On 20 May 2016 the Constitutional Court of Kosovo, after 16 years long litigation and all judicial instances, finalized the dispute over 24 hectares (58 acres) of land around Visoki Dečani Monastery making a decision that the land belongs to Visoki Dečani Monastery, confirming thus the previous decision of the Supreme Court of Kosovo. Although it is a “res judicata” decision (without any possibility of appeal) which Kosovo institutions are obliged to implement according to the law, it is now 5 years since the decision has not been implemented. The Monastery, immediately after the Court decision requested from Dečani Municipality and the Cadastre the implementation of the decision and inscription of the land in the Cadastre but this request was flatly refused.
In June 2019 the Constitutional Court wrote to the Monastery after the Visoki Dečani Monastery had complained due to non-implementation of the Court decision. The Constitutional Court said that its decisions are obligatory for all parties, persons and institutions in Kosovo and that its decisions are published in the Official Gazette. Since this had been done the Constitutional Court said further in its repl that its decision obliged all parties in the process. At the end of the letter the Constitutional Court said that it would take all within its responsibilities to honor the Constitution and the laws. Regrettably, although the Monastery had in the meantime addressed the Central Cadastre in Priština, the Court decision has remained unimplemented. Last year (2020) under the OSCE Mission in Kosovo supervision the Monastery repeated the procedure requesting the inscription of its land in accordance with the Constitutional Court decision. It was done first to the Municipal and then to the Central Cadastre and in both instances the Monastery request was ignored. In the meantime in its 2019 and 2020 reports on religious rights the US State Department regularly mentioned this problem emphasizing that no one has been held responsible in front of the law for non-implementation of the Constitutional Court Decision.
Having all this in mind it is clear that we are facing a deliberate legal obstruction by Kosovo institutions both on central and local levels, under the strong influence of formal and informal Kosovo Albanian centers of power which apparently remain determined that the Constitutional Court decision will never be implemented. We are saddened that the local judicial authorities in Kosovo are unable to do anything in this regard and that the institutions are firmly in hands of those who make justice on their own regardless of the Constitutional and Supreme Courts’ decisions as well as laws. At the same time the international representatives simply have not found a way so far how to make Kosovo institutions implement the decision of their own Constitutional Court, respect decisions of their highest judicial institutions and the rule of law.
These days we have witnessed that the Minister of Spatial Planning of Kosovo Mr. Liburn Aliu (in the administration of Mr. Albin Kurti) according to several media outlets clearly stated that “Dečani-Plav (Montenegro)” road “in accordance with the request of the Serbian Orthodox Church is a dangerous precedent”. He said that he is against the construction of the bypass road circumventing the Special Protective Zone (SPZ) around the monastery. To remind, in November 2020 the Implementation Monitoring Council (with EU and OSCE Heads of Mission, Kosovo ministers for Culture and Spatial Planning, as well as the representatives of the Serbian Orthoedox Church (Diocese of Raška and Prizren), in presence of KFOR Commander, the Italian Ambassador to Kosovo and the Dečani mayor unanimously adopted the decision of the IMC endorsing an Arrangement for the resolving of Dečani-Plav road issue. According to the IMC decision it was decided that Dečani-Plav road must not pass in any way through the Dečani Monastery SPZ. Legal studies on this issue had previously been made by legal experts of both OSCE and EU Missions in Kosovo. It was decided that a bypass road should be constructed around the SPZ and that the rehabilitation of the local roads within the SPZ (with respect of all SPZ regulations) may be done in a synchronized way, according to clearly defined milestones, with the construction of a bypass road. In other words, any work on the local roads in the zone without parallel works on the bypass road would be illegal. With his statement the new Minister for Spatial Planning has practically rejected the implementation of the IMC decision from November 2020 and thus called for law violation i.e. openly favored construction of a transit international road to Montenegro through the Monastery SPZ.
Both these cases came to public again at the moment when Ministers of Culture and Foreign Affairs of Kosovo addressed EUROPA NOSTRA yesterday with their letter, which was scandalously published in the media prior to EUROPA NOSTRA receiving it. They said in this letter that Dečani Monastery should be removed from the list of 7 Most Endangered Cultural Heritage Sites in Europe for 2021, which was published by EUROPA NOSTRA on 8 April this year. They claimed that Dečani Monastery was not endangered, as they claim Kosovo respects all international principles of protection.
As one can see Kosovo institutions not only disrespect their own judicial decisions, laws, the institutional continuity with decisions of their previous Governments, but also openly hide the truth of legal disorder and institutional pressures against the Serbian Orthodox Church. This is only the last phase of pressures which began with systematic destruction of the Serbian spiritual and cultural heritage in Kosovo and Metohija, destruction of cemeteries and other cultural sites since the end of the war in 1999.
SOC Diocese of Raška and Prizren takes this opportunity to express not only its regret but its open idignation due to such behavior of Kosovo institutions which openly show legal incompetence and ill-willed position towards the Serbian Orthodox Church and its heritage. Diocese of Raška-Prizren of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) has always been and will be open for dialog with all people of good will as it is the position of the SOC Assembly of Bishops, but it will nevertheless not be able to attend any meetings with representatives of local Kosovo institutions until the decision of the Constitutional Court of Kosovo on the Monastery land is implemented. Also, unless the decision of the IMC which was unanimously accepted and signed affirming the bypass road solution in November 2020, Raška and Prizren Diocese will not be able to attend the meetings of the IMC as it is pointless to attend meetings with those who do not honor their own decisions and obligations. The Diocese emphasizes once again its readiness for a dialog as a SOC Diocese with administrative seat in Belgrade (as specified in the Ahtisaari document) but only if there is readiness from the Kosovo side for dialog and respect of laws and judicial decisions, especially towards the Serbian Orthodox Church (which is an obligation taken by Kosovo Government in Washington in 2020) and which is still insisted upon by the new US Administration. For any dialog confidence and respect of previously adopted obligations is indispensable. As we can see this is not the case, we expect from the international representatives to find ways to make Kosovo officials respect the rule of law and order.
The issue of the Visoki Dečani Monastery land is finalized by the decision of the highest Kosovo judicial bodes, the Supreme and Constitutional Courts of Kosovo and the issue of the bypass route around the Dečani SPZ has been regulated by the decision of the IMC and represents the only way how the Dečani-Plav road construction can be completed fully in accordance with Kosovo legislation. The readiness of Priština to implement the both decisions will open the door for a dialog on other practical issues related to the Serbian Orthodox Church in this area and the Diocese of Raška and Prizren remains fully open for a constructive dialog of that kind.
Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Raška and Prizren