News 08 Mar 13

Kosovo Police Hold Back Protesters at Serb Monastery

Riot police maintained a high-profile presence as hundreds of demonstrators staged a rally against the handover of land to a Serbian Orthodox monastery in Decan/Decani.

Edona Peci
Kosovo police forces. Photo: BIRN

Some 600 people rallied in the town of Decan/Decani in western Kosovo on Thursday, while officers with shields and helmets prevented a group of around 20 of them from approaching the medieval Serbian monastery at the centre of the land dispute which has threatened fragile ethnic relations in the area.

Police had stepped up security ahead of the fourth rally against a court ruling last December granting ownership of some 23 hectares of land to the Visoki Decani monastery.

Protesters carried banners with slogans like “With what kind of laws is our land protected?” and “Parliament, government and presidency - protect our constitution”.

“Once again we make it clear to all local and international institutions that decisions taken against the interest of our citizens are unacceptable,” said Adem Lushaj, one of the organisers of the protest.

“Kosovo institutions like the parliament, government and the presidency will bear responsibility [for the consequences],” he added, declaring that protests would continue in the future.

The Serbian Orthodox site became the focus for demonstrations after the ruling that the land belonged to the monastery, not to two Kosovo companies which have been claiming it since the 1999 conflict between Kosovo Liberation Army fighters and Serbian government forces.

The two socially-owned companies, Decan/Decani municipality leaders and local civil society activists allege that the ruling was politically motivated.

The authorities in Pristina however have called for the court’s decision to be respected.

Tensions between the monastery and local authorities escalated in February when some 20 demonstrators were stopped by NATO peacekeeping forces as they tried to approach the monastery gates.

Since then, its doors have been closed for the first time in 13 years since the end of 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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