The permanent protection of Kosovo Serb cultural heritage must be discussed in Brussels, regardless of political issues. The Diocese of Raska-Prizren is primarily interested in the protection of Serb holy sites and people. There are good laws in Kosovo, but they are not applicable due to the behavior of local institutions and the threats that these laws will be repealed sooner or later, the Abbot of the Visoki Decani monastery, Sava Janjic said in an interview with N1. He also commented on the allegations of some Albanian historians who questioned the heritage of the monastery of Visoki Decani. The Abbot pointed out that, with such behavior, Kosovo is “delegitimizing” itself as someone who can “protect Serb cultural heritage”. The Decani monks learned from the media that the Serbian Ministry of Culture wrote to UNESCO regarding the continuation of the road construction in the protective zone. Serb institutions should be more engaged because „it is everyone’s issue, not just the monks of the Visoki Decani monastery,“ Janjic added.
Sava Janjic told N1 that, according to the findings of the monastery, the works on the road within the protective zone are not being carried out.
“At least not in the same intensity because we do not notice heavy machinery passing by the monastery” – he added.
He expressed hope that UNMIK and the OSCE are able of having an insight into the situation in the protective zone.
How much influence does the Kosovo government have on Decani institutions?
Janjic recalled that the mayor of Decani, Bashkim Ramosaj announced that the construction of the road would not be stopped, but also that the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Avdullah Hoti, had previously banned the continuation of works.
In the meantime, an adviser to Kosovo’s prime minister, Xhavit Beqiri also reacted, saying that continuing works on the road in the protective zone means a failure to comply with the Kosovo government’s decision.
„When he is saying that they are continuing (the works), he is not respecting the decision of the government. The position of the Prime Minister is the one expressed in the announcement. No comma is removed,“ Beqiri told Gazeta Express.
Commenting on several statements the Kosovo Prime Minister made in the past few days on the issue of the construction of this road, including the one to suspend the works, Janjic says that Hoti is trying to „calm things down“.
The statements are encouraging, Father Sava confirmed, adding that there are indications Hoti could soon visit the municipality of Decani.
The Abbot, however, also raised the question of how much influence does the Kosovo government actually have on the institutions in Decani – the Kosovo Police, etc.
I must note that our reaction is not defined solely by our interests. First of all, it is a violation of the law – because it is a law adopted by the Assembly of Kosovo in 2008. This is the Law on Special Protective Zones, which clearly defines which activities are prohibited – such as the ban on the construction of highways through protective zones. That road would pass practically 50 meters from the church, which would directly endanger this UNESCO and world cultural heritage monument and of course our medieval 14th century monastery
According to Janjic, this situation is also an indicator of the state of the rule of law in Kosovo.
„This will be revealed in the resolution of this issue, as well as the issue of registration of our land as per the decision of the Constitutional Court. It is not something that the monastery is asking for, but something Kosovo institutions are obliged to do according to their laws, and also based on what the international representatives in Kosovo constantly insist on – that the rule of law must be respected.“
It is absurd that the monks are defending the law from the institutions themselves
Janjic emphasized that everything started in 2013, when the idea of building a highway was initiated.
„We have said over and over again that we have nothing against the construction of the road and connecting Decani and Plav and infrastructure works. In the first place, it is not our job to do so.
However, if such a road passes next to the monastery and through the protective zone, then it is our business because it will increase traffic, pollution, noise and an entire range of elements that will affect the whole environment,“ he said.
He says that damage has already been done by widening the road that passes right next to the monastery, and that it is necessary to urgently find a solution and repair the damage. He confirmed that the section of the road within the protective zone was not paved.
„The existing road through the protective should be local as it was before, and a bypass should be used for the main Decani-Plav road,“ the Abbot of the monastery Visoki Decani repeated, reminding that the plan to build a bypass was proposed by the international community, and approved by the Kosovo government in 2014.
„At that time, (the former) Prime Minister Thaci was in Washington, I believe he talked with Vice President Biden, who also raised the issue of the importance of protecting Serbian Orthodox churches in Kosovo – which international officials insist on, as it is one of the very important obligations from Ahtisaari’s plan, which is very important for international representatives, since those countries recognized Kosovo at the time based on those promises of the Kosovo government.“
„We don’t know what kind of game it is, but this greatly weakens the credibility of the institutions“
The construction of the bypass was soon shelved, in order to start with the construction of the road in the protective zone, Abbot Sava explained, assessing that the construction of the bypass is the only solution that is in accordance with the law.
He believes the announcements of the mayor of Decani on the continuation of construction in this zone are „political speech“ or „statements for internal political use“.
„We don’t know what kind of game it is, but this certainly weakens the credibility of Kosovo’s institutions. Because if one cannot apply one’s own law, how can anything else be agreed and implemented.“
„Allegations that the monastery opposes the development of the municipality are pointless arguments“
The Abbot also commented on the Decani local authorities’ criticism of him and the monastery and insults of the mayor of Decani (who referred to Janjic as “crazy” – although without specifically saying his name). The Decani authorities have accused Janjic of wanting to prevent the economic development of the municipality by banning the construction of the road.
„It’s an absolutely pointless argument. Of course, I don’t want to stoop to the level of the mayor’s vocabulary. There is a local road, old people often take walks down that road, we have cyclists, joggers. It is a recreational road, not a highway with heavy transport that would prevent the use of the road for recreational purposes.“
The Abbot said that the monastery of Visoki Decani is the main landmark of the region. He proposed that the municipality should think about developing tourism and placing a sign that shows the way to the monastery.
„When you come to Decani, you can’t see a sign showing where the monastery is, travel agencies have a problem finding their way to the monastery.“
The question „whose monastery it is“ has not been asked until now
Speaking about the allegations of some Albanian historians who questioned the heritage of the monastery of Visoki Decani, the abbot says that the statements of „quasi-historians“ can often be heard, adding that he does not heed them.
„Such statements are completely irrelevant in world scientific circles because they are not based on facts. Visoki Decani Monastery is a medieval site that has the largest documentation and historical material about its history. Not only from Serb sources, but also from various foreign sources – British travel writers, Turkish sources from the time of the Ottoman Empire and others… It is quite clear that the question ‘whose monastery it is’ has never been asked until recently.”
He claimed that such statements are very harmful, especially since they were broadcast on the Kosovo public service broadcaster – RTK.
„This shows that RTK actually exclusively serves to spread nationalist hatred and hate speech. Which is very dangerous and we haven’t heard a reaction so far. This is a site that should be the pride of all cultural people,“ he also said.
With such behavior, Janjic claims, Kosovo is „delegitimizing“ itself as someone who can „protect Serbian cultural heritage“.
I learned from the media that the Ministry of Culture wrote to UNESCO
Janjic said that he learned from the media that the Ministry of Culture of Serbia wrote to UNESCO, adding that no one from the ministry called them to ask what is happening.
„I don’t know what they wrote, I didn’t receive the content of the letter. I tried to establish contact, but I guess everyone is on vacation. We have no direct contact with the UNESCO headquarters. Europa Nostra is very interested in the situation and I am in contact with them. All people involved with cultural heritage in Europe should be mobilized to speak out about the development of events, because the rhetoric used could provoke violence, and we must not forget that the monastery was attacked four times. It is the only religious site in Europe, and perhaps beyond, which is under the protection of armed peacekeeping forces. KFOR has been here for 20 full years due to four armed attacks, grenade attacks and other incidents. This shows that Kosovo institutions did not have a friendly attitude towards the monastery.“
He added that he would like for Serb institutions to be more engaged because „it is everyone’s issue, not just the monks of the monastery.“
Sava Janjic also stated that the monks feel safe for now, warning that this will change if KFOR stops guarding the monastery.
„While KFOR members are here – we feel safe. However, without them and with the spread of hatred by certain representatives of Kosovo institutions and quasi-historians, we do not feel safe, like no Serb in Kosovo feels safe. We have been exposed to open discrimination and frequent incidents for 20 years.“
One of the demands of the mayor of Decani, presented in a letter he recently sent to the top Pristina officials, regarding the solution of the municipality’s dispute with the Visoki Decani monastery, was for Kosovo police to replace KFOR in guarding the monastery.
„Permanent protection of religious buildings and Serbs should be discussed in Brussels“
Janjic also commented on the President of Serbia’s claims that he would raise the issue of the construction of the Decani-Plav road in the protective zone in Brussels and ask for the construction to be stopped. According to the Abbot, raising the issue of permanent protection of cultural heritage in Brussels is important, regardless of political issues. He, however, stressed that the position of the SOC is well-known.
„We are primarily interested in the protection of Serbian holy sites and, of course, our people. These are completely legitimate issues that need to be discussed, given that there are legal regulations in Kosovo, among which there are some good laws. But they are simply not applicable due to the behavior of local institutions and the possibility that these laws will be repealed sooner or later, given that certain political forces are in favor of the complete abolition of protective measures for our sites, who even believe that such sites should be nationalized and converted into a state-owned property,“ the abbot of the Visoki Decani monastery concluded.
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