"Pristina confiscates Serb medieval monastery's land"

Pristina is "depriving the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) 14th century monastery of Visoki Decani of its right to property," writes the daily Vesti.

Source: Vesti

The Frankfurt, Germany-based Serbian language newspaper adds that this is taking place as the government in Pristina "aims to become a member of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)"

Furthermore, the 23 hectares of land in question are located in a special zone that should be protected by law in Kosovo.

The paper said that the decision was made by judges who were under pressure, received threats, and even offers of bribes. In the end, three local judges outvoted two international judges. The article referred to the July 8 ruling as "scandalous" as it overturned a previous decision made by a court that worked under international management.

The ruling represented "a new ending" to the 15 years of property-related litigation, said the article.

The ruling that Vesti saw states that the Special Chamber of the Supreme Court of Kosovo annulled the decision it made in favor of the Visoki Decani monastery in 2012, declared itself incompetent, and directed the parties to renew the process in front of the Basic Court in Pec.

The Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) and the Republic of Serbia have no right to appeal the ruling signed by Court President Sahit Sulejmani.

The monastery can now "seek justice within the rights guaranteed by the constitution, that is, before the Constitutional Court of Kosovo," according to the paper.

When the 2012 judgment was made by a chamber presided over by an EULEX judge, this Serb Orthodox holy place was subjected to demonstrations, insulting messages, and open threats.

Because of extremists but also because of Decani's municipal leaders, the monks were forced to close the monastery's gates for the first time since 1999, while strong police forces and Italian KFOR troops were deployed to defend it it.

Decani Mayor Rasim Selmanaj, Ramush Haradinaj's close associate and member of his party, thinks that the new decision is "fair and honest."

"Considering that nobody in this party makes any moves without Haradinaj's signal - and in the context of the international community's insistence to establish a special court for KLA war crimes - this forced court decision gains an entirely new perspective," writes Vesti, adding that "it can be interpreted" also as something meant to divert the attention of international representatives.

Deputy Director of the Serbian Government's Office for Kosovo and Metohija Dusan Jovovic says that authorities in Belgrade have not received the court's official decision, and adds that "the status of the Visoki Decani monastery is the target every couple of months: from the issue of whose cultural heritage it is, to calling it an imperial edifice of the Serb state."

Jovovic said that the decision was also aimed against the monastery's monks, and that "if it turns the court reached it, we will certainly lodge an appeal with those who keep saying the SPC has a special status in Kosovo."

According to him, making this kind of decision as Brussels talks are ongoing and the Church of St. Sava should be "activated" in the southern part of Kosovska Mitrovica "creates unnecessary tensions." Jovovic also stressed that authorities in Belgrade are "in constant contact with UNMIK representatives in Kosovo when it comes to issues of cultural heritage."

SPC representatives, meanwhile, stress that the land in question is used for farming and is of key importance for the monastery's sustainability, and security.

The ownership over the land was transferred to the monastery in 1997 by the state of Serbia, as a gift - but socially-owned companies Apiko and Ililira claim that it belongs to them.

During the long process a settlement (between the monastery and UNMIK) was reached according to which Visoki Decani kept the property inside a special protected zone, and gave up on its claim to the property outside this area.

But the companies in question, and then the municipality of Decani and the Kosovo Privatization Agency all appealed against this agreement.

Two international judges voted against the newest decision reached in the case, stating in their dissenting opinions that "the thesis about the rejection of the court's jurisdiction was incorrect," and that the ruling violated the right to a fair trial guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights, and jeopardized the justice system's efficiency and credibility.

Article 1 of the Law on Special Protected Zones states that protections will be secured for Serb Orthodox monasteries, churches and other religious sites, as well as for historical and cultural sites that have special significance for the community of Serbs in Kosovo, and for other communities in Kosovo.

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