August 8, 2010

Serbian Church Condemns NATO Shrine Transfer

06 August 2010
Balkan Insight

The Serbian Orthodox Church has said its shrines will be endangered by NATO’s decision to transfer protection of them to Kosovo Police.

The Church said on Friday the decision to entrust the mostly ethnic Albanian police force with the protection of its most sacred sites was a political decision by KFOR, the Alliance’s force in Kosovo, to portray Kosovo internationally as "safe".

In a statement the church said: “The decision by the KFOR command, the German general Markus Bentler, to surrender the protection of the Gracanica monastery to Kosovo police and thus start the process to transfer responsibility for the protection of the most sacred sanctuaries of the SOC to Kosovo Police, will endanger the orthodox sanctuaries in Kosovo and Metohija.”

KFOR announced yesterday that the first site to be transferred to Kosovo Police would be Gracanica monastery, located in a Serb enclave on the outskirts of Pristina.

In a press release, KFOR said that the decision reflected its ‘growing confidence in the capability of the Kosovo Police to perform this important task’.

“More transfers will occur over a period of time, but the timelines for each of the following sites are yet to be determined,” it added.

But the Church, which is among the most hardline actors in the dispute over Kosovo, said that the Serb community did not trust Kosovo Police because of its ‘behaviour so far when it comes to the destruction of Serbian sanctuaries, especially during the March pogrom of 2004’.

The church added: “This shows that the high-level decision of NATO is clearly politically motivated so that the message to the world from the province shows progress of the security situation and hides the bitter truth about the serious violations of human rights and religious freedoms.”

The statement also warned that the Church will be forced to secure its holy places by introducing a stricter regime towards visitors and by putting in place "new walls and barbed wire".

Kosovo is home to a number of significant Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries built during the medieval Kingdom of Serbia, including the Decani monastery and the Patriarchy of Pec, which are among the country’s most popular tourist attractions.

Goran Bogdanovic, the Minister for Kosovo and Metohija in the Serbian government, said the decision encouraged unilateral decisons by Pristina.

He said: "[The decision] encourages Pristina to keep making unilateral moves and is an attempt to paint the poor security situation in the southern Serbian province in a much better light before the world."

Protection of churches and shrines was stepped up after the March 2004 riots, which swept Kosovo, leaving many religious buildings torched and vandalised.