Kurti and Osmani in a letter to Europa Nostra before the final decision on Decani: Churches in Kosovo are not endangered

Visoki Decani Monastery has been included in a list as one of the most endangered monuments and heritage sites in Europe in 2021. Kosovo’s recently elected president, Vjosa Osmani, and Prime Minister, Albin Kurti, however, objected to this decision. In a letter they sent to the influential organization for the protection of cultural heritage, Europa Nostra – which placed Visoki Decani on its list – on March 18th, even before the final decision on the list was made, they shared arguments proving why Visoki Decani does not meet the criteria to be included the 7 Most Endangered program. Europa Nostra responded three days ago, informing them that the final decision would be made this week.

Below we publish the letter from the Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Kosovo President, Vjosa Osmani, as well as Europa Nostra’s response.

Letter from Albin Kurti and Vjosa Osmani to Europa Nostra

We have the utmost pleasure to address the organization Europa Nostra on behalf of the Republic of Kosovo. Europa Nostra, for several decades now, has demonstrated countless examples of commitment to the protection of Europe’s cultural and natural heritage. Your work and success in the field of cultural heritage is a particular motivation for all of us who believe in the European project as a platform for overall peace and prosperity.

On behalf of the institutions of the Republic of Kosovo, we would like to offer you additional clarifications regarding the nomination of the Monastery of Deçan for the programme „Europe’s Seven Most Endangered Monuments“, Based on the publication of your organization dated December 10, 2020, we have been informed that the Monastery of Deçan has been nominated one of the monuments to be included in this programme. After evaluating the arguments listed in the nomination text, we identified a number of inconsistent arguments. For this reason, we would like to provide you with official and verified information, to argue our deep conviction that the Monastery of Deçan does not qualify for the final list of 7 Most Endangered“ monuments.

Judging by the listed selection criteria for the qualification of monuments for your list, we contim our belief in the universal values that the Monastery of Deçan representes. Within the cultural heritage system, this monument has special significance and extraordinary cultural values However, this nomination does not meet the most important criterion of your programme, that which is related to the argument of the serious danger that threatens the monument. Below, we are listing our arguments, which are based on official information of state institutions of the Republic of Kosovo and relevant interational reports,

In the alleged attacks on the monastery, the language used by the nominator, except for being biased and unacceptable, is also incorrect. The term „local is a deliberately exaggerated designation, while the alleged attack by the terrorist organization ISIS is totally unfounded. This language lends us to believe that the nomination text did not follow the professional line of argumentation, and deviated into content which is politically and propaganda loaded. The best evidence is the lack of reliable sources on which these biased findings are based

We also want to bring to your attention that official reports of the Kosovo Police show a drastic decrease in the number of inter-cthnic incidents in the last decade in our country. We are particularly pleased that no serious incidents have been reported in the Orthodox churches, at least not in the last decade. The same has been ascertained for years by credible international reports, while our country continues to cultivate a very special tradition of inter-religious harmony. Our security institutions in cooperation with international peacekeeping forces have for years provided protection and security for the Orthodox churches in Kosovo Kosovo Police has a special unit that takes care of these monuments. It is an independent and professional assessment of the relevant law enforcement and security bodies that the Orthodox churches in Kosovo enjoy a high level security and are not endangered. We are fully committed to the protection of all monuments of our country, and in particular of Orthodox churches and monasteries, the Orthodox clergy, the religious practitions, and the non-majority communities. We have been providing enduring evidence in this regard for many years now.

Another issue that needs to be taken seriously and which can be found in the nomination text is the issues of the environment. We are aware that the general situation with regards to the environmental protection in Kosovo is not satisfactory, Protected nature and cultural heritage sites face a number of environmental challenges. However, state institutions are seriously engaged pushing the sustainable development agenda forward. Therefore, there is no evidence implicating any local or central institution of the Republic of Kosovo in discriminatory practices against the Monastery of Deçan or other entities. To illustrate the situation based on the spatial and development plans, we inform you that Kosovo is undergoing the process of the functionalization of the new spatial planning system at the municipal level. All municipalities of the Republic of Kosovo, consequently the Municipality of Deçan as well, are drafting spatial and development plans. For your information, the Municipality of Deçan, as part of its plan, has committed to treat the special area of the Monastery of Deçan with special priority and a high level of seriousness.

This special treatment implies strict observance of local legislation and in particular the rules of protection and management as defined by UNESCO.

The text of the nomination also refers to a local road, the construction of which started years ago The designation of this road as an international highway“ is wrong, and we believe it is intentionally done in this way, to unjustly magnify the potential for danger. This situation has been misused by the state of Serbia, trying to turn a project of utilitarian importance for the needs of the local community into a cause of inter-ethnic conflict. The institutions of the Republic of Kosovo, including the central government and the municipality of Deçan, have been open to dialogue and committed to lasting and acceptable solutions for all parties. We are encouraged by the achievements so far of the clergy of the monastery, the municipality of Deçan, the government of Kosovo and the senior international officials in our country regarding this relevant issue. We assure you that in all disputed cases related to cultural heritage, the institutions of the Republic of Kosovo will do their best to find solutions in accordance with local and international legislation, without ever affecting the interests of the parties involved and those of the communities living around.

We are deeply concomed by the wrong statements in the text of this nomination claming that the status of Kosovo is unresolved. Let us confirm that Kosovo declared independence on February 17, 2008. This unanimous declaration of the will of the people of Kosovo through its elected representatives was also confirmed by the International Court of Justice in July 2010. The decision of the ICJ- found that Kosovo’s declaration of independence is in full compliance with international law

With the declaration of independence, the state of Kosovo has guaranteed all the constitutional, legal, institutional and political guarantees for the protection and advancement of the rights of all non-majority communities in our country. These guarantees stem from a long international process of determining Kosovo’s status and are based on the most advanced international conventions and practices. In a special way and with constitutional and legal provisions that include affirmative measures, the state of Kosovo has built and implements the framework for guaranteeing and protecting the cultural rights of the Serb community. In this context, our institutions have included in the state legislation all the provisions of the Ahtisaari Plan related to the protection of cultural and religious heritage. Specifically, the institution of the Serbian Orthodox Church as well as the monasteries and orthodox churches Kosovo enjoy all the constitutional, legal and institutional guarantees that ensure full respect for their rights. It is of particular importance to recall here the provision of the Ahtisaari Plan, which expressly requires that these rights, privil immunities of the SOC come together with the obligation and responsibility to act in a with the law of Kosovo and without infringing on the rights of others and our constitution.

Let us inform you that the Serbian Orthodox Church has only received the rights steming from the Ahtisaari Package while rejecting the responsibilities. So, it enjoys all the guarantees und privileges that come from the Ahtisaari Package (and the Constitution of Kosovo), but the Church refuses to recognize the state of Kosovo, which is a precondition for enjoying its rights. President Martti Ahtisaari himself, as special envoy and international mediator, had recommended in March 2007 to the then UN Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, supervised independence for Kosovo International oversight lasted four years, until 2012. Furthermore, Kosovo’s cultural heritage institutions continue to have limited access to Orthodox churches, as the Orthodox clergy in Kosovo have not shown the necessary willingness to cooperate nor integrate. Serbia has openly lobbied against Kosovo accession to UNESCO in 2015, it continues to unjustly maintain Kosovo’s looted archaeological and ethnological collection, and dealt the heaviest blow during the 1998-1999 war, when Serbian forces damaged and destroyed with thousands of Kosovo cultural heritage assets. These destructions of Kosovo’s cultural property have been described as crimes against humanity in the sentencing judgments of the Hague Tribunal. And after all this, neither acceptance of responsibility, nor apology, nor compensation from Serbia has followed. On the contrary, it has furter intensifed the battle by other means on the one hand and continuues instrumentalizing the Orthodox churches to maintain territorial expansionist aspirations on the other.

Among the many inaccuracies contained in the nomination text, there is one paragraph that most clearly reveals its camouflaged political purpose. In the text, surprisingly, an attempt is made to establish a link between the need to protect the monastery and the political talks between Kosovo and Serbia. Your programme „7 Most Endangered,“ since its establishment in 2013, has raised red flags about the danger that threatenes important monuments. However, we think this is the first time the programme can be used as a tool to push forward a hidden and unprincipled agenda that has nothing to do with cultural heritage itself. If it passes, this will be a very dangerous precedent. Extreme politicization of cultural heritage does not serve the right causes, but the special interests of states that misuse European and international platforms of cultural cooperation that contribute to peace and general prosperity. The Monastery of Deçan is in good condition, it enjoys full constitutional and legal guarantees, as well as complete security, without any danger that threatens it. It is one of the monuments that the state and society of Kosovo are proud of, as was the case throughout history, We will continue to protect it with much love and devotion in the future as well. Therefore, the Monastery of Deçan has not and should not have any connection with the political dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia. Attempting to build a connection between the two is artificial and unstable, and as such should be rejected. For the institutions of the Republic of Kosovo, the status, guarantees, rights and obligations of the Serbian Orthodox Church and Orthodox churches and monasteries in Kosovo are finally defined in the Ahtisaari Plan, included in the Constitution of Kosovo and regulated in our state legislation. The Republic of Kosovo refuses to reopen this process, while the only obligation that remains is the recognition of the state and laws of Kosovo by the SOC.

In conclusion of the arguments listed above, we express our deep conviction that the Monastery of Deçan in Kosovo does not meet the conditions and criteria to be included in the list of „Europe’s Seven Most Endangered „. Aware of the professional reputation and integrity of your organization, we have no doubt that the final decision of the evaluation panel will be grounded, impartial, professional and fair. We urge you to read our letter and consider it as an additional contribution to the work of the selection panel.

Finally, on behalf of the institutions of the Republic of Kosovo, we have the will and the pleasure to invite you to a joint meeting where we can discuss the possibilities of cooperation to advance the agenda of protection of our common cultural and natural heritage. We are happy that two non governmental organizations from Kosovo are members of Europa Nostra and in cooperation with them we are motivated to explore new opportunities for cooperation between the institutions of the Republic of Kosovo and the organization Europa Nostra.

We will be at your disposal for further clarifications and discussions regarding the issue in question. We are grateful for your consideration and look forward to hearing from you within a reasonable time.

Europa Nostra responds to Osmani and Kurti

First of all, we congratulate you on your recent election, respectively, as President and as Prime Minister of Kosovo. We wish you every success in the exercise of your important responsibilities for the benefit of ensuring a European future for your country and its citizens.

We thank you for your letter dated 18 March which you have addressed to the Board of Europa Nostra and to the Advisory Panel of our 7 Most Endangered programme. We wish to assure you that we have carefully examined your views with regard to theDeçan/Dečani Monastery, which is inscribed on the World Heritage List in Danger and has been shortlisted for our 2021 List of 7 Most Endangered sites in Europe.

Please note that this year’s final List of 7 Most Endangered sites in Europe will be announced to the public on 8 April 2021. We wish to recall that by publishing annually such a list, Europa Nostra and our partner, the European Investment Bank Institute, commit to act as catalysts for positive change and future-oriented dialogue of importance for the safeguard of Europe’s endangered heritage.

In the light of the above, we applaud your strong commitment to the safeguard and enhancement of cultural and natural heritage in Kosovo, which forms part of the shared cultural heritage of Europe and the World. We are grateful for your invitation to organise a meeting to discuss ways in which we can develop a future collaboration. We very much hope that it will soon be possible to travel again and to organise a visit to Kosovo. In the meantime, may we suggest that we set up a virtual conference call sometime in the coming weeks.

In the framework of our strong commitment to the proper safeguard of cultural and natural heritage in the Western Balkans, as a vital component of their European path and future, we look very much forward to collaborating with public and private bodies active in the field of cultural heritage in Kosovo, as well as in all other countries of the region.

Read more:

Visoki Decani listed as one of the 7 Most Endangered Heritage Sites in Europe in 2021

 

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