21 March 2006

Municipal authorities in Kosovo continue with attempts to seize the Church property

KIM Info-service, January 30, 2006

Despite frequent promises by Kosovo authorities that the Serbian Orthodox Church will be fairly treated local municipal authorities continue with attempts to seize the Church property.

In Djakovica, the municipal authorities with assistance of local UNMIK administrator simply falsified the cadastral records and turned the church owned land in the center of the town into a municipal land on which a monument to "KLA heroes" was erected. Just several meters from the monument which was unveiled by KLA War Veterans one can see the remains of the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Trinity which was mined by Kosovo Albanian extremists immediately after the beginning of the peace mission in June 1999. The ruins of the cathedral stood until March 2004 when they disappeared overnight because the municipal authorities decided to use the church land for construction of a large KLA Memorial Center. The Church authorities have already requested urgent UNMIK reaction and protection of Church property rights.

In the nearby municipality of Decani two Kosovo Albanian companies with support of some influential municipal representatives are continuing with campaign to take from the Monastery of Visoki Decani 20 hectars of land. The land which had been in the monastery ownership until the Second World War was after the war confiscated by Communist authorities and was used as "socially owned property". Upon decision of the Belgrade Government the injustice of the Communist period was rectified in 1997 and the land, which is only a smaller part of all monastery property that was confiscated was returned to the Church. However, Kosovo Albanian authorities after the war refuse to recognize the rightful owner and make constant pressures to take over the monastery land.

Although UNMIK authorities said that the final arbitration will be made on the level of Kosovo Trust Agency Special Chamber court, by international judges, local authorities began their own court trial on the level of municipal court which brought a decision that the Church land must be confiscated again, which represents a direct breach of law because the issue like this one cannot be discussed on the level of municipal court which is comprised only of Kosovo Albanians.

In 2002 local municipal authorities in Decani deliberately demolished two buildings in the center of town that belonged cadastrialy to the monastery. This action was justified by falsified cadastrial records according to which the land was in fact owned by the Municipality. Since the end of the war Cadastral offices in Albanian dominated municipalities are fully under Albanian control and UNMIK has not always been able to prevent or review illegal changes of property ownership.

The monastery of Pec Patriarchate is also facing problems because local municipal authorities decided to build a facility on the land which is in close vicinity to this historical site and which once also belonged to the monastery. The Serb administration before the war protected the area around the Pec Patriarchate monastery from illegal construction but new municipal authorities nevertheless decided to authorize the construction in order to prevent the Church to restitute its property that was illegally confiscated during the Communist regime.

Judicial response to attacks on Serbian Orthodox churches in Kosovo is more than disappointing. Since 1999 only a few individual perpetrators in attacks on Serbian Orthodox holy sites has been brought to justice. The reconstruction process which has begun last year is very slow and most of 150 destroyed sites still remain in ruins. After one of the most recent attacks in Prizren when almost complete led covering of the roof on 14th century Serb Orthodox Cathedral was stolen the Church has still not been informed that the perpetrators have been found. Local police claims that this was done by children but more reliable but unofficial sources show that a local company which enjoys protection of powerful political individuals was involved in selling the lead roof in Albania.

According to the information the Church receives from local parish priests attempts of usurpation of the Church property accompanied with systematic destruction of cemeteries and other Christian Orthodox monuments is noticable throughtout the Province. The Church is seriously concerned that if Kosovo becomes independent the process of usurpation of the Church property will only be intensified which would eventually lead to complete disappearance of the Serbian Orthodox heritage in Kosovo.