Pristina hopes to resolve northern issues

Safet Kabashaj for Southeast European Times in Pristina — 15/02/13

The Kosovo government and the international community are mounting pressure on local Albanian authorities to accept laws and a Supreme Court ruling.

The Kosovo government is attempting to work out a solution in the north with Albanian local authorities so they will comply with a Kosovo Supreme Court decision and laws that seek to better protect the Serbian community’s rights and heritage.

Two laws entered into force in July 2012, stipulating the municipal assemblies of Prizren and Rahovac, where the Serbian village of Hoca is located, must establish cultural heritage councils.

Prizren Centre and Hoca are among the more than 50 legally protected zones based on the Ahtisaari Plan. The national councils will protect, administer and promote the zones.

“The matter is almost resolved as we are expecting to announce the forming of the councils in a matter of days,” Dardan Gashi, minister for environment and spatial planning, told SETimes.

The Prizren council will consist of seven members, including Islamic, Serbian Orthodox and Catholic representatives. The Hoca council will consist of five members — two selected by the municipal assembly, two by Hoca citizens and one by the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Local authorities have opposed the councils, claiming the religious communities, especially the Serbian Orthodox Church, have been given too much authority to manage the vast Prizren Centre area.

“In Prizren, all three major religious communities will have an opportunity to express their concerns within a particular committee in case of inappropriate construction in the vicinity of their holy sites,” said Father Sava Janjic, the abbot of the Serbian Decani Monastery.

“Both laws are guaranteeing local communities the right to better protect the cultural heritage, which is essential for us all,” Janjic said.

Some local Albanians also disagree with the Kosovo Supreme Court’s decision that a 23-hectare parcel in Decani municipality belongs to the Decani Monastery.

Janjic said the Serbian monastery owned the land until 1946 when the communist authorities nationalised it. “The land was restituted in 1997… although the state-owned entities then were not active on this land,” Janjic told SETimes.

But Decani authorities and Albanian residents have protested the decision.

“There are no legal grounds for the ruling since it is referring to a 1997 decision by the Serbian government, while we all know UNMIK suspended the laws from that period by classifying them as discriminatory,” Rasim Selmanaj, president of the Decani municipality, told SETimes

Selmanaj said the land belongs to two enterprises rather than the monastery and should be privatised. He said the municipality will appeal the decision.

Gashi, who is leading the government’s effort to resolve the dispute, said both sides are eager for a solution. “The government is deeply interested in [resolving] this,” Gashi said.

The international community is as well.

The laws were expressly mentioned in the feasibility study for Kosovo’s stabilisation and association agreement; not implementing them will have a negative effect on Kosovo’s EU accession process.

“The international community … regards this as a ‘test case’ for Kosovo’s ability to demonstrate that court decisions are respected and correctly enforced,” it said.

“Positive relations, a satisfactory level of tolerance and understanding between municipal residents and the monastery [are] important for the government,” Gashi told SETimes.

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