16 February 2007

Kosovo institutions tolerate illegal construction within Visoki Decani Monastery protected zone

KIM Info Newsletter 18-12-06

Local Kosovo institutions are openly tolerating violation of UNMIK orders and endangerment of UNESCO world heritage - Church concerned for future of its sites
The owner of the illegally built restaurant wants to expand his property
The local Kosovo institutions turn the blind eye to open violations of laws and UNMIK regulations

KIM Info Service, Decani, December 18, 2006

Despite an UNMIK executive order establishing a protected zone and a ban on construction of housing and tourist buildings within this zone illegal construction near Visoki Decani Monastery is continuing. Namely, an Albanian restaurant built not far from the monastery more than a year ago without a building permit is presently being expanded. The owner of the illegal building, Naim Kuchi, has begun building a new tourist building a few weeks ago that is more than 30 meters long, as well as wooden huts that are detrimental to the appearance of the environment surrounding the monastery and represent a flagrant violation of both Kosovo law and the executive order of the UNMIK chief protecting the monastery. Decani municipality recently adopted a decision proclaiming the zone around the monastery an urban zone, thus institutionally and practically opening the door to illegal construction and the violation of the UNMIK order. The restaurant itself has not yet been legalized although it is often frequented by municipal officials and their guests.

The most recent case of illegal construction near Visoki Decani Monastery proves that despite flagrant violation of the law by the owner of the building, local institutions have not show willingness at all to take part in the protection of patrimony in accordance with existing regulations of the UN Mission. Regional UNMIK representative Luis Perez, who observed the beginning of illegal work at the beginning of December, immediately informed the Decani municipal assembly and the local police station (Kosovo Police Service). A document signed on December 9, 2006 by the local police chief, captain Bekim Avdaj, confirms the violation of the UNMIK executive order and the beginning of illegal construction. The decision says that the illegal construction will be stopped immediately and that the mayor and municipal public prosecutor have been informed of the violation of law. However, a week later construction work is continuing unobstructed, proving that neither the police nor the municipality have undertaken any measures to protect the law and thus are supporting the violation of the UNMIK decisions.

Recently erected building in the protected zone of the monastery
In light of negotiations on long-term protection of the Serbian patrimony in Kosovo and Metohija this most recent case of illegal construction near Visoki Decani Monastery clearly shows that Kosovo institutions are not ready to respect existing UNMIK regulations and that they are directly endangering the protection of patrimony that has been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in the meanwhile. As stated in previous correspondence from the office of Martti Ahtisaari to UNMIK local Albanians are using illegal construction to create facts on the ground and usurp as much land as possible. The question is openly being asked how much these institutions would respect the recommendations of the office of Mr. Ahtisaari when they are presently not respecting existing UNMIK orders. In the existing general legal vacuum where lawlessness and organized crime rule, the Serbian spiritual and cultural heritage must get a far more effective level of protection than that being prepared by the team of Martti Ahtisaari.

"We are deeply concerned by the attitude of the Kosovo police and Decani municipality, who are tolerating illegal construction to the detriment of the monastery. This indicates that the protection of Serbian patrimony which would be directly dependent on local Albanian institutions is not possible in practice. The Serbian spiritual and cultural heritage must be placed under a special regime of internationally guaranteed protection where Kosovo institutions will not have the possibility of endangering its survival and identity," said Vicar Bishop Teodosije of Lipljan in a statement for the KIM Info Service. Bishop Teodosije has already informed representatives of the Serbian negotiating team and representatives of the office of Martti Ahtisaari of the illegal construction near the monastery during a recently held meeting in Belgrade.

Parallel with the continuation of illegal construction near Decani Monastery the Pristina Albanian language daily Koha Ditore wrote in its December 14 issue that a section of the future highway to Ulcinj is to pass immediately next to Visoki Decani Monastery. This is yet another direct threat to the monastery because the executive order establishing a protected zone around Visoki Decani Monastery signed in 2006 by then UNMIK chief Soren Jessen-Petersen clearly states that existing roads in the zone cannot be expanded, which means that the construction of highways in the area is not allowed. The existing road next to the monastery, which was recently connected with the part of Montenegro inhabited by ethnic Albanians, has been documented by police as one of the primary routes for the illegal trading of weapons, drugs and white slaves. Unfortunately, international police has yet to establish any sort of effective system of controlling this road, which is presently controlled by local criminal gangs.

On the other hand, beside usurpation of land and illegal building around Serbian Orthodox holy sites attempts to revise the history in some leading Kosovo newspapers are continuing. On December 16, Koha Ditore daily (page 36) published a text by Edi Shukriu in which the author argues that Gracanica Monastery is an ancient Albanian shrine and that Serbs only occupied Albanian Christian heritage in Kosovo. Although such unscientific claims are unacceptable for historians they nevertheless demonstrate a constant urge of Kosovo Albanian "intellectuals" to Albanize Serbian cultural heritage in their quest of independent ethnic Albanian Kosovo. Regrettably in similar attempts some Kosovo institutions have taken so far a significant part which has already been published by KIM Info-service.

The administration of Visoki Decani Monastery will forward an official request to the UNMIK chief Dr. Joachim Ruecker for consistency in the implementation of the decision of his predecessor and that he specifically ask Decani municipality for a decision to remove illegally constructed buildings within the Visoki Decani Monastery protected zone and respect existing laws.

It is the firm position of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Belgrade negotiating team that the Serbian spiritual and cultural heritage in Kosovo and Metohija must receive special status and adequate legal and physical protection in accordance with the ten guiding principles for negotiations on the status of the Province defined by the Contact Group at the end of 2005. If this is not done, it is illusory to talk about any sort of possibility of survival for Serbian Orthodox Christian holy shrines in the existing political and security situation.