Kosovo Deports Serbian Orthodox Abbot, Claiming “Reasons of National Security”

Originally appeared at: Orthodox Christianity

In September, Bulgaria expelled two priests and an employee of the Russian Orthodox Church’s representative church in Sofia, having deemed them threats to national security.

And now, a similar situation has unfolded with a priest of the Serbian Orthodox Church who served in Kosovo for more than a decade.

Fr. Fotije, abbot of Devina Voda Monastery, was suddenly deported from Kosovo on October 20. Photo: eparhija-prizren.com

On Friday, October 20, Fr. Fotije (Kostovski), a citizen of North Macedonia, the longstanding abbot of the Devina Voda Monastery in Zvečan, was suddenly deported by Kosovo police. The document handed to him cited sections of the law related to national security but specified no crimes that Fr. Fotije was to have committed, reports the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Raška and Prizren.

The diocese “vehemently protests” his deportation.

Fr. Fotije, 42, decided to devote himself to monasticism after studying at the Music Academy in Sofia, Bulgaria. He has served in the Diocese of Raška and Prizren since 2004, and in 2009, he was appointed abbot of Devina Voda, where he resided continuously for the past 13 years.

Devina Voda Monastery. Photo: eparhija-prizren.com    

The abbot has successfully applied for a residency permit several times during his time in Kosovo, and just 10 days before being deported, he passed the Ministry of Internal Affair’s immigration test.

On October 20, he had an appointment at the Department for Foreigners and Immigration in Pristina, expecting to receive his temporary Kosovo ID and residency permit for the next five years. Instead, he was informed, without explanation, that his application was denied. Moreover, although his previous permit should have allowed him to remain in Kosovo until November 11, he was told his prior permits were canceled and that he must leave immediately.

Fr. Fotije has never had any issues with the process before, nor has he encountered any legal trouble in Kosovo, the diocese writes.

The abbot was forced to sign the documents (written in Albanian) handed to him, then his person was searched. The police then told him he could avoid detention if he left immediately. All of this occurred in the presence of a representative from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and upon the diocese’s request, a representative from the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) arrived on the scene.

The EULEX representative was also told only that his deportation was due to “reasons of national security,” without any specific details.

Fr. Fotije’s passport and cell phone were then temporarily confiscated and his car was thoroughly searched. He was then escorted by police to the North Macedonia border, where his phone and documents were returned to him. He was not permitted to go to his monastery to gather his belongings, having been deported within a few hours of being informed that his residency permit was denied.

The diocese comments:

The Raška-Prizren Diocese (SOC) expresses its strongest protest concerning this unprecedented event, in which a long-serving cleric of our Diocese, who has resided in Kosovo for over 13 years, was deported without any clear explanation, barred from returning to Kosovo for the next 5 years, and had all his previous residence permits nullified.

This is a case of brutal, arbitrary, and extrajudicial expulsion of a church official from Kosovo, preventing him from carrying out his ecclesiastical mission, a blatant violation of human and religious rights. This is especially considering the law on religious freedoms in Kosovo, Article 7A.3, which states that “there shall be no arbitrary prohibition of entry into or stay in Kosovo for clergy, candidates and ministry, monks, nuns, and visitors.” This section of the law specifically addresses certain aspects of the Serbian Orthodox Church’s operations in Kosovo.

A similar attempt to expel a monk occurred a few years ago and was successfully resolved through the intervention of the Kosovo Ministry of Internal Affairs.

The Raška-Prizren Diocese will formally inform the EU, EULEX, ambassadors of the Quint countries, and international organisations dealing with the protection of religious and human rights about this case of overt persecution on religious and national grounds, accompanied by the blatant violation of religious rights.

With this brutal act, Kosovo institutions, without providing any specific reasons, have hindered the functioning of a monastery where Father Fotije served and have effectively initiated the overt persecution of the clergy and monasticism of our Church in Kosovo. This is unacceptable and severely exacerbates the interethnic and inter-religious situation in Kosovo.

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