The Kosovo government continued with the construction of the Decani-Plav road – which began back in 2014. The section of the road expected to pass through the legally regulated special protective zone (SPZ) near the monastery of Visoki Decani was opened on Tuesday. The road construction continued even though decisions on construction within this zone can be made only with the consent of the Commission for the Implementation of the SPZ. The members of this commission are representatives of the EU Office in Kosovo, the OSCE Mission, Kosovo Ministers of Spatial Planning and Culture, as well as the Bishop of Raska-Prizren. In the case of the Decani – Plav road, the commission did not approve the construction; instead, an agreement was made to build a bypass route around the SPZ.
In May 2018, an attempt was made to start construction of the section of the road Decani – Plav which passes through a special protective zone around the monastery Decani – which also belongs to the National Park Prokletije. This attempt, however, was met with a strong reaction from the monastery Visoki Decani but also disapproval from representatives of the international community in Kosovo and Serb CSOs.
At the time, the Decani monastery argued that the construction of the road through the special protective zone – despite the fact a different agreement was reached by the Commission for the Implementation of Protective Zones – violates the law which strictly prohibits the construction of transit roads through the zones with the most important cultural and historical monuments. The monastery also underlined that this decision violates the protection standards of a UNESCO monument such as the monastery of Visoki Decani.
„The transit route would cause a huge increase in traffic (especially heavy vehicles), noise, and pollution. This is the reason why transit roads in Europe are being removed from the immediate vicinity of important cultural and historical monuments. This mixed commission thus once proposed for the road to Plav to be built outside the protective zone, which the Kosovo government agreed to do. In 2014, the then Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, together with the mayors of Decani and Plav officially opened the first section of the Decani-Plav road outside the protective zone, through the valley of Locanska Bistrica,” the monastery announced at the time.
Following numerous reactions, the works on the disputed section were suspended in 2018. At the time, the Kosovo Ministry of Infrastructure claimed that it would respect the laws and would not build the road within the SPZ, and that they repaired the landslide on the existing road near the monastery. The construction of the road continued in the environs of the SPZ.
Hoti and Haradinaj: „Together we will bring the road to the border and across the border to the destination“
Kosovo Prime Minister, Avdullah Hoti and his coalition partner, AAK leader, Ramush Haradinaj attended the opening ceremony of the section of the highway. Decani is Ramush Haradinaj’s birthplace, and in the past, he advocated the construction of this road, but also harshly criticized the clergy of the Decani monastery over what he described as their disinformation campaign and political pressure directed against the economic development of the Decani municipality. Haradinaj was the prime minister when the first attempt was made to build a road within the SZP back in 2018.
At the opening ceremony, the mayor of Decani, Bashkim Ramosaj said that the local authorities are negotiating with the Decani monastery. Ramosaj also repeatedly accused the monastery of hindering economic development.
„We also made our offer, which is roughly in line with the opinion of the Constitutional Court, but we asked the monastery to respect our projects, and we will respect the needs of the monastery,“ he said, KTV reported.
On the other hand, Avdullah Hoti assessed that “the road is of strategic importance” for all Albanians and assured the mayor that they would jointly “bring the road to the border and connect it with the destination across the border.“
The Eparchy of Raska-Prizren enclosed the map, along with a statement issued in 2018.
What does the Kosovo Law on Special Protective Zones say?
Article 3 of the Law on Special Protective Zones states that the objectives of these zones include:
– ensuring the peaceful existence and functioning of the place to be protected, preserving the monastic life of the clergy;
– preserving the character and appearance of the place to be protected, in particular the historical, cultural, architectural or archaeological context, the natural environment or visual environment;
– preventing unfavorable developments around the place to be protected, while ensuring the best possible conditions for the harmonious and sustainable development of communities living in the areas around such place by regulating the development of other activities.
Article 5 of the same law clearly states which activities are prohibited within the Special Protective Zones:
„Any new activity in the following fields will be prohibited:
– industrial construction or development, such as excavation or exploitation of mineral resources and the construction of dams, power plants or transmission lines, brickyards and factories and transit roads in rural areas; and
– construction or development leading to deforestation or environment pollution.“
The monastery has not responded to this event yet. The Serb institutions, however, reacted.
PA of the Decani municipality: Attack on the UN
At the beginning of the construction of the disputed section of the road within the SPZ, the president of the Provisional Authority of the municipality of Decani, Vuko Vukovic also reacted.
In a press release, Vukovic expressed “the strongest protest since the works are being carried out in the zone of the Visoki Decani monastery, within which such works are prohibited.”
„What is happening in Decani speaks of the absence of all civilization norms and moral values of those who exercise essential power in the province. It is absurd that those seeking UNESCO entry do not really know anything about the United Nations’ education, science and culture organization, which they are demonstrating in the most brutal way, since Visoki Decani is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List,“ Vukovic’s statement reads.
He added that it is „more realistic“ that the Kosovo authorities are „deliberately defying the United Nations which did not recognize the self-proclaimed Kosovo.“
Vukovic said that he is joining Srpska Lista and the head of the Kosovo Office, Marko Djuric in calling on the international community to react and suspend the works in the SPZ.
Kosovo Office: Anti-civilization treatment of a gem of Serbian heritage
The Kosovo Office reacted on Tuesday, demanding respect for the protected zone and an end to lawlessness.
„This is not the first time that road construction has been initiated and ceremoniously opened in the immediate vicinity of the Visoki Decani monastery, which speaks of the negligence of the provisional authorities in Pristina for Kosovo Serb cultural heritage and the offensive attitude towards religious feelings of the Serb people,“ the Kosovo Office wrote in a statement, requesting an urgent response from the international community.
Kosovo media on Decani
Ever since the first problems with the attempt to start construction within the SPZ arose, the Kosovo media have reported on this ongoing issue by saying that the monastery of Visoki Decani is hampering economic and tourist development of the municipality of Decani, while providing no information on the Law on Special Protective Zones or publishing arguments presented by the Eparchy of Raska-Prizren.
The Pristina-based Koha reported on Tuesday that the municipality of Decani is negotiating with the monastery on the „problematic section“ while claiming that the monastery has not disclosed what problems this road may cause. However, both the monastery and the Eparchy of Raska-Prizren have issued extensive explanations in the past regarding this issue.
The same text makes no mention of the Law on SPZ, while also underlining that investment in this area was prevented due to the decision of the Kosovo Constitutional Court to confirm the Supreme Court’s verdict which confirmed Visoki Decani’s ownership over 24 ha of monastery land. Although this is another disagreement between the monastery and the local authorities who refuse to implement the court’s decision and register the monastery land in the cadastre, the construction of the Decani-Plav road is a completely separate problem.
The day before, the same media published an article entitled „Monastery prevents the development of tourism in Gusevac in Decani„. The text states that the monastery opposes the construction of a medical institution near the medicinal, mineral water source in Gusavac on Bistrica.
This article also makes no mention of the Law on Special Protective Zones and regulations that call for nature conservation in these zones.
Koha published similar reports on the events from 2018, when the responsibility for the happenings in Decani was shouldered by the monastery. An article was published at the time entitled „Visoki Decani prevents the construction of the road to Plav“.
In addition, the Visoki Decani Monastery has been accused by Kosovo politicians and historians of inappropriate political pressure as well as anti-Albanian policies.
Visoki Decani Monastery has been under UNESCO protection since 2005. It has been under military protection because of four armed attacks since 1999 and an attempted terrorist action by a group of armed Kosovo Islamists in 2016. Visoki Decani Monastery dates from the first half of the 14th century and is one of the most important cultural, historical and religious heritage of Christian civilization and the Serb people.
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