Kosovo, Serbia debate the return of Pristina artworks


Kosovo will continue to address the return of artwork to Pristina Museum in the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, said one analyst.

By Linda Karadaku and Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Pristina and Belgrade -- 02/05/13


Relocated art works from Pristina include 1,200 archaeological and ethnographic items. [AFP]

Kosovo is asking that Serbia return the artworks that were transferred from the Pristina Museum to Belgrade in 1999, but the Serbian capital is refusing, citing safety and legal right-of-ownership as reasons. One analyst thinks the issue will become part of the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue.

The 1,200 works of art include archaeological and ethnographic items collected from different excavations before 1999.

"We've been asking that [the more than] 1,200 artworks, unfairly taken from the Kosovo museum in 1999, be returned, and as soon as possible," Shkelzen Dragaj, spokesperson for the Kosovo Culture Ministry, told SETimes.

Branko Jokic, director of the Belgrade branch of the Pristina Museum, said relocation of certain art works from Kosovo to Belgrade was done for security reasons, with KFOR assistance and UN approval.

"In June 1999, when the circumstances became unfavourable for people, nature, and cultural heritage in Kosovo, the UN Steering Committee in Pristina proposed an urgent protective heritage protection measure, a relocation of certain number of items Pristina Museum, which was under the risk of being destroyed. These pieces represent Serbian tradition and culture in Kosovo and Metohija. It was asked for their relocation to a safer location, with KFOR assistance," Jokic told SETimes.

"General Michael Jackson, KFOR chief at the time, approved the relocation of the artworks … which were first moved to the Gracanica monastery courtyard, and then with the help of KFOR US troops, in late 1999 to central Serbia, to the Belgrade ethnographic museum where it remains today," Jokic said.

Now Pristina is asking that Belgrade return the artworks.

"We've continuously appealed to Serbia to change its approach and start the return of the Pristina Museum artworks, because such action will first build respect in bilateral relations, and then respect for cultural heritage," Dragaj said.

"Part of Pristina Museum's ethnographic and archaeological collection was located in museums in central Serbia in 1998 and 1999. The archaeological collection is in the Belgrade National Museum, and the total number of artworks from Kosovo museums is around 3,000," Jokic said, adding that the ethnographic collection "significantly increased in recent years with the addition of items collected from Serbian refugee families from Kosovo after 1999."

However, Kosovo authorities said they have repeatedly asked the Council of Europe, the European Commission, the OSCE, UNESCO and different embassies to pressure Serbia to return the art works.

Dragaj told SETimes the latest request was at a meeting of Southeast Europe culture ministers in Slovenia. Kosovo Culture Minister Memli Krasniqi asked that both countries begin to work on the return of the artworks to the Kosovo museum.

"If we are committed to following the civilised European principles, than this return should not be delayed," Krasniqi said at the meeting.

Aleksandar Radovanovic, the ambassador with the Serbian delegation in Slovenia, walked out of the meeting and returned only when Krasniqi ended his talk. Radovanovic said that Pristina's request is turning cultural heritage into a political issue.

Dragaj told SETimes that Kosovo will continue to address the issue and will ask to have it solved within the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue.

"As Serbia doesn't recognise Kosovo as an independent state, and therefore, by law, property and cultural heritage belongs to Serbia," Igor Isailovic, a Belgrade attorney, told SETimes.

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"According to the Serbian Constitutional Act and international law, which doesn't allow violent and forced secession, Serbia has the full right to care about its cultural heritage. The succession issue is quite complicated," Isailovic said.

Qazim Namani, a historian at the Kosovo Institute for the Protection of Monuments, said that there were negotiations and meetings with Serbia officials, under Kosovo UNMIK leadership, for the artworks' return.

"Kosovo's request is legal, right and should be a continuous demand. Serbia will not return the artworks without pressure, and conditions from the international community. These artworks were selected and represent the best values of culture and civilisation in Kosovo, from pre-history up to contemporary time," Namani told SETimes.

Where should the artwork be displayed? Let us know what you think.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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