Diocese of Raska-Prizren, Quint, and EU remind: Five years later, the decision to return 24ha of land to V. Decani has yet to be implemented 

FOTO: Visoki Dečani
FOTO: Visoki Dečani

Five years have passed since the Kosovo Constitutional Court, which followed a 16-year-long court proceeding confirmed the decision of the Supreme Court of Kosovo to return 24 hectares of land to the monastery of Visoki Decani. The decision, however, has not been implemented to date, i.e. the land has not been registered in the cadastre. The ambassadors of the Quint countries and EU countries, as well as the Diocese of Raska and Prizren, have once again urged Kosovo authorities to implement this decision, while Pristina remains silent.

The head of the EU Office in Kosovo, Ambassador Tomas Szunyog, was the first to remind of the delayed implementation of the Constitutional Court’s decision.

 “I regret that 5 years since the Constitutional Court ruled on land dispute in Decani, the ruling is still not being implemented. Kosovo can move forward only by upholding the rule of law as a fundamental democratic principle,” Szunyog tweeted.

Visoki Decani monastery also reacted.

“Our Church expects the international community to protect our rights as Bishop Teodosije has recently said,” reads the monastery’s comment on Szunyog’s tweet.

The Quint countries embassies in Kosovo, as well as the Diocese of Raska and Prizren, reacted later in the day. 

The heads of mission of France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States wrote in a statement that Kurti’s government was appointed with a strong mandate of reform and respect for the rule of law.

According to them, one key test of its resolve will be the implementation of the May 2016 Kosovo Constitutional Court decision on registering the Decani Monastery’s land. 

“Respecting the rule of law is an obligation for all governments. The Heads of Mission of France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States strongly encourage the Government of Kosovo to proceed without further delay with the lawful registration in line with the Constitutional Court decision.”

Every year, the ambassadors of the Quint countries remind of this decision, calling on Kosovo institutions to implement the decision of the Constitutional Court on the monastery of Visoki Decani. This year’s Department of State report on religious freedoms also highlighted that the decision has not been implemented yet.

Diocese of Raska-Prizren: Kosovan institutions do not respect their own court decisions and laws

 “Although it is a ‘res judicata’ decision (without any possibility of appeal) which Kosovo institutions are obliged to implement according to the law, it is now 5 years since the decision has not been implemented,” the Diocese of Raska and Prizren wrote in a statement issued last night.

They recalled that they, immediately after the Court decision, requested from Decani Municipality and the Cadastre the implementation of the decision and inscription of the land in the Cadastre but this request was “flatly refused.”

In June 2019 the Constitutional Court wrote to the Monastery after the Visoki Decani Monastery had complained due to non-implementation of the Court decision. The Constitutional Court said that its decisions are obligatory for all parties, persons and institutions in Kosovo – the Diocese added, noting that at the end of the letter the Constitutional Court said that it would take all within its responsibilities to honor the Constitution and the laws.

“Regrettably, although the Monastery had in the meantime addressed the Central Cadastre in Pristina, the Court decision has remained unimplemented.”

They also alleged that last year, under the OSCE Mission in Kosovo supervision, the monastery repeated the procedure requesting the inscription of its land in accordance with the Constitutional Court decision. It was done first to the Municipal and then to the Central Cadastre and in both instances, the Monastery request was ignored. 

“Having all this in mind it is clear that we are facing a deliberate legal obstruction by Kosovo institutions both on central and local levels, under the strong influence of formal and informal Kosovo Albanian centers of power which apparently remain determined that the Constitutional Court decision will never be implemented. We are saddened that the local judicial authorities in Kosovo are unable to do anything in this regard and that the institutions are firmly in hands of those who make justice on their own regardless of the Constitutional and Supreme Courts’ decisions as well as laws. At the same time, the international representatives simply have not found a way so far how to make Kosovo institutions implement the decision of their own Constitutional Court, respect decisions of their highest judicial institutions and the rule of law.”

The Diocese also claims that the Kosovan Minister of Spatial Planning, Liburn Aliu, according to several media outlets, clearly stated that the “Decani-Plav road, in accordance with the request of the Serbian Orthodox Church, is a dangerous precedent”. He also said that he is “against the construction of the bypass road circumventing the Special Protective Zone (SPZ) around the monastery.” 

“To remind, in November 2020 the Implementation Monitoring Council (with EU and OSCE Heads of Mission, Kosovo ministers for Culture and Spatial Planning, as well as the representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church (Diocese of Raska and Prizren), in the presence of KFOR Commander, the Italian Ambassador to Kosovo and the Decani mayor unanimously adopted the decision of the IMC endorsing an Arrangement for the resolving of Decani-Plav road issue. According to the IMC decision, it was decided that the Decani-Plav road must not pass in any way through the Decani Monastery SPZ. Legal studies on this issue had previously been made by legal experts of both OSCE and EU Missions in Kosovo. It was decided that a bypass road should be constructed around the SPZ and that the rehabilitation of the local roads within the SPZ (with respect of all SPZ regulations) may be done in a synchronized way, according to clearly defined milestones, with the construction of a bypass road. In other words, any work on the local roads in the zone without parallel works on the bypass road would be illegal. With his statement, the new Minister for Spatial Planning has practically rejected the implementation of the IMC decision from November 2020 and thus called for law violation i.e. openly favored construction of a transit international road to Montenegro through the Monastery SPZ.”

They also commented on a recent letter Kosovo’s Ministers of Culture and Foreign Affairs addressed to Europa Nostra, in which they wrote that Visoki Decani Monastery must be removed from the list of 7 most endangered cultural monuments as it is not endangered because „Kosovo respects all international principles of protection.“

 “As one can see Kosovo institutions not only disrespect their own judicial decisions, laws, the institutional continuity with decisions of their previous Governments, but also openly hide the truth of legal disorder and institutional pressures against the Serbian Orthodox Church. This is only the last phase of pressures which began with the systematic destruction of the Serbian spiritual and cultural heritage in Kosovo and Metohija, destruction of cemeteries and other cultural sites since the end of the war in 1999,” they underlined.

The Diocese of Raska and Prizren expressed “regret” and “open indignation” due to such behavior of Kosovo institutions which “openly show legal incompetence and an ill-willed position towards the Serbian Orthodox Church and its heritage.”

 “The Diocese of Raska-Prizren of the SOC has always been and will be open for dialog with all people of good will as it is the position of the SOC Assembly of Bishops, but it will nevertheless not be able to attend any meetings with representatives of local Kosovo institutions until the decision of the Constitutional Court of Kosovo on the Monastery land is implemented. Also, unless the decision of the IMC which was unanimously accepted and signed affirming the bypass road solution in November 2020, the Raska and Prizren Diocese will not be able to attend the meetings of the IMC as it is pointless to attend meetings with those who do not honor their own decisions and obligations. The Diocese emphasizes once again its readiness for a dialog as a SOC Diocese with administrative seat in Belgrade (as specified in the Ahtisaari document) but only if there is readiness from the Kosovo side for dialog and respect of laws and judicial decisions, especially towards the Serbian Orthodox Church (which is an obligation taken by Kosovo Government in Washington in 2020) and which is still insisted upon by the new US Administration.”

For any dialog, confidence and respect of previously adopted obligations are indispensable. As we can see this is not the case, we expect the international representatives to find ways to make Kosovo officials respect the rule of law and order – the Diocese emphasized.

“The issue of the Visoki Decani Monastery land is finalized by the decision of the highest Kosovo judicial bodes, the Supreme and Constitutional Courts of Kosovo and the issue of the bypass route around the Decani SPZ has been regulated by the decision of the IMC and represents the only way how the Decani-Plav road construction can be completed fully in accordance with Kosovo legislation. The readiness of Pristina to implement both decisions will open the door for a dialog on other practical issues related to the Serbian Orthodox Church in this area and the Diocese of Raska and Prizren remains fully open for a constructive dialog of that kind.”

700 ha of land taken from the monastery in 1946

Seven hundred hectares of land were seized from the Visoki Decani Monastery in 1946. However, the state of Serbia returned 24 hectares to the monastery in 1997. The monastery, when combined with the twenty hectares it previously owned, then owned 55 hectares of land.

This return of 24 hectares was regularly recorded in the cadaster, but since 1999, the local Kosovo authorities do not recognize that this land belongs to the monastery. Although the monastery continues to use the land, municipal authorities are beginning to challenge the ownership of the monasteries over these 24 hectares.

UNMIK then decided that the monastery would continue to use this property until the dispute is settled in court.

After 16 years of dispute over the ownership of the monastery land in the municipality of Decani, the Constitutional Court of Kosovo reached a decision in May 2016 to confirm the previous decision of the Supreme Court in 2012 on the confirmation of Visoki Decani monastery’s ownership rights of the 24 hectares of land.

The decision caused conflicting reactions in the Kosovo society, with the harshest criticism arriving from the municipal leadership, which still refuses to implement the court’s decision and to register the monastery’s ownership of the land in the cadaster.

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