OF OUR HERITAGE
Interview: Mirjana Menkovic
EVEN THE GRAVES ARE TURNED
The Serb heritage of
monuments in Kosovo and Metohija has suffered in a monstrous
way: entire monastery complexes, churches and villages have
been destroyed. Acts of arson, hacking and demolition have
even changed the natural appearance of the area and many sites
are barely accessible, says Mirjana Menkovic, the custodian
of the Museum of Ethnography
The Serb cultural heritage nurtured for centuries
in Metohija and in Kosovo was transformed overnight into ashes
and ruins, looted and desecrated. After our national defeat,
no possibility was left for the return of the expelled population
or for the restoration of monuments, at least for now. Until
the change of the government in Belgrade in October 2000,
competent world organizations did not even attempt to help
during the tragedy. In this confusion, Mnemozina emerged,
a non-government organization, which attempted, first and
foremost, to warn of the impending catastrophe. All these
developments and your most recent trip to Metohija are the
reason why, Ms. Menkovic, we ask that you tell us a little
bit more about the campaign you are heading.
Campaign of the Mnemozina
Center for the Preservation of the Heritage of Monuments of
Kosovo and Metohija
Ghostly ruins of Serb shrines:
KFOR soldiers on patrol
- The operation started somewhere in
1998 with the basic goal and intent of acquainting the domestic
and international public with problems that could arise, with
a serious warning to all institutions for protection and cultural
institutions in the area of Kosovo and Metohija to help, to
bring to people's attention, to encourage urgent work on technical
documentation and at the same time to make all relevant domestic
and international organizations such as, first and foremost,
UNESCO, of the documented content s and significance of the
monuments of Kosovo and Metohija, what would happen and what
would be the extent of the damage in the event that what we
feared would occur should actually occur.
As far as museums are concerned the entire
period prior to 1998 was not filled in a satisfactory manner
with adequate work nor complete documentation nor creation
of adequate conditions for the preservation and protection
of materials that needed to be protected.
The Mnemozina campaign brought together
a group of professionals belonging to international guilds,
conservation associations and those concerned with the protection
of historic buildings, libraries, archives, etc. It brought
together experts from almost all institutions throughout Serbia
1999 arrived and people for the most part
made do as best they could. I assume that the biggest number
of decisions were made independently and on the basis of individual
assessments regarding what should be protected and how. Some
fared better than others and in the entire situation we have
cases where some institutions preserved a good part of their
documentation, others preserved some part but the majority
of institutions really did not do anything at all in this
respect. The Pristina Museum managed to preserve its precious
collection as well as a good part of the documentation. The
Provincial Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments
managed to transfer part of the documentation but, unfortunately,
everything remains inaccessible to us.
UNESCO Remains Silent
- We did not give up even for a second
in these contacts and with our presence in the area of Kosovo
and Metohija. We made about 20 visits down there. The most
recent visit consisted of three and a half weeks of intensive
work. Part of this was initiating the first contacts with
representatives of the UNESCO international community, that
is, with Mr. Gaulin Kaiser (sp?) who arrived in Pristina as
early as the beginning of the month of July in 1999 with whom
we held talks. He announced some sort of review of the existing
situation on their part.
Village of Crkolez in northern
Mirjana Menkovic (second from the
left) with group of local residents
As far as we know UNESCO has not initiated
a single official campaign in the area of Kosovo and Metohija
to protect any monument from the Christian heritage; however,
Mr. Ross, a UNESCO representative, and one other person are
working for a French organization exclusively concerned with
the protection of Albanian cultural monuments and are working
intensively on the Pristina Museum.
To date no one has issued any sort of
official document regarding the present state of our cultural
monuments in the area of Kosovo and Metohija. Three or four
reports by non-governmental organizations and the aforementioned
UNESCO report were prepared. All of them are incomplete and
biased. Not one expert on our side was consulted nor was any
request made for correct information, suggestions or proposals.
We offered a whole series of concrete
suggestions and proposals with very concrete requests:
· stopping all further destruction;
· protection of destroyed monuments;
· exchange of documentation;
· work in small groups;
· consultation of experts on our side;
· we proposed the urgent formation of an international committee
able to very competently establish the current state of the
heritage of monuments in the area of Kosovo and Metohija.
The Italian Mission
- Italian representatives, not representatives
of the government but persons responsible or acting individually
who in various ways were well-acquainted with the heritage
of Kosovo and Metohija, started to advocate the protection
of primarily the Christian heritage of Kosovo and Metohija.
We have had excellent cooperation from
the Serbian Orthodox Church, that is, from the Diocese of
Raska and Prizren and His Grace Bishop Artemije, as well as,
of course, His Beatitude the Serbian Patriarch Pavle, as well
as with His Grace Metropolitan Amfilohije, who is the Exarch
of the Patriarchal Throne.
The entire Italian initiative, we should
explain, started in the Monastery of Decani, that is, with
the Abbot, Father Teodosije. The Italians simply started showing
up at Decani. Abbot Teodosije insisted and it is our position
also, that every story must be connected with Yugoslav experts
because our principle from the start has been that no one,
truly no one, can work in the area of Kosovo and Metohija
without previously consulting Yugoslav experts from Serbia,
from Belgrade, who have been working on the preservation of
these monuments for decades.
Cooperation with international experts
was essential in this situation because the international
community is exceptionally responsible, in fact, most responsible,
for everything that is happening in the area of Kosovo and
Metohija, including the protection of our heritage.
The intent, idea and goal is, therefore,
to overcome the vacuum existing in the system of protection
by returning Yugoslav experts from Serbia, Belgrade and Montenegro
who have expressed a desire back into the system of protection
through a kind of non-government organization but in essence
to allow them to continue to do their work, to make the decisions
that needed to be made, until the political situation improves
and provides us with completely different living conditions
and ensures freedom of movement in that area.
- Our donator is the Italian mission,
which financed a project of emergency protection. The project
includes comprehensive lists of all classified cultural monuments
in the area of Metohija, that is, all monuments whose classification,
inspection and treatment was performed by the Serbian Institute
responsible for that area. Every step we made was taken after
close consultation with representatives of the Serbian Institute.
Brutal Conditions for Work
- Objective problems (freedom of movement,
basic living conditions) in the area of Metohija are far more
difficult, more brutal, than in the area of Kosovo because
all of Metohija has been emptied of Serbs. There are two or
three enclaves and freedom of movement is extremely limited;
I must emphasize that those who are not familiar with the
area of Metohija and Kosovo, and who did not live with our
people from this area before, really cannot fully understand
real life and what it means to be really organized.
In our opinion the entire problem
of protection consists of three crucial segments:
· problem with institutions and experts
who discontinued their engagements and now for the most part
are eking out an existence, underutilized, and a way to include
these people in work they have previously done; · our cultural
policy within the framework of our enclaves which must be
though through in a very thorough manner because there is
serious research which could be included; · the protection
of cultural property.
Can you tell us something a little more
concrete about the Program?
-The Program foresees six travel routes
for which six teams have been formed. For the area of Metohija
the following travel routes have been
· Pec - Istok - Srbica (I),
· Pec - Decani (II),
· Pec - Klina - Malisevo (III),
and all classified monuments along those routes. Very concretely,
on travel route I, we managed, during work conducted from
July 3 to July 23, to visit all our monuments with the help
of KFOR and an organization which is now functioning very
well. We completed our plan in the parts patrolled by Italian
and Spanish military forces and we established contact with
German forces, too.
We visited, among others, the Monastery
of Gorioc, the Church of St. Nicholas /Sv. Nikola/ in Djurakovac,
the Church of St. John /Sv. Jovan/ in Crkolez, the Church
of St. George /Sv. Djordje/ in Belica, the Monastery of Devic
near Srbica, the Church of St. Nicholas in Banja Rudnicka,
the Church of St. John in Leocina. Also included, of course,
were Pec and Decani, as well as Gorazdevac and Belo Polje.
The list also includes Islamic monuments being prepared by
We visited the Church of the Holy Transfiguration
/Preobrazenje/ in Budisavci, the Church of the Entry of the
Most Holy Theodokos into the Temple /Vavedenje Presvete Bogorodice/
in Dolac, the Church of St. Paraskeva /Sv. Petka/ in Drsnik,
the Church of St. Nicholas in Kijevo, the Church of St. Nicholas
in Mlecane, Pogradje, the Church of St. Nicholas in Cabic.
Sicevo is the only place where we were unable to find the
church, the Church of St. Nicholas from the 16th century,
because it is located on a piece of private property and it
was probably destroyed in such a manner that it is impossible
to see. In Dobra Voda we visited the Church of the Holy Apostles
Peter and Paul /Sv. Apostola Petra i Pavla/.
Our request to German KFOR to visit Suva
Reka, Musutiste, Zociste, Opterusa, Recane, Suva Reka, Poprovljane
and Orahovac was only partially granted due to problems with
security conditions in that area.
We visited Prizren several times. I am
very happy we had the opportunity to meet with Father Ilija.
We visited the Monastery of the Holy Archangels /Sv. Arhandjeli/.
None of our monuments in Prizren have been destroyed. We were
afraid that we would be unable to work in Prizren but it appears
likely we will be able to do so. German KFOR has demonstrated
a willingness to assist us. We also made a trip through Sredacka
Zupa, through Sirinic... We still need to conduct an investigation
in Velika Hoca to complete Sirinicka Zupa, the churches in
Sredacka Zupa and once we complete Prizren we will have completed
the Metohija program.
There are over 20 cultural monuments
We completed our investigation of the
situation and our task in Velika Hoca. We plan to investigate
and work on Velika Hoca in greater detail. We will be examining
not just the three largest monuments - the Churches of St.
Stephen /Sv. Stefan/, St. John and St. Nicholas - but also
all other monuments and national construction projects.
No Stone Untouched
-The level of destruction is truly catastrophic.
The great monuments have survived but we should not fool ourselves
that there were not some prepared to attack even Decani, the
Patriarchate and Budisavce if the situation was not such as
it is. All these monuments, with the exception of the church
and the cemetery in Pogradje and the ones which are being
protected but are not of exceptional significance, such as
the churches in Belica and Kos, and somehow managed to avoid
destruction, as well as the church in Leocina, which is overgrown
with weeds and consequently difficult to access, have been
destroyed. The church in Drsnik was not completely destroyed
because it has a concrete armature but everything inside it
The level of destruction is enormous.
The destruction was carried out in such a manner that literally
no stone remained untouched. I'll cite the example of the
church in Cabici, which is located in the center of the village
and which was completely preserved. But what is one to expect
if monuments are not visited for two years? We passed by the
church site three times because we could not recognize it.
All cemeteries, except the cemeteries
in Pogradje, are destroyed. And in Recani, the spectacle that
horrified me the most; the church was destroyed in such a
manner with explosives that were planted several times that
even the graves had moved. The graves were literally turned
upside down; that is how great the level of destruction is.
It is essential that all the opinions,
solutions that are not supported by concrete work, by the
real, true, sincere wish and desire to do something, must
be transcended in order to stop the process of our disintegration.
I see no other way we can protect and save us from this tragedy
that has befallen the Serb people in Kosovo and Metohija.
A high level of organization and coordination
is necessary. If everyone defends his own personal, partial
conviction and continues to act divisively, we will not succeed
in being as effective and operational as we need to be in
order to protect what we should protect.
-The Mnemozina Center has carefully followed
everything. For now two defined initiatives exist. One is
Italian and in a way it is closest to us because they are
far advanced in comprehension and understanding of the general
situation. The other initiative we have observed is Japanese.
I have not encountered the best understanding. Two declarations
were passed. One condemned in the strongest terms the destruction
of pre-Islamic monuments in Afghanistan and the other was
a theoretically comprehensive study of a method for redefining
certain categories in the field of conservation and culture.
There was not one word mentioning the
destruction of monuments in the region of Kosovo and Metohija
even though there were very many UNESCO representatives there.
No other party and no other country in
Europe has demonstrated the same initiative as the Italian
I must add that another very critical
detail on which Mnemozina is working is that all of our monuments
of exceptional significance be registered on UNESCO's world
heritage list. In this situation this would mean an additional
measure of protection. This is absolutely clear to every one.
Decani has been under review since 1996. This initiative was
interrupted for political reasons. Interest in Velika Hoca
is also justified and if the entire settlement were to be
protected it would be exceptionally important.
The initiatives exist but I am afraid
that Belgrade is not welcoming them in the right way. Simply
we have not organized and reorganized ourselves well enough
and wisely enough considering the situation in which we find