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Kosovo’s Contested Church Bans Serbian Church Protests

Kosovo's Contested Church Bans Serbian Church Protests

The Serbian Orthodox Church on Thursday said Kosovo Police has banned a planned ceremony for the second year in a row at the contested Christ the Saviour Cathedral, built inside Pristina’s university’s campus.

The Diocese of Raska- Prizren, which covers Kosovo, said the ban was made without any legal basis, “continuing serious violations of the religious rights and freedoms of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo”.

The diocese said that several days before the feast, it had informed Kosovo Police about the planned ceremony at the cathedral in Pristina on May 24, for the purposes of securing the gathering and organizing vehicle parking.

“On Wednesday, May 23, the our parish in Pristina was informally, and only verbally, informed by the Kosovo Police that the Serbian Orthodox Church was prohibited from serving the Ascension Day liturgy in our Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Pristina,” the statement said.

“Our priest was verbally informed that the Kosovo authorities are banning the performance of religious ceremonies in our cathedral in Pristina ‘as long as the lawsuit brought by the University of Pristina against the Diocese of Raška-Prizren continues,’ as well as due to alleged and unspecified security reasons. No written decision was handed to the priest,” it added.

Kosovo Police did not answer BIRN’s request for a comment by the time of publication.

The unfinished church, whose construction began in the mid-1990s, when Slobodan Milosevic was attempting to consolidate Serbian control over what was then the Serbian province of Kosovo, has been subject of heated debates for two decades.

In September 2017, the Kosovo Appeals Court granted the Serbian Church rights to the land, which was once part of the University of Pristina campus, rejecting an appeal submitted by the university.

The university disputes the Serbian Church’s ownership of some four hectares of land and the legal basis for the building, due to its ties to Milosevic’s oppressive regime.

The university initiated proceedings in 2012 but the case was thrown out in 2015 when university representatives failed to show up to the main hearing. The case was sent to the Appeals Court in March 2016.

The university claimed that protests in front of the church prevented its representatives from attending the Basic Court session but the Appeals Court decided that this reasoning was unfounded.

After the decision, the university launched a new case from the beginning, which is still under proceedings. The Municipality of Pristina has also disputed the Serbian Church’s ownership of the land.

In September 2016, the church was set on fire by unknown attackers, prompting members of the Serbian Orthodox Church and community to hold a clean-up and start refurbishment work.

On Monday, the University of Pristina issued a statement expressing “deep concern” about the church service, calling the church “an illegally constructed premise by the former Serbian regime at the University campus”.

Source: Balkan Insight