suddenly emerging. A cross was put up in the city, and then mysteriously vandalized in January 2006. And when civic leaders decided to honor national hero Mother Teresa with a statue, three Muslim groups — the Association of Islamic Intellectuals, the Albanian Muslim Forum, and the Association of Islmaic Charities — publicly protested. The [Albanian Muslim Forum], which allegedly supports interfaith relations, declared that a statue of one of the world’s most renowned humanitarian figures would be a “provocation” to Muslims, and that the religious situation in Shkodra was “not so calm.”

Deliso’s book presciently states that “the end of the national question in Kosovo is the beginning of the religious one, as new challenges to the social and clerical order arise from radical Islam.”