Politics and culture continue to clash in Prizren

”]The remains of the 14th century St. George Serbian Orthodox Church in Prizren's historic centre. [Reuters]

By Muhamet Brajshori for Southeast European Times in Pristina

Kosovo’s parliament refuses to adopt a law to preserve cultural monuments in Prizren’s historic centre, despite it originating in the Ahtisaari plan for independence.

A draft law to regulate the protection of historical-cultural monuments in the centre of Prizren — a town in southern Kosovo with unitary status — continues to make a stir as opponents claim it gives the Serbian Orthodox Church “privileged status”.

The Kosovo government adopted the law last February but parliament has steadfastly not done so, despite calls by Prime Minister Hashim Thaci to honour the country’s international obligations.

Opponents dispute the definition by which certain structures — most notably the St. George Serbian Orthodox Church and St. Cyril and Methodius seminary — are deemed cultural monuments. Opponents also dispute the law’s stipulations to prohibit building within 100 metres of the city centre.

International Civilian Office (ICO) spokesperson Christian Palme argues the law provides effective measures to preserve Prizren’s exceptional cultural and religious diversity by ensuring controlled and harmonious development.

“This law will not offer more rights to one or another interest group. All interest groups will be represented the same way in the Cultural Heritage Committee … no one will have a veto power. The historic Prizren centre will be managed by the municipality. The Kosovo government will remain in charge and will be responsible … within the territory,” Palme told SETimes.

Some Albanians, like Kosovo Initiative for Stability Executive Director Engjellushe Morina, agree but argue a nationwide debate is needed to move the initiative forward.

Morina criticised the law for stipulating that a Bureau for the Historic Centre should be created, which she called another bureaucratic mechanism.

“If approved in the original form, do not be surprised if in the near future we hear appeals arising from this office, that it can do nothing to stop the destruction of the centre,” Morina told SETimes.

She added the new law requires permission from the Serbian Orthodox Church regarding conducting activities that affect the property, but not the consent of other religious communities if their properties are in question.

The nationalist party Vetevendosje goes a step further. It argues the law poses a danger because it stipulates the centre is the property of a religious community, rather than the citizens of Prizren.

“The population of Prizren is co-heir to this heritage, regardless of religion or ethnicity,” Vetevendosje’s Liburn Aliu told SETimes.

Aliu also said the law isolates the monuments from others by giving the church authority over them. “[It] provides monuments within this area with special treatment. This law should be based on world heritage rules, based on the principles of UNESCO, not in the way that we have received this law in parliament,” he said.

Palme, however, argues the preservation of the Prizren historic centre’s character will help attract visitors and foster economic development for the city, as well as Kosovo.

“The approval … is an obligation that derives from [the EU’s] Community Stabilisation Programme. Preserving the beauty of Prizren by ensuring that the development of its historic centre is done in a controlled, regulated manner is not only a local obligation but a matter of national and international interest,” Palme said.

The ICO now hopes the government can persuade Albanians the law will benefit them.

“The ICO urges all Kosovo decision-makers to remain fully committed to the protection and preservation of cultural and religious heritage, in which this law will play an important role. I am quite confident that these laws will be implemented, but I believe much more work needs to be done by the government, to explain to the citizens what the benefits are,” Palme concluded.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.