I recently visited the Visoki Decani monastery of the Serbian Orthodox church, located just outside the city of Peja/Pec (in Kosovo, names of places are given in both Albanian and Serbian). Serbian King Stefan Uros III, whose son went on to build the Serbian Empire that existed from 1346 through 1371, erected the monastery in the fourteenth century. Stefan was canonized in 1339 and his body enshrined in the monastery he built (although his mausoleum is not usually open to the public, I happened to visit at the same time as an Orthodox priest from Romania and so was able to kiss his hand).
The monastery is heralded as the largest and best preserved Medieval church in the entire Balkans and, in 2004, was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO (as the UN doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s independence, the site is listed as the “Medieval Monuments in Kosovo” under the country of Serbia – http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/724).
It is also a “hot spot” of tensions between Kosovo and Serbia. For that reason, a force of KFOR troops (from Italy) are stationed there.
So, why is a church known for its frescos and a unique mix of styles of architecture (including Romanesque, Gothic and Byzantine – I studied art history) in need of protection by NATO troops?
The answer, as some in Kosovo say, is that the church is being used as political propaganda. The government of Serbia considers Visoki Decani monastery as the cradle of Serbian Orthodoxy and, as Orthodox Christianity is at the heart of the Serbian ethnic identity, the cradle of Serbian civilization as well. In short, the Vikoski Decani monastery forms the basis for the “Kosovo is Serbia” argument.
Consider Serbian President Boris Tadic’s message delivered during his trip to the Visoki Decani monastery this past April. He stated, “My message today in Visoki Decani is a message of peace, peace for the Serbs, peace for the Albanians and all those who live in Kosovo, in our Serbia.”
(It is interesting to note that President Tadic required permission to visit the Visoki Decani monastery. Of course, he refused to submit a request to the government of Kosovo, as that would be seen as recognition of its legitimacy. Instead, he operated through intermediaries in the European Union, who in turn encouraged Kosovo to grant him authorization to enter the country.)
Tadic’s so-called message of peace continues to ignore the political will of the Albanian majority in Kosovo and the reality of an independent Kosovo. It is therefore not altogether surprising that the monastery has been subject to violent attacks, the most recent of which occurred in March 2007.
Posted By Tiffany Ommundsen
Posted Jul 16th, 2009