by Jovan JANJIC
During his stay in Kosovo and Metohija in the summer of 1998 during the time of open threats of bombing, the well-known ecologist Franz Webber stated that in his opinion only 1 in 10,000 of the people in the world have any knowledge of these "masterpieces of humanity". He himself was introduced to much that had previously been unknown to him. Exhilarated by what he saw, immediately upon his return to his native Switzerland he took a sheet of paper and addressed a letter to the general director of UNESCO, Frederico Major, beginning him "in the name of cultural Europe" to seek to place the entire sacred complex of Kosovo and Metohija under the protection of UNESCO. Others gave similar proposals but they had no results. Politics came before the centuries-old heritage! A single church or monastery in Kosovo and Metohija treated at length in books on Byzantine culture, art and architecture has yet to be added to UNESCO's World Cultural Heritage list! Even Visoki Decani, which Franz Webber described as being "in harmony with the cosmos", despite the fact that it was nominated for such consideration with everything foreseen by such a procedure as far back as 1994. The Pec Patriarchate and Gracanica were also subsequently nominated.
More than 1,400 "cultural monuments", of which 62 are of exceptional significance, have been recorded in this small province. However, since June 1999 and the arrival of the international forces of UNMIK and KFOR, more than one hundred churches and monasteries have already been destroyed, every fifth one of them built in the 13th or 14th centuries! Approximately 10,000 icons and other items of religious significance were destroyed with them. As well as 150 parish homes...
Never in the tumultuous history of this region have more shrines been destroyed than just in the unhappy year of 1999. Not even during five hundred years of occupation by the Muslim Turks. And the destruction continues today. It has even occurred, as video can testify, a few dozen meters from the "peacekeepers".
That is why a team of experts has been formed within the cabinet of the FR Yugoslavia President whose task is to use all available means to protect these invaluable historical, cultural and spiritual treasures that contribute so much to the world cultural heritage. According to Dr. Predrag Simic, foreign affairs advisor to President Kostunica, the intent is to include not only people from the state organs, institutions concerned with protection of cultural monuments, the church, but also others who with their knowledge and authority might be able to help, as well as our people from abroad who would be able to alarm the general public and individuals responsible for taking care of the world cultural heritage.
"Our wish is to alarm the world community and mobilize it to protect these monuments of Christian culture and spirituality in Kosovo at least to the same degree to which it was mobilized in opposing the vandalism of the Taliban, who destroyed almost all the monuments of non-Islamic culture in Afghanistan, including the famous statues in Bamian. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, felt a need to go there and do something, unfortunately, without success, to save those monuments," says Dr. Predrag Simic.
He then explains why it is of exceptional importance that the world "open its eyes" in this case.
"Kosovo is a region of exceptional cultural-historical significance for the Serbs and not only for the Serbs but also for the Albanians, for the Balkans, for Europe and for the world. Some of the most significant monuments of the world cultural heritage, monuments older than a thousand years, are located there. Therefore, this is something at least as significant as the important monuments of Buddhist culture in Afghanistan that were targeted by religiously motivated vandalism, as is also the case in Kosovo. We are not suggesting only the protection of monuments of Orthodox Christian and Serbian culture but also monuments of Islamic culture and every other culture. There are treasures here which equally belong to all: archeological finds, intact settlements..."
The most is expected of UNESCO; that is why Simic says, by way of warning:
"Unfortunately, the majority of edifices of primary historical significance which are between 700 and 1,000 years old were threatened, damaged or destroyed since the arrival of UNMIK and KFOR. UNMIK is a United Nations mission and one of the goals of this world organization, through its specialized agency UNESCO, is the preservation of the world cultural heritage. Therefore, in addition to the monuments that are already on the UNESCO list, all the others that are part of the world cultural heritage must also be placed under protection. By this very act, they must also be protected by the temporary UN administration in Kosovo and Metohija just as the international community becomes engaged in the protection of cultural treasures wherever in the world they are in danger. Especially since this is an area which is de facto under the protectorate of the United Nations according to the Resolution 1244 from 1999. And these are, once again, treasures of universal significance!