On Thursday, representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church served a liturgy inside the controversial Sveti Spas (Christ the Savior) Church  in Kosovo’s capital, Prishtina. The church began the illegal  construction in 1995, and this was the first time in more than twenty years that a liturgy was served in the space.

The unfinished church began illegal construction inside the campus of the University of Prishtina during President Slobodan Milosevic’s regime. The regime was responsible for the ethnical cleansing of nearly half of the population of Kosovo who fled to neighboring countries in 1999. Over the years, its presence has sparked many clashes between the University and Serbian Orthodox representatives over the ownership of the land the church stands on.

In 2017, the Kosovo Appeals Court granted the Serbian Orthodox Church rights to the land. Soon after, the University of Prishtina filed another lawsuit, disputing the Church’s ownership claims and the legal basis of the court’s decision, given the church’s ties to Milosevic’s regime.

After unknown persons lit a fire inside the unfinished church in 2016, members of the Serbian Orthodox Church began the cleanup process, but the work was halted by the Municipality of Prishtina, saying that they did not have a permit to refurbish the building.

Around the same time, students held a protest at the site, calling it “an usurpation of the university campus.”

“By serving today in this temple we testify who we are, who we were and what we should be in the future. We testify that we will never renounce our sanctuaries and that they belong to us and are the pledge of our eternal life,” said the Serbian Orthodox Bishop of Raska-Prizren, Teodosije, during the liturgy.

In 2016, suspicions were raised that the site had been used as a mass grave during the War, but the ensuing excavations and studies by the forensic team failed to find any human remains.

Former Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) MP, Daut Haradinaj, called on the municipality and the government to “immediately” react to this “offense” committed against Kosovo citizens.

“With all due respect for religious freedoms, the Serbian Orthodox liturgy held today in the disputed church in the campus of the University of Prishtina, a church built on Milosevic fascist ideas, is a violation of the dignity of our Republic and above all an insult to our citizens,” Haradinaj, who will run for mayor of Prishtina, wrote on Facebook.

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