Religious treasure from Kosovo and Metohija appears on Black Market




Gracanica, July 1, 2002

The Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo and Metohija has recently received confirmation that before destruction of more than 100 Orthodox churches, after the war Kosovo, K/Albanians had looted many old artifacts: icons, engravings, old books and other valuables, in order to sell them on the black market. Looting seems to have continued wherever the Serbian holy sites remained without constant KFOR protection.

The first reports on stealing of church valuables appeared immediately after the war. The British journalist Tim Judah took photos of looting of St. Elias church in Vucitrn and brought to Bishop Artemije several old icons which he himself saved from the K/Albanian mob.

Albanians looting the Serb church in Vucitrn despite KFOR presence, June 1999
Tim Judah: Kosovo - War and Revenge,

Unfortunately, the looting seems to have continued after the first wave of vandalism in summer 1999, despite the KFOR presence. A German soldier who was assigned to guard a Serbian Orthodox church in Prizren has stolen a valuable icon and several other items including a 300 years old house-dyptichon with total value of 10.000 EUR. As a result he was sentenced to one year of probation by the court in Cottbus near Berlin. The Serbian Orthodox Church in Berlin has already received information from the German authorities that the valuables will be returned to the Church in a short time. The report by the BERLINER ZEITUNG (March 2002) is available at:
(see the transcript below)

Reports from the Greek and Slovenian police have also confirmed that certain church valuables from Kosovo and Metohija were sold at the black market in Thessalonica and Slovenia. This news has aroused a serious concern because Kosovo is known as a living treasury of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Although His Holiness Patriarch Pavle ordered evacuation of more valuable icons and libraries from Decani and Pec in 1992, many other artifacts remained in other churches and monasteries, some of which now lie in ruins.

Kosovo and Metohija churches were rich in old medieval manuscripts

In the beginning of May the Diocese received information that church bells from the demolished Djakovica Serb Orthodox cathedral were stolen despite the presence of UN sponsored Kosovo Police Service, which reportedly guarded the site. It was only recently that the information came from UNMIK that the stolen bells have been finally traced. They were stolen by Kosovo Albanians the identity of which has not been revealed yet. The most recent report of an Albanian gang which broke into the Serb Orthodox church of St. Basil, at Ljubovo, near Istok (June 24) and damaged an old cross may have easily been an attempt of looting this church too. The Church representatives have not yet visited this church after the attack.

"KFOR and UNMIK police have a serious responsibility to protect the property of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Recent reports of desecrations and looting of our holy sites and in one documented case even by a KFOR soldier are disgraceful for the international representatives here and deserve outright condemnation of the civilized world. We ask ourselves how many similar cases have happened which have not been investigated and reported in the press. Dozens of churches were destroyed in the last three years and we have seldom received official reports by KFOR or UNMIK police about these incidents. Our Church is not able to fully document these incidents because we lack basic freedom of movement. That is why we can only rely at on good will of KFOR and UNMIK", said Bishop Artemije to the Information Service ERP KIM.

The Church is in the meantime working on gathering of all relevant information which will be soon presented to the leading organizations for protection of human and religious rights. Continuation of attacks and barbarous destruction of Christian monuments in Kosovo and Metohija by Kosovo Albanians in the presence of 30.000 KFOR troops and UN Police remains the most deplorable aspect of the Kosovo peacekeeping mission.

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

Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Raska and Prizren


Vesti Serbian language newspaper
Frankfurt, Germany

28 June 2002



Looters offer medieval Serbian treasures such as old manuscripts and icons - We have made several attempts to go out in the field and assess the situation but have been prevented by UNMIK, says Aleksandra Fulgosi-Stojanovic of the Coordinating Center for Kosovo and Metohija

By Radmila Loncar

destroyed chalice and paten, Ratis near Decani

Following three years of systemic destruction of every centuries-old testimonial of Serbian Orthodox existence in Kosovo and Metohija, in the past few months, religious artifacts have begun to surface on the European black market. Old manuscripts and other rare items, as well as priceless Serbian medieval treasures originating from Kosovo and Metohija, are being illegally sold. The first instances of such crimes have already been registered in Greece, Germany and Slovenia.

"Instead of performing the duties with which he was charged and protecting the Orthodox bishop's palace and the Orthodox cathedral in Prizren, as well as the church treasures entrusted to him, a professional soldier betrayed the trust of KFOR international peacekeeping forces and behaved like a common criminal. He stole an extremely valuable icon from the church and several other items of lesser value. As a result he was sentenced to one year of probation by the court in Cottbus near Berlin." Thus reported the "Berliner Morgen Post" on 15 March 2002; however, the article entitled "Professional soldier loots church" failed to name the thief who was sentenced. Nikola Zivkovic, our well-known historian from Germany, informed "Vesti" of this news.

Smugglers in Greece

In December of last year, in the south of Europe, more precisely, in Thessaloniki, Greece, local press wrote that "four smugglers of Serbian religious and art objects" were arrested. According to the Greek police statement, "the leader of the group, Kostas Nano, and his wife had in their possession 17 engraved books dating from the 19th century and icons dating from the 18th century, as well as other precious objects from the Roman age. The criminals confessed that they bought the items in Albania from local dealers and that all originated in Kosovo and Metohija."

A third similar crime, "Vesti" learned from the Office for Combat against Organized Crime of the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs, was recently uncovered in Slovenia when local police arrested several Albanians and found them in possession of dozens of icons. Interpol was informed of the matter and later informed the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs of the case.

"The Department for the Protection of Cultural Treasures within the Coordinating Center for Kosovo and Metohija has received absolutely no official information. We know that, according to UN Security Council Resolution 1244, the UN civil authority in the Province is UNMIK, while Annex 2 states that the protection of cultural monuments and Orthodox churches is the exclusive responsibility of KFOR. We have made several attempts to go out in the field and assess the situation but have been prevented by UNMIK," says Aleksandra Fulgosi-Stojanovic of the Coordinating Center.

Unprotected treasures


In the last month relations have been improving, she adds, and now they are in the phase of attempting to form a joint task force of UNMIK and the Coordinating Center for culture and cultural treasures; issues such as plunder of religious artifacts could also be addressed within this framework.

"Since there is an international protectorate in Kosovo and Metohija, which is guided by its own rules with respect to crimes relating to the devastation of cultural goods, as well as theft and illegal export of art and archeological objects, the situation appears very serious in several respects because UNMIK lacks good mechanisms to protect the cultural treasures in Kosovo and Metohija," explains Zeljko Jez, advisor to the head of the Office for Combat against Organized Crime in the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs, for "Vesti".

He adds: "As a result of the lack of documentation, the failure by UNMIK police to develop procedures for crimes in this area and what I can only call their complete lack of engagement, there has been an increase in the illegal export of art and cultural goods from Kosovo and Metohija. We learned of this indirectly, through our cooperation with police in neighboring countries and through Interpol because, of course, the Serbian police have no authority in the region of Kosovo and Metohija."

Another serious problem, Jez notes, is "the extremely porous border with Albania and Macedonia which no one really controls."

The Coordinating Center for Kosovo and Metohija of Serbia and Yugoslavia addressed letters to approximately fifteen foreign ambassadors in Belgrade asking them for their opinion regarding the destruction of the cultural treasures in Kosovo and Metohija. They were also called upon to assist in preventing the destruction, devastation and looting of these treasures.

"So far Italy, Greece, France, Russia and Bulgaria have shown goodwill, and we are still negotiating with Great Britain and the USA, to create joint expert teams which would visit cultural monuments, as well as that these countries provide funding for a protection program with the assistance of our country," says Aleksandra Fulgosi-Stojanovic.

Restoration of the Pec Patriarchate

With the mediation of the Italian NGO Intersos and through the efforts of the Coordinating Center, the Serbian Ministry of Culture, and the Serbian NGO Memosina from Belgrade, which is specialized in the treasures of Kosovo and Metohija, says Aleksandra Fulgosi-Stojanovic, a project of emergency restoration for part of the frescoes in the Pec Patriarchate is already being realized. A joint team of Serbian and Italian painters is working on this, with the intent of conducting all necessary assessments in order to propose a comprehensive program of restoration in this monastery, too.

Difficult to collect information

"The information we have about the condition of cultural monuments in Kosovo and Metohija has been provided primarily by NGO's, such as, for example, Memosina from Belgrade. The other source of information is the Serbian Orthodox Church. We are in touch with priests who are also visiting churches outside the Serb enclaves, and consequently they also inform us of the condition of those churches," says Aleksandra Fulgosi-Stojanovic.


What is going to happen with the treasuries of the Serbian Orthodox Church
in the UN administred Province of Kosovo and Metohija?

Transcript from the Berliner Zeitung about the German KFOR soldier who was sentenced in Berlin for stealing church valuables in the Orthodox Cathedral in Prizren



Datum: 14.03.2002.

Soldat plünderte Kirche im Kosovo aus

Ein Brandenburger Berufssoldat ist wegen Kunstdiebstahls im Kosovo zu einer einjährigen Freiheitsstrafe auf Bewährung verurteilt worden. Einem Bericht der "Bild"-Zeitung zufolge diente der 42-jährige Hauptfeldwebel aus Doberlug- Kirchhain (Elbe-Elster) bei der deutschen Friedenstruppe und sollte mit Kameraden die orthodoxe Bischofskirche in Prizren bewachen. Dort habe er goldbestickte Messgewänder, Amulette, Ikonen und einen über 300 Jahre alten Hausaltar im Gesamtwert von 10 000 Euro entwendet. Der vom Dienst suspendierte Unteroffizier legte Berufung gegen das Urteil ein. (dpa)