News 08 Apr 13

Kosovo President Urges End to Serb Monastery Row

Kosovo’s President Atifete Jahjaga criticised MPs who staged a parliamentary debate about an ethnically-charged land dispute at the historic Serbian Orthodox monastery at Decan/Decani.

Edona Peci

Members of parliament should respect the law and not conduct parliamentary debates “which aim to put in question Serbian Orthodox cultural and religious heritage in Kosovo”, Jahjagald told BIRN in a written statement.

“This issue is regulated very clearly by the laws of the Republic of Kosovo, the Ahtisaari package [for Kosovo's status settlement], and is guaranteed by the Kosovo constitution,” she said.

The debate in parliament on Friday was sparked by a court ruling last December confirming that the the Visoki Decani monastery owns some 23 hectares of land which was being claimed by two Kosovo companies.

The decision has provoked a series of protests by local Kosovo Albanians near the Serb religious site.

Jahjaga however insisted that “all legal procedures have to be respected”.

The Friday debate focused on the expropriation of private property while Kosovo was part of the former Yugoslav state from 1989 to 1999.

The opposition Self-Determination Movement proposed a resolution declaring such expropriations invalid.

Self-Determination Movement lawmaker Liburn Aliu said the Decan/Decani case, in which Belgrade granted property from the two Kosovo companies to the monastery in 1997, was an example of how “Serbia’s colonisers aimed to install their state structures violently”.

The US embassy in Pristina also urged MPs not to challenge the court’s decision.

“While an exchange of ideas on issues of importance to Kosovo is healthy, decisions confirmed by the competent authorities should be respected,” the embassy said in a statement.

“Any effort [by parliament] to engage in issues outside its legal mandate, including the Decan land case, threatens Kosovo’s stability and the integrity of the institutional system established by the constitution,” it said.

The supreme court in Pristina ruled in December that the disputed land belonged to the monastery, not to the companies which have been claiming it since the 1999 conflict between Kosovo Liberation Army fighters and Serbian government forces.

The two socially-owned companies, Apiko and Iliria, said that the Serbian authorities’ decision to give the land to the monastery in 1997 was unlawful because it happened at a time when Belgrade was actively repressing Kosovo Albanians.

The Serbian holy site closed its doors to visitors after tensions rose in February.

The Visoki Decani 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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