11 November 2006

Illegal construction around Serbian patrimonial sites in Kosovo continues

KiM Info Newsletter 19-10-06

Despite a letter by UN special representative for negotiations on the status of Kosovo Martti Ahtisaari to the UNMIK chief, no concrete measures have yet been undertaken to protect Serbian cultural heritage from illegal construction and usurpation of property

Yellow circle shows location where construction work began Gorioc Monastery near Istok. A swimming pool (bottom right) was also recently built in the immediate vicinity (click on photo to enlarge)

KIM Info Service, October 19, 2006

According to information received by the KIM Info Service from a high international representative in Pristina, illegal construction of the already begun building near the monument to Serbian heroes at Gazimestan Hill is continuing. Despite the fact that the municipality of Obilic recently allegedly issued a decree halting work, the construction team simply carried on its work on the building. According to available information, construction work near the monument in Gazimestan was begun without a building license from the municipality of Obilic, which has jurisdiction over the location, although the nearby monument is on the territory of the municipality of Pristina.

The head of the UNOSEK negotiating mission Martti Ahtisaari sent a letter to UNMIK chief Joachim Ruecker on October 5 regarding the illegal construction near Gazimestan, Gorioc and Velika Hoca with the request to "look into this matter and take appropriate measures, including, should the circumstances so warrant, possible freezing of the construction around the said sites until decisions with regard to the relevant protective zones have been finalized in the course of negotiations". In his letter Ahtisaari emphasized that these monuments "have been slated to enjoy protective zones designed to limit industrial, commercial and other activities in the proximity to these sites in order to preserve the unique cultural, historic and natural environment". In Ahtisaari's opinion, "we have reasons to believe that the construction activities in question may be intended to create facts on the ground and could complicate the negotiations and, subsequently, implementation of their outcome". In the Albanian language press representatives of Kosovo interim institutions have denied receiving any sort of instructions regarding this matter. It still remains unclear whether UNMIK will undertake any measures on this matter.

Major construction work near Gazimestan - still continuing, in spite of municipal decree Photo: KIM Radio (click on photo to enlarge - 2MB)


At the same time it received information regarding the continuation of construction near Gazimestan, the KIM Info Service also learned from Gorioc Monastery that clearing of land in a location near the monastery itself, an area that according to the UNOSEK proposal should be included within the monastery's protected zone, is also still going on. The sisters observed a bulldozer clearing brush and digging a trench. Serious suspicion exists that preparations are being made to build a building without a license from the municipal authorities, which is an already tested method for creating facts on the ground, as Ahtisaari wrote Ruecker. Two years ago near Visoki Decani Monastery an Albanian restaurant was illegally built in similar fashion, without a license but with the knowledge of municipal authorities, and this became one of the immediate reasons for UNMIK's proclamation of a protected zone around Visoki Decani Monastery. According to unofficial information there are also plans to build a refugee settlement for Roma near Gorioc Monastery, which would further urbanize the zone immediately proximate to the monastery.

Flattened land not far from Gorioc Monastery near Istok. Recently two swimming pools were built nearby with deafening music playing all summer and hindering worship in the monastery. Most of these facilities were built without proper documentation because municipalities don't have regulated spatial plans

A special problem in protecting Serbian religious and historical monuments is the fact that in many municipalities in Kosovo and Metohija there is no regulated spatial plan and individuals are trying to take advantage of the existing legal vacuum to occupy as much land as possible, usually with the knowledge and support of municipal power-holders. Moreover, some municipalities do not respect basic norms for protection of cultural heritage and relevant UNMIK decisions, nor the position of the Contact Group that the protection of Serbian spiritual and cultural heritage is one of the key aspects for resolving the future status of Kosovo.


In the municipality of Decani, for example, a decision was adopted at a recent session of the municipal assembly to proclaim the zone around the monastery an urban zone, and the UNMIK led Implementation Committee is already receiving requests for construction of houses on the land around the monastery itself. These requests have been rejected on the basis of restrictions protecting the zone but the position of the municipality passing such a decision clearly shows that at the local level there is no willingness to respect the UNMIK chief's executive decision and preserve the environment of the monastery, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Municipality also have plans to open a recreation center and a large hotel near the Monastery. It is needless to say that such activities would not only destroy the forest around the shrine but also completely change the unique spiritual atmosphere which attracts many visitors and pilgrims. Protection of the property of the monastery is another serious problem because in 2002 the municipal assembly illegally destroyed a house in the center of town which is according to cadastrial documents owned by Decani Monastery, while at the same time mounting a staged trial in the municipal court invalidating the decisions of the Serbian Government from 1997 restoring a part of the monastery's usurped property. Although the UNMIK chief proposed that the matter be resolved before the special court of the Kosovo Trust Agency, the matter still remains in legal limbo.

Cardboard packaging factory being built just above the entrance to the village of Velika Hoca near Orahovac. The area around this village is assigned by the municipality as the industrial area


According to information received from Velika Hoca work on the new factory of cardboard packaging above the village itself is continuing without interruption. Residents of Hoca are especially concern because the factory is located near their vineyards. Additionally, an Albanian businessman recently leased another, the already existing small plastics factory "18 November" from UNMIK's agency for privatization in a very suspicious manner. This factory was built before the war to provide jobs for local Serbs. Residents of Hoca say that on the very first day, an Albanian flag was hoisted over the factory, located only some 50 meters from the first Serb houses. A court case has been initiated against the illegal leasing of this factory before the municipal court in Orahovac because the family of Djordje and Stajko Mavric of Velika Hoca has cadastral documentation confirming that the factory was built on their privately owned land. Since it extremely difficult to realize even the most minimal rights under the present situation, it would appear that these two Albanian factories will seal off the entrance to the last remaining Serb village in the municipality of Orahovac.


In his recent statement the UNMIK spoekesman Mr. Singh said that no construction activities are going on in the vicinity of the Gorioc monastery. He also explained that the construction near Velika hoca is taking place on private land and that it is authorized by municipal authorities of Orahovac. These statements are only partially correct because as one can see from the photos the land near the monastery has already been flattened by a bulldozer. The factory near Hoca may be on the private land but the decision of the municipality to assign the land in the very vicinity of the historical center of Velika Hoca (with 11 medieval churches) to be an industrial zone is speaking for itself. What particularly raises concerns of the Serbian community is the fact that UNMK seems to be helpless in making Kosovo Albanian authorities more sensitive to the idea of protection of Serbian cultural heritage. Such behavior of some municipal authorities is already creating an impresssion that Serbian Heritage will soon be surrounded by dozens of factories and other buildings that would completely destroy the unique environment. Such behavior is exactly the strongest argument that Serbian heritage must be placed under effective internationally granted protection as soon as possible and excluded from direct power of municipal authorities which have proved to be at the loss to understand importance of such cultural assets. As for Gazimestan, it is exactly from the international sources that it was confirmed that the construction has continued in spite of the municipal decision, which needs no additional comment.

In a situation where negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina face an uncertain future, the issue of protection of Serbian spiritual and cultural heritage is becoming increasingly difficult. In the opinion of international experts it is far more difficult to define an effective method of implementing a regime for protecting the areas around cultural and historical monuments in a situation where there is permanent institutional chaos at the municipal level than to formally proclaim the protected zones themselves. That is why the Serb side requested that an agreement on the status of Serbian heritage be adopted prior to the passing of a law on cultural heritage in Kosovo, which was not done; the draft law was adopted a few days ago in the Kosovo Assembly, leaving the Serbian cultural heritage in a very unenviable position. Since there are no Serb representatives in the Assembly, no one filed even a formal protest against this law. Nevertheless, according to the interpretation of legal experts, the decision on the protection of Serbian cultural heritage (if adopted during the course of negotiations on the future status of the Province) will have precedence over (local) laws.

Bulldozer flattening land near Gorioc Monastery - UNMIK officials officially claim that there are no works near Gorioc monastery