News 17 Dec 15

Serb Monastery Land Case Sparks Kosovo Protest

Around 200 Kosovo Albanians rallied in Decan/Decani in western Kosovo, demanding that disputed land should not be given to a Serbian Orthodox monastery.

Petrit Collaku
Demonstrators in Decan/Decani. Photo: Historians' League.

The demonstrators rallied on Thursday under the slogan “The property is ours”, protesting about a recent interim decision by Kosovo’s Constitutional Court to prevent the municipal court in Decan/Decani from hearing a case about the land dispute.

Some demonstrators, led by a group called the Historians’ League, held placards with slogans like “Monastery, give up on the property” and “The Constitutional Court violated the constitution”.

The Visoki Decani monastery became the focus of previous demonstrations in 2012 after the Supreme Court ruled that the disputed 23 hectares of land belonged to the monastery, not to two Kosovo companies which have been claiming it since the 1999 conflict ended between Kosovo Liberation Army fighters and Serbian government forces.

However a special chamber within the Supreme Court which deals with privatisations then ruled that the case should be referred to the local Basic Court in Decan/Decani.

But the Constitutional Court this month accepted an appeal by the Visoki Decani monastery to review the decisions, and ordered that the local court case be halted until the end of February.

This infuriated Kosovo Albanians in Decan/Decani who believed that the process was turning in their favour.

Selim Lokaj, one of the organisers of the protest on Thursday, said that the Constitutional Court’s decision was a cowardly act and unacceptable for locals in Decan/Decani.

“Just before the case was about to start again in the Basic Court in Decan, the Constitutional Court suspends everything, and this interference is unacceptable,” Lokaj told BIRN.

Previous protests in February 2013, when demonstrators were stopped by NATO peacekeeping forces as they tried to approach the monastery gates, led to riot police being deployed at the site and the monastery being shut for the first time since the Kosovo war.

The monastery is one of the best-known Serb heritage sites in Kosovo, established in 1327 and housing the grave of its founder, King Stefan Uros ‘Decanski’, although it now sits in solidly ethnic Albanian-populated territory.

It has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2004.

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