"Hvosno" is the publication of the St. Sava Cultural Center in Istok. Following the displacement of most Serbs from Istok, it is now based in Kosovska Mitrovica

Serb returns

Restoration of our heritage
Srpski jezik


Nemanjina 48,
Kos. Mitrovica,

Tel.+381 28 497 598

E-mail: hvosno@ptt.rs

Translated by
S. Lazovic


"Hvosno" Interview: Mirjana Menkovic


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 and Montenegro.

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 Metohija:
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.

Restoration Program

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 Italian experts.

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 here.

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 is devastated.

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 government.

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 ourselves.

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