news 13 Nov 17

Kosovo Court Upholds Serbian Church’s Right to Land

The Kosovo Appeals Court granted the Serbian Orthodox Church land ownership rights to a church that has been a source of dispute since the 1990s, rejecting an appeal from the University of Pristina.

Labinot Leposhtica, Doruntina Baliu
BIRN
Pristina
The Serbian Orthodox Church at the University of Pristina campus. Photo: Atdhe Mulla.

The Kosovo Appeals Court has granted the Serbian Orthodox Church rights to the land on which stands the controversial Sveti Spas (Christ the Saviour) church, which was once part of the University of Pristina campus, BIRN learned on Monday.

The unfinished church has been a source of controversy since its construction began in the 1990s.

The University of Pristina has been disputing the Orthodox Church’s ownership of approximately four hectares of land and the legal basis for the building due to its ties to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s regime.

The university initiated proceedings in 2012, but the case was thrown out in 2015 when university representatives failed to show up to the main hearing.

The case was sent to the Appeals Court in March 2016.

On September 27, 2017, the Appeals Court rejected the university’s appeal as unfounded. BIRN obtained the court’s decision on Monday.

The university claimed that protests in front of the church prevented representatives from attending the Basic Court session, but the Appeals Court decided that this reasoning was unfounded.

After the decision, the University of Pristina has the right to initiate new proceedings from the beginning and to file a new lawsuit regarding ownership rights to the land.

The municipality of Pristina has also disputed the Serbian Orthodox Church’s ownership of the land.

In September 2016, the church was set on fire by unknown attackers, prompting members of the Serbian Orthodox Church and community to hold a clean-up and start refurbishment work.

The municipality of Pristina halted the work, saying that the Orthodox Church did not have a permit to refurbish the building.

A few days later, University of Pristina students staged a protest against the church, holding a reading on its lawn in an attempt to symbolically ‘reclaim’ the space.

The students claimed that the church was built in an attempt to downgrade Kosovo Albanians’ identity and assert Serbs’ domination.

Construction of the church began in the mid-1990s, when Milosevic was attempting to consolidate Belgrade’s control over what was then the Serbian province of Kosovo.

It has remained unfinished since the war for independence in Kosovo ended in 1999.

In July 2016, an excavation by forensic experts also failed to find any human remains at a suspected mass grave close to the church.

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