A step forward in cultural, religious heritage

13/11/2012

The Serbian Orthodox Church agrees that the Pristina-Belgrade dialogue is the only constructive way to protect Kosovo Serb cultural and religious sites.

By Safet Kabashaj for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 13/11/12

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There are 45 Serbian religious and cultural sites throughout Kosovo, but only a few in the Serb-dominated north. [AFP]

A special Kosovo Police unit, comprised of mainly Serbs, has been proposed to guard the Serbian religious and cultural sites in Kosovo, Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said on Monday (November 12th). Briefing his cabinet on his meeting last week in Brussels with the Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic, Thaci outlined the plan.

"In the capacity of Kosovo institutions, we offered additional protection. I proposed the forming of a special unit in the multi-ethnic Kosovo police, which would be charged with the protection of cultural and religious heritage sites," Thaci said.

He added that "Kosovo police is [already] protecting some of these sites, as part of the authority transfer from KFOR to local police, and would be extremely positive that police protect the remaining sites which are still protected by KFOR. … We have no doubt about the willingness and professionalism of Kosovo police to protect these sites, which are part of our common cultural and religious heritage."

Belgrade considers the protection of religious buildings and cultural heritage in Kosovo to be one of the most important issues in the Pristina-Belgrade dialogue. The protection of Serb cultural and religious heritage in Kosovo was implemented under the Ahtisaari Plan during the international supervision of Kosovo. Under the plan, 45 religious, historical and cultural objects are listed as special protected zones.

"This will be an appropriate unit that will deal exclusively with our heritage, and that way we'll raise the level of responsibility for what could happen," Aleksandar Vulin, head of the Serbian government's Office for Kosovo and Metohija, told Serbian national television RTS.

Dejan Pavicevic, chief of Serbian government's team for technical talks with Pristina, told SETimes that protection of religious and cultural heritage will be a part of any further negotiations.

"Our great interest is to protect all Serbian Orthodox Church property, as well as everything we consider religious and cultural heritage, and I think all sides involved understand that," Pavicevic said.

The head of the Greek Liaison Office in Pristina, Ambassador Dimitris Moschopoulos, an EU facilitator for the protection of religious and cultural heritage of the church in Kosovo, is the appointed mediator in the dialogue.

He told SETimes there is an understanding and commitment on both sides for a solution.

"Kosovo's government seems strongly committed to the protection of Serbian cultural and religious heritage in Kosovo, and, of course, the Serbian Orthodox Church sees the need to protect its own heritage, its own property," said Moschopoulos, noting that the Serbian Church is the legal owner of the monuments and sites whose protection is at stake.

Memli Krasniqi, Kosovo minister of culture, will co-ordinate a government body that will directly work with the Serbian church for the promotion and protection of cultural heritage, following the European Commission (EC) demands for Kosovo to register progress in protection of minorities, delivered in the feasibility study which was published October 10th. The same body will carry out the implementation and monitoring council's task, as part of the Ahtisaari Plan.

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The body will be composed of five members: two government ministers, representatives of the international presence in Kosovo, and representatives of the Serbian church.

Moschopoulos said there is a commitment on both sides to move things forward.

"Kosovo government respects the identity of the Serbian heritage, its integrity, and is committed to safeguard it. The Serbian church has been realistic and pragmatic in dealing with this issue, whose purpose is to the safeguard its own integrity, identity and property," Moschopoulos said.

SETimes correspondent Igor Jovanovic in Belgrade contributed to this report.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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