Eparchy of Raska and Prizren: We will rebuild the Banjska Monastery ourselves; the initiative from Pristina is a political act

Manastir Banjska
Source: Manastir Banjska

The Eparchy of Raska and Prizren has announced that it will independently engage independent experts to assess the damage, in order to rebuild what has been damaged at the Banjska Monastery using its own resources and donations, as it has done in the case of other churches and monasteries that have suffered damage or have been nearly destroyed by the Albanian extremists in the past two decades.

Regarding the announcement by Kosovo's Minister of Culture, Hajrulla Ceku, that his ministry would repair the damage to the Banjska Monastery resulting from the conflict between the Serbs and the Kosovo Police, the Eparchy of Raska and Prizren has stated that it is not willing to accept the involvement of Kosovo institutions in the life of the church and the assumption of protection over the Banjska Monastery.

"We primarily see this initiative as a political act aimed not only at placing the religious and cultural heritage of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo and Metohija under the political control of Kosovo institutions but also as a step toward further degrading our fundamental religious freedoms and rights and cultural appropriation of our churches and monasteries," the Eparchy stated.

They state that the damage must be repaired, and for years, the Eparchy has been working with the help of domestic and international donors on the restoration and protection of its religious sites, including the Banjska Monastery, which is one of the most significant endowments of Saint King Stefan Milutin from the 14th century.

"We are deeply disappointed with the statements of the Minister of Culture, who, in his public statements, once again refused to mention the true name of our church, omitting that it is the Monastery of the Serbian Orthodox Church where regular services are held, a monastic community resides, and numerous pilgrims come for prayer. In this manner, not only is the cultural heritage of the Serbian Orthodox Church being appropriated and its identity denied, but it also implies that what was important is that the monastery was a Christian sanctuary a thousand years ago, rather than recognizing it as a living monastery. This speaks volumes about the real attitude of Kosovo institutions toward our cultural heritage," the Eparchy of Raska and Prizren stated.

The Banjska Monastery is not only a cultural-historical monument, which the church and state have been taking care of for years, but above all, it is a sanctuary of the Serbian Orthodox Church, of great importance for the spiritual life of the faithful, especially in northern Kosovo.

"Minister Ceku, in his statement, speaks of an early Christian church, despite the fact that the Banjska Monastery has been one of the most significant sanctuaries of the Serbian Orthodox Church since the 14th century, serving as the burial church of Saint King Milutin, which has been extensively restored in recent years," the Eparchy of Raska and Prizren noted. They further emphasized that for years, they had faced continuous denial of "the religious and spiritual identity of our church in Kosovo and Metohija," with the Minister Ceku leading this denial in recent times.

"Meanwhile, basic religious rights are being denied to the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo and Metohija by Kosovo institutions, as seen in the case of non-implementation of the Constitutional Court of Kosovo's decision on the land of the Visoki Decani Monastery, which has not been registered in the municipal cadastre for seven years, despite constant appeals by international representatives and respected international organizations dealing with religious rights and the protection of cultural heritage," the Eparchy stated.

They remind that the church was persistently denied access by Kosovo institutions to a number of religious buildings where both the faithful and the clergy were unable to gain access, which they add goes against not only international standards on religious freedoms but also Kosovo laws that these institutions should be the first to respect.

"Kosovo institutions are currently working on passing laws with the intention of abolishing some of the last rights left to the Serbian Orthodox Church from the so-called Ahtisaari Plan, even though these are internationally guaranteed rights," the Eparchy of Raska and Prizren concluded.