The Kosovo government has strongly criticised a European cultural heritage organisation, Europa Nostra, for insisting that a medieval Serbian Orthodox monastery is an endangered site.
Environment Minister Liburn Aliu said on Wednesday that the Kosovo authorities are “extremely concerned” about the inclusion of the Decani Monastery on the European cultural heritage organisation Europa Nostra’s ‘endangered sites’ list.
A visit last week by a delegation from Europa Nostra, a federation that represents groups around Europe involved in safeguarding cultural heritage, has rekindled arguments over the medieval Serbian Orthodox monastery.
“The key issue discussed with various interlocutors [during the visit to Kosovo] was the inclusion of the 14th Century Serbian Orthodox Monastery of Visoki Decani on the 2021 List of Seven Most Endangered sites in Europe and the options to improve the situation,” Europa Nostra said in a statement on Wednesday.
Europa Nostra argued that its concerns remain valid because “no final solution has yet been agreed by all parties” about a planned increase to traffic movement in the protected zone around the monastery, or about a riverside development project which “could negatively affect the natural environment of the monastery”.
It also that a 2016 ruling by the Kosovo Constitutional Court confirming the Decani Monastery’s ownership of 24 hectares of land has not yet been implemented through lawful registration of the Monastery’s land, which “undermines the rule of law and the legal security of this living monastery with its surrounding land”.
But Environment Minister Aliu told Kosovo’s public broadcaster RTK that Europa Nostra’s concerns are exaggerated.
Aliu criticised the decision to include the monastery on Europa Nostra’s ‘endangered sites’ list, saying that claims that the site is “endangered by extremist elements related to religious radicalisation”, including so-called Islamic state, are false.
“This has caused serious damage to the image of Republic of Kosovo because the decision was not based on a single fact,” Aliu said.
“We presented them statistics from the police about incidents against religious sites. In all these incidents which have occurred over the years, only six per cent were directed against Orthodox sites and all of them were thefts,” he added.
Culture Minister Hajrulla Ceku called on Europa Nostra to retract the decision to classify the monastery as endangered.
“The least we can expect from Europa Nostra is an apology for their unprofessional and baseless approach,” Ceku told Klan Kosova TV.
The historic monastery has long been the focus of disputes and its inclusion on the endangered sites list was welcomed by the Serbian Orthodox Church.
After meeting the Europa Nostra delegation, Decani Monastery said in a statement on Twitter that “the Serbian Orthodox Church is determined to preserve its holy sites in Kosovo and is open for dialogue with all people of goodwill”.
But it added that the church “expects the authorities to honour their legal commitments too”.