KESTON NEWS SERVICE
Issue 8, Articles 1-2, 31 July 2000
Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.
I. KOSOVO: ATTACKS ON DECANI MONASTERY. The monks of the
Serbian Orthodox monastery at Decani near Pec have complained of what they
claim is the theft of wood from their forest as contractors build a new reservoir.
They also protested against a grenade attack on the historic monastery that
came close to hitting the monastery's church. The embattled monks now fear
the reopened road above the monastery could be used to launch further attacks.
However, the local administrator for the United Nations Mission in Kosovo
(UNMIK) told Keston News Service from Pec that the Kosovo Stabilisation
Force (KFOR) will closely monitor traffic on the road.
II. CRIMEA: STANDOFF AFTER ORTHODOX SEIZE BACK
SEVASTOPOL CHURCH. An Orthodox community in Sevastopol seized part
of Ss Peter and Paul Church on its patronal festival, 12 July, claiming that their
lawful rights to ownership had long been ignored and that the church should
have been returned half a year ago. The director of the cultural centre which
currently occupies the building told Keston News Service that the centre is
prepared to move to another location, but the city authorities have been
backtracking on the order to return the church and have dragged their feet over
allocating alternative premises for the cultural centre. In the absence of the
city's mayor on holiday, the standoff between the Orthodox and city authorities
Monday 31 July 2000
KOSOVO: ATTACKS ON DECANI MONASTERY
by Branko Bjelajac and Erika Cuneo, Keston News Service
The monks of the Serbian Orthodox monastery at Decani near Pec have
complained of what they claim is the theft of wood from their forest as
contractors build a new reservoir. They also protested against a grenade attack
on the historic monastery that came close to hitting the monastery's church. The
embattled monks now fear the reopened road above the monastery could be
used to launch further attacks. However,
the local administrator for the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK)
told Keston News Service from Pec that the Kosovo Stabilisation Force
(KFOR) will closely monitor traffic on the road.
The local UNMIK office in Decani approved building of a reservoir for the
municipality in September last year. However, when the works began in June,
the local contractors started to cut down trees on its property only 50 metres
from the monastery. `The consequences of this illegal operation are deplorable.
More than 40 cubic metres of pine wood have been cut and stolen by ethnic
Albanians in their trucks,' Father SAVA JANJIC told Keston. `At least twenty
more trees have been burned because the contractors wanted to verify that the
terrain is not mined.' Father Sava stressed that the wood had been planted three
centuries ago by Decani monks. `The majority of the cut pines, which were the
landmark of Decani Monastery, are more than 150 years old.'
The Serbian Orthodox Church lodged a sharp protest with UNMIK and KFOR
about this latest attack on church property, and about another plan to reopen a
road above the monastery to allow unhindered passage for local people, which
the monks believe would pose a threat to their security. In its statement of 14
June, the Diocese of Raska and Prizren even published the full text of the
UNMIK instructions about the wood. `The newest transgression demonstrates
that the local administrators of UNMIK in Pec and Decani are continuing their
campaign against the monastery of Upper Decani with the local Albanian
authorities who wish to expel the last Serbs from the Decani region at any
price,' the diocesan statement declares. In the wake of the incident Bishop
ARTEMIJE telephoned JAVIER SOLANA, the high representative of the
European Union for security and foreign affairs. `I told Solana that since our
meeting in Brussels in the middle of May nothing of what was agreed upon had
been implemented on the ground. Representatives of UNMIK in Pec and in
Decani are behaving like the lords of all of Kosovo and Metohija,' Bishop
Artemije told the Belgrade daily Danas.
Only a week later, in the early hours of 22 June, at least six mortar grenades
landed close to the Decani monastery church. The grenades fell in the garden,
only one hundred meters from the church building and a monk's house. The last
grenade fell even closer. The Orthodox believe this attack (the second in the
last six months) was the local Albanians' reaction to the diocese's protest about
the trees. `This is the second mortar attack in the last six months and clearly
shows that the aim of the local Albanian authorities in Decani is not to
reactivate the bee-cooperative or to build a water system, but to completely
expel the monastic brotherhood from this region,' Father Sava told Keston.
Father Sava told Keston that on 21 June the UNMIK administrator for Pec
region ALAIN LEROY decided that the COOPI company urgently cease
further works on the water system which had begun on monastery land without
consent from the monastery.
`After the protest of the monastery and the diocese, the UN Mission decided to
stop further water system works,' a 22 June statement from the diocese noted.
`Local Albanians were also ordered to return to the monastery the wood which
has been stolen from the Church forest.'
DAVID MITCHELL, who took over several weeks ago from Leroy as UNMIK
regional administrator, told Keston from Pec on 25 July that the incidents had
happened before he took up his post. However, he noted that when he visited
the monastery he saw wood piled up outside. `That must have been the wood
that was returned,' he told Keston. He understood that the site for the new
reservoir - one of four originally proposed - had been approved by all parties,
including the monastery. Over the boundaries of the monastery land, Mitchell
declared that the courts would have to rule in cases of dispute. `If you wanted
to decide what is monastery land, you would have to go to the courts,' he
stressed. `UNMIK recognises the status quo.' Mitchell was not aware of any
pending legal cases.
Mitchell confirmed that KFOR had reopened the road above the monastery in
July, after the grenade attacks, but stressed that the road is under `strict KFOR
control'. He reported that there has been `shouting and things like that but
nothing of any serious nature', but added that KFOR is monitoring the traffic
In late May the Decani Monastery faced troubles with the local Albanian
population over disputed agricultural land which the monks believed UNMIK
had given to the local Albanian population. However, UNMIK ruled that the
monks could still use it (see KNS 8 June 2000). (END)
Monday 31 July 2000
CRIMEA: STANDOFF AFTER ORTHODOX SEIZE BACK SEVASTOPOL
by Anna Vassilyeva, Keston News Service
An Orthodox community in Sevastopol seized part of Ss Peter and Paul Church
on its patronal festival, 12 July, claiming that their lawful rights to ownership
had long been ignored and that the church should have been returned half a
year ago. The director of the cultural centre which currently occupies the
building told Keston News Service that the centre is prepared to move to
another location, but the city authorities have been backtracking on the order to
return the church and have dragged their feet over allocating alternative
premises for the cultural centre. In the absence of the city's mayor on holiday,
the standoff between the Orthodox and city authorities continues.
The group of believers who seized two rooms in the church - led by the dean of
the church Father VASILI MANIN and the secretary of the Crimean
Archdiocese of the Moscow Patriarchate in Sevastopol, Hieromonk PAISI
DMOKHOVSKY - refused to leave unless their demands for the church's full
return were satisfied. The city authorities called the police but the senior officer
decided not to intervene after being shown a copy of the official order which
certified the believers' rights to the building.
`On Peter and Paul holy day the community held a service and processed
around the church. Then Father Vasily called on the believers to seize the
building,' recounted TATIANA ZENINA, the director of the Cultural Centre,
in an interview with Keston in her office on 15 July. She declared that the
Cultural Centre administration had agreed to leave the building if another
location was found for them.
The church - built as a cathedral in 1844 in the very centre of Sevastopol - was
closed in 1927 and the building converted into the city's cultural centre. In
recent years the cultural centre has allowed the Orthodox to hold services in the
building a few times a
year. On 28 December last year the chairman of the city administration
LEONID ZHUNKO signed an order transferring the cultural centre to the
Orthodox. The cultural centre was supposed to vacate the premises by 15
February after the city authorities had found alternative accommodation for it.
`The decision is being sabotaged by those who were assigned to execute it.
They still consider this decision illegitimate,' complained Father Paisi in an
interview with Keston in Khersones on 15 July. `We had already been waiting
for a long time before the events of the patronal festival, when believers
declared that they would not leave the church building unless they were told
when and how this order would be either executed, postponed or cancelled.
Then the head of the city departmentof culture arrived and started arguing. He
shouted that they were hooligans and he would call the police and security
service, which he did, and they arrived in a bus in large numbers. But when I
handed over a copy of the decision, the senior officer agreed that we had the
right to be in the building.'
However, ANATOLI SIGORA, the chairman of the city department for
religious affairs, declared that the cultural centre was returned to the Orthodox
`only on a formal level' by the order. `The believers have seized it without
permission and are not going to leave it for the time being,' he complained in a
telephone interview with Keston on 13 July, adding that the authorities had had
no prior warning of the
seizure. `The building was captured illegally. They should have forwarded the
case to the court.' He declares that the reason the decision has been ignored is
`simple'. `There is nowhere for the cultural centre to be relocated.' Sigora is
convinced that the main opponent of the transfer of the cultural centre out of
the church building is the chairman of the City Council ALEXANDER
PARKHOMENKO and claims that there are several possible sites for the
relocation of the cultural centre. Sigora affirmed that `they will continue to
look for premises for the centre'.
When the Orthodox met the deputy mayor VALENTIN BORISOV on 12 July
to discuss the case, he refused to enter into discussion. `He said that the order
was a meaningless document which he considers unnecessary to act upon,'
Father Paisi told Keston. `After such a declaration our representatives left the
meeting, seeing no point in it. The other participants stayed on to discuss
measures which may be taken against the believers. Representatives from the
procuracy and the security service [SBU, the former KGB] were invited and
Borisov was instructing them to expel the community from the building.
However, the case willnot be resolved until the mayor has returned from his
holiday.' Father Paisi points out that the cultural centre administration has
already agreed to hand over the building.
VIKTOR ELASHKIN, the assistant to the city council chairman, told Keston
by telephone on 17 July that according to a presidential decree, cultural
institutions cannot be converted to other uses. He added that the city
administration had gone beyond the limits of its authority by issuing that order
and regarded the believers' actions as `hooliganism'.
Because of Sevastopol's special status the city has an administration as well as
a council, so jurisdiction in such matters is complicated. In accordance with
current law, the Sevastopol city administration is responsible for handling
religious property on agreement with the owner - the local council.
The Orthodox currently still occupy the two small rooms in the cultural centre.
On 15 July when Keston visited the centre, a dance and musical ensemble was
in the middle of a loud rehearsal, while in the place where the altar used to be a
small group of believers were praying quietly. (END)
Copyright (c) 2000 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.