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Albania Returns Valuable Stolen Icons to North Macedonia

Twenty icons stolen from Macedonian churches and monasteries over the past few decades, which were discovered a decade ago in Albania, were finally returned to North Macedonia.

The handover took place in Tirana during the visit of North Macedonia’s Culture Minister Bisera Kostadinovska-Stojcevska to her counterpart from Albania, Elva Margariti.

“This is a historic day for my country and for our cultural heritage,” Kostadinovska-Stojcevska commented on receiving the icons back, adding that this is a sign of extraordinary friendship and morality from the Albanian side.

Her Albanian colleague expressed hope that gestures like this will open the way for more returns of artifacts to their countries of origin, including those taken from Albania.

The returned icons were stolen from the many smaller churches and monasteries in remote areas over the past decades, and are just part of over 100 such icons and valuables that went missing, said an art historian from the Macedonian Academy of Arts and Sciences, Saso Cvetkovski, who has been participating in the process of identifying the stolen goods.

“In one period, from 2008 to 2013, there was a strong wave of forced entries into churches, especially in western and south-western Macedonia,” he said.

An Albanian police operation in 2013 dubbed “icon” seized many stolen church artifacts, including icons.

Albania then informed its neighbour about the raid but Cvetkovski says the first tangible suspicions that some of the recovered icons were indeed those stolen from his country appeared on Albanian national television in a news item showing Albanian PM Edi Rama inspecting the siezed artifacts.

“The very next day we started organising the whole procedure,” the art historian recalled.

It took much time to determine the authenticity of these claims, check the registers of artifacts of North Macedonia, officially proclaim them as part of its national treasure and to work on sending all the necessary documents to Albania fort their return.

The final act that allowed the actual return was last year’s signing and ratification of a bilateral agreement for cooperation between North Macedonia and Albania.

Source : BalkanInsight