news 20 Sep 16

Kosovo Students Protest Against Serbian Church

Kosovo students have been protesting against a Serbian Orthodox Church that stands on the Pristina University campus, claiming that it is a symbol of Slobodan Milosevic’s repressive regime.

Die Morina
BIRN
Pristina
Pristina University students stage a 'read-in' protest in front of the Serbian Orthodox church. Photo: BIRN.

Arlind Manxhuka, a representative of the student organisation Study, Critic, Action, which has been protesting against the Orthodox church, told BIRN that its presence on the campus is unacceptable.

“The space where this building is built is an usurpation of the university campus,” Manxhuka said.

Manxhuka said the students were protesting because the church, whose construction began in the 1990s under the regime of Slobodan Milosevic, was built in an attempt to downgrade Kosovo Albanians’ identity and assert Serbs’ domination.

On Saturday, several students led by Study, Critic, Action gathered next to the church and tried to place a placard on its wall with the words: “This building constructed on the university campus was erected during Milosevic’s chauvinist regime.”

Kosovo Police allowed four of them to put up the placard, but the others started pushing against the police cordon, and some of them were briefly held by officers.

On Monday, another group of students sat in front of the church and read books in a symbolic protest to suggest that the area in which it stands should be used for studying.

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci said the students’ actions in putting the placard on the church were unacceptable.

“Regardless of the circumstances and the time in which any building is constructed, we must not allow the violation of these buildings, especially when they belong to religious communities,” Thaci said.

But opposition political party Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) condemned the police intervention against the students.

Manxhuka denied that the students’ protest was influenced by any political party, although he admitted that some members of his organisation were also Vetevendosje activists.

The church’s lawyer Aleksandar Radovanovic told BIRN there were “absolutely no politics involved” in the way the church originally obtained the land.

He also stressed: “The Church especially did not have any relation whatsoever with any criminals or war criminals.”

The latest row over the building erupted after Serbian Orthodox Church representatives started cleaning the church last Thursday, but their work was stopped by the Pristina municipality, which claimed they did not have the proper permit to do it.

The cleaning was organised after unknown perpetrators put tyres in the building and set fire to them on September 9.

However Radovanovic insisted that no permit was needed for the cleaning, and questioned why the local authorities had not acted earlier, when the building was damaged by vandals.

“What we see as very important is the fact that municipality did not send inspectors when various persons were using the temple to live in, to break into, to vandalise it in various ways, or to incite fire in it, but the cleaning of a building and its surroundings was the greatest problem for all,” he said.

A group of students from Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences at Pristina University also sent a letter to local media on Friday calling for the church to be demolished or turned into student facilities.

Pristina University and the Serbian Orthodox Church are involved in an ongoing court case over the ownership of the land on which the building stands.

Arber Jashari, a spokesperson for the Kosovo Appeal Court, told BIRN that the case was appealed in March 2016, but as this is a property dispute, it was not being treated as an "urgent case" so no date has yet been set for hearings to start.

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

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

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