Kosovo

March 15, 2008 | 17 comments
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When we arrived at church two weeks ago, everything looked normal. The building was clean and not a chair was out of place. I could smell some kind of cooked meat, which is not unusual. I assumed one of the families in the ward was preparing for some kind of celebration after church. One of the nice things about attending church in a building used by only one ward is the easy availability of the church building for special occasions.

But there was nothing cooking in the kitchen. Instead, what I smelled was the last remnant of the local Kosovar Albanian community’s celebrating the independence of their–country? region? something in between? In any case, recent events had made quite a few of our neighbors very happy, but they didn’t have any place to commemorate the occasion.

I assume someone from the Kosovar community had contacted the city, and then the city contacted our ward. The ward has been trying to raise its profile within the community for the last few years, and we’ve become a known quantity in the Rathaus. And why shouldn’t we lend our multi-purpose room to the Kosovars? The building was empty that Saturday evening; our ward had held a baptismal service earlier, but in another town. (Our building has a cultural hall with a stage, but no font.) Other wards in our stake, the ones with sizable contingents of soldiers and their families, had been rather more directly involved in Kosovo’s disjunction from Serbia. All our ward had to do was lend them the use our ward building.

There were conditions: No alcohol. No coffee. No smoking. Everything had to be finished by midnight. The caterer, who came early to start cooking the cevapcici, said it would never work. What self-respecting Kosovar would show up at a party with no beer?

He was wrong. Our ward building became host to 500 celebrating Kosovars, dancing to Albanian music with an enthusiasm that the organizers of our stake events could only dream of. Despite–or because of?–the lack of alcohol, coffee, and tobacco, a good time was had by all. The party finished at midnight, and except for some contented and appreciative gentlemen who came by after sacrament meeting to retrieve the remaining soft drinks, the only evidence of the celebration from the night before was the lingering scent of cevapcici.

17 Responses to Kosovo

  1. Jon W on March 15, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    Fascinating stuff. Sounds really interesting.

  2. Ray on March 15, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    That’s wonderful, Jonathan. Simply wonderful.

  3. Ardis Parshall on March 15, 2008 at 4:55 pm

    Stories like this are why I love the Bloggernacle — it isn’t the kind of experience we’d be likely to hear about even from LDS-News. Thanks, Jonathan.

  4. MikeInWeHo on March 15, 2008 at 7:31 pm

    You’re in Germany somewhere, Jonathan?

  5. Bill MacKinnon on March 16, 2008 at 1:26 am

    Jonathan, thanks. A fascinating experience. I am a little puzzled by the reference to beer. Aren’t most Kosovars Muslim or do I have this wrong? As I recall the Serbs tend to be Russian Orthodox, the Croats Roman Catholic, the Bosnians Muslim , and the Kosovars ?

  6. Jonathan Green on March 16, 2008 at 2:45 am

    Mike: yes.

    Bill, yes, the crowd was about 80% Muslim. But alcohol is not pork.

  7. Norbert on March 16, 2008 at 10:03 am

    Fantastic.

  8. Wilfried on March 16, 2008 at 4:05 pm

    Thanks, Jonathan. But what effect could this have on the perception of the Church by the Serbs? Could the permission to use our building for such a sensitive “political” purpose affect relations? Could it be that the Rathaus, if the suggestion came from there, preferred to have the party somewhere else than in their own facilities? Or that others had refused to make space available? Sorry for casting doubts on the background, for what otherwise seemed to be a great event.

  9. East Coast on March 16, 2008 at 6:51 pm

    Someone not a little conversant with the situation in the region would probably ask Wilfried, “Why would a gathering of Kosovars be any different than a gathering of Italians, Russians, or even chess players? Why would the Serbs mind where the Kosovars meet?”

    I’ve been following the Kosovar attempts at independence with interest since serving as a missionary in western Germany and meeting “Ausländer” from Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, and other states in that region.

    Knowing what warm-hearted, hospitable people they can be, my immediate reaction would be that it was nice that the church could repay some of the kindnesses from Kosovars in Germany toward the Mormon missionaries. (At least toward me, and I imagine I’m not the only missionary ever to be treated kindly by a Kosovar.)

    #5 As I understand it, Kosovo is mostly ethnic Albanian with a tiny smattering of Serbs and other ethnic groups. All of the religions of the region would have been repressed under Communism, but would be mostly Muslim with some orthodox Christian mixed in.

    Interesting story, Jonathan.

  10. Wilfried on March 16, 2008 at 10:00 pm

    Thank you, East Coast, for your remark. My reaction in # 8 was only triggered by Jonathan’s explicit mention that it concerned “celebrating the independence”. That would be a political statement and the matter is still extremely sensitive. We are perceived as an “American” church, and the U.S. is hated by Serbs as the main force behind Kosovo’s “secession”. So I can imagine that the one and the other could be misunderstood by some. But I certainly did not want to diminish the positive message of welcoming and embracing our neighbors, which is of course what Jonathan wanted to convey. At the same time, knowing how concerned the Church is about its strict neutrality, I wondered …

  11. Bill MacKinnon on March 16, 2008 at 10:14 pm

    My reason for asking (#5) about the dominant religious in Kosovo was because of the reference to beer in Jonathan’s thread (“What self-respecting Kosovar would show up at a partuy with no beer?”) As Muslims, wouldn’t beer be off-limits to most Kosovars as it would be for Latter-day Saints under the WoW? What am I missing?

  12. Jonovitch on March 16, 2008 at 11:15 pm

    A few months ago on a Thursday night, I met two young-ish looking women with head scarves walking around our building looking for the bishop of the other ward. I did not recognize their faces and couldn’t help but notice their brownish skin and head coverings. It was during Ramadan (which I was participating in) and I asked if they were Muslim and greeted them with “salaam alaikum.”

    It turned out, the bishop of the other ward had agreed to let them use the cultural hall and kitchen for an upcoming wedding. I had never heard of such a thing, and I thought it was a wonderful idea.

    Does anyone else have stories like this?

    Jon

  13. Jonathan Green on March 17, 2008 at 3:26 am

    Wilfried: it was a concern for the ward as well. The police came by a few times to check on things, but there were no problems. Also, since Serbs had fewer opportunities to flee their homes in the 90s, the Serbian community here is probably much smaller than the Kosovar community.

    Bill, see my comment above. In my experience, alcohol for many Muslims is what Pepsi is for many Mormons: a part of life that the provincial in-laws might get upset about, but only that. Muslim reaction to pork is closer to our abhorrence of alcohol and tobacco.

  14. SAP on March 17, 2008 at 3:28 am

    Across the street from our stake center is a Sikh temple. We let them use half of our parking lot on their celebration days. I guess that doesn’t quite compare to letting them use the building, but they have their temple, so they don’t need it.

    A month or two ago during fast & testimony meeting, a Sikh woman in a sari walked into the chapel with her daughter and sat down for 5 or 10 minutes, then got up and left. I thought it was… neat.

  15. Kevinf on March 17, 2008 at 5:53 pm

    I’ve mentioned this before in the ‘nacle, but a mosque with woefully inadequate parking is situated next door to our stake center, and we have long allowed them to use the parking lot, especially during Ramadan. We provide them with our schedules, so they know what times to avoid, and the situation is very amicable. This has been going on for 5 or 6 years now. Our agent bishop in that building, and the stake presidency have all made themselves well acquainted with the leadership there.

    As Richard Bushman noted at Weber State about two weeks back, if the only message we get from the first vision is that “all other churches are wrong”, that’s not a very inspiring message. This cross-cultural cooperation is the sort of stuff that tells me we mostly get it.

  16. Ray on March 17, 2008 at 6:27 pm

    Kevin, we have a similar situation with a Jewish Center next to one of our stake centers for their stake conference and any well-attended functions they have. It’s a wonderful relationship.

  17. Emily on March 19, 2008 at 11:54 am

    Yes, the recomendation to ask the Mormons did come from the Rathaus.

    And, it is true that there were some doubts expressed by the organizers because of the \”no alcohol\” rule, but it turned out great. From what I heard, some of the women at that celebration were thrilled to have a party without the alcohol because their husbands were so more pleasant to be around than usual.

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