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  • Writer's pictureSerbian Orthodox Diocese Kosovo-Metohija

Dečani Monastery does need KFOR protection due to rising security and legal challenges in Kosovo

Updated: Jul 26, 2022

Kosovo's Minister of Culture Mr. Hajrulla Çeku (LVV) claims in his most recent media statement that Visoki Dečani Serbian Orthodox Monastery does not need the KFOR 24/7 protection any longer and that it is not endangered (source) However, the protection of the Monastery by KFOR is needed more than ever, amid rising ethnic and political tensions as well as openly discriminatory behavior of Kosovo* authorities.

* "this designation is without prejudice to positions on status and is in line with UN Security Council resolution 1244 and the International Court of Justice Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence." (EU, OSCE. CoE). Kosovo* is traditionally referred to by Serbs as Kosovo and Metohija. In the text the UN approved name Kosovo is used.

NATO led peacekeepers have been protecting Visoki Dečani Monastery since summer 1999. Without their presence, the Monastery would not be able to live normally.

Kosovo's Minister of Culture Mr. Hajrulla Çeku (LVV) claims in his most recent media statement that Visoki Dečani Serbian Orthodox Monastery does not need the KFOR 24/7 protection any longer and that it is not endangered (source) However, the protection of the Monastery by KFOR is needed more than ever,. amid rising ethnic and political tensions as well as openly discriminatory behavior of Kosovo authorities, Dečani monks claim.

After four armed attacks by Kosovo Albanian extremists (two mortar attacks in 2000, one mortar attack in 2004 and an RPG grenade attack in 2007 - more info), which happened despite the presence of KFOR, with the aim of destroying the Monastery and injuring those who live in it, Dečani Monastery is the most frequently attacked the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) holy site in Kosovo. Only the third attack was investigated by police, but the court characterized an RPG attack as a disturbance of peace and order and let the perpetrator (a local Kosovo Albanian male) with a minor sentence. The tensions did not subside after that. After two series of the ISIS and the KLA graffiti on the Monastery walls (2013, 2014) and the arrest of an armed Kosovo Albanian group associated with ISIS in front of the Monastery gate in January 2016, Dečani Monastery, as the symbol of Serbian Orthodox tradition in Kosovo, still remains one of the prime targets for Kosovo Albanian political and religious extremists. Although it is respected by many ordinary citizens, it is a thorn in the eye of those who claim that Kosovo has always been only ethnic Albanian land.

Visoki Dečani Monastery, in addition to its historical and religious importance for Orthodox Serbs, remains a spiritual haven for all people of good will, especially pilgrims. Beside pilgrims from Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and other countries, the Monastery is often visited by Orthodox Albanian Christians from Albania, as it can be seen in this photo from June 2022.

There is no need to go much in history as Dečani Monastery is one of the best historically documented sites in the Balkans with many international historians and travellers, documents, Medieval charters, Ottoman documents etc. testifying its rich history. After all, this seven centuries old Monastery built by Serbian King Stefan Uroš III and his son Stefan Uroš IV in the 14th century is the one of the most important medieval Christian sites in the Balkans and the Monastery with uninterrupted monastic tradition of 700 years.

2016 protests in Dečani town organized by the Municipality and local power makers against the Kosovo Constitutional Court decision. While hundreds of hectares of the state owned land in Kosovo are being appropriated by Kosovo powerful clan leaders, opposition to the Court decision is generated by those who wanted to use the land around the monastery for their villas and restaurants. Instead of waving American flags, Kosovo citizens should rather look into how the US protects all religious communities and their properties, among them the Serbian Orthodox Church which has existed in the US for 100 years. The protests and inflammatory media articles created a situation of deep instability which requests the presence of KFOR as sine qua non.

Regrettably, despite of all previous armed attacks, which in some other countries could legally be called terrorist attacks, and the historical importance of the Monastery, Kosovo Government continues to ignore its own laws and court decisions related to the Monastery despite the insistence of the EU Parliament and Western ambassadors in Priština, academics and many diplomats to do so.

For six years, Kosovo Government and the Dečani Municipality refuse to inscribe the Monastery 24 hectares of land confirmed by Kosovo Constitution Court after 16 years long litigation. The Kosovo Constitutional Court has in the meantime ordered the initiation of criminal proceedings for obstruction of the law, due to the non-implementation of the Constitutional court decision. Surprisingly Kosovo authorities, which pledge full allegiance to the European future, blatantly refuse the decision of their own Constitutional Court for no valid reason whatsoever.

Having in mind the inadequate level of the rule of law in Kosovo, the legal proceedings against the obstruction of the Court ruling implementation might be another way of evading the recognition of the Monastery land and prolonging ad infinitum the status quo which endangers the Monastery and damages Kosovo's image. Here it is clear that it is not the Monastery or internationals to be blamed but those who lead Kosovo institutions and ignore the rule of law. But in Kosovo media the Monastery is identified as a main problem which additionally creates tensions and endangers the Monastery security. Targeting the Monastery and its monks is a dangerous game in which Kosovo can only lose in the international eyes.

Since 2016 the Municipal authorities illegally intensified the works on the road through the Special protective zone. The works were suspended several times upon requests of the international community representatives in Kosovo. Transit roads for the heavy traffic are prohibited by Kosovo laws even if the Monastery itself would support the transit road construction.

Another problem is non-construction of a bypass transit road around the monastery zone , because the law on Special protective zones SPZ explicitly prohibits transit roads in the green zone of the Monastery. The logic is clear, an oasis of green peace and Medieval heritage can be seriously endangered by heavy traffic of trucks transporting timber from the mountains as well as from Montenegro where the road is intended to go. The decision which resolved this years long issue was finally signed in November 2020 by the heads of EU, OSCE, KFOR missions, two Kosovo ministers (of Spatial Planning and Culture), SOC representatives and the mayor of Dečani at the meeting of the SPZ Implementation Monitoring Council (IMC). The decision endorsed with the Italian Government facilitated arrangement which was satisfactory to all but it insisted that beside rehabilitation of local roads for light traffic and tourism a bypass road must be parallely constructed for the heavy traffic.

KFOR was tasked to report on the progress of the arrangement. which consists of several parallel milestones. Now the Dečani mayor Mr. Bashkim Ramosaj (AAK) claims in his meetings with international diplomats that the Government is responsible for not fulfilling these obligations, and the Government does not give an answer why it ignores the IMC decision on the road. The strategy of evading responsibility is taken in regards to the Constitutional Court decision too.

Dečani Mayor claims that it is the job of the Government and the Central Cadastre and the Government is evading any answer and wants to re-discuss the already closed and legally binding Court decision. In fact, the Municipal Cadastre is obliged to inscribe the land according to the legal opinions of experts and it resolutely refuses to do so.

Construction of the bypass transit road circumventing the Dečani Monastery Special protective zone was begun in 2013 by an inauguration led by the then Kosovo PM Mr. Hashim Thaci, Dečani Mayor and Plav Mayor (Montenegro). The work was stopped by the new PM Mr. Ramush Haradinaj soon after who insisted that the road should follow the legally forbidden route through the Special Protective zone. Only several kilometers of the bypass road were constructed.

In the road issue, it is legitimate that the local Municipality needs a route for transporting the timber from the mountains and connecting to Montenegro and the only possible legal solution is an agreed bypass road. According to the EU and OSCE legal teams' opinions, a transit road for heavy tracks cannot pass next to the 14th century Monastery, which is one of four UNESCO World heritage sites in the territory of Kosovo. This kind of road is strictly prohibited even if the Monastery itself would support construction of a transit road in the SPZ. So there is nothing to agree with the Monastery but to respect the law which was approved by Kosovo Parliament.

Discussion about the road issue in 2020 and previous years was more an exchange of opinions and consultations with internationals on how to understand the law and what is at stake. The Monastery is not against developing of roads in Kosovo, but transit roads (especially international roads) in the Special protective zone are a prohibited activity and there is no way around and no dialogue on this issue, which was eventually adopted by all sides in November 2020.

In 2013 and 2014 on several locations around the Monastery appeared graffiti of ISIS and AKSH (Albanian national army, which was proclaimed by UN Mission as a terrorist organization years before). Messages "The Caliphate is comming". "ISIS", "UCK" showed that this was an open act of intimidation to the Monastery. The perpetrators have never been found and the police closed investigation before conducting any serious investigation. In 2016 an armed group affiliated to ISIS was arrested in front of the Monastery by KFOR and Police. After that, although Kosovo Police was not interested even to see the Monatery ICTV camera video materials after the arrest, KFOR increased its presence considerably and brought troops inside the Monastery premises increasing foot and vehicle patrols. Kosovo authorities simply ignored all these incidents but KFOR had more information.

One of the arguments for the idea that KFOR should leave Dečani Monastery to Kosovo police is that a number of other SOC sites are protected in that way. But the situation in the Dečani region is starkly different. Almost 80% of the SOC problems are focused on Dečani Monastery. A few years ago the Mayor ordered children from the school and many citizens to protest against the Court decision about the Monastery land. The road to the Monastery remained blocked for some time. KFOR increased its protection. So far many incidents against the Serbian Orthodox Church sites in Kosovo have not been investigated by the Kosovo police at all.

Moreover the incident with the arrest of the armed group in front of Dečani Monastery in 2016 has never been investigated by Kosovo police although the Embassies found out that the names of the arrested were linked to a pro ISIS group. Investigation of what the armed group was planning was done only by KFOR military intelligence teams but not Kosovo police. The reason was that the incident was an embarrassment in the time when Kosovo was one of the top territories in Europe who had jihad warriors in Syria and this incident was quickly hidden under the carpet.

No need to say that Kosovo police in many parts of Kosovo appears to be still under the firm influence of the local clans and is generally not trusted by the non-Albanian population. Western part of Kosovo is with the exception of KFOR which is not allowed to meddle in criminal affairs of the local clans without any significant international supervision. EULEX in this part of Kosovo has not even an office and the teams of this highly expensive EU funded organization focus primarily on North Kosovo, while the western part of Kosovo flourishes beyond the international radar. All this is well known in the reports of the intelligence community of the EU countries, as some previously accidentally leaked documents clearly indicate.

One cannot understand the risks around Dečani Monastery without this wider context. The peace around Dečani Monastery is not simply a matter of intercommunal dialogue but it depends whether Kosovo Government and the International community are capable of dismantling organized criminal groups about which they have all relevant information. The Monastery is an obstacle for these criminal clans and not for ordinary local Kosovo Albanian people who have grown visiting it as children and many keep these visits in their best memory.

Without KFOR presence, Dečani Monastery monks will not be able to live normally. Barbed wire placed on the locations where ISIS graffiti were painted in 2013-2014 will have to be placed all around the UNESCO World heritage site of exquisite importance.

Also, KFOR protection of Dečani Monastery is needed due to the general political, legal and security instability for the Serbian people in Kosovo, as the Kosovo authorities behave for 23 years as if this is a purely ethnic Albanian territory and prevent in many ways the return of exiled Serbs. After the war at least 150.000 Serbs were forced to leave Kosovo and around 1000 are still missing. Also, two Serbian-Orthodox monks were killed by Kosovo Albanian extremists; the body of one of them was found decapitated and another one's body has never been found (no criminal investigation by either Kosovo or international authorities have ever been conducted on these cases). Unlike Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the return rating of the refugees is much better despite the more complex conflict, Kosovo is an example of a failed mission in this respect. The return of the Serb property confiscated by local Albanians is almost impossible. Those few ones among Serb returnees who get justice in courts are (often arbitrarily) dozen of years later proclaimed war criminals and forced to leave Kosovo at the end. As Fr. Sava often repeated, "Serbs are guilty until they prove they are innocent, but everywhere in the world any person is innocent until proven to be guilty".

The narrative of the collective Serbian guilt is a handy tool for the large-scale theft of the Serbian owned property and all this is going in front of international eyes. Kosovo leaders now try to impose collective guilt over the Serbian people. The truth is that the entire Yugoslav-Serbian leadership of the 1999 time was brought to the court and many sentenced. On the other hand, no major KLA leader has been legally sentenced although there are so many proofs of crimes against other Albanians, Roma and particularly Serbs. Intimidation of war crimes witnesses in Kosovo is a common practice of keeping the KLA image unblemished. KLA flags can be seen in Kosovo today as the official flags. An organization which was disbanded by the UN Mission after the war has de facto resurged and is being propagated as one of the main images of Kosovo. This is automatically dividing the population in Kosovo and creates a deep mistrust. No wonder that so many young people want to leave Kosovo which cannot find way from its past to its future by adopting an inclusive approach to all its citizens.

US President Mr. Joe Biden visited Dečani Monastery in May 2009 (he had visited the Monastery for the first time as a senator several years before). In his impression in the Monastery book of guests he "admired the Christlike behavior of monks during the war" in Kosovo. In 1999 the monks sheltered 200 Kosovo Albanian refugess and helped many with the US based International Orthodox Christian Charities IOCC. The visit of Mr. Joe Biden was mostly ignored by Kosovo Albanian press, as it did not fit into a narrative that all Serbs are criminals, which is propagated by Kosovo Albanian nationalists. (Upper photo by Alamy).

Western countries which recognized Kosovo‘s proclamation of independence did so on the basis of Kosovo’s commitments to treat all citizens equally in a "country of citizens", as Kosovo is envisaged and proclaimed in the Constitution. But this cannot be seen in everyday life 14 years after the Independence Proclamation. That is why many countries (among them five EU states) do not recognize Kosovo’s independence and wait for the conclusion of the EU facilitated dialogue between Belgrade and Priština on normalization of relations. Visoki Dečani Monastery and the Serbian Orthodox Church, despite years of constructive engagement in dialogue with the local Kosovo Albanian institutions and helping local Kosovo Albanian refugees during the 1999 war, are constantly exposed to the blatant denial of the Serbian Orthodox identity, religious rights, along with constant media hate speech and open slanders by nationalist Kosovo Albanian individuals and groups.

Although the war-time and post-war time role of the Monastery was recognized during the 2009 US President Biden visit to the Monastery (then the US Vice President), Dečani monks are being often presented in Kosovo public in the negative light. The Church and its pilgrims are not allowed even to access some of its properties and sites (Priština, Suva Reka, Djakovica which is constantly highlighted in the US State Department Religious Freedom reports). In the meantime, a number of 150 churches destroyed by Kosovo Albanian extremists after the 1999 war remain in ruins despite reconstruction of two dozens of them, thanks to the Council of Europe led Committee.

The ethnic and religious discrimination campaign against the Serbian Orthodox Church has been going on for the last 23 years as the Church is misleadingly presented by Kosovo Albanian nationalists-cum-mafiosi as the main obstacle to Kosovo without Serb presence, in other words, as an ethnic pure Albanian territory where all Serb historical traces would be deleted or proclaimed ethnic Albanian. The Monasteries as long as owned by the SOC are a problem to claim that Kosovo is just an ethnic Albanian land because every stone of Dečani, Patriarchate, Gračanica, every fresco, every book and medieval document say a different story which is not anti-Albanian but makes it clear who created this heritage.

The paradox is that Kosovo with such a position of ethnic exclusivity and intolerance discourages many in the West to see it as a society compatible with Western democratic values but very few Kosovo Albanians can see it that way. Therefore without the protection by KFOR, Dečani monastery would hardly be able to live normally if it survived at all. It would be forced to radically limit the visit of unknown persons and visitors and install additional barbed wire, ICTV cameras on the walls as well as around its land. All these observations were communicated to the highest representatives of the NATO alliance. So reasonable people see that this is not a way out. Kosovo must change and accept all citizens and traditions, regardless of their background.

Regrettably, relations between the SOC and the Kosovo Ministry of Culture are in a steady decline. The current Minister is seen as a deeply divisive person and has recently been criticized for a project which the German Ambassador in Kosovo equalled to history whitewashing. The reconstruction by the Ministry of the house of a notorious Kosovo Albanian Nazi collaborator and persecutor of Jews and Serbs in WWII was a pretext to change the history narrative and de facto rehabilitate a person who left a bloody stain in history. With such a gaffe, Minister of Culture Mr. Çeku has lost all confidence, not only by the SOC and Kosovo Serbs but all who don’t want neo-Nazi revivalism in Kosovo. After the Kosovo war several streets in Kosovo were named after Xhafer Deva, the founder of the Skenderbey SS division.

Dečani Monastery was constructed in 1327-1335 and since that time several political entities existed in this territory. The Monastery and the Church respected the laws of all who ruled what is today Kosovo, but resilliently protected its Serbian Orthodox identity. It was consistently respected even during the five centuries of Ottoman rule. The Church is not a State or State controlled entity, but a religious institution with centuries of its tradition.

But here's the rub. Kosovo leaders say that the SOC does not recognize Kosovo as an independent country. That is a red herring argument. SOC is a Church which exists in a number of States throughout EU, US, Australia, South America, not to mention the Balkan countries. As the SOC is not a political entity, it is not required to recognize any State or entity but to respect its laws. In return the states recognize rights of the Church and other religious communities. As citizens of Kosovo, whatever it is called by Serbs or Kosovo Albanians, the SOC clergy, monks and the people follow the laws which exist in that territory. That is why Dečani Monastery addressed Kosovo courts about the problem of its land and not some other court. After all, Serbs in Kosovo have mostly documents of Serbia and Kosovo as many Kosovo Albanians who ofthen happen to hold even the Albania's citizenship. So the accusations of the Kosovo politicians are deeply misleading.

What any citizen thinks about the country/entity in which one lives is a private opinion. Having in mind an openly discriminatory attitude of Kosovo authorities towards Kosovo Serbs after the war in 1999 and especially systematic destruction of the SOC heritage after the war, desecration of churches and cemeteries despite international presence, it is no wander that hardly anyone in the SOC would refer to Kosovo as a State. Not to mention the international credibility of Kosovo for its own "professional protection" of the heritage which it left to perish after the war and turned the blind eyes when centuries old churches were burning.

Who is to be blamed for that? That's a good question? Yes many Kosovo Albanian mosques suffered during the war in 1999, but Serbia was severely punished. All mosques have been reconstructed and many new have been built but dozens of SOC sites destroyed in peace-time have decayed in ruins. In Kosovo impunity reigns for 23 years of the so-called peace. Instead of working on the dialogue on normalization between Belgrade and Priština and providing Kosovo Serbs benefits of living in Kosovo, Priština authorities have managed in a short time, especially in the last few years, to stop all forms of dialogue with their Serbian citizens in Kosovo expecting probably the Western countries to bomb Serbia to force Kosovo's recognition. But this is not 1999. The EU and US are supporting the agreement based on dialogue, the rule of law, equal treatment of all citizens and not a kind of solution of the nationalists in the Nineties who carved ethnically clean territories.

Any ethnic clean society would be a justification for many countries in the world to do the same finding justification in Western failure to maintain the principles of democracy and justice. Kosovo’s commitment to principles of the western liberal democracy is not measured in statements which don’t reflect the reality on the ground or in displaying western flags but by the rule of law and tolerance, which is the foundation of what liberal democracy means in the West. As long as this is not understood by Kosovo leaders there will be more than more people of all ethnicities fleeing Kosovo to the West in search of a safe future and perspectives in life. Populism and nationalist myths are just a cheap and temporary food for the people who are hungry for normal and stable living. Due to toxic, often pan-Albanian nationalist rhetoric by Kosovo leading politicians no relevant Kosovo Serb representative is ready to talk to them. This is a sad development after 23 years of millions of Euros spent on reconcilliation and development.

Dečani Monastery is open for all visitors of good will. It was constructed to be a bridge between peoples regardless of their ethnicity and even religion. It should remain so. To allow the brotherhood of 20 monks to continue their life the proper security situation must be maintained and the rule of law respected. The current situation in Kosovo is far from satisfactory but the monks learned to wait. After all, they have been living here for seven centuries.

The Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo which nevertheless respects the local laws remains determined to preserve its identity, tradition, property rights and religious freedom by all legal means as it is a basis of every democratic society. As long as the Church feels threatened in Kosovo (the endangered status of Dečani Monastery is recognized by the reports of UNESCO 2005, Europa Nostra 2021, OSCE, US State Department reports on religious freedom and other international organizations), the Monastery needs special institutional protection as well as security presence of KFOR.

KFOR is also an important guarantee that no violence may be used by anyone for political purposes. Its mission is both a stabilization and deterrent mission with the goal to help all in Kosovo find their future in a democratic society. After the sad episode of the 2004 riots, KFOR has invested lots of authority in this mission and any failure may be detrimental for the global interests of NATO and Western countries. In Western Kosovo, which is called by Serbs Metohija, Italian KFOR has done a tremendously good job helping even return of some expelled Serbs, protecting most important sites and winning the confidence of Serbs and Albanians and all other peoples alike. This will definitely be remembered in history.

Dečani Monastery is the best preserved Medieval religious site in the Balkans and rightfully a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is sad that local Kosovo authorities still fail to recognize its rights to show respect to the heritage to which all world admires. Just to imagine that this heritage was targeted by Kosovo Albanian extremists four times with mortar grenades is incredible and only makes it clear that KFOR's mission in Kosovo and particularly in Dečani is to make it clear that no violence against the Monastery will be tolerated. Empty stories of perennial respect have been shattered into pieces by Kosovo Albanian extremists who used weapons against this and other Christian holy places which many of their forefathers knew how to respect.

The issue of the long-term protection of the Serbian Orthodox Church heritage in Kosovo, beside the law provisions based on the Ahtisaari plan Annex 5, should be therefore established on the basis of additional international guarantees in the context of the dialogue between Belgrade and Prština in order to prevent abuses in the future. The Kosovo laws themselves proved to be inadequate per se, as Kosovo authorities apparently don't respect them themselves and the Church needs an umbrella agreement guaranteed by the international community and accepted by both Belgrade and Priština as a condition for the Western support in the European future of the Western Balkans. This is not politicization of culture but de-politicization as in the case that Kosovo forcefully takes over the SOC sites in Kosovo and forces the clergy out and changes the identity and history of these churches that would be a major political problem and a precedent for many other countries and societies. No need to say that Serbia and many countries in the world will never accept it. Definitely such Kosovo would remain a pariah territory forever and it is not in anyone's interest, particularly not younger Kosovo Albanians who need perspective in their lives as young Serbs, Bosniaks, Gorani, Roma and so on in Kosovo.

The Serbian Orthodox Church always stood firmly on the position that its legal status in Kosovo must be fully safeguarded both locally and internationally using as examples some models existing in the EU. In the UN Resolution 1244 in 1999 protection of the Serbian Patrimony is clearly mentioned. Ahtisaari's plan produced an Annex on protection of the SOC heritage and the SOC with its administrative center in Belgrade (nothing strange as the administrative center of the Catholic Church is in the Vatican). The Church cannot offer a formula for a political solution in Kosovo but it has full legitimacy to request the protection of its religious rights, property, freedoms, name and identity. After all we are in Europe in the 21st century.

Visoki Dečani is primarily a liturgical site of prayer and is frequently visited by Orthodox Christian pilgrims from all over the world. The protection of the Monastery, its security, conservation of its frescoes and architecture, protection of the green zone around the Monastery (Special protective zone), the Monastery's legal protection and other rights and provisions all serve to the life of the Monastery as primarily as a place of worship and then also as the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Losing this spiritual oasis due to political games, or extremist nationalist agendas, or lack of adequate protection would be a major blow for all the international community has done in the Balkans and, of course, a major blow to our civilization. KFOR's mision is not an ordinary security mission but a mission of protecting the foundation of the society, spiritual and cultural values upon which our civilization was built.

As it is clear that Kosovo is still far away from a society of fully equal citizens but may remain for a long time a society based on a fragile equilibrium between the Kosovo Albanian and other communities, the special status for the SOC sites and the Serbian community is necessary regardless of the final outcome of the Brussels facilitated dialogue. Although many Kosovo Albanians will quickly say that the SOC churches are in fact Albanian churches occupied by Serbs, the world historians and educated people in the West cannot be easily misled. History is based on written facts and artifacts and not on wishful thinking and superficial mythology. There is so much literature which says clearly who built the churches and who uses them and has taken care of them for centuries. After all, religious sites are the shared cultural heritage of all humanity, but have their immediate owner and user.

The final argument against this preposterous claim, which regrettably found its way to Kosovo mainstream media and even schools, is the most compelling. Why would Kosovo Albanian nationalists so much attack Serbian Orthodox churches (150 among which are many medieval ones) especially after 1999? Most of those sites were burned or heavily damaged beyond repair. If they considered them Kosovo Albanian churches why they would attack their own heritage? In Prizren in 2004 riots Kosovo Albanian rioters burned all medieval churches in this historical city in one evening. Those Serbian Orthodox churches were the pride of all citizens of Prizren regardless of their ethnicity or religion. So far no plausible answer to this question can be heard. The way out of this game of false arguments and propaganda is a peaceful life of all ethnic and religious communities, in the rule of law which would protect all citizens and their identities. With such an achievement some more permanent settlements may be expected, but it is up to the political representatives to decide. The Church is here and will remain here serving all who come to them and welcoming all people of good will.

Visoki Dečani Monastery in the last 20 years has been home to 20 monks and a refuge to all who suffered during the war in 1999. Beside the regular prayer, the monks are active in humanitarian activity, farming, icon painting and other activities. All this depends on how much the Monastery is protected and how much the monks can live normally and freely regardless of the political situation.

For everything to work well once some kind of settlement is agreed, it is important also to have a functional implementation mechanism in case one of the sides does not abide by what is agreed. As the comprehensive agreement between Belgrade and Pristina is still uncertain, Serbian Orthodox Church heritage in Kosovo remains dangerously vulnerable especially as the Kosovo Government ignores its laws and wants to coerce Serbs into full submission by threats and pressures. Draft laws on religious freedom and cultural heritage which were supposed to be adopted by the Kosovo Parliament on the basis of the Ahtisaari principles are in a limbo. Some high-level Kosovo officials even don’t want to call the Serbian Orthodox Church by its official name although it is recognized as such in the Kosovo constitution. Some Kosovo Albanian politicians even wanted, as in their 2015 draft of the law on Cultural Heritage, to confiscate all SOC heritage as a "property of Kosovo state", which provoked a vehement opposition of the Church to the Kosovo's bid to UNESCO. Confiscation of religious property is a model equal to Communist regime of Enver Hoxha in Albania and such authoritarian ideas must be forgotten.

In Dečani municipality today many visitors cannot find the road to the monastery because the municipal authorities persistently refuse to place proper signs in two officiall languages (Albanian and Serbian, preferably in English too) in the town center showing the way towards this UNESCO site. Currently only one adequate sign stands just next to the KFOR checkpoint just next to the Monastery as the soldiers prevent its removal. According to Google maps, unknown hackers have removed Dečani Monastery several times from Google maps. This all makes it clear that local authorities don’t want to use this valuable UNESCO world heritage site as an asset for bringing more tourists. In short, they are essentially damaging the development of the municipality and Kosovo as a society in general.

Due to KLA flags and statues of KLA fighters with Kalashnikovs no international tourists stop in Dečani town for a cup of coffee unlike Prizren or Peć/Peja which are more tourist friendly. Accusing the Monastery for allegedly preventing development of tourism in the Dečani area is a ridiculous statement, as most of the foreign tourists if not all come exactly to see the Monastery and not to roam the city streets. True, the Dečani region is rich in nature and can offer a lot. The Monastery has always been ready if it is fairly treated to help the Municipality in development of green and ecologically accpeptable forms of tourism outside of the Special protective zone. But with a prolonged "war" with the Monastery, the Municipality and Kosovo Government as they are behaving now are shooting themselves in their legs.

Father Sava in one of the recent meetings with foreign ambassadors and chiefs of mission at Dečani Monastery. The diplomats were thoroughly briefed about all the challenges the monastery and the Serbian Orthodox Church are facing

Serbian Orthodox Bishop Teodosije, as a previous abbot of Dečani, and the current Dečani Abbot Father Sava have spoken about all these issues several times both publicly and in contact with international and local representatives. They remain open for dialogue although any high level meetings with Kosovo officials must be preceeded by Kosovo's respect of the Constitutional Court decision and the SPZ law. Regrettably, in the atmosphere of the endemic lack of the rule of law and order, the absence of inclusive position of the Kosovo Government towards all ethnic and religious communities and the general atmosphere of impunity it is not very likely that an efficient model of protection of the vulnerable Serbian Orthodox heritage can be found soon. That is an additional reason why KFOR presence around the most vulnerable Monastery in Kosovo and the only one with 24/7 military protection in the European continent should continue, in order to prevent the aggravation of the already unsatisfactory political and security situation in the region. Some say that winning in peace is more difficult than winning in war. In the Kosovo case, it is definitely a truth which must not be ignored.

Author: JD

The Article is based on the recent statement by Dečani Monastery brotherhood and other SOC sources and is not a Diocesan Communiqué. The text may be updated with additional URL links for relevant texts related to the matters tackled in the text.

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