Thursday, November 24, 2005

Kosovo fieldwork: Archangel Monastery; riots, destructions and restorations

Kosova/Kosovo fieldwork notes extracts

This entry explored one of the murkiest episodes I investigated, because some people from all communities were not as open as I had hoped. It made it difficult to elucidate the Albanian nationalists' and Serb nationalists' constructions of identity and their consequent treatments of cultural heritage, though I think it did what it needed to do.

By 2.35pm on the 18th of July 2005, I had already decided that "today was an almost entirely unproductive day":
I went to KFOR and they sent me to the Ministry of Culture; I went to the Ministry of Culture and they sent me to the Institute for Protection of Cultural Monuments; I went to the Institute for Protection of Cultural Monuments and they sent me to the Ministry of Culture.
German KFOR were "far from being 'paranoid', as a local UN security officer suggested". At the time, I thought they were "too relaxed", but I believe I was being unfair, or judging poorly, at least. They dealt well with the bomb/bomb scare that came to light just as I got off the bus and the locals had an overwhelmingly positive opinion of them.

German KFOR did acknowledge that "the situation is 'calm, but not stable' and that 'one spark... can set things off'", even while they argued that "there is a 'normal city life' in which 'people sit in coffee shops during the day, they walk the street on a Friday night'."
A German KFOR soldier told me that if I went to sites I should be able to talk to their occupants and their soldiers, though that was evidently not the case; I presume he meant only Decan, Peje, et al, where there are occupants (as Prizren's Orthodox church [the Church of Christ the Saviour] was ruins even before the violence), though why a lack of residents would reduce the soldiers to silence I do not know. [As I found out later, I wasn't even allowed to visit Decani Monastery, though that was the Monastery's choice, not KFOR's - and the local KFOR soldiers did talk to me.]
When we discussed Kosovo's independence, the German KFOR soldier argued "that 'just because one country chooses to recognise it, it does not matter; it is the international community that must decide'"; however, I suspect if and when the USA does recognise Kosovo's independence, it will matter and the international community will have to decide to agree.

Thankfully, I think that the US will recognise Kosovo's conditional independence, its status dependent upon the belated establishment of democratic and human rights standards during the probationary period. As I understand it, the international community does agree with this plan, even if it's not a unanimous decision.

When I visited Archangel Monastery, on the outskirts of Prizren, I arrived at the same time as a group of American think-tank employees. The Americans were being given a tour of Kosovo by Serbian state officials. They said they had been "living in a bubble... moving from enclave to enclave... only really meeting Kosovo Serbs". The Americans were given a tour of the monastery by the monks, who let me follow.

We were walked through the site as we were talked through its history. Eventually, we arrived back at the former residence hall of the monastery and back in the present. The Ottoman Empire occupied the monastery in 1455 and recycled its stone to construct the Sinan Pasha Mosque.

In the 1990s, the Serbian Orthodox Church started to reconstruct the Monastery of the Holy Archangels and to build a new residence hall. In 1998, monks moved in to the hall as work on the monastery continued.

On the 16th of March 2004, Albanians throughout Kosovo were led to believe that some Albanian children had been chased by Serbs into a river in Mitrovice, where they drowned. On the 17th of March 2004, riots broke out; in Prizren the monastery was targeted and the residence hall was attacked with Molotov cocktails and burned down. Actually, the children had drowned in a tragic accident without any Serb individual's involvement.

Archangel Monastery's Father German gave us the tour, but it was too long to remember in detail. I contacted the monastery and explained who I was and what I was doing and Father Jovan told me that:
On 17th March 2004. a part of mob which destroyed Orthodox churches, houses in Prizren came by foot to Monastery. They came face to face with German guard. When we asked our bishop Artemije what to do, he said to surrender in KFOR hands because they are responsible. We were asking ourselves why KFOR didn't blocked a road from Prizren to Monastery. I think they were completely undone [unprepared] for such an event. This was a time when most of internationals were coloring reality in Kosovo, together with KFOR stuff.

In incidents before (kidnapping a monk, bomb above monastery, stonening a monk) none of perpetuators were punished. One month before riots appeared, escorted monks have been attacked in KFOR vehicles (It is recorded by German Zepo film company). KFOR simply cover event mislead public. Instead of improving security KFOR was trying to promote Kosovo institutions.

Monks were pushed to ask Kosovo Police for escorts (most of their members are connected with terrorist incidents, in last few months they organized three attacks to their own Serbian colleges [colleagues]). We refused this suicide possibility.

So, on 17th March soldiers were ordered just to save monks lives, and not monastery building together with church and religious and historical values. They did exactly this and left site. During mob were destroying Monastery with petrol of KFOR generator, soldiers watching them from mountain above.

After a month monks came back to live in Monastery ground in containers given by Serbian Red Cross. Instead of real and simple help to restore Monastery, international community and Albanian Kosovo institutions start one political game.

There were many stories, issues, agreements, promises (specially before media), and on the end even donation conference but not restorations. Instead of restoration, in a basic document which was made by Council of Europe (CoE) experts with their Kosovo colleges [colleagues] it is said that our Monastery should be closed, monks evicted (means expelled), and to become archeological site (Integrated Rehabilitation Project Plan / Survey of the, Architectural and Archaeological heritage (IRPP/SAAH)).

In 26th July 2004. KFOR general Errico with his deputy mister Buler made an initiative to restore Monastery. So, with their help (construction machines and more), with help of orthodox people (donations and voluntarily work) and one Slavic Muslim from Kosovo, and on the end Serbian government, one part of old building was restored.

It was real triumph to restore such a building with such a beauty with no capital, and no continual support. Few commissions of Council of Europe were coming during restoration with no comments but their Albanian counterparts asked how we dear [dare] to restore our own house out of their plan.

Kosovo/Albanian institutions try to stop restoring of house saying we didn't have engine [planning? administrative?] permission for such a thing. But, now KFOR supported us, and their attempts failed.
A German KFOR soldier, who was not at the event, but who was very well-informed immediately afterwards, explained that:
The destructions (arsons) didn't take place, while German KFOR was at the place. The soldiers had to face an angry mob, which wanted to harm the priests/monks. In this human mass there were also women and children.

The rules of engagement for the German soldiers don't allow deadly force versus children and crowds. The soldiers had only the choice between blocking the rioter with their body or shooting at them, which wasn't allowed according to the rules of engagement.

Finally they decided to save the lives of the threatened priests/monks and they left the locations. After they were gone, the now unguarded sites were set on fire. So the German were not present during the destructions, which they tried to prevent just before.
I wanted to include comments by the Council of Europe and UNESCO, but I haven't had any reply from either; there could be good reasons why neither has been able to respond, but I should get what information I have into the public domain and move on to present other material, so I will try to piece together what their position might be from published sources and some informal observations I received from well-placed individuals.

The Monastery of the Holy Archangels stated that in the Integrated Rehabilitation Project Plan, the Council of Europe and its "Kosovo colleagues" recommended that the "monastery should be closed", that the "monks [should be] evicted" and that the "monastery should... become [an] archeological site".

What Kosovo/UNMIK (2004) actually said about the "historical and religious monument of particular national importance" was that, not only "historical research", but "also... rehabilitation and restoration" were "extremely important", "particularly important for Serbian Orthodox Church and local Orthodox settlement". Kosovo/UNMIK maintained that the roof and walls "can be repaired" but conceded that there was "no solution agreed" for preventing the decay.

In UNESCO's (2005) summary of "protection and preservation of cultural heritage in Kosovo", it noted that UNESCO had recommended "archaeological research and preservation of the site [the Monastery of the Holy Archangels]... restoration of the monastic dwellings... restoration of the tomb" and that the Council of Europe had recommended "reconstruction of the monastic dwellings... storage of stones and other archaeological finds... additional walling and new generator".

It is true, however, that in UNESCO's summary, the Implementation Committee were stated as remarking that, given the new constructions were built on top of archaeological remains of "extraordinary interest", "in case of reconstruction of the monastery the environmental impact on the remains should be assessed. It seems more suitable to change its location to outside the archeological site with careful demolition of the damaged structure".

The Council of Europe, UNESCO and UNMIK considered that, in order to protect the Serbian Orthodox community's cultural heritage, the ruins that are on top of it should be removed. They considered that, in order to protect the cultural heritage, the monastery should be rebuilt on land where its construction would not damage or destroy the cultural heritage.

It is a confusing disagreement over the treatment of cultural property: partly because many of the positions were taken behind the scenes; partly because the discussants disagree with or misinterpret the terms of the others; and partly because of the unspoken assumptions or ulterior motives of all sides.

It seems: that one of the positions taken behind the scenes was a 2004 proposition of moving the monastery that only appeared in the 2005 report; and that one of the misinterpretations was Archangel Monastery's misunderstanding about UNESCO's categorisation of the monastery as an archaeological site, when the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Raska and Prizren has itself detailed the "archaeological investigations" into the monastery, which would appear to require the monastery to be an archaeological site into which investigations may be made.

It appears: that UNESCO failed to appreciate the significance of the resurrection of the monastery to the Serbian Orthodox community; and that Archangel Monastery failed to appreciate the importance of authentic historical materials in proving the Serbian Orthodox community's historical presence and thereby refuting Albanian nationalists' constructions of Kosovan history.

I have been given the impression, nevertheless, that the Albanian and Islamic communities' restoration of their cultural heritage to a pristine state and the Serb and Orthodox Christian communities' maintenance of their cultural heritage in a degraded state are all strategies, rather than accidents or products of CoE, EU, UNESCO or UNMIK action.

The Albanian and Islamic communities' central strategy is to reverse the previous Serb nationalists' erasure of their identities from Kosovo. I understand that the Saudi aid donors were funding restoration of cultural heritage, in order to purge the Albanian and Muslim communities of a history of liberal, multicultural Islam.

The Serb and Orthodox Christian communities' central strategy is to consolidate their identities as victims of the current Albanian nationalists in Kosovo. I was led to believe that the Serbian Orthodox Church was blocking restoration of some of its damaged or destroyed cultural heritage in order to reify its identity and discourse of victimhood.

Participants have been afforded anonymity (unless they were acting in an official capacity and unless they waived the right to anonymity explicitly). Formatting has been changed to make it easy to read in a blog.

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