NATO protects the medieval monastery of Decani in Kosovo

NATO protects the medieval monastery of Decani in Kosovo

Located at the foot of the Balkan Mountains, the Orthodox Christian monastery of Visoki Decani, a symbol of Serbia's religious heritage in Kosovo, which has survived many conflicts, is today protected 24 hours a day by soldiers of the Kfor, the NATO-led peacekeeping force.

They are posted near the monastery, their armored vehicle surmounted by a large cannon contrasting with the bucolic valley where stands the monastery, built in the 2004th century, registered since XNUMX on the UNESCO World Heritage List and whose cathedral retains its original frescoes.

Inside the monastery, the camouflage uniforms of the soldiers mingle with the black robes of the 20 Orthodox monks who live there. Kfor, once responsible for the protection of all the major Orthodox sites in Kosovo, now only monitors Decani.

The issue of religious property is explosive as Kosovo, whose independence declared in 2008 has never been recognized by Belgrade, is seen by Serbia as the historic cradle of Serbian Orthodoxy, where some of its most important, some of whom have become targets. Although the situation has largely calmed down since the deadly war between Serb forces and Albanian separatist rebels in 1999, when NATO intervened, tensions remain latent in Kosovo, where approximately 120.000 Serbs live out of a population of 1,8. XNUMX million inhabitants, mostly Kosovar Albanians.

Relations between the two communities have continued to deteriorate since the enthronement in May by Pristina of Kosovar Albanian mayors in municipalities with a Serb majority in northern Kosovo. The mid-June arrest by Belgrade of three Kosovar police officers has further aggravated the crisis.


If these concerns seem absent in the peaceful and collected decor of the monastery of Decani, its monks know that violence has often invaded the site. "Two Balkan wars, two world wars, communism...the cathedral suffered a lot. It's kind of a miracle that it survived in such conditions," said one, Fr. Petar, to journalists including AFP who went there under Kfor escort at the end of June.

The monk did not dwell on the threats the site faces today, instead emphasizing the monastery's mix of Gothic, Byzantine and Eastern architecture. "It's a combination of the finest elements of Christian art, from the East and the West," says Father Petar, pointing out that the cathedral had "never changed" in its 700 years of history. 'history.

During and after the 1999 conflict, the monastery was a refuge for people of different religious faiths, in the face of ethnic threats, he pointed out. It was founded by Serbian King Stefan Decanski, after whom the monastery and the nearby village were named, and built between 1327 and 1335. Devotees come from far and wide to pray at the tomb of King Stefan, a saint of the 'Orthodox Church.

Kfor soldiers patrol inside and outside the monastery, while the monks perform their rituals.

“Our job is to maintain good relations with all the elements of the municipality, who belong to different ethnic groups of course,” recalls Kfor sergeant Manuel Cetrullo, head of the unit present on the site. During the 1998-1999 clashes, the area was a stronghold of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK).

Editorial staff with AFP

Image credit: Shutterstock / Pecold 

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