European Union Office in Kosovo 
European Union Special Representative in Kosovo

A few words about Prizren's rich heritage

22/05/2017 - 01:49

An Op-Ed for by the Head of EU Office in Kosovo/EU Special Representative, Nataliya Apostolova

Since my arrival in Kosovo in September last year two topics have dominated discussions in my office whenever Prizren was mentioned. The need to visit and see this exceptional city of Kosovo was a suggestion by many. As well as the need for responding to a pending invitation sent by civil society of Prizren for a meeting with them. In fact it would be a follow up meeting they had with my predecessor, when they expressed their concern for the loss of something that constitutes Prizren's essence - the rich cultural and religious heritage.

Though I’ve witnessed briefly both specifics in the past months, I am delighted that tomorrow (Tuesday) I will be able to better witness the existing state of Prizren's cultural and religious heritage and hear the real concerns of civil society. Along with EU ambassadors in Pristina, we want to have a look at the real situation on the ground, the progress achieved thanks also to the EU's financial support and the risks posed to this legacy by some, while it should be protected by all.

I fully agree that what Prizren represents, as the main destination of foreign visitors and recommended by everyone, is completely grounded. Not only as a material legacy, with the historical part of the diverse religious heritage with churches and mosques standing next to each other. Also for a spirit of tolerance between different ethnicities; characteristic filigree craftsmen, small shops and various crafts, and with a castle at the top of the city that clearly portrays its past and history. But, that's not enough for preserving this great inheritance, or at least not at a satisfactory level.

Cultural heritage in what represents the heart of the city is not respected. Or, at least not being protected. That's evident, and clearly proven. That's why the previous Kosovo Report urged local authorities to 'take robust action against illegal construction' and to address the trend of business interests prevailing over cultural heritage protection. However degradation has continued and while mechanisms were established to enhance protection, their impact has been minimal. To date, despite numerous reported cases, there are no judgements regarding criminal offences of cultural heritage devastation.

Legal predispositions that regulate the space, rules or instruments for protecting the historic part of the city and beyond exist. Unfortunately, in practice, as a result of non-compliance with the law, Prizren seems to lose his biggest asset, its most characteristic part, the testimony of its past, and its best which is an attraction for many visitors. It is sad to see a degradation of high proportions in such a short period of time of something that has been maintained for decades and centuries. There is no benefit for any kind of business that compensates the disappearance of the legacy that the old southern city of Kosovo, its cultural capital, Prizren has from the past. The transformation of this legacy to business activity might bring limited profits to some, but will certainly cause loss to everyone in Prizren, and to entire Kosovo.

Regardless of the role we have either as citizens, elected public officials, locals or internationals we need to act against damages to cultural property that Kosovo has inherited. We must preserve it and protect it for future generations. Everyone should engage in protecting the cultural heritage of Prizren, the heritage which should make every citizen of Kosovo proud. Hoping that together we can build a consensus to protect the most unique city of Kosovo, I look forwarding to meeting Prizren's citizens in the historic centre tomorrow and discuss ways to achieve exactly that.

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