French embassy confirms moving memorial at Serbian military cemetery in Pristina

Eparhija raško-prizrenska

The French and German embassies in Pristina said on Monday that the memorial plaque for Serbian soldiers killed in WW I had been displaced and not removed from the military cemetery where an Armistice Day ceremony is traditionally held every year.

The two ambassadors laid wreaths at the military section of the Orthodox Christian cemetery on Sunday. Pictures from the ceremony showed that the white stone memorial plaque had been displaced to a position several meters from its original place and was replaced with a smaller stone plaque. The original memorial plaque is dedicated to the Liberators of Pristina and includes the Cyrillic inscription – Here lie the mortal remains of Serbian soldiers fallen in the wars 1912-1918.

“We moved the memorial just a few meters as a sign of respect for the Serbian soldiers and informed the municipality. None of the bodies of the soldiers was removed,” a statement from the French Embassy said in response to a request for comments from the KoSSev news portal.

KoSSev said that the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) Raska-Prizren Diocese confirmed the displacement of the memorial plaque and expressed concern over the decision. The Diocese said that it suspected this is a way to re-write history and deny the historic role of the Serbian people. Pristina parish priest Father Stanis Arsic reported the displacement of the plaque to the police.

The French Embassy statement said that reporting by some media outlets in Kosovo demeaned the traditional French-German ceremony. It recalled that the controversy in the media was unworthy of the memory of all the French, German and Serbian soldiers who died in WW I as well as the 18 French soldiers who died as members of KFOR. It said that a new memorial was erected in place of the original memorial, recalling the French dead in Kosovo, at the initiative of the French Embassy.

The statement said that the French and German ambassadors traditionally mark Armistice Day as former enemies to convey a strong message of reconciliation. “That is also French Veterans’ Day in memory of our soldiers who died on duty. We will continue paying hommage to all soldiers who died in WW I,” it said.

This was not the first time that Serbians have been upset over Armistice Day ceremonies organized by the French authorities. The 2018 ceremony in France was heavily criticized by Serbian media over the seating arrangements for heads of state and government because then Kosovo President Hashim Thaci was seated in the front row with the presidents of the WW I allies while Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic was seated in the back row.