Holy Archangels' Monastery near Prizren, Serbia

"You showed me the church of Yours as the source of health", Dusan's gift charter. -Full reconstruction was interrupted... -In June 1999 a monk from the monastery, Fr. Chariton, was abducted. -Now - a spiritual center gathering the remaining Orthodox people from Prizren and around. The young monastic brotherhood is full of religious enthusiasm and remains confident that one day Holy Archangels will be completely reconstructed.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

A housing boom with no buyers


(from archive - exactly 2 years ago)
by Mark Almond
29 May 2004, New Statesman

"Hands up!" the young east German soldier ordered at the sturdy military bridge leading to the ruins of the monastery of the Archangels outside Prizren. "Empty your pockets." He was looking for explosives or incendiary devices.

Nowadays Brits are so used to NOT talking about the war and regarding modern Germans as models of a post-military society that it came as a shock to be barked at by a real German.

"Fotografieren verboten!" the sergeant shouted.

As if to emphasise their no-nonsense approach to peacekeeping in this south-western corner of Kosovo, the German KFOR troops had put up signs proclaiming:
"This building/site is protected by law. Any act of vandalism and looting will be considered as a criminal offence of the utmost gravity" and "KFOR Area - Prohibited Area ! Danger authorized use of firearms."

What the German is for "locking the stable door after the horse has bolted" I forget, but this Prussian severity was made comic rather than intimidating by the tragic scene next to the Bundeswehr's formidable armoured cars. The Monastery of the Archangels was a burned out ruin.

Placed between a fast flowing river sweeping down from the high mountains dividing Kosovo from Macedonia and protected by a steep cliff behind were the remains of not one but two Monasteries of the Archangels. The older one was built in the mid-fourteenth century and then largely demolished by the Ottomans to provide stone for the elegant Sinan mosque in the centre of Prizren.

The monks only moved back in in 1998 _ hardly the most auspicious moment to re-establish monastic life there. But their newly built church and cells survived the collapse of Serbian rule in June, 1999, unscathed. In fact, the Byzantine and medieval Serbian orthodox churches in Prizren were virtually unscarred by the war as were the local mosques. Only the important Albanian monument to the nationalist League of Prizren was blown up after NATO started bombing _ and it has been restored now.

Almost exactly five years after NATO's war against Milosevic began widespread violence erupted again in Kosovo. On 17th March, the monks received a mobile phone call from an Albanian (as they judged from his accent in Serbian) warning them that a mob of 500 Albanians were marching up the road from Prizren three miles away. Already the churches of Prizren and scores of Serbian houses which had survived the 1999 war were on fire..

German troops had guarded the monks since 1999 and had built the broad bridge across the river to carry their heavy vehicles and supplies. At the other end of the monastery a high gate blocked access by the traditional route across the river. However, though the Germans loaded the monks into an armoured car and took them to safety (for which they were very obviously grateful), according to their sergeant they had "no mandate" to block the bridge or to use force against the arsonists who poured into the monastery grounds. Helping themselves to fuel from the KFOR camp supply, the crowd set fire to the church and monks' cells.

Since the situation has cooled down, the German soldiers have reverted to Hun mode in an effort to make up for the ineffectiveness on the day when local policemen in Prizren complain too that they were left trying to control the sudden eruption of anti-Serb violence without military assistance. Their mantra about the lack of mandate recalled the sorry days of the EU's foray into peacekeeping in Croatia and Bosnia more than a decade ago when it was the Croat or Bosnian victims of Serb paramilitaries who went unprotected because no-one authorised their defence by the tens of thousands of NATO soldiers on the ground. Now in Kosovo it is the Serbs turn to suffer from the mandate.

By contrast the local Albanian para-military mafias have understood the situation in Ksovo and globally. By mid-March the US and British armies were sinking into the Iraqi quagmire. Kosovo was not a priority any more. Of course, a few reinforcements were rushed out to calm the storm, but everyone knew they were not coming to stay. German and American soldiers both said to me, "We cannot stay for ever."$$$

Knowing how desperate NATO is to avoid trouble on the Balkan front, the rioting in March was a classic mafia way of upping the price for quiet. And it is being paid. After a tailing off in aid supplies over the last five years, now each day a mile long queue of trucks waits to enter Kosovo from Macedonia. It was like a return to the boom days of 1999 when international aid flowed to the 1.6 million Kosovars as if they were twenty times that number.

While Serb historical monuments go un-repaired and will probably fade from view due to neglect and vandalism, the landscape of Kosovo has been transformed by shed-loads of bright red German bricks donated by the EU and other aid agencies. Where once fields, orchards or vineyards stood, now the outlines of countless three or four story houses march across the land.

A housing boom on green field sites unimagined even by John Prescott is transforming Kosovo into a suburban sprawl. Yet there is something odd about the new houses. It is not that they are large, nor even that they are empty. It is that so many are unfinished and don't seem designed for human habitation. They lack sewage channels and water pipes or points for electricity cables. Many have straw on the floors even of upper stories and are obviously used as stalls for animals.

Since many Albanians admit that their young people, especially young men have gone abroad to Western Europe, there are fewer people needing these grand houses but up they go nevertheless. Sometimes a father has three or four multi-story shells around his old house waiting solemnly for the return of his sons.

For Albanians Kosovo has become a cargo cult which actually delivers but the province is in reality an architectural and ecological disaster. But the landscape is haunted by empty jerry built structures with no obvious purpose, a kind of Balkan Easter Island.

In two thousand years time, archaeologists and anthropologists will puzzle over the purpose of these buildings and why people sent tons of bricks and mortar every year from northern Europe as tribute to the cult. Maybe they'll even find the ruins of the Archangels' monastery and be confused by carbon dating placing its un-restored remains in precisely the same era as the building boom.

svarhangeli@hotmail.com

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