‘Silent persecution’ restricts evangelical Christians in Kosovo

By Chris Eyte |
The Rev. Artur Krasniqi of the Fellowship of the Lord’s People in Pristina, Kosovo.
The Rev. Artur Krasniqi of the Fellowship of the Lord’s People in Pristina, Kosovo. | (Zhujakorab, Creative Commons)

Discrimination and violence against Christian minorities in Kosovo continues to be widespread despite official laws in the country protecting freedom of religion. 

Evangelical churches endure particular constraints by local bureaucracies, according to Anja Hoffmann, executive director of the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe (OIDACE). Hoffmann told Christian Daily International that Christians face opposition when organizing functions of churches.

“While the right to freedom of religion is enshrined in Kosovo’s constitution, discrimination and violence are unfortunately still fairly widespread against the Christian minorities in the country,” Hoffmann said.

Difficulties at administrative levels especially hamper evangelical churches, she said.

“Because the law does not provide for any mechanism to obtain legal status through registration, it is not possible for religious communities to own property, open bank accounts or employ staff as a collective entity,” Hoffman said.

Evangelicals also report discrimination in accessing property and burial legal rights, which prevents them from conducting funeral services according to their beliefs.

Hoffmann also cited recent violent anti-Christian hate crimes directed against Serbian Orthodox, Catholic and other historic churches. 

“Tragically, there has been widespread desecration of Serbian Orthodox cemeteries in the past years,” she said. “These incidents, however, also reveal the intersection of religion and ethnicity in the case of some of the anti-Christian hate crimes in Kosovo.”

The Rev. Artur Krasniqi has led the Fellowship of the Lord’s People evangelical church in Pristina, Kosovo, for nearly 25 years. He told Christian Daily International that the persecution of evangelical Christians is subtle in his country, terming it a “silent persecution” and “discrimination by laws,” adding, “It’s not easy for us.” 

When Christians die, for example, survivors have no choice but to give them a Muslim burial ceremony led by an imam in a Muslim graveyard, according to Krasniqi.

“So, every Christian has to think about how they want to be buried – it is unbelievable,” Krasniqi said. “We live with these challenges every day, but we try to look at the challenges as opportunities for the gospel. We haven’t given up and have both the energy and desire to change this situation for the better, as a heritage for our children. No matter that Islamic radicalization is rising here, I have hope for this country.” 

Krasniqi also compared evangelical church struggles in obtaining land for buildings with the alleged favor enjoyed by the Orthodox church, which recently acquired 24 hectares from the state.

“It would be challenging to get even 1 percent of that for an evangelical church,” observed Krasniqi. 

Surviving War
Krasniqi’s church, which began in 1985, was the first known Albanian-speaking Kosovo church in the world. Krasniqi recalled the problems in the 1980s in getting permission from communist authorities for a building. 

“The authorities at the time said to us, ‘Even if Christ himself descends into this yard, you will have no church here’ – but the church has moved forward, and communism has shamefully fallen down,” he said. “I have courage that God will do more in the future.” 

Krasniqi recalled the progress made in his country since the Kosovo War from February 1998 to June 1999 between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Kosovo Liberation Army. Yugoslav forces withdrew only after the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) enacted air strikes in March 1999. 

When NATO bombs first fell, Krasniqi stayed in his apartment in Pristina with his brother and other Christians.

“When the first bombs started falling from the planes, we were joyful,” Krasniqi said. “However, the loud detonations and killings by the military on the ground interrupted our happiness. We lay under a table fully clothed but ready to flee if needed.

“I will never forget the first time I heard the bombs. It was very traumatic. The lady reading the news on TV suddenly said, ‘I wish you well’ as she announced that NATO airplanes had just left airfields in Italy. The bombing was like a strong wind hitting the city. The shaking of the walls was so strong, and things hanging on the walls just fell down, and windows cracked.”

Krasniqi said he could only put on his jacket and lay on the floor.

“I wasn’t sure if the apartment was going to fall apart,” he said “It wasn’t like a Hollywood movie, where you can change the channel.”

The bombing raids brought steep changes within a 24-hour period. 

“Neighbors didn’t want to talk to me, everything changed, it was an atmosphere of war,” he recalled. “But the most difficult thing was the bread shop. I walked into the street and joined a long line of people queuing for bread.”

When bread trucks arrived, the shopkeeper rationed two loaves per person.

“Then there was noise in the queue, and some people started leaving the line because their ID cards would identify them to be Albanians. I was told that no Albanians were allowed to buy bread, and so I went home. I was in the wrong ethnicity group to buy bread!”

The memory of the shop refusing to give him bread because of his Albanian identity continues to trouble him. 

“I have two boys, and I pray they will never face something like that again, here in Kosovo – to be discriminated against because of their ethnicity,” he said.  

Need for Prayer
Krasniqi said that the number of evangelicals has grown in Kosovo, but he is concerned about the effects on them and other Christians of rising materialism and desire for higher incomes for all. 

“The evangelical church in Kosovo has grown in numbers but it has grown weak in quality,” he said. “The quantity is higher, but the quality is lower; 25 years ago, we were small but serving refugees, and everyone was willing to serve, but today people are more concerned how much they will get paid. People are not willing to serve like those days.”

Krasniqi on March 21 returned from a meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican. The visit to discuss inter-church relations involved a 15-strong group of pastors and evangelical leaders from other countries such as Romania, Poland, the U.K., Italy and Israel. 

The pope spent two hours with the evangelical leaders, rather than the allotted half an hour. He encouraged those present to preach the gospel and pray more intently. 

Pope Francis also had tears in his eyes as he talked about prayer needed for the children of Ukraine and in the Middle East, Krasniqi said. He asked the pontiff when he planned to visit Kosovo, and he replied that he would do so, though no date is confirmed. The pope also said he wanted to support smaller countries. 

The questions from the other pastors were about the wider church. 

“I was very impressed by the profound answers he gave,” Krasniqi said. “He said many things about the stagnant state of the church because it needs to keep preaching the word. He said the strength of the wider church is in the Word of God and without compromise.”

The pope stated that clericalism in the church, especially in Spain and Italy, meant that churches were locked inside buildings instead of preaching the word on the streets, Krasniqi said. The pope encouraged the pastors to pray every day, citing the biblical account of the jailing of the Apostle Peter and how the prayers helped him.

He added that some people may not believe in prayer, but that prayer is powerful. 

“I had no expectations on what he was going to say,” recalled Krasniqi. “He is nearly 90 years old, and it was impressive to see his heart and memory of things. He had a good understanding.”

His advice was very encouraging, he said, expressing a desire for the Catholic Church to hear and embrace it.

“The pope said that he wanted his legacy to be for the Catholic Church to live for evangelism, because the Catholic Church has lost evangelism. I was very surprised by that,” he said.

The pope also encouraged Protestants and Catholics to come together more in partnership, according to Krasniqi. 

“He cited examples in Poland whereby Catholic preachers were preaching to Protestant congregations, and vice-versa, Protestant preachers to Catholics,” Krasniqi said. “At the end of the meeting, he prayed for us in a normal way, simply to Jesus.”