Demolition Threat to Phistina’s Ottoman Heritage
Pristina | 21 May 2010 | By Petrit Collaku
Balkan Insight can reveal that one of the Kosovo capitals last historic homes was removed from the list of protected buildings and was to be knocked down by the end of the month before the intervention of the Minister of Culture on Thursday. Last-minute protests by conservationists and intervention by BIRN appeared to have saved one of Pristinas few remaining Ottoman-era town houses from demolition.
Kosovos Ministry of Culture had removed the so-called Hyniler House, located in the Old Town, from the list of protected buildings, allowing the site to be redeveloped.
The Hyniler family, the owners of the building, which is one of the few surviving Ottoman konaks in the capital, told Balkan Insight that they hoped the building would be knocked down by the end of the month.
However, following our intervention and other protests, including a Facebook campaign which attracted 1,500 members, the ministry sent a team of experts to the home on Thursday.
The recently appointed culture minister, Lutfi Haziri, issued a ruling overturning the decisions of his predecessors to remove the building from the protected list.
The case has raised fears about the future of Pristinas remaining heritage and the Ministry of Cultures commitment to maintaining historic buildings.
Conservation experts told Balkan Insight that the Hyniler house is just one of many threatened buildings in the city and called for greater protection of monuments, including those on the list and others currently not listed.
The Hyniler House, built in the late 19th Century, was placed under a protection order in 1967. But Balkan Insight has seen a document issued by Ministry of Culture, dated 2007, which says the house has been removed from the register of cultural monuments. The document was signed by the then Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Culture Mon Zhubi.
The owner of the house, Minir Hyniler, said the family had obtained two documents that gave them permission to knock it down, approved by two former culture ministers, Astrit Haraqija and Valton Beqiri. Balkan Insight was able to confirm that both men issued such a decision.
The family said they had reached an agreement with developers to demolish the building and erect a block of flats.
The news has shocked conservationists in Pristina who have called for the home to be put back on the list of protected monuments.
The family first asked permission to make changes to their home in 2004. The municipality asked the Institute for Monuments and Regional Museum of Pristina, IMRM, which works under the Ministry of Culture, to advise them on whether the site was protected. They also sought advice on the houses structural soundness.
We noted the deficiencies of the house [in the report] but there is not a single line from us that said the house could be taken off the list of protected monuments, Haxhi Mehmetaj, director of IMRM, said.
Mehmetaj showed Balkan Insight their report, dated 2005. It recommended urgent intervention because of the poor condition of the building but also confirmed its protected status. No one can pull a protected building from the list, Mehmetaj added.
However, the then culture minister Astrit Haraqija, issued an order removing the house from the list in 2007, citing a fresh IMRM assessment from that year that described the building as being in a dangerous condition.
Following that decision, the family requested permission from the municipality to redevelop the site. After their request was again denied, the family turned to the next minister of culture, Valton Beqiri, who reissued the order supporting the removal of house from the list of protected monuments.
The department of Cultural Heritage, DCH, in the Ministry of Culture confirmed that the Ministry had violated the law by permitting the removal of the house from the list.
The ministry has ignored our authority and they have violated the law because such decision is not lawful, Burbuqe Bakija-Deva, head of the division told Balkan Insight.
I dont blame the family for this. I blame the institution that I also belong to, Deva said. She first heard of the case from the municipality after the family sought permission to rebuild on the site.
The urban directorate of the municipality wanted to check with our office whether the particular house was under protection or not, Deva added.
She said certain rules have to be followed before a protected monument can be removed from the list. There is a cultural heritage council, formed by parliament, that can give recommendations to the minister about whether a monument can be removed from the list, she explained.
Deva added that despite the decisions of two former culture ministers, she would try to halt the demolition of the house. If the family destroys the house, we may take them to court, she warned.
She said that because of the ministrys small budget, it had been unable to invest funds in the conservation of historic family homes and had concentrated on religious buildings.
It is not clear whether the family still has permission from the municipality to redevelop the site. They have told Balkan Insight they expect the building to be knocked down by the end of May.
Pristinas record in protecting its historic heritage is poor. Of 21 listed buildings and monuments in city, four that were private homes have already been demolished for redevelopment.
Deva noted that Post and Telecoms of Kosovo, a government agency, moved into an office built on the site of one protected building.
According to the law on cultural heritage, penalties for making unauthorised changes to protected buildings range from 1,000 euro to 500,000 euro. But developers rarely face such penalties. We accused one family of destroying a protected monument and they were fined just 50 euro, Deva recalled.
comment: no culture, no intelligence, including Stone Age level