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Kosovo Turns Blind Eye To Illegal Mosques

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By Besiana Xharra

An illegal construction boom that has carpeted Kosovo’s cities and villages with unlicensed buildings is not confined to homes and shops.

A survey of Kosovo municipalities by Balkan Insight has revealed that more than 100 mosques have been built without planning permission in the past ten years.

To date, action has been taken against just one illegal mosque and local authorities told Balkan Insight they are hesitant about committing themselves to removing such buildings in the future.

The Islamic Community of Kosovo, BIK, through various funding channels, has been reconstructing 113 war-damaged mosques, as well building as 155 new places of worship, since 1999. An investigation by Balkan Insight can reveal that almost all have been erected illegally.

“We have repaired or rebuilt 113 of those [mosques] 218 destroyed during the war,” says Sabri Bajgora of the BIK. “Besides those, we have also built another 155 news mosques by the end of 2010, and are currently building another 20.”

Balkan Insight has researched the situation in Kosovo’s seven largest municipalities: Pristina, Prizren, Urosevac/Ferizaj, Pec/Peja, Djakovica/Gjakova, Gnjilane/Gjilan and Mitrovica.

Each town or city hall acknowledged that illegal mosques have been erected under their jurisdiction, especially in rural areas, though some refused to provide exact figures.

Prizren, city of illegal minarets:

Prizren is fabled for its ancient Ottoman architecture, but is now becoming better known for its skyline of garish illegal minarets that have been springing up since 1999.

The city council told Balkan Insight that that 70 per cent of the mosques in the city had no planning permission. Kosovo’s Islamic community said Prizren is home to the highest number of mosques in the country, 77.

If the municipal figures are accurate, this would put the number of illegal mosques in Prizren at 54. Director of urban planning Sadik Paçarizi said: “Of all religious objects, such as Catholic or Orthodox churches, mosques are those that violate the law most.

About 70 per cent of mosques in the municipality have no building permit.” He added that a plan had been drawn up to knock down the illegal mosques but had been shelved pending a resolution of the broader problems of illegal builds in the city.

Gjilan mayor Qemajl Mustafa admits that in his municipality almost all mosques built since the war lack building permits. But he said that since he became mayor in 2007 the situation had improved.

“From the time I became mayor, this phenomenon has stopped because we have made an agreement with BIK on this issue,” he said. “Now they apply for permits before starting to build any new mosque,” Mustafa added.He confirmed that no illegally built mosque had been destroyed, however.

In the western city of Gjakova, not a single illegal mosque has been tackled since the end of the 1999 conflict.

“The reason I didn’t want to destroy any of these illegal buildings is because such buildings are considered sacred and of benefit to citizens,” Gjakova mayor Pal Lekaj said.

The director of urban planning in Peja, Gazmend Muhaxhirim, said he had no figures about illegal constructions but admitted that some mosques had been built without permits.

“Some illegal mosques were built since the war but recently builders have started to seek permission from the municipality,” he said. “At the moment we are already dealing with several such applications.”

Officials at Ferizaj and Mitrovica declined to comment on the issue.

Not a priority in Pristina:

Pristina municipality told Balkan Insight that it had destroyed one unplanned mosque four years ago while it was still under construction.

Despite this action, another illegal mosque was rebuilt on the same site. Muhamet Gashi, acting director of inspections, said that given the city’s overall problems with illegal construction, mosques were not a priority.

“We have no plans right now to destroy any illegal mosques as we are awaiting approval of a law on how to handle illegal buildings, and then all illegal buildings, together with mosques, will be reviewed,” Gashi said.

“Pristina municipality has given permission for the restoration of mosques, but not for new ones,” he added.The issue is particular sensitive in Pristina as the Islamic community this year has protested about the municipality’s failure to find what they consider a suitable spot for a new city-centre mosque.

They complain that their situation is markedly different to that of the city’s small Catholic community. The city hall offered them a prime location for a new cathedral, which opened last year.

Muhamet Gashi said that the municipality had already issued the BIK a permit to build on a large plot on the edge of the city centre. But the BIK has so far rejected this.

“The issue has stalled. We don’t have any other places to offer, so we haven’t made any further progress,” said Gashi. Sabri Bajgora said their demands for a city-centre location had nothing to do with the position of the new cathedral; it was a question of ease of access.

“The site [offered] near the PTK [Post and Telecommunications] is not good because it is a small site and is not in the centre,” he said. “The best place to build a big mosque remains near Pristina University, in front of the Albanology Institute.

“This is the best place but we haven’t agreed yet with municipality. We are now waiting for another answer from them, but until now nothing has happened.”

Behxhet Shala, director of the Council for Human Rights, says the reason why Kosovo mayors have not tackled illegal mosques is that it could be construed as an attack on religious freedom.

He added that the skeletal Orthodox church in the park surrounding Pristina University has also not been touched since construction began in the mid-1990s.

“If that illegal church had been destroyed immediately after the [1999] war, it would have set an example for other illegal buildings and for the BIK too,” Shala said.

“Now it is difficult to deal with them.”According to him, however, this issue must be addressed at some point.Sabri Bajgora of the BIK admits that mosques have been built without planning permission.

“To be honest, mostly in villages, some mosques are built without permission from municipalities. But no mosque is built without our permission,” he said.Bahri Sejdiu, head of the BIK for Pristina, also admits that most mosques in the city centre have no building permit, but blames the municipality for the omission.

“Most Pristina mosques have been built without permission because the municipality sits on such requests for months,” Sejdiu said.

This article is funded under the BICCED project, supported by the Swiss Cultural Programme.

Balkan Insight

Balkan Insight

The Balkan Insight (fornerkt the Balkin Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN) is a close group of editors and trainers that enables journalists in the region to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social themes. BIRN emerged from the Balkan programme of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR, in 2005. The original IWPR Balkans team was mandated to localise that programme and make it sustainable, in light of changing realities in the region and the maturity of the IWPR intervention. Since then, its work in publishing, media training and public debate activities has become synonymous with quality, reliability and impartiality. A fully-independent and local network, it is now developing as an efficient and self-sustainable regional institution to enhance the capacity for journalism that pushes for public debate on European-oriented political and economic reform.

6 thoughts on “Kosovo Turns Blind Eye To Illegal Mosques

  • Avatar
    January 15, 2012 at 12:58 pm
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    it’s is not fair what you have said,,, you must know so there are not enough places for Muslim prayers in Kosovo, as a result they have to pray out in to the open sky, when rains and when it’s so cold- it’s freezing during the winter, so be human and think humanely, if someone fights for animal rights you should think about human rights, and if you can’t help at the less please just try stop humiliating them… I’m really terrified from your article, and Kosovo government “turns blind eye” in supporting essential needs of it’s people… That can happen only in Cuba, China or North Korea

    Reply
  • Avatar
    January 16, 2012 at 10:44 am
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    It is very unfair article written by an extremist Catholic believer.
    In Prishtina, we have two huge buildings (one Catholic cathedral and one Orthodox church) built for less than 2000 people of these two religions and on the other side we have thousands of people(muslims) praying outside due to the lack of mosques and due to the fear of politicians from western embassies that can be tagged like “pro Muslim” and they are named with pure Muslim names like: Isa, Hashim, Ismet, Jakup, etc.
    By any means, this article is another strike in religious tolerance in Kosova.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    January 16, 2012 at 1:07 pm
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    If someone, who is not familiar with the developments in Kosovo, reads this piece, he will think that illegal mosques are Kosovo’s biggest problem. Imagine, 77 mosques in Prizrne only. This is a misleading information. 77 mosques are in Prizren and the 74 villages around it. Given the number of settlements and the fact that the vast majority of their inhabitants are muslims, is that a high number?

    The article fails to mention that Muslim believers are forced to pray outside, regardless of the weather conditions, as the number of mosques does not match with the number of prayers. So, one of their fundamental human rights is being denied by the local authorities.

    The protective zones around the Orthodox churches in Kosovo is much more serious problem. The owners of the properties close to these zones are not allowed to move freely, work their land, or build anything nearby. This is another violation of human rights and it’d be fair if Balkan Insight wrote about this issue.

    The article also fails to use proper names for Kosovo cities. Instead of using Pristina, Prizren, Urosevac/Ferizaj, Pec/Peja, Djakovica/Gjakova, Gnjilane/Gjilan and Mitrovica, the article should have used Prishtinë/Pristina, Gjilan/Gnjilane, Ferizaj/Urosevac, Gjilan/Gnjilane, Gjakovë/Djakovica. Although the author of this article is an Albanian, the names used for the Kosovo cities imply that it was edited by a Serb, who is trying to present Kosovo as an extremist Islamic country. Serbia has been making such efforts for decades, but it has always failed because religion has never produced conficlts in Kosovo. I encourage the readers of this article to read a bit more on how Islam is practiced in Kosovo as I find this article misleading.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    January 19, 2012 at 9:26 pm
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    Thank you mr.Rexha. I agree with your comments and analysis completely. Me as an Albanian Muslim citizen of Prizren, I would like to declare that the article is misleading and full of false information. Shame on the writer. Today the total number of the mosques in Prizren is 36, 26 of them were since the Ottoman Muslim Empire was ruling the Balkans, and about 10 mosques were build since 1994 up to today. The number (77) mentioned earlier by the writer includes the mosques of all surrounding villages. Scientifically and methodologically this article becomes nullified and useless due to its false and non correct information. How could you say that the Islamic Community turns blind eye! Have you ever been in Prizren to see how many casinos, discos, bars and gambling shops have been opened to destroy our youths and the economy of our nation! Do you believe that all of those shops and stations are legally! have you forgotten that the moral, ethical, spiritual, social, religious benefits of the Mosques are to be taken into consideration! Do you know the importance of the building of such places can save our nation from its current drug and human trafficking disasters. These religious buildings have helped people in the Balkans through centuries to maintaine the spirit of religious tolerance and mutual national respect. There is no danger at all from the building of such religious monuments. There is no need to get permission to build the spirit and the power of the Albanian Muslim nation. The percentage of the Muslims in Kosova is more than 95 %. How someone would dare to criticize the will of the majority of the Muslims of Kosova? How someone would dare to criticize the peaceful role of BIK, Albanian Muslim Community in Kosova? Therefore I would urge the writer and the website to withdraw this misleading, false and corrupted article for the sake of truth and history. We live in the 21 century and we can’t accept anymore false, extreme views. We should opt and promote the culture of dialogue and not to refer back to the dark ages of Serbian fanatic historical views which led them to the shattering and destruction of Yugoslavia. We should learn lessons from the history and not to repeat the same mistakes for the sake of our children, otherwise the wars will erupt again and again, and the bloodshed will be present again. Shame on the writer, shame on the editor, shame on the publisher.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    January 19, 2012 at 11:50 pm
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    Who really Turns Blind Eye in Kosovo?
    Recently there has been few writers attacking Muslims in Kosovo.
    I wonder whose puppets they are? Why they don’t invest their time to do better things for Kosovo if they really want so?
    Why a witter like this one is creating hatred between religions in our harmonies society seen so far?
    Why they do not talk for fundamental human rights violations in Kosovo, e.g freedom of religion, discrimination provided in Kosovo’s Constitution and in many human rights international conventions like ICCPR, EHRC? Why you are turning blind to fundamental issues? As a journalist by omitting to tackle fundamental human right issues could be translated as a violation of professional code ethics. Otherwise if you are not working for someone what the hell you are doing out there as a journalist?
    Why this kind of writers are pursuing the golden goal of Serbia by presenting us in the eye of West like (Jihadist, fundamentalist or whatsoever)?
    Do they think by banding down is the only way to rise up?
    Do you really think West will respect you if you dont respect yourself? you will keep barging till you have lost your voice and become useless for them.
    Are’t out there many other priorities to be investigated?
    Now, who is really turning Blind eye?!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    October 10, 2012 at 4:07 am
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    I have visited Kosova nearly every summer since the war. Up until recently, mosques were collecting cob webs all over kosove. Now all of a sudden we are pretending that we need to pray in the streets in order to coerce the government to build another Xhamie? It’s funny how there is an upsurge of Wahabi Albanian Muslims coming to our state and all of a sudden we need more mosques… interesting indeed.

    Reply

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