The Areal View
The land of Visoki Decani monastery under threat

URGENT - Albanian Institutions Continue with Repression Against Serbian Monastery


Judge Haki Balaj "annuls" decision of the Serbian Government

Visoki Decani, August 9, 2002

On Friday, August 2, 2002, after nine consecutive sessions the muncipal court in Decani, with Judge Haki Balaj presiding, annulled the decision of the Government of the Republic of Serbia from 1997 returning to the Monastery of Visoki Decani a part of the land which was nationalized illegally and without compensation in 1946.

For more than three years there has been continuous pressure from the Decani municipality to deprive the monastery brethren of their right to use the land returned to the monastery by a special contract with the Government of the Republic of Serbia in 1997. This includes two land parcels totalling 23.45 hectares in immediately proximity to the monastery which were, together with 700 additional hectares of monastery property, illegally nationalized in 1946. For years the monastery unsuccessfully sought to correct this injustice and return at least a part of its property; however, the local authorities had simply distributed the greater part of the monastery land into the private hands of Albanians, who built their houses on it.

Built on the two above mentioned and now contested land parcels over time were the Visoki Decani Motel, in the forest immediately above the monastery, and "Apiko", a small honey-packing plant; both of these were abandoned and have been closed since the beginning of the 1990's. Finally in 1997 the monastery succeeded in getting these two land parcels and the buildings on them back from the Government of the Republic of Serbia. The contract with the Government of the Republic of Serbia was duly processed and recorded in all relevant land registry books, and the brethren began to use their property, which had belonged to the Monastery of Visoki Decani for centuries.

After the war the newly established Albanian municipal authorities immediately contested the decision of the Government of the Republic of Serbia and sought every possible means to take away this land from the monastery. In 2000, because of the firm position of the monastery brotherhood on the property issue, two mortar attacks were launched against the monastery in which, fortunately, no one was injured. KFOR secured all monastery property and UNMIK head Dr. Bernard Kouchner issued a special letter confirming the right of the monastery to use its own land. However, the municipal authorities pursued the matter and immediately filed a petition which has, in the meanwhile, been transferred to the district court in Pec, only to be bounced back to the municipal court in Decani. The monastery brotherhood did not attend hearings for the simple reason that the municipal court has no jurisdiction in this type of case and because it considered such acts on the part of local municipal authorities to be blatant examples of institutional repression.

The municipal court based its decision on unfounded facts and inaccurate information with the intent of proving the illegality of the decision of the Government of the Republic of Serbia. Special significance was given to UNMIK Regulation 1999/24, according to which all contracts concluded after March 22, 1989 are supposedly "illegal". The best evidence of the arbitrary interpretation of this regulation is the fact that the Albanians are not contesting any of the contracts concluded in the last ten years which are to their benefit.

The Monastery of Visoki Decani will seek protection from UNMIK from blatant institutional repression waged against the last remaining Serb enclave in Decani municipality. While hundreds of hectares of privately-held land owned by Serbs have been usurped by the Albanians and state-owned property is being illegally appropriated left and right, UNMIK must nevertheless seek to protect the legitimate rights of the monastery which desires to preserve its property and which is essential to its economic survival. The monastery will also officially seek the assistance of the Government of the Republic of Serbia which must not allow its decisions to be annulled by court institutions without jurisdiction or objectivity.

Information Service of the Diocese of Raska and Prizren
Kosovo and Metohija,