The Kosovan Ministry of Culture won’t give up on the restoration of the house of Xhafer Deva in Mitrovica, said the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports, Hajrulla Ceku. Ceku, who described the reactions in the past few days as “hysterical,” says that this debate was opened by Serbia. According to him, this “discourse is dangerous”, and international partners will be “given enough time to get clarifications.” Furthermore, Ceku stressed that this ministry will not give up on the project, as Kosovo has „enough money in its budget.“ He, however, stressed that the project “must be resumed“ with international partners.
A day after the EU and UNDP decided to place the restaurant works, valued at €300,000, on the house of Xhafer Deva on hold, Kosovo’s Minister of Culture, who remains committed to preserving Deva’s dilapidated house as an object of special importance, held a press conference in Pristina today.
Ceku once again claimed that the recent debate originated in Serbia.
The decision of international agencies to place the project on hold arrived after Serbian historians pointed out that Deva was a prominent figure of the Wehrmacht in reaction to the initial news that the agencies boasted that they would restore „the most amazing heritage site – the house of Xhafer Deva“, together with the Kosovo Ministry of Culture.
The EU and UNDP soon distanced themselves, alleging that they were „concerned over the controversy“ surrounding this house and that they were „working on alternatives.“ However, the situation further escalated after the German ambassador in Pristina, Jorn Rohde, reacted.
“No history whitewashing! Don’t distort the truth about the Holocaust or war crimes committed by the Nazis and local collaborators,” the German ambassador said, underlining that he is “very concerned.” Yesterday, the rapporteur for Kosovo, Viola von Cramon, sent the same messages.
This triggered an avalanche of criticism in the Albanian public. The former Kosovan FM, Behgjet Pacolli, was one of the many who criticized Rohde’s statements and highlighted Deva’s role as “a protector of Jews.” An anthropologist from Cambridge with Albanian roots Nora Weller said that the German ambassador’s reaction is “based on false information.” During last night’s guest appearance on KTV, Weller directly accused Rohde of causing damage by incorrectly linking the restoration of the house with false accusations that Kosovo was denying the Holocaust.
At the press conference today, Ceku emphasized that the purpose of the debate, which was „initiated by Serbia“, was „to spread lies that Kosovo denied the Holocaust, which is a Serbian fabrication.“
„It must be clearly stated that the Albanian people have given countless proofs of their anti-fascist affiliations and dedication to the protection of the Jewish people during the Holocaust. The debate led in recent days has originated in Serbia and that is very clear. Paradoxically, a state with a policy of denying genocide and rehabilitating war criminals is aspiring to fabricate a narrative by portraying Kosovo as a Holocaust denier or presenting the project as an attempt at revisionism or rewriting history. It is a false narrative that comes from Serbia because the historical facts are undeniable and obviously not on Serbia’s side. Even current facts, not only historical ones, refute this absurd and dangerous narrative of Serbia. The protected monument, which formally appears on our list of cultural heritage under the name „House of Xhafer Deva“, is a publically-owned monument. Throughout its history, it has held numerous public positions, including health and others. It has great aesthetic, architectural, social, educational, and other values. According to the typology of construction, it is one of the first examples in Kosovo of the transition to modern European architecture. It is part of the collective memory of the inhabitants of Mitrovica and it is in a bad condition. Restoration is needed. It was damaged in a fire in 2015, while the last intervention was done in 2018. We have to finish this work that started a few years ago.“ (the quote was collected via Kosovo media reporting)
Ceku also reiterated today that the Ministry of Culture „announced the restoration of the building, not the restoration of the character of Xhafer Deva.“
A day earlier, in an attempt to save the project, Ceku claimed that the house of Xhafer Deva „does not have to keep this name at all costs“, placing emphasis on its architectural value.
„We are just restoring the monument. We are protecting our cultural heritage and we are not rehabilitating the story of Xhafer Deva or any other person. After the restoration of the building, the regional center of cultural heritage will be situated in Mitrovica, and other parts of the monument will be used for a museum, art gallery, documentation center (…) Violence against monuments, architecture, is in complete contradiction with international conventions and European heritage protection practices. And among those practices is the practice of our friendly country, Germany. We are interested in respecting international conventions and good practices of European and other countries,“ the minister added today.
In his words, the ministry will not give up on the project as Kosovo has enough money in its budget, but that „what was started must be resumed with international partners“.
„I urge everyone to think and be rational. Professional arguments must win over emotions. The sources of the wrong debate are not within Kosovo,“ he reiterated, adding:
„Everyone can give up, but we as a ministry cannot give up on the protection of cultural heritage because we do not have the right to do so.“
Xhafer Deva on the streets
In addition to emphasizing Xhafer Deva’s positive role in Albanian history, ever since this figure caught the international public eye, Kosovo experts, officials underlined that the house „must not suffer because of politics.“ Furthermore, they claim that what is important is its great value as an architectural and cultural asset.
In several announcements of the restoration project, including last week’s announcement, however, the house was still highlighted as „the house of Xhafer Deva“.
Also, according to several media and institutional sources spanning multiple years, in addition to its architecture value, the role of Xhafer Deva as one of the „most deserving“ figures in Albanian history, „who held important positions“ was emphasized, with occasional announcements that part of the house will house the museum dedicated to Deva and his family.
After the 2015 fire, which Ceku mentioned today, Pristina-based Koha wrote about Xhafer Deva, claiming that he is one of the „most prominent figures in this region.“ TV Mitrovica described him as „one of the greatest intellectuals in Kosovo and Albania.“ Back in 2018, in the announcement of the restoration of the house, Kallxo also confirmed that Deva is „one of the most prominent figures“ in the area, without providing details on precisely why Deva is described as such.
„From 1941 to 1944, Xhafer Deva played a key role in organizing and protecting the Albanian people. For a long time, he held key positions – as the mayor of Mitrovica and the Minister of the Interior in the Albanian government (1943-44). After the war, he was expelled and immigrated to the US, where he died,“ Koha wrote in 2015.
In addition to books and media, the streets themselves testify to the view that Xhafer Deva was a prominent figure in Albanian history.
In South Mitrovica, a mural of Xhafer Deva can be found in the very center of the city, along with another figure whose character and work was a subject of controversy since World War II – Rexhep Mitrovica.
Also, several streets in Kosovo bear Deva’s name – in South Mitrovica, Urosevac, and Pristina.
While photographing Xhafer Deva’s house in South Mitrovica today, KoSSev journalists were approached by an unknown man who followed us for a short time. The man questioned us in Albanian: „Who are you and what are you photographing?“ When one of our journalists asked him who he was, he just kept repeating the same thing. The man left once we turned the phones we were using to photograph the house in his direction.
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