Usurpation of Serbian Orthodox property in Kosovo and Metohija continues
Monument to "KLA heroes" on church land
KIM Info-Service, January 17, 2006
The Association of Kosovo Liberation Army War Veterans, in cooperation with the Djakovica municipal assembly, has built a monument to "war heroes" on church property in immediate proximity to the Serbian Orthodox church of the Holy Trinity in Djakovica, which was destroyed after the war in 1999. This most recent attack on the property of the Serbian Orthodox Church, in direct cooperation with official municipal institutions, confirms that in addition to individual criminal acts in Kosovo illegal activities are being carried out also under the official auspices of institutions formed during the UN protectorate.
Vicar Bishop Teodosije of Lipljan, encharged by the Serbian Orthodox Church with the renewal of destroyed holy shrines in Kosovo, has officially notified the Holy Synod of Bishops, as well as Bishop Artemije of the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Raska and Prizren, of these developments as the church of the Holy Trinity in Djakovica is on the list for renewal according to the program of the Council of Europe.
At the same time, Bishop Teodosije has requested decisive and timely response from appropriate officials from UNMIK chief Soren Jessen-Petersen in order to ensure respect for the law and protection of the property of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The Church will also be informing appropriate state officials of Serbia and Montenegro, diplomatic representations in Belgrade and their local offices in Pristina, as well as the office of Martti Ahtisaari in Vienna of this unprecedented act on the eve of upcoming negotiations, which are also to include discussion of Serbian Orthodox Church sites in Kosovo and Metohija.
The Church is seriously concerned that this event in Djakovica may become a precedent for expropriation of the Church land throughout Kosovo Province. There is already a serious suspicion that Municipal Cadastral offices are changing at their will existing cadastral records registering the church land as the municipal land. With Kosovo's judiciary almost in total chaos the Church is hardly in position to be able to find justice in local courts.
The KLA war memorial is a boulder of two meters by two meters in size, with a gravel base and a plate bearing an inscription beneath the official seal of the officially disbanded KLA in the Albanian language as follows:
In the memorial city park dedicated to national heroes in the municipality of Djakovica/Gjakova, a memorial complex will be erected to the accomplishments of the KLA war.
The signature line identifies the Organizational Committee of the Association of KLA War Veterans and the Djakovica/Gjakova Municipal Assembly.
According to the date on the plate, the KLA war memorial was erected on December 31, 2005.
The newly build KLA monument, decorated with a double flagpole with the state flag of the Republic of Albania and the KLA war flag, is located not far from the Djakovica municipal assembly building and in the immediate vicinity of the location of the church of the Holy Trinity, which was destroyed by Albanian extremists in July 1999. According to available information, the war memorial is located on a parcel of land owned by the Serbian Orthodox Church.
According to information obtained by Bishop Teodosije, the first step toward the usurpation of church property occurred in 2002 when the municipal assembly of Djakovica, without any court proceeding or legal basis but with the support of the local UNMIK municipal administrator in Djakovica, illegally appropriated two tracts of land owned by the Church in the center of town. These who tracts of land had been restituted to the Serbian Orthodox Church by Serbian state officials in 1992 because an Orthodox church with the memorial tomb of Serbian soldiers from World War I, which had been destroyed by the Communist regime after World War II, was located there. At that time, the church owned land was simply given to the municipality of Djakovica in similarly illegal fashion. For a long time the remnants of the church served as a public toilet until the area was finally cleaned up and turned into a park. Construction of the new church of the Holy Trinity began at the end of the 1990s after the Church had regained possession of its former land.
The new church was built according to the architectural design of Prof. Dr. Ljubisa Folic and it was one of the most beautiful churches built in the period immediately preceding the war in 1999. The church was blown up by Albanian extremists on July 24, 1999. After its destruction, according to eyewitnesses, a general celebration followed accompanied by music and shooting which continued throughout the evening until the early morning. During the March 2004 pogrom, the ruins of the church of the Holy Trinity were completely removed and most of the population of Djakovica took part in this endeavor.
According to information obtained by Bishop Teodosije, the Djakovica municipal assembly has been fully aware right from the start of the illegality of the construction of the KLA war memorial. Currently in the municipality there is not the slightest readiness to condemn the violation of the law, let alone to protect the property of the church which the municipality itself has forcibly usurped, sadly, with the silent acquiescence of the local UNMIK representative. Despite all efforts the KIM Info-Service could not get an official statement from the president of the municipality of Djakovica Aqif Shehu, who only days ago was involved in a serious automobile accident and is presently in a hospital in Skoplje.
In the meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether UNMIK and appropriate institutions will undertake concrete legal measures to prevent the usurpation of church property or ignore the law and property ownership rights of the Serbian Orthodox Church as it was done three years ago.
Just in the municipality of Djakovica during the course of the March 2004 pogrom three Orthodox churches were razed to the foundations and removed. In addition to the aforementioned church of the Holy Trinity, which was blown up with explosives and whose ruins were removed overnight, also destroyed were the churches of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos (19th century), the Holy Prophet Elijah in Bistrazin and the Holy Emperor Lazarus in Piskoti. According to available information, none of the perpetrators has been brought to justice to this day, and the removal of the ruins of these churches and all traces of their existence in their former locations took place with the full knowledge of the municipal administration, which remains in office.
The most recent case of usurpation of church property in Djakovica is just one of numerous instances of general usurpation of Serbian-owned property in Kosovo, which has been unfolding without interruption for years despite the presence of the UN international peacekeeping mission and KFOR forces. Taking into account the rapid continuation of transfer of full competencies to Kosovo institutions, the serious question must be posed to what extent this will further contribute to the continued violation of the law and complete eradication of traces of centuries of Serbian life in this region.