Visoki Decani Monastery

June 5, 2008


Although it was not the intention of Visoki Decani Monastery to
sensationalistically launch the issue of monastery property in the media,
because of the newly created situation and erroneous interpretations being
spread by certain Albanian media the monastery administration has decided to
explain in detail to the public the essence of the problem and all relevant
facts regarding this case, which is in many ways illustrative of the
problems faced by the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo and Metohija. It is
not the intention of the monastery to needlessly politicize this issue to
resolve it in the interests of justice and the rule of law, which is the
only guarantee for the survival of the Serbian people in this region.


On May 17, 2008, Mr. Joachim Ruecker, the head of UNMIK, signed an executive
decision (2008/21) ordering the municipal cadastral office in Decani to
return the cadastral information for Visoki Decani Monastery to its state in
1998. The UNMIK Department of Justice established by investigation that the
municipal cadastral office in Decani had illegally made changes to cadastral
information without any court decision and contrary to the law in 2001. At
that time 24 hectares of monastery land was relabeled as socially-owned
property of various Albanian companies, which came forward with the claim
that this was supposedly their land. Namely, the aforementioned land was
owned by the monastery until 1946, when it was confiscated, together with
700 hectares more of monastery land by the Communist regime of that time. On
the aforementioned land a small beekeepers collective was built, as well as
the Visoki Decani Motel; by the beginning of the 1990s both had stopped
functioning, like many companies that went bankrupt due to poor business
practices. Both buildings were later damaged during the time of the armed
conflict and after 1999 they were looted on numerous occasions by local
looters. Therefore, in 1997 the Serbian Government passed a "deed of gift"
returning these 24 hectares to the monastery as their former owner, and this
land transaction was properly record in March 1998 in the municipal
cadastral office. No appeals were submitted during the appeal period, either
in court or among the publish, and this property transaction was carried out
in accordance with all legal regulations of the Republic of Serbia, for
which there is authentic original documentation that has been kept.


After the end of the armed conflict in 1999 local Albanian authorities
immediately began to contest this decision by the Serbian government. The
monastery was openly threatened by an organization of the so-called KLA
[Kosovo Liberation Army] war veterans. In February and June 2000 the
monastery came under mortar attack. The next attack occurred during the
March [2004] pogrom, and the most recent one occurred in March of last year
when the monastery was targeted from a rocket launcher (a total of four
attacks with heavy weapons). Since no valid court decision was issued to
annul the 1997 decision of the Serbian government, and with the intention of
taking away the land from the monastery at any cost, the municipal
authorities arbitrarily made their own decision instead of the court and
relabeled the monastery land as municipal land, removing these land tracts
from the monastery cadastral list in 2001. In summer of 2002 two objects
owned by the monastery located in the center of town [of Decani] were
destroyed with the justification that this was "socially owned property",
which later turned out to be inaccurate. In 2002 two companies claiming to
be the legal successors of those existing prior to 1999 even initiated legal
proceedings before the municipal court but the case was thrown out by the
district court in Pec in 2005, and UNMIK's Kosovo Trust Agency proclaimed it
illegal because such cases by enterprises can only be conducted before the
court of the Kosovo Trust Agency's Special Chamber. Since the cadastral
records had already been changed, these enterprises and the municipality
became silent, and since then there have been no new court proceedings.


The administration of Visoki Decani Monastery, whose unobstructed right to
use this land was approved by the first head of UNMIK, Bernard Kouchner, and
which has been using this land continuously since 1997, has tried for years
to correct this injustice and contest the falsification of cadastral
documents. The monastery's position has been and remains that anyone wishing
to contest someone's ownership of something can only do so by legal court
process, and not by arbitrarily tailoring justice. That is why after
investigating this case in detail and establishing the cadastral
manipulation the head of UNMIK on May 17, 2008, issued an executive decision
that is legally binding and orders the status of cadastral records to be
returned to the status quo ante, i.e. to the status prior to the illegal
manipulation of cadastral records. This leaves the possibility of resolving
the matter through legal and peaceful means. The executive decision required
the correction of cadastral records in favor of the monastery within a
period of 10 days, i.e. by May 27, 2008.


Unfortunately, Decani municipality immediately opposed this UNMIK decision
and first began an extremely one sided media campaign with an article in
[Albanian language Pristina daily] Koha Ditore with the claim that UNMIK
allegedly illegally returned socially-owned land to the monastery. Members
of the so-called KLA war veterans then personally threatened UNMIK official
Patrick Buse (Germany), and as a result Buse suspended further work in
Decani municipality. The veterans led by the problematic Abdyl Mushkolai
(who had earlier threatened the monastery in 2004, 2005 and 2007) have
announced demonstrations in the near future, thus destabilizing the security
situation in the municipality.


On June 3 the monastery formally asked the municipal cadastral office to
issue a cadastral list for the monastery in accordance with the decision of
UNMIK in order to verify whether the executive decision was carried out.
However, the response from the municipality was that they do not recognize
UNMIK and that they do not recognize any sort of executive decision by
UNMIK. Finally, yesterday, on June 4, the Decani municipal assembly held an
extraordinary session where it was decided not to implement the UNMIK
chief's executive decision and not to change the ownership of the land in
favor of the monastery until this issue "is resolved by a competent court
and a law on property is passed". Basically, this represents a cynical
substitution of arguments since the municipality changed the monastery's
cadastral information illegally and without a court decision, making it
legally impossible to begin such a court proceeding unless the UNMIK
executive decision is first implemented, on which the monastery and UNMIK
are insisting. Moreover, the arbitrary changing of cadastral information is
a prosecutable act, and in the event of a new court case the first priority
would be to resolve and investigate the accountability of the authorities.
Especially worrisome is that the municipal assembly has decided to break off
all contact with local UNMIK staff, which along with the refusal to
implement the UNMIK chief's executive decision is an open example of
negating the authority of UNMIK and UN SC Resolution 1244. Local
representatives of UNMIK are unjustly accused even though the executive
decision was passed by the head of UNMIK in coordination with the UNMIK
legal office in Pristina. Some international representatives in Pristina see
this as an introduction to the announced expulsion of the UN Mission from
Kosovo prior to the enactment of the Kosovo constitution on June 15. In some
Albanian circles there is increasingly open talk that as of June 15 UNMIK
will no longer be considered a legal institution in Kosovo and Metohija,
which is cause for deep concern by the Serbs in this region as well as sharp
opposition by some international circles because Resolution 1244 remains in
effect and cannot be unilaterally abrogated.


Bishop Teodosije, abbot of Decani Monastery, sent a letter yesterday to
UNMIK chief Ruecker asking that UNMIK act to protect justice and the rule of
law and remain adamant in its request for the implementation of the
executive decision on the monastery property. Furthermore, Bishop Teodosije
will be writing today to appropriate institutions in Serbia and the UN
undersecretary-general for peacekeeping operations in New York, Mr.
Jean-Marie Guéhenno, in order to inform them of the open violation of the
law and undermining of UNMIK's authority in Kosovo to the detriment of the
Serbian Orthodox Church and the Serbian community in Kosovo and Metohija. In
yesterday's letter to Mr. Ruecker Bishop Teodosije expressed serious concern
for the future of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Serbian people in
Kosovo and Metohija, who in a situation where institutional repression by
local authorities is increasingly frequent, have found themselves (in a
position of) legal insecurity and their future is completely uncertain. Just
in the district of Pec in the local courts there are 7000 appeals following
usurpation of Serbian property and falsification of contracts regarding the
alleged sale of Serbian land to Albanians. We must ask ourselves the serious
questions whether cadastral records in other municipalities have also been
tampered with, taking land owned by the Serbian monasteries, churches and
people, and whether anyone is even controlling the protection of the
property rights of the non-Albanian population. Moreover, the insistence
that Visoki Decani Monastery lose its right to almost 50% of its present
property, and that this land be turned over to some kind of phantom
enterprises that claim to be currently active after 20 years of dormancy and
that have no legal continuity with the pre-1999 companies demonstrates the
lack of will of local authorities to respect the law on special protected
zones announced for the month of June. This law is expected to prohibit
industrial and commercial activity in about 20 special protected zones
surrounding Serbian Orthodox monasteries and important cultural-historical
objects so even if the land of the monastery is given to these companies,
they could not use it. From this contradictory situation we can conclude
that guarantees regarding the protection of Serbian holy shrines and respect
for the property of the Church may very well end up being nothing but
meaningless words on paper because if municipal structures were preparing to
respect this law, why would they be so determined in denying the monastery
its land and asking for resumed activity for industrial-commercial


The administration of Visoki Decani Monastery expects UNMIK to continue to
implement its mandate in accordance with UN SC Resolution 1244, and the
implementation of the UNMIK chief's executive decision in full. We deeply
regret this incomprehensible behavior on the part of municipal structures,
threats to UNMIK officials and creation of a public lynch atmosphere, it is
said in Bishop Teodosije's letter to the UNMIK chief, which also expresses
the hope that municipal structures will comprehend that justice and the rule
of law can only be achieved by respecting the law in accordance which the
currently valid UN SC Resolution.




Since today Visoki Decani Monastery celebrates the patronal feast of its
church dedicated tot he Ascension of Christ some 2000 guests are expected in
the monastery. Romanian Bishop Seraphim will serve Holy Hierarchal Liturgy
with the assistance of Bishops Constantine and Teodosije (of the Serbian
Orthodox Church) and a number of priests and priest-monks. The monastery
administration expects that the holiday will be celebrated in peace and
without incidents. The celebration of the church's patronal feast will be
secured by strong Italian KFOR forces. Bishop Teodosije has requested
addition protection for the monastery from KFOR as a result of the newly
created situation regarding the monastery land.



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