The Orthodox Church should be a museum to Kosovo’s recent history

The church is there, it was built during Milosevic’s regime, something that cannot be denied whether we like it or not. It is a part of history. The mentality of destroying or erasing historical events does not contribute to representing the truth and its establishment.

As a small child, I remember the time when the construction of the Orthodox close to my house started. The site where this church was supposed to be built was rather large, and they were not bothered by anybody, surely because of the regime in which the rights of the Albanians were unequal to those of the Serbs. Houses for the clergy that were to serve in the church were also built a short distance away, on the ground of today’s Faculty of Arts. I also remember when the large cross was fixed on top of the church. In fact, everybody saw it because it circled around the city on a helicopter to bless the city before being placed where it still is today, on top of the giant cement cupola. We all commented on how the cross was gilded in gold. IOn March 29, 1999, the space surrounding the church was packed with Serbs who watched as the cross was mounted.

We Albanians were locked inside of our houses but would occasionally peek out the window.

During the Kosovo War, the work on the church ground to a halt. The church was never finished, and after the war, someone snuck in during the night and detonated dynamite with the purpose of destroying it. There was a deafening blast, and the windows of the surrounding buildings were shattered to smithereens. The same windows had been unscathed by the NATO bombings during  which the former postal office (located next to government building) and the Ministry of Interior, MUP, which was a few paces away from the Zahir Pajaziti square were decimated.

After the detonation, I though the church must be completely leveled. But I was mistaken, it appeared as if nothing had happened. It looked just like it does today, not a brick out of place.

Considering that the church was built on the University of Prishtina campus, on an area that should be used by tens of thousands of students, many regularly voice their desire for it to be demolished.

I do not support this idea because the building serves our collective memory. I do not believe history should only be made of selective stories, incorporating those we like and eliminate those we are not fond of. The Orthodox church is there, it was built during Milosevic’s regime, something that cannot be denied whether we like it or not. It is a part of history. The Orthodox church shows us best how the university campus was treated at that time, tells us about the illegal usurpation of public space. The mentality of destroying or erasing historical events does not contribute to representing the truth and its establishment. If we proceed according to logic of demolition, the space used by the Arts Faculty should also be destroyed because it is also part of the Orthodox church.

I also refuse to follow the logic that history is only written by the victors. Such things cannot be called history because they are not supported by science; they are but pretty tales that serve the policies of the government and what we want to believe.

All around the world, it is not uncommon for a new political regime to target the monuments and historical sites of the former system. Such actions reveal a society’s immaturity in dealing with the past. Instead of teaching the history, politicians and citizens attempt to forget, cement, destroy, or fabricate it. The attempted demolition of the “Brotherhood and Unity” monument (located between the Assembly and Prishtina’s municipality building) is similar. My argument should not be interpreted as an opposition against monuments and the commemoration of the ghastly events of the war. Rather, history should be seen and described from all sides and viewpoints. This would contribute to the plurality of society and new generations would have it easier to visualize the past, something which would also prevent the possible manipulation of past events.

In Kosovo, as in other countries of the region, such topics are used for political manipulations by parties and individuals in order to influence the new generations who do not have sufficient knowledge of the past, without contributing much to improving the lot of the people.

Let us assume the church will be demolished. What positive changes would it bring to society? Would it create stable peace? A win for the Albanians against the Serbs? More space for the university? The punishment of those accused of war crimes? Would it increase youth employment? Would Kosovo’s borders be defined?

I am also against religious buildings in campus space, so I do not support the functionalization of the church as a house of worship. Since the Orthodox church is there, the best idea would be to use the space to showcase the policies of Milosevic’s regime in Kosovo, the war, the killing of thousands of civilians from different communities, the displacement of the Serb community from Kosovo and the ethnic segregation in the country.

Considering that textbooks do not sufficiently cover the recent past and since it is not memorialized, the government of Kosovo should turn the church into a historical museum that would display a more inclusive history regarding the different communities of Kosovo. Such a museum would contribute to the establishment of tolerance between the communities. Kosovo’s society would be enriched with a cultural and scientific institution which would offer long-term information on its history.

Teuta Hoxha is acting director of the Youth Initiative of Human Rights in Kosovo.

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