Serbia's predominant Orthodox church has launched a diplomatic drive among church leaders abroad to prevent an expected UN vote to allow the independence of Kosovo from Serbia. "By supporting this independence drive by Albanians living in Kosovo, the West forgets the hurt suffered in recent years by the Orthodox Serbs who live there," Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II of Russia told Serbia's Vecernje Novosti newspaper on 8 December.
"In this spiritual cradle of Serbian Orthodoxy, 150 churches and monasteries have been destroyed or desecrated, and numerous unimaginable crimes perpetrated to eliminate the Serbs," Alexei was quoted as saying. "I urge Western Christians to examine their consciences on Kosovo's projected status and help rescue the region's religious heritage."
The patriarch, who offered to mediate in the war-torn Serbian province, in an October address to the Council of Europe, was speaking ahead of a 19 December UN Security Council debate on Kosovo self-rule, which is expected to be opposed on Serbia's behalf by Russia.
European Union leaders have been moving towards a plan for statehood for Serbia's breakaway province, which has not pleased Russia.
In Istanbul, the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomeos I, told the visiting Serbian president, Boris Tadic, he would back a peaceful solution to disputes over Kosovo, from which up to 200 000 ethnic Serbs have fled since international control was imposed following NATO military action in 1999.
Leaders of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority are expected to declare the province's sovereignty after the failure of UN-backed negotiators from the US, the European Union and Russia to reach agreement on its future.
Concerns have, however, been expressed for the surviving Serbian Orthodox minority in northern Kosovo, who have been promised protection by NATO and EU forces under a "supervised independence" plan drawn up for the UN by former Finnish president, Martti
The Serbian Orthodox Church's information service said the head of the (Orthodox) Church of Greece, Archbishop Christodoulos, had expressed concern over the province's future during talks on 11 December with Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro.
The information service referred also the Greek archbishop's "open discontent against the holders of political world power and their attitude towards the cradle of Serbian culture and spirituality".