Blog AnalysisBalkansMissions Operations

The property rights of the Serbian monastery of Decani in Kosovo. Sensitive…

the monastery and its surrounding agricultural and wooded area (Source: kosovo.net)

(BRUSSELS2) This is a very sensitive trial which has just ended before the Kosovo Special Chamber. A mixed panel, chaired by a European magistrate, from the EULEX (Rule of Law) mission, has just ruled on Thursday (December 27) on the property rights of approximately 23 hectares located in the special zone of the Visoki Dečani monastery , near Pecs (eastern Kosovo). He thus rejected as “unfounded” complaints from two collective companies (or SOEs like Socially Owned Enterprises) on land administered by the monastery.

A dispute that goes close to the heart and soul of the Serbian-Kosovar conflict

SOE Apiko – on which a honey factory is established – and the Iliria Hotel contested the use of land given to the monastery in a document dating back to the last years before independence.

A little step back is necessary to fully understand the situation. The year is 1997. Kosovo is then still under the tight control of Serbia (its status as an autonomous province having been abolished in 1989). But the UCK – the Kosovo Liberation Army – is waging a real war of independence against the Serbian authorities (it will benefit in particular from deliveries of weapons from the arsenals looted in Albania). The government (of Belgrade) decides to grant, in two separate acts of donation, two lands, of approximately 12 hectares each, to the Serbian Orthodox monastery of Visoki Dečani.

Unmik as a protective force

In December 2000, the two companies initiated proceedings against the monastery, the municipality of Decan and the Republic of Serbia, considering this illegal influence. A document – ​​presented by the UN special representative at the time Bernard Kouchner – confirms that the Decan monastery has the right to use and cultivate the land nearby and prohibits the economic activities of the honey factory and the hotel, according to Kosovar sources (Kosovolive). This will give rise to very political debates on: the diversity of populations; the notion of anteriority in property law; the ability of Kosovar Albanians to administer their land like that of minorities to be able to stay there; all against a very sensitive background of the Orthodox religious presence – a fundamental question for the Serbs because they believe that the cradle of their religion is located precisely… in Kosovo.

A trial as much in substance as in form

The debate during these 12 years of proceedings therefore focused as much on the merits – the ownership and use of land – as on the manner of settling the dispute and the procedure, the Orthodox monks refusing the jurisdiction of the Kosovar authorities. Thus the UNMIK Legal Affairs Office – acting on behalf of the Kosovo Property Agency – was recognized by the Ownership Panel as the legal representative of the two collective societies.

A judgment of Solomon

The panel recognized that an agreement had been reached between UNMIK and the monastery providing for the renunciation of the rights of the two companies Apiko and Iliria to the cadastral plots inside the special zone of the Dečani Monastery. While the monastery renounced all claims to the cadastral plots outside the special zone, in favor of the Iliria company. The legality of this agreement was confirmed and the complaints of the public companies dismissed as unfounded.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).