Saturday, January 28, 2012

Kosovo: Can New Treaty Stop Continued Deterioration of "New" Jewish Cemetery of Pristina?

Pristina, Kosovo. "New" Jewish Cemetery. Photos: Ivan Ceresnjes (2012)

Kosovo:  Can New Treaty Stop Continued Deterioration of "New" Jewish Cemetery of Pristina?
by Samuel D. Gruber 

(ISJM)  The fate of long-neglected Jewish sites in the newly independent small and poor country of Kosovo has recently received some attention.  On December 14, 2011, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton  and Kosovo’s President Atifete Jahjaga signed the Agreement on the Protection and Preservation of Certain Cultural Properties between the U.S. and Kosovo in Washington, D.C. The agreement, one of many originated over the past two decades by the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad, sets commitments and procedures for each side to protect cultural heritage sites, especially of religious and ethnic minorities.  In the past two decades the Commission has given special attention to the documentation and protection of Jewish and Holocaust-related sites mostly through sponsoring site surveys and encouraging U.S. donors to support conservation, restoration and commemoration projects.

According to Secretary Clinton "this is a really important agreement that we are signing today, because the United States has a special interest in helping to preserve cultural heritage sites in countries around the world, because the vast majority of Americans are immigrants and descendents of immigrants. So the work of this commission is of great importance to us."  You can read all of Secretary Clinton's remarks here.

Pristina, Kosovo. "New" Jewish Cemetery. Examples of deteriorated gravestones. Photos: Ivan Ceresnjes, (2012).

Ivan Ceresnjes, former head of the Bosnia Jewish Community and now a researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has been visiting Kosovo regularly for the past decade and reporting on the continued deterioration of the Jewish sites.  Ceresnjes, who has organized surveys of Jewish sites of Bosnia and Serbia for the U.S. Commission is particularly concerned about the fate of the "New" Jewish cemetery in the capital city Pristina.  He feels this would an ideal project for international protection and conservation in the wake of the new treaty.

This month (January 2012) he made his fifth visit since 2002  to  Pristina's  "New" Jewish cemetery on Dragodan, next to Serbian Orthodox cemetery.  From Kosovo, Ceresnjes emailed the International Survey of Jewish Monuments (ISJM) these pictures:

He wrote: "Last time, a year ago ... I tried to see what is going on with the New Cemetery since I have seen from afar the huge infrastructural works being held around it but it was impossible to approach due to flooding of the area of both cemeteries (Jewish and Serbian) with sewage.  [Now] in light of recent signing of the agreement between government of USA and present government of Kosovo I am just informing all of you about the sad reality on the ground - the quick and merciless destruction and disappearance of the heritage of one of the smallest and maybe the most endangered minority in Kosovo - the Jewish one."

Pristina, Kosovo. "New" Jewish Cemetery. Photo: Ivan Ceresnjes (2012)

In addition to the continuing process of destruction by neglect at the "New cemetery and other sites, their was been vandalism against Jewish sites, too.   Just last month, in December, 2011shortly before the cultural heritage treaty was signed in Washington, the Old Jewish Cemetery in Pristina, which had been cleaned last June by a group of students from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and their peers from the American University in Kosovo was vandalized and swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans were spray painted on old gravestones.

In 2008, Ceresnjes wrote at length about the difficulty of protecting Jewish hertiage sites - and memory of Jewish history - in the former Yugoslavia. (The Destruction of the Memory of Jewish Presence in Eastern Europe: A Case Study: Former Yugoslavia, 2008):  Of Kosovo he wrote: "there were about 500 Jews before the Second World War, of whom 250 were handed over to the Germans by Kosovar Albanians. There were also a few examples where Kosovars killed Jews, and there was also a Kosovar SS unit. About twenty righteous gentiles helped the other 250 Jews escape to Albania where the Jews were protected.  After the war, in Kosovo's capital, Pristina, a huge memorial was erected for all victims of Nazism including the partisans and the Jews. When the Serbian-Albanian fighting broke out in Kosovo in 1999, almost all names were removed, also including most of the Albanians who were considered communists. Kosovo is such a tightly knit society that everyone knows who was or wasn't a communist." 

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