Diocese of Raska-Prizren: SOC needs urgent protection from discriminatory actions of Kosovo institutions

Manastir Musutiste
FOTO: TV Hram

“As Kosovo institutions are neither willing nor able to institutionally protect the rights and religious freedoms of the Serbian Orthodox Church, we can conclude that our Church for the sake of its survival urgently needs protection from illegal and discriminatory actions of the Kosovo institutions, which is necessary to be discussed within the Brussels dialog,” the Diocese of Raska and Prizren said in response to the news that the displaced Serbs from the village of Musutiste were prevented from visiting their village and celebrating the Feast of the Pentecost at the ruins of St. Trinity Monastery.

The Diocese of Raska-Prizren expressed serious concern yesterday amid, as they wrote, an increased number of cases of believers, mostly Serb refugees from Kosovo who live in Central Serbia, being prevented from visiting holy sites and cemeteries where their family members are buried and taking part in religious feasts in Kosovo.

The Diocese stated that after a group of pilgrims were prevented from entering Jarinje last week, the same thing happened on Saturday morning. 

According to the Diocese, the bus with pilgrims was first allowed to cross the boundary crossing at Jarinje but was ordered to leave the territory of Kosovo without any valid explanation, the Diocese stated on Sunday.

This group of pilgrims were planning to visit several SOC sites in Kosovo and celebrate the Feast of the Pentecost attending the Holy Liturgy at the ruins of St. Trinity Monastery near Musutiste.

This monastery was destroyed after the war in the summer of 1999. For years after the war there were liturgies on that day at this site but in the last years, local Kosovo Albanian protesters did not allow access to the monastery. 

The Diocese stated that this year it was not protesters but Kosovo institutions themselves i.e., but allegedly it was the Kosovo Police which prevented the pilgrims from continuing their pilgrimage.

“To make things even worse, the police did not simply return the bus with pilgrims from the administrative boundary as was the case with some other pilgrim groups, but they ordered them to leave Kosovo and Metohija after they had legally passed the administrative boundary and reached North Mitrovica. As believers were prevented to attend the Liturgy, the liturgy at St. Trinity was canceled today,” the Diocese wrote in a statement.

As KoSSev unofficially discovered, a group of displaced Serbs from Musutiste, upon arriving in North Mitrovica, asked the police to escort them to their village, as was allegedly the practice in the previous years due to the objections of Kosovo Albanians living in Musutiste. The request for an escort was previously forwarded through the Kosovo Office, which allegedly received a late answer that the escort was not assigned to this group. The pilgrims then turned back. 

The Kosovo Office was the one to announce the news that pilgrims headed for Musutiste were returned. The office said in a statement that the visit was „duly announced through the liaison officer, in accordance with the agreement, and given that they needed to have a police escort out of security reasons.“

KoSSev reached out to the Kosovo Police yesterday to verify these allegations but has received no answer so far.

“This last, amid a series of incidents demonstrates an increased level of violation of fundamental religious rights, freedom of religion and the freedom of movement, on the basis of ethnic and religious affiliation, which is contradictory not only with Kosovo laws but also with all international standards of religious rights and freedoms. Pristina institutions with such a behavior demonstrate open ethnic and religious discrimination which has, due to other incidents caused a serious aggravation of relations between our Diocese and Kosovo institutions as well as the cessation of all contacts until the full rule of law and observance of court rulings are established,” the Diocese stated. 

This last incident, the Diocese underlined, shows a blatant violation of the Law on religious freedoms,  article 7A of which guarantees that there shall be no arbitrary banning of the entrance to Kosovo for visitors of churches and monasteries of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

 “For clarification, this is a law which the Kosovo Assembly adopted when they wanted to present to the world guarantees that Kosovo would be a tolerant and multiethnic society, which ultimately resulted with the termination of the ‘supervised independence’. Now, when the Kosovo Albanian authorities have seen that enough time has passed that they don’t need to keep even the pretense of tolerance, orchestrated actions have been intensified to dismantle the last remaining guarantees for normal life in Kosovo and Metohija which were at that time given to the Serbian Orthodox Church and Kosovo Serbs.”

The Diocese of Raska and Prizren expressed particular concern over the absence of public international reaction to the increased number of discriminatory acts by Kosovo institutions towards the SOC, as was claimed in the communique.

 “The representatives of Western countries which were ensuring us several years ago that Kosovo laws would provide enough guarantees for our normal life and protection of our rights should, by all means, react to such actions which intensify from day to day.”

The Diocese of Raska-Prizren appealed to the international representatives “to bring Pristina authorities to their senses” and make them respect their own laws:

“Because such a discriminatory behavior towards the SOC and her believers is jeopardizing security, raising tensions and in the long run is damaging for all in the region.”

“By the latest decision to ban entrance to Kosovo to our pilgrims who wanted to visit our holy sites, Pristina authorities have not only violated the guaranteed rights of Kosovo Serbs and the SOC but also proved that their own legal regulations and the rule of law have no meaning and do not present any legal obligation for them regarding the rights of the Serbian Orthodox Church.”

Tensions between the Kosovo authorities and the Diocese of Raska and Prizren have intensified in the last few months, ever since Europa Nostra decided to include Visoki Decani in its list of seven most endangered monuments in Europe in 2021 in early April.

Kosovo officials sent multiple letters to state leaders, Europa Nostra and UNESCO, alleging that the Serbian Orthodox Church is protected, that these churches are Kosovo’s cultural heritage for which Serbia should not be responsible and that the designated monasteries should be removed from the endangered heritage list. They also alleged that the Serb sources deceive international institutions about the endangerment of SOC sites. The Diocese, however, presented differing claims.

Recalling that land had not been returned to the Visoki Decani monastery although five years have passed since the Constitutional Court’s decision, the Diocese of Raska and Prizren decided in mid-May to suspend communication with the Kosovo authorities.

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