July 16, 2020 - This year's celebration of July 13, Statehood Day of Montenegro, will be remembered for an unpleasant event in Kotor - celebrations with torches led to a fire on the walls of the San Giovanni fortress above the Old Town, thanks to which Kotor and Boka Kotorska enjoy UNESCO protection.
While the Municipality of Kotor comes with implausible explanations that this was an accident caused by celebratory euphoria, professionals and the public are still in disbelief - cultural heritage of global importance has been allowed to burn due to human negligence and irresponsibility.
The former director of the Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments in Kotor, Prof. Dr. Ilija Lalošević, said yesterday that he was shocked by what happened on the ramparts two nights ago. For twenty years, he emphasizes, there has been a ban on lighting with naked flames on the cultural-historical monument in Kotor.
Lalošević, who also received his doctorate on the Kotor Fortress and fortifications from the Venetian period in Boka, is one of the best connoisseurs of the walls, bastions, and other buildings that make up the complex system of the medieval Kotor fortress. He led the Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments from 1999 to 2004. He says that at the initiative of that institution, the traditional illumination of the Kotor ramparts with naked flames during major festivities, such as Boka Night, was abolished.
"Just after one Boka Night, I, as the Director of the Institute, climbed the ramparts and went to the fortress of San Giovanni with the then representative of UNESCO, Mr Fubomishi Kudo of Japan, who was on an official visit to Kotor. He was astonished to see the remains of burnt sawdust and oil on the walls, and he could not believe that something like this was being allowed on this valuable architectural and cultural heritage. He was so shocked by the condition of the ramparts that he immediately took $ 2,000 out of his pocket and donated it personally for the cleaning and refurbishment of the Kotor fortress. Since then, any illumination of the Kotor walls with the use of naked flames has been strictly forbidden." Dr. Ilija Lalošević is the laureate of the highest recognition of the city of Kotor - the November Award - for his contribution to the protection and improvement of the Kotor fortress and walls and their inclusion to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2017.
Kotor police remain silent
Even after two days, the Kotor police have not explained how they allowed the holding of a hazardous public gathering - a torchlight procession on the walls and along the waterfront on the occasion of the celebration of Statehood Day on July 13.
A public gathering violated the current orders of the Ministry of Health issued to prevent the spread of coronavirus and was organized contrary to the Law on Public Order and Peace, the Law on Explosive Substances, and the Law on Protection and Rescue. The unknown organizers turned the celebration into a scandal because torches carried along the walls by participants caused a fire that endangered part of this cultural monument, which is under the first category of UNESCO's protection. Kotor firefighters, with the help of participants in the torchlight procession, extinguished the fire that was reported to them at around 10 pm, and was brought under control at 1.30 am. It was completely extinguished just after 5 am the following day.
The Mayor of Kotor, Zeljko Aprcovic (DPS), told "Vijesti" yesterday that it was not true that a pine tree had caught fire on the ramparts on the hill of Sveti Ivan above the Old Town.
"This is not true. All the pine trees below San Giovanni are still there. Only grass and low vegetation have burned, " said the Mayor. However, the Commander of the Protection and Rescue Service of the Municipality of Kotor, Maksim Mandić, told "Vijesti" that several hundred square meters of low-lying vegetation and one pine tree had caught fire.
Aprcovic did not comment that the organizers of the torchlight procession at the Kotor Fortress violated the seasonal ban in force on lighting fires in the open and in public areas, which was signed by the Mayor, and which is valid from June 1 to September 30. Kotor is also awash with posters from the Municipality and Protection and Rescue Service drawing the public's attention to the fact that they must strictly abide by these orders and "refrain from any action that could lead to an uncontrolled fire."
"We are surrounded by the indescribable beauty of the Bay of Kotor and thousands of years of old buildings under UNESCO's protection. Please preserve them with us for future generations. Every tree is an invaluable gift of nature, it can disappear instantly in flames, but it takes decades for another to grow. Do not do anything that can contribute to its disappearance, because life has been chose here." Breaches of seasonal bans on lighting fires and "leaving burning objects in places where there is an increased risk of fire," are met with fines of 30 to 2,000 euros.
Responses from the Regular State Prosecutor's Office in Kotor, which initiated an investigation, and data obtained by the Prosecutor's Office regarding the organizers of this public gathering, procurement and introduction of several hundred pyrotechnic torches into the protected cultural monument are still awaited, Vijesti writes.