One year later, the main reasons for the inclusion of Visoki Decani on Europa Nostra’s List of 7 Most Endangered have remained valid, Europa Nostra said following its recent visit to Kosovo. After a series of talks with political, religious, and international representatives, this organization assesses that due to „complex security challenges,” the monastery needs to continue to be guarded 24/7 by KFOR troops. On the other hand, they confirmed that Pristina officials presented a new Kosovo government plan to solve the traffic issue in these parts. Europa Nostra also announced a comprehensive report with a series of recommendations to be made public in the autumn.

A delegation composed of representatives of Europa Nostra and its partner the European Investment Bank Institute (EIBI) stayed in Kosovo from July 4th to July 8th.

The delegation visited the following heritage sites: Novo Brdo, the Visoki Decani and Gracanica monastery, the town of Prizren, including its cinema, and the Church of the Holy Virgin of Ljevis.

They held a series of meetings with representatives of the Kosovo authorities, namely the Minister of Environment and Spatial Planning and Infrastructure, Liburn Aliu, and the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, Hajrulla Ceku, as well as with the Mayor of Decani Municipality, Bashkim Ramosaj.

Afterward, they met with representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo – Bishop Teodosije of Raska-Prizren and Father Sava, Abbott of the Decani Monastery; with representatives of civil society organizations based in Kosovo, as well as with representatives of the international community in Kosovo – the Commander of KFOR, Major General Ferenc Kajári; the EU Special Representative and Head of EU Office in Kosovo, Ambassador Tomas Szunyog; OSCE Head of Mission in Kosovo, Ambassador Michael Davenport; Ambassador of Italy in Kosovo, and with the Acting Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Kosovo.

The organization said that the key issue discussed with various interlocutors was the inclusion of Visoki Decani on the 2021 List of 7 Most Endangered sites in Europe and the options to improve the situation.

“One year after the publication of this List, the main reasons for the inclusion of this World Heritage Site in Danger also on Europa Nostra’s List of 7 Most Endangered have remained valid. Firstly, no final solution has yet been agreed by all parties with regard to the consequences caused by the plans to increase traffic within and around the Special Protective Zone of the Decani Monastery, nor regarding other announced interventions, such as the riverside project, that could negatively affect the natural environment of the Monastery which is to be considered as an integral part of its outstanding heritage value,” they wrote in a press release.

As a second reason, they cite the fact that the 2016 decision of the Kosovo Constitutional Court confirming the Decani Monastery’s ownership of 24 hectares of land has not yet been implemented through lawful registration of the Monastery’s land.

This undermines the rule of law and the legal security of this living Monastery with its surrounding land – they add.

While Albanian historians recently criticized this organization and Visoki Decani, claiming that the monastery is safe and that it should be secured by the Kosovo Police, Europa Nostra says that due to complex security challenges, the Monastery needs to continue to be guarded 24/7 by KFOR troops – as confirmed by the KFOR Commander, they noted.

“The Decani Monastery is also occasionally confronted with unfounded attempts to revise the cultural and historical identity of this religious heritage site, a tendency which is not in line with the European and international principles of accurate historical and artistic interpretation of historic monuments and heritage sites.”

Aliu presented a new Kosovo government plan to solve traffic issues in the area

In its press release, Europa Nostra stated that Ministers Aliu and Ceku restated “the strong objection” of the Kosovo Government to the inclusion of the Decani Monastery on the 2021 List of 7 Most Endangered Sites in Europe. They reminded that these Pristina officials interpret the decision as damaging to the reputation of Kosovo, while also claiming that this heritage site is not endangered.

The organization revealed that Aliu presented a new Kosovo Government plan to solve the issue of traffic in these parts, as part of the wider spatial planning as well as the sustainable and green development of the Prokletije National Park.

They describe the move as “encouraging.”

“It is important that this plan is discussed – both at technical and political level – within the Implementation and Monitoring Council set up by the Kosovo Law on Special Protective Zones.”

On the basis of the meetings and talks held last week in Kosovo, on the basis of the visit to the Decani Monastery and its Special Protective Zone, as well as on the basis of any further talks and examination of relevant additional documents, Europa Nostra and the European Investment Bank Institute will produce – in line with the standard procedure of our 7 Most Endangered Programme – a comprehensive report with a series of recommendations to be made public in the autumn.

Guy Clausse, Executive Vice-President of Europa Nostra, said that the List of 7 Most Endangered aims to act as a positive catalyst for change by building bridges between various stakeholders concerned and by mobilizing their joint action for ensuring a sustainable future for each of the selected sites.
“We are confident that we shall eventually be able to play such a positive civil society role also in the case of the Serbian Orthodox Monastery of Visoki Dečani with the vital contribution of all relevant local and European authorities. In this way, we shall together contribute to the enhancement of Europe’s shared values and shared heritage as a vector of peace and prosperity in Kosovo and in the wider region of the Western Balkans,” stated Clausse, who was also the head of delegation during its visit to Kosovo.

Novo Brdo Fortress nominated for the 7 Most Endangered, Europa Nostra: Partners ready to repair the works, not necessary to include it on the list

Speaking of the Novo Brdo Fortress, which is listed among the 46 Special Protective Zones in Kosovo,Europa Nostra said that serious technical errors occurred during its latest revitalization project, which was funded by the European Union and implemented via UNESCO.

They confirmed that this site has been nominated for the 7 Most Endangered Programme 2022 by Cultural Heritage without Borders Kosovo, with the endorsement of the Kosovo Minister of Culture Youth and Sport.

“Taking into account that the project implementation partners confirmed that they are ready and able to repair the works which were executed with unsuitable material and techniques, Europa Nostra and EIBI did not consider it necessary to include this site on the 2022 List of 7 Most Endangered.”

The Europa Nostra/EIBI delegation said that it visited the Fortress as well as the remains of the medieval St Nicholas Church, located nearby the Fortress, where “some recent and similarly damaging interventions” were made.

Europa Nostra deplores the shortcoming of these interventions and remains at the disposal of authorities concerned to offer any additional international heritage expertise which could be useful for ensuring the highest standards of heritage protection, conservation and interpretation for any future project to be undertaken at the site of Novo Brdo, which has a heritage significance for the whole of Europe.”

In Prizren, the delegation of Europa Nostra and EIBI visited the Lumbardhi Cinema, congratulating the Lumbardhi Foundation and their partners DokuFest, EC Ma Ndryshe and CHwB Kosovo on winning one of the European Heritage Awards / Europa Nostra Awards 2022.

“The delegation was impressed by the wide civil society mobilization to save this cinema from privatization and demolition, transform it into a protected heritage site open for all and ensure significant EU funding for the forthcoming revitalization of the Lumbardhi Cinema building,” they underlined.