There are a lot of ruined churches in and around Pristina. (Ruined Orthodox churches, that is. About 50,000 Kosovar Albanians are Catholic, so there are a couple of nice little Catholic churches. Nobody bothered them.) Short version: when the Serbian armed forces pulled out of Kosovo in 1999, the Albanians rose up in wrath and attacked the Orthodox churches and monasteries. Many of the churches they attacked were hundreds of years old. Some were treasure houses of art... medieval frescoes, Byzantine mosaics, beautiful carved icons going back hundreds of years. The Albanians attacked them all, damaging most and destroying many, smashing, burning and spraying the interior with bullets. Then, in March 2004, they did it again. About a dozen more churches were attacked, and several were effectively destroyed. The list of damaged churches is long, and it makes for depressing reading. Few of them have been repaired or rebuilt. Drive in from Pristina Airport, and you can see one just off the road; it's surrounded by barbed wire. Even the churches that survived -- like the magnificent Italo-Byzantine monastery at Gracanica -- have stayed intact only because they're surrounded by heavily armed soldiers from KFOR. That's the short version, and it's accurate as far as it goes. But -- this being the Balkans, where truth is fractal -- it's more complicated than that.
Right in the center of Pristina, just across from the library, is a large Orthodox church. And I mean large: it's about 25 meters or 80 feet tall, and could probably hold a thousand people. It's unfinished, this church. Just a brick shell, with empty holes for the doors and windows, and a big golden cross on top. But even unfinished, you can see that it was never going to be beautiful. Orthodox churches tend to look squat and fortress-like to Westerners. But even indexing that out, this church was really... well, squat and fortress-like. It looks like a big ruined bunker. This church is known to the Serbs as the Church of Christ the Savior, Pristina. The Albanians have a different name for it: they call it "the church built in anger". To understand what's up with this church, I have to digress for a moent to talk about Pristina University. Bear with me. Pristina University was founded in 1970, and the Albanians were very proud of it. By 1989 it had over 22,000 students, which was not bad for a province of just 2 million people. And it was an Albanian university; over 90% of the students and faculty were Albanian When Milosevic took over Kosovo, purging the University was almost his very first act. It was a hotbed of Albanian nationalism, no question; he may also have thought that shutting it down would cripple Albanian political development. Whatever the reason, within two years 90% of the faculty and 98% of the students had left or been expelled. What remained was a much smaller skeleton of a university, populated entirely by Serbs. Albanians simply disappeared from the campus. Hardline Serb nationalists took over the administration, and a semester or two teaching at Pristina U. became a badge of honor for a certain sort of Serbian academic. So when the Orthodox Church asked the University for land to build a church, the Serb nationalist administration was happy to oblige. They gave them the university's only large green space, right in the middle: what a British American college would call the Quad. The Serbs broke ground in 1998. But they hadn't finished by the time of the NATO bombing campaign. So when Belgrade lost control, the church was still unfinished. Someone tried to dynamite it in July 1999, in the chaotic days just after the NATO victory. But the bunker-like appearance is not misleading. The church withstood the attack. KFOR warned the Albanian leadership sharply not to try that again. The church might be ugly, it might be unfinished, it might be sitting on one of the last pieces of open space in central Pristina, but having it blown up would be just too embarrassing. (And probably a public menace, too; charges big enough to destroy it, laid by unskilled hands, would probably throw pieces of brick and concrete all over the downtown.) So, for six and a half years, there it has stood. At one point someone moved some Roma refugees into the "quad" area; the Roma used part of the church as a shelter and part of it as a toilet, which led to pretty much the sorts of stories you'd expect.) The university wants its quad back, and wants the church torn down. No one, they point out, has ever used it. And the Serb community doesn't need it; nobody knows how many Serbs are left in Pristina (they keep a very low profile), but it's not more than a couple of hundred. Various compromise plans have been floated, such as turning the church into a museum or some such. Nobody's been able to agree. -- It turns out the Church Built in Anger is far from unique. That list I linked to? If you actually read through it, you'll notice that a number of those churcheswere built during the 1990s. Since the Serb population of Kosovo was not exactly booming during these years, it seems reasonable to assume that these, too, were built more for nationalist than religious reasons. (I noticed one church that was built in 1992 "as a foundation of the Karic family". I'm pretty sure that has to be Milosevic crony Bogoljub Karic. The Karic family was from Kosovo originally.) From what I've been able to tell, this seems to be another issue that that Albanians and Serbs can't talk about. The Albanians insist that all the churches were political. Even the ones that dated back to medieval times, they say, were centers of Serb nationalism, used for political purposes as much as religious. I haven't been able to get an Albanian to admit that some, at least, were real religious centers. Nor that destroying centuries-old churches and religious art was an appalling act of cultural vandalism. The Serbs, meanwhile, insist that their victimhood is absolute. All their churches, even the ugly shell of the unfinished Church of Christ, were churches , dammit. No exceptions: the Albanians are just barbarians. What kind of savage bombs, burns, loots harmless churches? Meanwhile the Church of Christ the Savior just sits there. Students have worn trails in the grass around it; pigeons nest inside. Eventually erosion will bring it down if nothing else does. But that may take a while.