Fr. Sava: What is going to happen to Serbian sites in Kosovo

Fr. Sava: What is Going to Happen with Serbian Sites in Kosovo
21.10.2015. | 10:02

translated from Serbian into English, Diocese of Raška and Prizren

Visoki Dečani, Peć Patriarchate, Bogorodica Ljeviška, Gračanica….. a part of the being of Serbian people. In Paris decision will be made on their future.
This is what a man who devoted his life to Church and God thinks about amid his efforts to ensure future of the Serbian sites in Kosovo. Abbot of Visoki Dečani Monastery, Fr. Sava Janjić wrote an editorial for MONDO on this issue.

 “We are not speaking as politicians but as those who live here and want to live in peace” …. Read how Fr. Sava sees the situation on the ground.

Fr. Sava in front of Dečani Monastery, 14c. erected by Serbian King Stephen III Dečanski, The first UNESCO site in Kosovo and also on the list of the World Heritage in Danger. It has been attacked 4 times since 1999 by Kosovo Albanian extremists and is currently under KFOR-NATO protection

“The greatest concern of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the days before possible admission of Kosovo to UNESCO is that the Serbian heritage in Kosovo is not adequately institutionally protected and that the accession of Kosovo in this international organization will endanger our holy sites in a long run. That has recently been demonstrated by an attempt of the Kosovo Government to promulgate a new draft Law on cultural heritage in which it was stated that all heritage in Kosovo will become property of “Republic of Kosovo”. This is an outdated concept of authoritarian societies and is opposite to European principles. The draft Law that was adopted by Kosovo Government in April this year was withdrawn only after an international intervention and our strong opposition.

That is why Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) has been strongly insisting not only in the recent months, but since the beginning of the Brussels dialog her sites to be protected by firm mechanisms which will be internationally guaranteed in the framework of the Brussels dialog. That has been requested by the Government of Serbia. It would have been better that they had done that before, but it is never late.

Regrettably, Kosovo Government rejected to discuss on guarantees in Brussels claiming that all has been agreed by the Ahtisaari plan. With such a statement Kosovo Government is misleading the public opinion because Priština in 2010 removed from its Constitution and laws all references to the Ahtisaari plan and the latest Draft Law on cultural heritage was meant to eliminate the remaining elements of the Ahtisaari mechanisms of protection, which now Priština generously pledges in its letter to UNESCO. In Kosovo laws, there are only bits and pieces of the Ahtisaari principles at the moment and it is very possible that they may be soon removed, so this or some future Kosovo Government could expedite a process of open albanization identity of the Serbian heritage.

Due to the rejection of the dialog in Brussels by the Deputy Foreign Minister of Kosovo Mr. Petrit Selimi, who was explicit on this matter, and no one in Kosovo Government has withdrawn that statement, our Church has suspended every contact with representatives of Kosovo institutions until the beginning of the Brussels dialog on heritage, which Priština will need to accept because otherwise without the consent of the SOC as the owner of the current UNESCO sites, which are active places of worship and not museums, no project through UNESCO will be possible to be implemented.

To be frank, Kosovo’s direct goal is not UNESCO itself, but much more. However, opening an open conflict with SOC Kosovo is risking to present itself in Europe as an entity in which Christians are under persecution because it is SOC that owns and actively uses for worship the most important Christian sites in Kosovo. The credibility of Kosovo has already been drastically challenged by the growing Islamism and such a relation towards our Church would be destructive for Priština itself.

Peć Patriarchate Monastery, 13-14 century, UNESCO WH site and WH Site in Danger – Center of the Serbian Orthodox Archbishops from the Medieval times

Therefore, in the interest of all is a dialog, not a confrontation and further deepening of religious and ethnic animosities. Our Church has shown for years that we are open for dialog and cooperation but only if we have benefit from that too. Regrettably, rejecting a dialog Kosovo might be closing a door for some other ambitions and goals. Kosovo can always apply force but it will be thoroughly documented and presented to the whole world. There is no need to say how detrimental it would be for Kosovo’s EU integration process.

UNESCO alone can provide no direct protection and is only cooperating with countries/entities on the territory of which are the cultural sites which are being protected by the local institutions and their legislation. From UNESCO, since our sites have been inscribed in the World Heritage List we have had no direct benefit except the donation of the Russian Federation a few years ago which was implemented for protection of frescoes.

All this is giving us additional arguments that SOC can hardly have confidence in Kosovo institutions which are not able to implement even that what they agreed. Therefore international civil and military presence in Kosovo is indispensable not only for Serbs but for Kosovo Albanians who cannot control situation in which they live themselves. We hope that after the recent meeting of the political and religious leaders in Belgrade Serbia will give clear indications that the Brussels process cannot be continued by blatant violations of the most vital interests of our people and Church in Kosovo.

For UNESCO it is harmful to accept one-sided approach to this issue and jeopardize the dialog on Kosovo and relations between communities. Instead of being a guarantee of protection, the membership of Kosovo in UNESCO amid firm Kosovo rejection to accept a dialog on heritage in Brussels, UNESCO will by admitting Kosovo into its membership be paradoxically misused as an instrument of cultural repression. In such a situation our Church will have to use every opportunity to document every attempt of institutional violations by Kosovo institutions, much more strongly that by now because so far many things we have managed to resolve in direct dialog with Priština under international mediation.

Gračanica Monastery, beginning of the XIV century and the most beautiful church of Serbian king Milutin, UNESCO heritage site and the site on the List of World Heritage in danger for years

Priština, Belgrade and SOC will find themselves in an awkward situation. SOC will remain without effective institutional protection which will close every communication with Kosovo institutions. Kosovo will jeopardize its further ambitions and the international community will see that so much that has been achieved so far will be lost only due to Priština’s rejection of the dialog. That is why the dialog is the only way forward and the harmful statement by Mr. Petrit Selimi was a direct trigger which only intensified already existent lack of our confidence in Kosovo institutions, especially after the recent draft laws on cultural heritage and cultural strategy.

Monastic life amid growing threats – ISIL Graffiti on the outer wall of Dečani Monastery, October 2014

SOC holy sites in Kosovo are owned by the Serbian Orthodox Church. These are not museums but places of worship and any attempt to use force will be a direct violation of religious freedom that Kosovo says is proud of. We are ready for a dialog, but only in Brussels because our current dialog with Priština has obviously not brought understanding nor do we have any confidence in their promises. Our churches are Serbian Orthodox churches, but are primarily living places of worship and the heritage of all humanity. We want them to be open for all people of good will, as bridges of cooperation and not as a stumbling stone and a polygon for political competition.

The rejection of dialog in Brussels on long term protection of SOC sites in Kosovo is a serious indicator that Kosovo institutions are not sincere and their true intention is to change their identity. That is the main reason our Church is so resolutely against the hasty resolution on the UNESCO status which will only deepen already existent lack of confidence.

For Priština UNESCO status is primarily a political goal and a boost for rather unsuccessful political power of the leading coalition. For us the most important issue is how to live in Kosovo where AFTER the war, under the same current political leaders, 150 of our churches have been demolished and a great number of our cemeteries desecrated.

We are therefore not speaking as politicians but as those who live here and want to live in peace, but we must be adequately protected by firm international guarantees which Priština, hopefully will have to respect if Kosovo wants to provide better future for the society that can easily slide down into total chaos and poverty.

No matter what is the outcome of the voting in UNESCO, the dialog is the only way out of this crisis as Kosovo is not a member of OSCE, Council of Europe, EU Parliament nor many other organizations and has ambition to be there.We strongly insist that Kosovo’s future cannot be built on institutional and physical violence against Christian sites but on respect of the rule of law, international and civilizational principles.

Fr. Sava Janjić
Abbot of Visoki Dečani Monastery

(the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Kosovo)