Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Kosovo: Burned Books and Blasted Shrines

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Kosovo: Burned Books and Blasted Shrines

Article excerpt

Kosovo's cultural heritage was deliberately targetted during the 1998-1999 conflict says Harvard University's Andras Riedlmayer', co-author of the first survey assessing the damage

You spent three weeks in Kosovo in October 1999 documenting damage to cultural heritage. What were your main findings?

Kosovo's 600-year-old Islamic heritage suffered large-scale devastation during the "ethnic cleansing" operations. More than one third of the region's 600 mosques were destroyed or seriously damaged. A standard technique was to pack the base of the minaret with explosives so that the stone spire would collapse onto the building and smash the dome. We found racist anti-Albanian and anti-Islamic grafitti inside, Korans with pages ripped out and smeared with feces, and crosses carved into the mosques' mihrabs [prayer niche]. Valuable collections of Islamic manuscripts were burned. The 500-year-old mosque and historic centre of Vucitrn was set afire and completely bulldozed by Serb paramilitaries. Of Kosovo's four well-preserved Ottoman-era urban centres, only one, Prizren, escaped such devastation.

The other great loss are the kullas --stone mansions typical of Albanian residential architecture. They tended to belong to the more prominent Albanian families and had been in the same hands for 150-200 years. As such they were filled with artifacts and documents and were regarded as symbols of Albanian culture in Kosovo. Barely ten per cent of the region's 500 kullas survived the war. All this demonstrates that the damage was clearly not collateral. It was very intentional.

There have been allegations that the Serbian heritage also suffered damage.

As soon as the conflict broke out, Belgrade's Information Ministry and several conservation institutes claimed that NATO was deliberately targetting Serbian patrimonial sites. We visited each one of the sites for which damage was claimed and found these allegations to be unsubstantiated. At the end of the war, KFOR [1] troops were stationed to guard the most famous monasteries and churches. However, many village churches became easy targets for revenge by returning Kosovar villagers. A majority of the attacked buildings were built in the 20th century, and quite a large number during the 1990s. …

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