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Pressures against Serbian Orthodox holy shrines in Kosovo continue

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.kosovo.com/news/archive/2005/December_09/2.html KiM Info Newsletter 09-12-05 Pressures against Serbian Orthodox holy shrines in Kosovo continue At
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 9, 2005
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      http://www.kosovo.com/news/archive/2005/December_09/2.html

      KiM Info Newsletter 09-12-05

      Pressures against Serbian Orthodox holy shrines in Kosovo continue

      At the most recent meeting of the Serbian Orthodox Church's Council for
      Kosovo and Metohija of the Holy Assembly of Bishops, Bishop Teodosije of
      Lipljan, a superior of Visoki Decani Monastery, informed the members of the
      Council and the Holy Synod of Bishops with the critical present situation
      of Serbian Orthodox holy shrines, especially in Metohija (the Western part
      of the Province) , and emphasized the need to find mechanisms for
      internationally guaranteed protection as soon as possible in cooperation
      with relevant experts in order to enable the survival of the monasteries in
      this region. Bishop Teodosije has also informed Martti Ahtisaari, the
      special envoy of the UN Secretary General for negotiations on Kosovo of
      these problems during his visit to Visoki Decani Monastery, appealing to
      the International Community to undertake more concrete measures to stop the
      systematic campaign against Christian holy shrines in this region.

      Aerial view of part of the protected zone around Visoki Decani Monastery -
      In an atmosphere
      of almost complete absence of law and order, any formal protection is
      without concrete impact unless internationally regulated and implemented
      with long term presence of NATO-led peacekeeping troops


      KIM Info Service
      December 9, 2005

      Despite all international insistence that the protection of Serbian
      Orthodox holy shrines in Kosovo is one of the top priorities in the process
      of resolving the future status of the Province, and that the attitude
      toward the Serbian cultural heritage in this region will be one of the key
      criteria in the process of standards evaluation, the frenzied campaign
      conducted against most important Serbian holy shrines by some local
      Albanian media and radically oriented politicians is continuing unabated.

      Particularly targeted are Visoki Decani Monastery and the Pec Patriarchate,
      which during the past six years of the international protectorate have
      survived largely thanks to the military protection of Italian KFOR and the
      institutional support of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo. The
      monasteries are constatnly presented in Kosovo Albanian public as a danger
      to Kosovo's future instead one of its main assets. By this sort of attitude
      toward the Serbian holy sites in Kosovo the organizers of this campaign
      appear to be sending a threatening message that in future Kosovo there will
      be no room for either the Serbian people or their holy shrines. Moreover,
      this is also a message to the International Community that some people in
      Kosovo still do not see their own future in Europe and have no respect for
      its civilizational values.

      MEDIA CAMPAIGN AGAINST VISOKI DECANI MONASTERY

      During the past month the Albanian press (Zeri, Lajm, Fokus, etc.) has
      published a series of biased articles which crudely attack Visoki Decani
      Monastery and its monastic brotherhood. Utilizing a plethora of lies,
      fictions and misinterpretations, the journalists who write for these
      newspapers in tandem with some local radically oriented leaders are
      systematically inciting hatred and violence in the region against these
      holy shrines and the Serbian Orthodox Church as a whole. Among the key
      coordinators of this campaign are the president of the executive council of
      the Decani municipal assembly, Halil Tolaj, and the leader of the veterans
      of the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK), Abdil Mushkolaj. In August
      of this year the latter threatened violence not only against the monastery
      but also against members of NATO forces protecting it.

      In April UNMIK chief Soren Jessen-Petersen proclaimed Visoki Decani
      Monastery and its immediate surroundings a Special Zoning Area (SZA). The
      SZA?s aim is to protect the natural and cultural heritage of Kosovo for all
      the people of Kosovo by the most effective and sustainable means
      restricting building, industrial activities and exploitation of forests.
      However this decision which was prolonged for another 6 months in October
      is being persistently and maliciously interpreted among the Albanian public
      as a political decision to form a new "Serb enclave" or "political
      exterritory" even though to this day not one displaced Serb has returned
      and monks remain completely surrounded by Kosovo Albanian population.

      The alleged present-day "owners" of property that was confiscated from the
      Church and proclaimed socially owned property back in 1946 by the decision
      of the Communist regime are complaining to the aforementioned media that
      the monastery is supposedly preventing their freedom of movement, building
      of homes and farming of land. However, in reality behind these complains
      are efforts by some individuals and groups to illegally privatize socially
      owned property and build facilities without a license, even though the
      monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

      Beside the media campaign the local forestry cooperative Djeravica is
      continuing arbitrary issuing of licenses for the cutting of the forest
      around the monastery, threatening to transform the entire landscape into a
      barren desert. In recent post-war years hundreds of hectares of the most
      beautiful forests in the mountains around the monastery have been cut down.
      Additionally, a newly built road that passes next to the monastery from the
      town of Decani in the direction of Plav in Montenegro has already become
      one of the main channels for illegal trade which increases security threats
      for the holy site.

      The municipality of Decani seems to be silently tolerating these
      activities. While on one hand Municipal officials promise tolerance and
      assistance to the monastery on the other hand some of its members openly
      take part in media defamation of the Monastery or turn a blind eye to
      illegal activities in the area. Last year a restaurant was built in the
      vicinity of the monastery by an ethnic Albanian without any license or
      urban plan. The municipality has still done nothing to address this abuse
      and the restaurant is frequented by some Municipal officials. A few
      Albanian families who own fields in the area of the Decani canyon are
      completely free to farm them and pass every day in front of the monastery
      without any problems. However, the public is intentionally being presented
      with a completely different picture with the intent of further stoking
      hatred toward the monastery and the brotherhood, and inciting the people to
      acts of violence such as those in last year's March riots.

      Mr. Tolaj and some other municipal officials are spreading the false
      information that all the land around the monastery is already privately
      owned by Albanians and it will hardly come as a surprise if it is soon
      declared that the monastery itself is illegally built on Albanian land.

      Unfortunately, UNMIK officials are not always in position to trace all
      sources of institutional abuses and there are fears that the cadastral
      office is arbitrarily retailoring land that the monks have guarded for
      centuries even under Ottoman rule. In 2001 the municipality ordered
      destruction of two buildings located on land parcels which belong to the
      monastery based on cadastral records. This was done by presenting falsified
      cadastral documentation to the municipal representative of UNMIK. No
      investigation was conducted no one has ever been called to justice, nor the
      monastery has ever been compensated for the damage.

      Last month Abdil Mushkolaj, the leader of the veterans of the KLA, who is
      suspected of three mortar attacks on the monastery in 2000 and 2004
      reiterated his threats against the Monastery and monks using one of the
      local newspapers. He has been joined by the leader of the
      Self-Determination movement, Albin Kurti, who organized a meeting in Decani
      last week, and rudely spoke about the Monastery accusing the brotherhood of
      making political plots. Among international circles in Kosovo there are
      increasing rumors that these groups might be preparing news riots and the
      final ethnic cleansing of the region, which is causing increasing concern
      among the Serbian people and the Church. Since 1999 ethnic Albanian
      extremists have destroyed 150 Serbian Orthodox shrines, despite the NATO
      and UN presence. Only in March 17 2004 30 churches were torched in one night.

      COURT UPHOLDS CONFISCATION OF MONASTERY LAND

      In addition to this media campaign and systematic fanning of the spirit of
      intolerance Visoki Decani Monastery is also confronted with the abuse of
      the judicial system with the goal of making the monastery's survival
      impossible. Last month the regional court in Pec upheld the decision of the
      municipal court in Decani confiscating the monastery's property, restituted
      by decision of the Republic of Serbia government in 1998. Despite the fact
      that UNMIK's clear position has been that the final decision regarding this
      property, whose ownership is disputed by the municipality, needs to be made
      by a special chamber of the Kosovo Trust Agency, the entire process has
      again been returned to the municipal court which made a decision that the
      property has to be taken away from the monastery. This decision clearly
      proves that local institutions are taking advantage of the transfer of
      judicial competencies to usurp the remaining Church property and make the
      life of monastic communities hardly possible.

      CONCERN AMONG SISTERHOOD OF PEC PATRIARCHATE

      The female monastery of the Pec Patriarchate is confronted with similar
      problems, which are causing serious concern among its sisterhood. In the
      recent time there has been a tremendous pressure from the municipality and
      some local UNMIK staff to dismantle the security checkpoint that protects
      the historical seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Even though KFOR is
      insisting that the level of protection be maintained due to the unstable
      political and security situation throughout the region, the sisters of the
      monastery, which still does not have a special protective zone, live in
      constant fear and uncertainty.

      A few months ago municipal authorities decided to authorize construction of
      a building immediately next to the monastery despite objections of the
      Patriarchate that the land belonged to the monastery and was forcefully
      expropriated by former Communist authorities. Additionally, one local
      Albanian illegally built a restaurant between the monastery and the
      neighboring returnee village of Ljevosa, which represents a threat not only
      to the monastery and its surroundings but is also creating fear among the
      Serb returnees for whom a visit to the monastery is the only possibility to
      freely leave their village. There is a serious question what the future
      holds for the historical seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church, expected to
      be inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage List next year, if such behavior
      on the part of local institutions continues.

      The aforementioned activities of the municipal authorities in Decani and
      Pec are directly contrary to the declarations of the leaders of Kosovo
      institutions who promise building of future Kosovo in which Orthodox
      Christian shrines will be respected. As usual the words are not followed by
      corresponding actions. The monks and nuns living in these monasteries as
      well as in other Serbian holy shrines in Western part of Kosovo still
      travel only with a military escort; even so, the Albanians in the streets
      regularly shower them with vulgar insults and not infrequently, despite the
      KFOR presence, they throw stones at monastery vehicles.

      At the most recent meeting of the Serbian Orthodox Church's Council for
      Kosovo and Metohija of the Holy Assembly of Bishops, Bishop Teodosije of
      Lipljan, the superior of Visoki Decani Monastery, informed the members of
      the Council and the Holy Synod of Bishops with the critical present
      situation of Serbian Orthodox holy shrines, especially in Western part of
      the Province, and emphasized the need to find mechanisms for
      internationally guaranteed protection as soon as possible in cooperation
      with relevant experts in order to enable the survival of the monasteries in
      this region. Considerable attention has also been devoted to this issue at
      a recently held meeting in Belgrade of the Serbian team for negotiations on
      the future status of Kosovo, which was also attended by members of the SOC
      Council for Kosovo and Metohija. Bishop Teodosije has also informed Martti
      Ahtisaari, the special envoy of the UN Secretary General for negotiations
      on Kosovo of these problems during his visit to Visoki Decani Monastery,
      appealing to the International Community to undertake more concrete
      measures to stop the systematic campaign against Christian holy shrines in
      this region.

      Bishop Teodosije, together with other high officials of the Serbian
      Orthodox Church who are scheduled to visit Brussels and Berlin in a few
      days with representatives of other Christian confessions from Serbia and
      Montenegro, will provide first-hand testimony before European and German
      officials regarding the difficult situation of the Serbian people and its
      Christian holy shrines in Kosovo and Metohija, and ask for greater and more
      efficient international engagement for their protection.
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