Kosovo’s cultural genocide
Since the end of the Kosovo war in 1999, more than one hundred Christian Orthodox places of worship have been destroyed or looted for ethnic-religious reasons in the self-declared state of Kosovo . Many important examples of the artistic and cultural roots of contemporary Europe have been lost.
For centuries, Kosovo and its monasteries represented an artistic and cultural bridge between Western Europe and Byzantium. The region is proof that the Balkans have been a cultural melting pot at the roots of European identity, and not solely a battleground.
I went to Kosovo for the first time in December 2009 in the Serbian Orthodox monastery of Decani, declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2004 and added to the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2006. Here live 30 monks, the majority arriving in the last 12 years. Even though the monks stood in defence of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians – targeted by the ethnic cleansing of Slobodan Milosevic’s army – during the Kosovo war, they are now under constant threat. The monastery is a true enclave under the protection of KFor, the NATO-led international peace keeping force ensuring security in Kosovo and the monks live in forced isolation.
Their reclusion is dictated not just by their choice to abide by the monastic rule, but also by the constant danger they face from outside. They are not free to wander by themselves, as the risk of being attacked is very high. Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo still perceive the presence of the Serb minority as a remnant of the previous oppression and Orthodox monasteries are seen as symbols which need to be eradicated.
What is happened in Kosovo is not just the mere destruction of monuments, but a systematic demolition that affects us all. Not just a conflict – like many others throughout the ages – but an ethnic clash with far reaching implications, leading to the triumph of hatred over integration and to an absolute divide between cultures. Where memory is erased, places lose their identity, falling prey to injustice and unscrupulous business dealings. What happened in Kosovo also happened in Iraq, whose cultural heritage has been wiped out. Once historical sites have become non-descript areas, the void flooded by business for business sake.
Forgotten Memories documents the living conditions of the monastic communities that continue to reside in the few Orthodox monasteries, still standing, and the efforts of those monks to preserve them.