COMMUNIQUE OF THE RAŠKA-PRIZREN DIOCESE REGARDING THE CAMPAIGN AGAINST THE IMPLEMENTATION OF COURT RULING IN THE CASE OF VISOKI DEČANI MONASTERY
For several months now, the Serbian Orthodox Church has been following with great concern the statements coming from the highest local political representatives in Priština, concerning the status of the Visoki Dečani monastery land and other court disputes over our property, in which we were involved without our will. This time, untruths were uttered from the highest position, by Mr. Albin Kurti, Prime Minister of the Government in Priština, and previously by the President of the Assembly, Mr. Glauk Konjufca in December 2021, some Cabinet ministers, Mr. Ramush Haradinajas the leader of the AAK party, and representatives of the municipality of Dečani several times. The undermining of court rulings in public by politicians in this case is unprecedented in the wider region.
The only substance of statements of all these officials is that in fact that no laws or court decisions are applicable to the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo and Metohija. According to one official, the implementation of this decision would provoke a “chain reaction in which the Church would have to be granted compromises in other issues as well.” Translated into ordinary language, this means that the rights of the Serbian Orthodox Church in this area are a matter of someone’s good will, and not a system that should be the foundation of every society, and act with equity towards everyone, which is, after all, repeatedly emphasized by the highest international representatives who made appeals for respect of the rule of law and court decisions.
If we briefly look at the court proceeding itself, we can see that it lasted for sixteen years before the Kosovo courts. During that process, Visoki Dečani Monastery suffered not only threats, but also physical and armed attacks, organized protests, attempts to block access to the monastery, and the defamation campaign against the SOC and the monastery itself. This cannot be compared to any post-World War II propaganda. During the court proceedings, every legal issue was addressed in detail, before all court instances, the procedure itself was monitored all the time by international representatives and their legal teams. We believe that there is no procedure since 2000 that has been so monitored, and that has been so politicized, not by our Church but by local institutions.
Even after such a proceeding, local institutions keep refusing to implement the ruling and ammend the cadastre (for almost six years), despite huge efforts to enforce the Constitutional Court’s decision which is final and irrevocable as such. Such actions are not only reflecting the situation in Kosovo’s institutions, but also reveal open discrimination against the Serbian Orthodox Church. Furthermore, such actions clearly show what the fate of the Serbian Orthodox Church in this area would look like if it were left entirely at the mercy of the authorities in Priština, from whichever political group they come from. Our Diocese expects that the Court ruling will certainly be implemented, but all the vicissitudes around that issue and the obstruction of the rule of law that has lasted for years show that the essential problems will remain and it is only a matter of time before they can happen elsewhere. Therefore, although it is important that the Court ruling is implemented, it is even more important to find long-term solutions on how to prevent further discrimination and effectively protect the rights of the Serbian Orthodox Church and its property.
Although local institutions constantly call for dialogue with SOC, that dialogue is not possible with those who demonstrate at every step open ethnic and religious discrimination and unwillingness to respect their own laws. From the first day after the armed conflict in 1999, our Church participated in the dialogue with local institutions and actively worked on building trust and bridges, which is known to the international community. Therefore, the implementation of this decision by this or one of the following administration is a necessary condition to show us that the dialogue would not be only a show for cameras and foreign officials, and that there is true readiness to stop a systematic campaign of discrimination and open hostility towards the Serbian Orthodox Church. We emphasize that there is still a number of open issues and unfulfilled obligations that Priština has not fulfilled, but that resolving of the land issue is the minimum needed to move on. Persistent public treatment of our Church as a political institution or a political proxy, which is unfounded, shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of freedom and equality of religious institutions in a modern democratic society. Irresponsible media statements, arbitrary commenting on final court rulings and creating confusion in the public additionally endanger the security of the Serbian Orthodox Church, its holy sites, priesthood, monastics and believers, and it is contrary to all international standards.
The Serbian Orthodox Church is the oldest institution that exists in this area, as evidenced by numerous local and foreign historical sources, and it will exist, God willing, in the future. By defending our identity and property, we do not want to endanger other religious communities, citizens regardless of ethnic origin, nor to engage in politics. During its existence, our Church with the faithful people has survived persecutions of all kinds, and this kind of relationship is nothing new for us. We are even more determined to stay where we have lived for centuries, but at the same time are not ready to be misused by anyone, especially those who want to create the image of European society while ignoring the laws and their own court decisions. Unfortunately, with such an unjust and one-sided attitude towards the SOC, the worst damage will be done to all citizens living in Kosovo, regardless of religion or ethnicity, because anyone reasonable enough can ask what one’s possibilities and future in such a system are, if an institution like the Serbian Orthodox Church , especially the monastery of Visoki Dečani, which has continuously worked on reconciliation and helped all those endangered during the armed conflict in 1998-1999, has been experiencing such injustice and discrimination for years.