Despite the ban on building highways and transit roads through special protective zones in Kosovo, works on the main road Decani-Plav near the monastery of Visoki Decani have continued, the Diocese of Raska and Prizren announced on Thursday night. According to the Diocese, the construction works are being carried out by the local Kosovo authorities in Decani, together with the support of the Pristina authorities, within the monastery’s protective zone.
“At present, heavy machinery (excavators, backhoe loaders, and road compactors) are operating within the Monastery’s Protective Zone, the previously existing retaining wall has been removed, and the road is being significantly widened. Freight trucks belonging to a construction firm named Lika are presently bringing in coarse gravel, which excavators then distribute over the road, and road compactors then flatten down. The road is being widened by several meters from its previous width, thus becoming essentially a category one highway. Wide drainage pipes have been installed in multiple places,” the Diocese underlined.
They state that due to the shaking of the ground caused by the large number of heavy construction vehicles passing by each day, damage to the 14th century church itself and monastery buildings is already possible.
“So far, there have been many attempts to destroy the Protective Zone’s integrity with various illegal activities, but now, intensive construction work has been shamelessly undertaken without any attempt at hiding what is going on, with the purpose of building the illegal road and thus endangering the Visoki Decani Monastery in a lasting, long-term way,” they also warned.
The Diocese reminded that the construction of highways and transit roads is prohibited by the Law on Special Protective Zones, noting that neither the Commission for Protective Zones, nor international representatives, nor the Visoki Decani Monastery itself were informed of the resumption of construction work on the road.
The Diocese of Raska-Prizren and Visoki Decani Monastery, in whose protective zone this international highway is being built, condemn this flagrant and audacious violation of the law, which damages one of the most important UNESCO sites in this region of the Balkans.
According to the Diocese, this sort of behavior on the part of Kosovo institutions clearly shows not only the lack of readiness on the part of Pristina institutions to protect this world heritage cultural site, but also represents a “flagrant violation of existing Kosovo laws which harms the Monastery’s already endangered natural surroundings, which will have incalculable consequences.”
They also recalled that this is not the only instance of laws and court decisions of Kosovo being violated to the Monastery’s detriment, pointing out that, for four years now, the municipal authorities have refused to implement the Constitutional Court in Pristina’s decision which confirmed the Monastery’s property rights over 24 hectares of land.
“Such blatant hostile behavior and the destruction of the Monastery’s natural surroundings on the part of Kosovo institutions is a sure indicator of the extreme danger in which Serbian religious and cultural heritage in this region finds itself,” the Diocese of Raska and Prizren underlined.
The Diocese pointed out that the position of international institutions and the Implementation Council for Special Protective Zones is that the already-begun bypass road which avoids passing through the protective zone should be completed, such that the damage to the Monastery currently taking place would be prevented.
The Diocese of Raska-Prizren will again contact all relevant international representatives in Pristina and abroad with the request that work on the road be immediately ceased, and that the damage already inflicted would be repaired by returning the road to its original width and that the Monastery would be protected from any further “aggressive” behavior on the part of Kosovo authorities.
A section of this road was ceremoniously opened in June this year. The ceremony was attended by Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti and former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, who was actually born in Decani. Haradinaj was the prime minister when the first attempt was made to build the road in 2018, within – as the monks of Visoki Decani claimed even at that time – the Special Protective Zone. This move was opposed by the Visoki Decani monks and representatives of the international community in Kosovo and Serb CSOs. The road construction began in 2014, and all attempts by the Diocese to halt the works while alerting of violation of the Law and the SPZ were rejected by the authorities in Decani, who accused Visoki Decani of „preventing economic development“ of the municipality of Decani.
Decisions on construction can be made only with the consent of the multi-member Commission for Protective Zones, whose members are representatives of the EU Office in Kosovo, the OSCE Mission, Kosovo’s Ministers of Spatial Planning and Culture, and the Bishop of Raska and Prizren. In the case of the main road Decani-Plav, the Commission did not give consent for the construction of the road, instead a bypass route around the SPZ has been agreed.
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