On Wednesday evening, I had supper in Prishtina with Charlie Helms and his girlfriend, Erin Sweeney. Charlie is a Fulbright English teacher (ETA) living in the southern mountain village of Shtërpca (Serbian: Štrpce). Also an ETA, Erin just finished her 9-month grant in Croatia. Charlie’s teaching schedule is split between two schools: one that is ethnic Serbian and the other that is ethnic Albanian. This has given him an unusual and valuable opportunity to understand Kosova from two very different perspectives. At present, Charlie is finalizing paperwork to take some of his Serbian and Albanian middle-school students to a camp in Hungary with the hope of having them interact in a neutral and welcoming setting.
Decani is a Serbian Orthodox monastery located near the village of Decan, which is 12 kilometers from Peja (Serbian: Peć). The church dates back to the 1300s and contains extensive, preserved frescoes. Of great historical and artistic value, the church has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Around 30 monks live at the monastery, where they make cheese and paint beautiful icons, which may be purchased in the gift shop.
Note that this Serbian site is walled and guarded by Italian KFOR soldiers. Although there has not been any violence near the site since 2007 (when a grenade was thrown), the relations between ethnic Serbs and ethnic Albanians in the area remain tenuous. (During the war, many mosques and ethnic Albanian villages were destroyed; during the 2004 “unrest,” many Serbian churches and monasteries and ethnic Serbian villages were destroyed.) From the monastery’s own website:
The Monastery has survived after the Kosovo war (1998-2000) and the Brotherhood today lives as an isolated Serbian Orthodox island among hostile Kosovo Albanian Moslem population. This holy site survives only thanks to the protection of Italian forces which have blocked every access to the monastery. Beside all this the Monastery still attracts many international visitors from the UN Mission and KFOR. Thanks to KFOR military convoys occasionally the monastery is visited also by Serb pilgrims from Kosovo and Central Serbia.
To get to Decani Monastery
Take the bus from Prishtina to Peja (5€ and 65-70 minutes); then take the bus from Peja to Decan (1€ and 15-20 minutes); then take a taxi to the monastery (2-3€ and 8-10 minutes). Bring your passport to leave at security. Remember that this is a functioning monastery that allows visitors; it is not a “tourist attraction.” You are permitted to take pictures without flash when the monks are not in the church. Shorts are discouraged, and women must dress modestly.