Research Centre for Eastern Christian Culture, Moscow
Kosovo Mission, April 26-30, 2004
1. A most general recommendation of mine is that UNMIK should re-consider completely its policy in the field of the protection of cultural heritage. The events of March 17-19 demonstrated clearly that UNMIK and KFOR troops were not ready to protect the cultural sites though in previous years after 1999 more than one hundred monuments have been already damaged and the danger itself was quite obvious. It is a great shame for the international community, especially because it happened in Europe at the beginning of the third Millennium, in the area under the official control of the United Nations. During our stay in Kosovo, I have not seen any traces of a strategy or a complex program in the field. I have regularly raised the question during our meetings with UNMIK administration and the local government but never got a proper answer. The local officials tried to convince us that everything is already done and principally fine, meanwhile a head of UNMIK recognized the problem and complained about Albanian school manuals which are full of the nationalistic anti-Serbian propaganda and ideological premises of the destruction of Orthodox sites. One may remind in this connection that a great part of the mobs destroying houses and churches were Albanian teenagers. Yet why UNMIK administration did not check these manuals before March 17, having several thousands of international officials and five years of presence in the area. All together it looks not professional at least.
2. No doubts that the technical recommendations for the restoration and preservation of the cultural heritage are highly important, however they might be senseless without a large multi-facets program of the protection of monuments. At the moment nothing proves that the cultural sites can not be destroyed again at the next day after the restoration would be completed. In my opinion, that is a main concern. From this point of view the situation seems terribly dangerous. UNESCO activity should not be reduced to the technical problems. Though UNESCO is not a political organization, it can collaborate with UNMIK on a regular base in elaboration of a program which may include educational and other means for the protection of cultural heritage. For example, a special program on the cultural heritage might be organized at the local TV with participation and under the control of UNESCO. Particular lessons at schools seem an appropriate mean too. It should be a very active, in some way aggressive, propaganda against any destruction of cultural sites. The message sent to the local population should be absolutely clear: the international community, and Europe as a whole, will never accept in future such events as happened in March 2004 and any attempt to repeat will lead to the serious troubles (economical, political, cultural) of Kosovo itself. In this context it seems useful to announce that the money for the restoration of the sites destroyed recently will be taken from the local budget. Moreover, a clear statement has to be established in the Albanian minds that all these monuments are integral part of the Kosovo history and inseparable cultural heritage of the land. To present moment a great deal of local people believe that they are destroying the sacred space of their historical enemies continuing the previous war, and principally the West is not so much concerned if it supported them in the war of 1999.
3. In this connection another part of UNESCO protective mission could be the publication of materials concerning the cultural treasures of Kosovo which are unique in many aspects, yet are not well known in the world. For instance, the destruction of two Buddha statues in Bamijan, Afghanistan, some years ago attracted much more attention of mass-media and general public than the destruction of the Kosovo church of the Virgin Ljeviska in Prizren, South Europe (sic!), which is quite comparable with these oriental monuments from the art-historical point of view. The world appreciation of the international meaning of Kosovo heritage, a most significant realm of the Byzantine civilisation, will be an additional protective measure. A kind of the publication and information project might be established by UNESCO. A part of this program can be a large conference dedicated to the cultural heritage in Kosovo to be held, for instance, at the Decani (the monastery principally agreed) in close future with participation of not merely academics and restorers, but leading politicians (former presidents and ministers?) and world-known figures of art and culture. This group of outstanding people may suggest more concrete recommendations and just their presence in the Orthodox monastery would be an eloquent warning to the extremists.
4. As a form of protection of cultural heritage I would highly recommend to include in the UNESCO list of world cultural heritage not only the Decani monastery (to be included this June) but the Gracanica church near Prishtina (the most beautiful Byzantine church of the fourteenth century) as well as the Pec monastery (a unique complex of churches with outstanding fresco cycles of the 13th and 14th centuries, a major historical centre of the Serbian Orthodox church) and, may be also, the Virgin Ljeviska in Prizren which provides the most original thirteenth-century iconography and style covering an important gap in the history of Byzantine painting. This form of international recognition of major Kosovo monuments seems an urgent matter. It may play a role of a message to future vandals who would plan further destruction of the cultural heritage.
5. Furthermore, I would recommend to establish an annual monitoring of the cultural heritage in Kosovo through a permanent committee of UNESCO experts who will be able to check all aspects of the program, from the restoration work to the educational projects. It seems necessary at least in next five years.
6. During our mission in Kosovo in April 26-30 we could manage to visit 27 sites of the list of 35 prepared by UNESCO office in Venice. All the sites belonged to the Serbian Orthodox Church, with only exception the Open gallery and Museum of Agim Cavdharbash in Caglavica/Caglavice Municipality destroyed by a chance by illiterate mobs.
7. Among the 27 sites visited, 14 belong to the last century. There is a discussion among experts how we should consider these relatively new things. Donatella Zari claims that 'beside the psychological and religious value it is doubtful whether or not these have to be mentioned as cultural heritage in strict sense. A decision has to be taken by UNESCO'. In my view, these monuments, certainly, should be considered as a part of cultural heritage because we are not able to propose convincing grounds when and how we can stop to regarding a monument as a historical one. Even more, I have suggested and still insist on the inclusion in our program not only churches but a historical Serbian quarter of private houses located on the slope of the mountain beneath the Saviour monastery in Prizren (not included in the preliminary list). This living area existing for centuries and consisting of mostly contemporary houses is not merely very beautiful environment but a cultural and historical site, which, in my view, should be preserved and reconstructed after horrible total destruction in March 2004. It is a very good example how cultural matters are closely interwoven with the 'ordinary' human life, which can be destroyed even easier than a monument.
8. In my view, the cultural sites we have visited can be divided into three groups which might be differentiated according to a type of UNESCO support. 1/ The first group consists of Byzantine monuments with medieval frescoes. I mean the Virgin Ljeviska in Prizren, St. George Runovic in Prizren, the church of the Presentation of the Virgin in Lipljan, and the chapel in the Devic convent. For these churches some special international teams of restorers should be organized. The leaders of the teams, especially in a case of the Virgin Ljeviska, should be specialists of the highest quality. The most appropriate looks collaboration, like two coordinators, of a restorer and a Byzantine art-historian who would be a curator of the project responsible for the historical accuracy of the work. One should remember that in ideal political and economical conditions the work on the frescoes of the Virgin Ljeviska will take from three to five years for a group of five-seven people on full-time base, and may cost a. 5 millions of euro. 2/ The second group may include the churches or houses of the 18th to 20th centuries which were damaged but not completely destroyed. A special UNESCO commission, including an experienced construction engineer, should estimate the costs of the reconstruction works and provides money, if possible, directly to the local communities of monks and nuns who already began the renovation of their buildings as we could see in the Holy Archangels monastery near Prizren or in the Devic convent. It seems UNESCO should not retain its support only in the field of construction works, no less important looks the purchasing of new icons, liturgical vessels and garments, as well as books and libraries which were also destroyed during the genocide of March 2004 and certainly presented a part of Orthodox cultural heritage. UNESCO support as well as recommendations of its experts may help to purchase the best items of contemporary religious art, which might be bought in Russia, or Greece, or elsewhere, and presented to the monasteries as memorable gifts and signs of international sympathy and support. 3/ To the third group belong churches totally demolished, the city of Jakovica provides some characteristic examples. In this case I do not see any room for UNESCO experts' activity. No sense to rebuild new churches in the places where Serbs do not live anymore though it is a quite shameful fact for the UNMIK administration and entire international community. A professional commission should estimate the costs of damages and then the Serbian church would receive a full compensation. The sites should remain the official property of the Serbian church. The cultural sites could not be replaced by a parking or a market (we have heard about such plans in Jakovica). So, in my view, in these cases a role of UNESCO is to follow the position of the Serbian church, which was clearly articulated by Father Sava at our meeting in the Decani monastery on April 28. UNESCO would support not merely a suffered side, but a side protecting cultural values. Moreover it will be a good message for future vandals that they will never receive any economical benefits.
A list of cultural sites visited by UNESCO mission,
according to municipalities
1) The Church of the Holy Virgin Ljeviska
2) The Church of St. Savior, sec. XIV5
3) The Episcopal Church of St. George6
4) The church of St. Nicolas – Tutic’s Church7
5) The Church of St. Georges – Runovic’s Church8
6) Holy Archangels Monastery9
7) Episcopal residence - Bishop's residence - (Former Russian Consulate)
8) Serb vernacular heritage
9) Gracanica Monastery
10) Decani Monastery
11) Church of St. Kyriake
13) Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary
14) Cathedral church of the Holy Trinity
15) Church of St. Elias in Bistrazin village
16) Church of the Presentation of the Virgin
17) Church of St. Florus and Laurus
18) Church of the archangel Michae
19) Pec Patriarchate
20) Church King Uros 1928-1933
21) Sveti Jovan Church
22) Church Holy Mother of God
23) Church of Sts Peter and Paul
24) Monastery of Devic
25)Church of St. Nicholas
Fushe Kosove/Kosovo Poljje Municipalit;
26) Church of Saint Nicholas
27) Atelier, open gallery and Museum of Agim Cavdharbash