During the last week, the newly formed commission held three meetings in which, according to Emma Carmichael from the Council of Europe, is was agreed that companies for reconstruction be selected via tenders and contracts.
"Preparation of projects and conservation work take a long time and we would have to take certain protection measures before this winter, so that it has been decided to start as soon as possible. For now, it is impossible to give any specific dates," Emma Carmichael stated for Danas.
As Danas has learnt unofficially, the commission yesterday started with visits to destroyed monasteries and churches, and Emma Carmichael's statement that companies and expert services from outside Kosovo and Metohija will also be allowed to compete in tenders did not assuage the fears of experts in Belgrade who fear that "reconstruction via tender" opens possibility that "Serb sacred sites will be reconstructed by for this type of work insufficiently competent protection services from Pristina and foreigners".
"According to the contract I signed with UNMiK on behalf of the Eparchy, anyone with experience in this type of work and verifiable record of restoration of Eastern Orthodox sacred objects can participate in tenders. I am certain that no Albanian company can meet these conditions. Especially as far as the reconstruction projects are concerned. I do not see what entity, apart from the Serbian State Institute for Protection of Cultural Heritage, Ministry of Culture of Serbia, and Coordination Center for Kosovo and Metohija, all of whom have experts and documentation about these monuments, could prepare good projects for reconstruction," Raska-Prizren bishop Artemije (Radosavljevic) says for Danas. According to bishop Artemije, it still hasn't been agreed who will declare reconstruction tasks, prepare reconstruction projects, oversee reconstruction... "Commission's attitude with respect to these issues will determine whether reconstruction will start. If our experts are ignored, most likely everything will fizzle out and we'll be left with empty promises," bishop Artemije says.
"All religious objects are supposed be reconstructed by the end of the year. Six months have passed since March 17 and not a single stone has been moved in the field. There are only talks, agreements, negotiations... They are talking about tenders, but there are no concrete projects, although it was agreed a few months ago what priorities should be," bishop Artemije explains.
Assessing that the newly formed commission will not do anything before the winter as well as that the temporary government of Kosovo, which is supposed to finance the reconstruction, will not be as generous as it claims to dignitaries from abroad, the Eparchy has started work on reconstruction on its own. The construction of the refectory of the Holy Archangels monastery started in early August. The reconstruction of the refectory in Devic started last Friday. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has contributed 100,000 Euros for the reconstruction of the refectory in Devic. This reporter has recently visited both monasteries.
The refectory is gone. Burnt and blackened ruins of the Devic buildings hide the church of the Vavdenje of the Holly mother of God, whose first sponsor, it is believed, was great holy man Saint Joanikije of Devic, whose remains are kept in the monastery. His grave was attacked in the disturbances. The stone slab covering the grave was broken. Over the last few months the roof on the church has been fixed, but the soot covering walls gives the impression of perpetual darkness inside. At the bottom of the altar, now unprotected by the iconostasis, only a carved white map of Kosovo with letters UCK [Kosovo Liberation Army] remains. Escorts of the church delegation from the USA say that Michael Falkner, pastor of the Baptist Church in New York fell on his knees in burnt Devic. Until the reconstruction of the refectory, nuns, eight of them, live in containers. Tents have been erected between the ruins of the monastery. In early August cold could be felt before dawn in containers. "Let us not fool ourselves. Life in these containers at wintertime is impossible. It is true that our love for the monastery would make us stay here, even in containers, but that does not mean that life in them is possible," sisters say.
Barbed wire stands at the top of the path of several tens of steps leading to the spring of Saint Joanikije of Devic. Soldiers do not allow us to come down. They say it's dangerous and that the spring, which had reputation for its healing powers, was polluted in March.
"Our will does not make anything possible. When I see this natural beauty, silence and peace around the monastery, I am willing to stay, but reality is different".
To the question what is the biggest daily problem, the abbess offers a succinct answer: "Freedom". "That is the key. If we had freedom we would have everything. The fast that there is no work on the reconstruction is also a consequence of the lack of freedom. In order to leave the monastery we have to file a request with KFOR 48 hours in advance. If we need something urgently, by the time we have finished with the procedure, it's pointless," mother Anastasija explains.
Only burnt walls and the dome above the chapel of Saint Nikolaj of Zica remain of the refectory, built ten years ago when the spiritual and material reconstruction of the monastery started. Tents have been erected and containers placed between the remains of Emperor Dusan's monastery, jut like in Devic. Holy liturgy is served in tents. One of the tents was put up inside the altar of the catholicon dedicated to Holy Archangels, while another one serves as a chapel. An improvised summertime dining room can be found in yet another tent.
Father Jovan prepares food for the brotherhood in the open. The cooker stands in the former hallway of the refectory and enjoys a good view of the road, unhindered by the walls. The monastery is separated from the road by the river Bistrica and, of course, barbed wire. The belfry lies on the ground, strangely twisted and warped despite a strong metal construction.
Holy Archangels were famous for its carving workshop, especially miniature carvings, that monks made of fruit pits. According to the brotherhood, only one miniature was "saved" from the famous collection. German soldiers found it and brought it back. At the former spot of the carving workshop, new refectory is being constructed at the entrance to the monastery.
"When in June we realized that no one was doing anything, we decoded to start building this refectory on our own. The burden fell on the people of Sirinicka Zupa [nearby Serb majority region around the town of Strpce] who voluntarily assist in construction," the abbot of Holy Archangels German (Vucicevic) explains for Danas.
Abbot German says that he does not understand the behavior of the government of Serbia, its ministries and other state services, none of whom has allocated any financial assistance for the reconstruction of the monastery. Only recently the Ministry for Diaspora promised financial assistance.
Residents of nearby Serb villages daily take turns working on the reconstruction. They come in large groups, because otherwise they do not feel safe traveling from Brezovica to Holy Archangels.
"We live in an unprotected concentration camp. 12,000 Serbs remain in our municipality. Not even a single company works. The authorities do not pay attention to people who are defending the doorstep of Serbia," says Novica Krstic, representative of the village of Vreoce and director of all high schools in the Strpce municipality.
Serbs from Strpce agree that they miss freedom above all. "We do not have freedom. Our children cannot sleep peacefully at night. We cannot leave the enclave. In order to get medical assistance we must travel 115 kilometers [about 80 miles] to Bujanovac, Merdare, or the northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica. We are all afraid. Ethnic Albanians are building holiday homes inside our enclave and we live inside a prison with radius of 15 kilometers. We never know when someone is going to get killed in the villages along the border of the enclave, whether they will set someone's house on fire, attack our cafes, murder our children. Just look at what they did with this sacred site," Novica Krstic says.
Serbs from Strpce want to see their sacred site alive again. They hope that "Serbian authorities will come to their senses and take care of the pillars of Serbian statehood".