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Shqip 27 Nov 12

Kosovo Town Slated Over Old Bazaar's Stones

Plans to replace Gjakova’s iconic cobblestones have drawn ire among locals and have prompted ministerial intervention.

Njomza Salihi
BIRN Pristina
Dozens of residents came out to protest against the removal of the cobblestones and their replacement by tiles.

When 75-year-old Hamez Zhubi saw workers replacing cobblestones with tiles on the main street of Gjakova’s Old Bazaar in early November, he asked them to stop. “You should not be working here,” he recalls telling them.

The work has now been halted on orders from Kosovo’s Culture Minister, Memli Krasniqi, who declared the Old Bazaar part of a “list of heritage sites under temporary protection.”

The municipality has not since obtained approval from the ministry to continue the project.

However, a kilometer-long stretch of cobblestone is still gone, replaced by tiles. A government commission will decide if the cobblestones will be restored.

Restoration or destruction?

The work was part of a 500,000- euro drive by the authorities in Gjakova to restore the Old Bazaar, which dates back to the Ottoman era and forms the historic heart of the town.

The local assembly approved the restoration plan more than 30 years ago, in June 1982.

This called for “restoration, reconstruction, construction, and follow-up maintenance” to keep the bazaar in “its original historical architectural form.”

The project was never finished. Few took notice when the municipality re-started work October. But that changed once workers started removing the cobblestones on Ismail Qemajli Street.

Dozens of residents came out to protest against the removal of the cobblestones and their replacement by tiles.

In 1960, the Yugoslav-era authorities removed the cobbles on the same road but replaced them with new cobblestones.

The new tiles, residents say, represent an aesthetic departure from tradition.

“We should protect our identity, we should preserve the Old Bazaar of Gjakova,” Ali Haraqia, head of the Association of Artisans of Gjakova, said.

Meanwhile, young people in Gjakova started a Facebook group entitled “Restore the Old Bazaar, Do Not Change History.”

In addition to opposing the removal of the cobblestones, they called on the municipal assembly to discuss the issue publicly.

“We accept restoration, but not changing history,” Arber Fetiu, an organizer of the Facebook campaign, said.

Other plans for cobbles:

Old look od the cobblestones in Gjakova | Photo by Osman Gojani

Leonora Rraci, head of urban planning for Gjakova, told Prishtina Insight that the municipality is keeping the cobblestones safe and has plans for them.

"We will use them to restore the secondary roads of the Old Bazaar, which are not included in this project,” Rraci said.

But Sali Shohi, head of the foundation Cultural Heritage Without Borders, said the cobblestones should be restored to their old site.

“If the cobblestones haven’t disappeared, they can be brought back to their previous place,” he said.

“What is more than 50 years old is authentic and mustn’t be touched without the permission of those responsible.”

 Official suspended:

In the aftermath of controversy, Minister Memli Krasniqi has suspended the head of the Regional Centre of Cultural Heritage in Gjakova, Osman Gojani, for three months.

The ministry suspended him for “serious violations of official duties, lack of respect for the law of the Cultural heritage of Kosovo and neglecting work”.

Prishtina Insight contacted Gojani about his suspension but said he could not comment.

The municipality maintains that it informed the Ministry of Culture about the work planned for the Old Bazaar by submitting two project templates at the end of 2011.

But Ministry spokesman Shkelzen Dragaj says the ministry never received exact plans.

“We have received a detailed project, what it concretely foresaw, and, as we have said, no approval was given, as the law requires,” Dragaj told Prishtina Insight.

“The procedure requires that any project that includes interventions in buildings or heritage sites should pass through the Commission for Conservation and Restoration, which then submits its recommendations.”

Article 14 of Kosovo’s 2006 Law on Cultural Heritage states that “any intervention that impacts on the entirety or values of cultural heritage requires written permission by the competent institution”.

Gjakova Mayor Pal Lekaj has assured Minister Kasniqi that the municipality respects its decision, Dragaj said.

The municipality has since submitted a detailed project proposal to the Commission for Conservation and Restoration, he added.

Town hall overstepped the mark:

Municipal officials admit that they didn’t give sufficient notice about the restoration.

Rraci, head of urban planning, said “We should accept that, based on the Law for Cultural Heritage, the project needed approval from the Ministry of Culture.

“We didn’t do this, but with any specific motive,” he added.

Rraci said the project’s intention was preserve the town’s cultural heritage, not destroy it.

Ylber Vokshi, one of the architects involved in the 1982 project to restore the Old Bazaar, said the new project represented a disconnect with the history of Gjakova.

“We must be aware that the loss of our urban identity is intertwined with elements of historical heritage, which our actions can easily destroy,” Vokshi warned.

This article is funded under the BICCED project, supported by the Swiss Cultural Programme.

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