The French embassy said it moved a memorial in a Kosovo cemetery honouring Serbian soldiers who died in World War I and the early 20th Century Balkan Wars after it caused “controversy”, and installed a memorial to fallen French troops.
The French embassy in Pristina moved a stone memorial tablet commemorating Serbian soldiers who died in World War I and the Balkan Wars in a cemetery in Kosovo’s capital after it caused controversy in local media, the French and German embassies told BIRN in a joint statement on Monday.
The memorial, which bears the inscription “Here lie the remains of Serbian soldiers who fell in the wars of 1912-18”, was moved a couple of metres from its original location inside the Orthodox cemetery.
According to local media, the relocation of the memorial was noticed on Saturday during the joint marking of Armistice Day by the French and German embassies in Pristina.
“In recent years and particularly in 2022, this joint French-German ceremony was tarnished by a controversy in certain media in Kosovo over the presence of a stele paying tribute to Serbian soldiers who died between 1912 and 1918,” the French and German embassies said in their statement to BIRN.
“This controversy was unworthy of the memory of all soldiers: the French, German and Serbian soldiers who died in the First World War but also the 18 French soldiers who died during their service for [NATO’s Kosovo force] KFOR, in the protection of all communities of Kosovo,” the statement added.
The statement also said that “the installation of a new stele recalling the sacrifice of all French soldiers in Kosovo was done at the initiative of the Embassy of France”.
“We subsequently moved the stele in homage to the Serbian soldiers only a few metres, with the greatest respect after informing the municipality. No bodies of soldiers were moved. This stele remains fully visible on the same location, as anyone can see on site and on the picture attached,” the two embassies said.
In photographs posted on social media by the two countries’ ambassadors, it can be seen that the memorial tablet had been moved and a new one installed in its previous place.
The inscription on the new memorial says: “To the French soldiers who fall in Kosovo.”
The Serbian Orthodox Church Diocese of Raska-Prizren expressed concern on Sunday about the relocation of the memorial.
The diocese said a statement that “neither the Serbian community, which uses that cemetery, nor the Diocese of Raska-Prizren, which looks after the Orthodox cemeteries in Kosovo and Metohija spiritually, were consulted about the relocation of the memorial tablet to the liberators of World War I, who made great sacrifices, together with other allied soldiers [of the Entente Powers]”.
“The diocesan legal service will consider every option to return the memorial tablet to its original place and preserve the Serbian cemetery in Pristina with dignity in the future,” it added.
The Serbian government’s Office for Kosovo and Metohija complained that the relocation of the memorial plaque was an attempt to erase signs of Serbs’ existence in Kosovo and represented “a brutal change of history”, Radio KIM reported.
14 November 2023 - 11:27