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By Thomas Brey
The magnificent patriarchate of the Serbian Orthodox Church near Pec, in western Kosovo, is home today to just 20 or so nuns, 15 of them elderly.
At the nearby monastery of Decani, there are some 25 monks, most of them still in their prime.
The places of pilgrimage, which go back to medieval times, are hanging on in the teeth of hostility from the ethnic Albanian population in the surroundings. The rare visitors must identify themselves to police in Pec because of the dangers.
The Decani monastery is kept under tight scrutiny by an Italian carabinieri contingent that is a part of the Nato-led peacekeeping mission which has been deployed in Kosovo since 1999.
In the past, soldiers used to escort the monks when they were outside the monastery walls. The situation is now more relaxed and when the monks pay a rare visit to Pec to go shopping, they go alone.
“We are mostly self-sufficient,” said one of the monks, Petar. “We have cows, goats, poultry and farm land.”
While security has improved, incidents keep the tension running high.
A monk tending to cows was recently verbally abused by Albanians and the name of a chief in the former guerrilla group Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was spray painted on a monastery farmhouse.
“The Albanians eye us with hatred, because we are the last remnants of the Serbian presence in Kosovo,” Petar tried to explain.
Civic leaders in Decani — like authorities at all levels in Kosovo — include many KLA fighters from the 1998-99 war for independence from Serbia.
To them, the presence of the monasteries is a red rag to a bull.
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