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Orthodox monasteries in Kosova are Albanian heritage

Orthodox monasteries in Kosova are Albanian heritage

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ne: 09-07-2011, 23:15:12
Since 1844 when the chauvinistic Serbian platform called ‘Nacertanja’, has been introduced on the first place, until now and the notorious Serbian propaganda has continuously aimed the repudiation of the Albanian autochthony in Kosova and Macedonia. That is all been done with the sole purpose, to legitimize their invasion plans on Albanian lands. It is exactly within this total propagandistic war where the modern Serbian’s myths emerge on, claiming that Kosova is the cradle of the Serbians and their culture.

The Serbian propaganda having no arguments at all on its side to oppose the Illyrian identity of the Albanian people (regarded from many as the oldest people in Balkans), has started the offensive against Medieval History of the Albanians, aiming the diabolic purpose to fade and possibly interrupt the Albanian historical continuation from Antiquity to Medieval Times.

Serbian propaganda and politics try to create the myth of how Kosovo has never been Albanian, but Serbian, even though is known publicly that Slavs append to the migration that occurred later in 7’th century AD to invade Illyrian lands and people. However, Illyrian-Thracian people even though their territory narrowed, they still survived in Albanian lands today:

“Very much later there came the waves of Slavs and drove the Albanians, who were scattered all over the Balkan Peninsula, to the western part of modern European Turkey, where they live now” (1).

From 19’th century onwards all academic circles have accepted that Albanians are the oldest people in Europe – direct sequential of Pelasgians (Illyrians, Thracians, Macedonians and Epirots):

“The Albanians are perhaps the oldest race in southeastern Europe and the people of today are quite possibly descendants of the so-called Pelasgi, the early inhabitants of Greece and neighboring countries” (2).

A meaningful summary of the millennium odyssey of Albanians gives it so thorough Bernard Newman:

“Albania is the youngest country of the Balkans, but its people are the oldest. They are probably the descendants of the ancient Thracians and Illyrians; their language, despite infusions of words from neighboring races, is quite unlike any other Balkan tongue. At one time they occupied the whole of the Southern Balkans, and were a vigorous and dynamic people: Alexander the Great is claimed to have been of Albanian origin. Gradually they were encompassed in their present home, much as the Basques were crowded into their Biscayan corner, by the tribes surging from the east; or as the remnants of the British tribes were pushed westwards into the mountains of Wales” (3).

Serb propaganda tries to present the medieval Kosovo with Serb majority relying on Orthodox churches and monasteries throughout Kosovo by featuring them as products of Serbian culture. This myth so used from politicians in Belgrade has and is being served to Europe and West to convince them that Kosovo is Serbian. In the following article we will present a thorough summary based mainly on western literature in proving the Albanian character of these Orthodox monuments. In light of these incontrovertible facts, we will prove how fragile is Serbian propaganda – to its myth promoted by Russia apparently made for political purposes.

Serb propaganda has spread the myth of how the Albanians in Kosovo have come since 1690 with the help of the Ottoman Empire. For this, Serbian nationalism has invented the so-called ‘great exodus of Serbs’. What does the historical evidence say for this claim? Were there really great ethnic-cleansing of Serbs and the start of Albanian colonization?

In the historical period for which we are speaking for now on, the Albanians continued to constitute the majority population in Kosovo. It is important to point out that in late 17’th century Kosova has not been consider as part of Serbia. Furthermore, the renowned historian J. Serb Dusan Popović writes:

‘We should point out the fact that Serbia, which at the time of the Austrian rule (1683-1690) comprised proximately the territory of later Serbia of Miloš (1830), had around 70.000 Serbs, thus we can get a clear picture about the number of the people who had moved in 1699, and to what extent that movement could have diminished the population of Old Serbia, Metohia, Kosova and Shumadia’. (4)

Based on the account of this nationalist Serb historian, we conclude as following:

•   that by the end of 17th century, ‘Serbia covered approximately the territory of Serbia at the time of Miloš (1830);

•   that by the end of 17th century Kosova and Dukagjini were not considered as territories of Serbia;

•   that objectively viewed, its impossible to have moved over 10,000 inhabitants from the territory of Kosova, whereas at that time, as the current newspapers of Vienna acknowledged, about 20.000 to 30.000 inhabitants had moved from the whole territory of the Balkans, who by their ethnic belonging were Orthodox Albanians, Vlachs, Bosnians, etc. It should be pointed out that the people who moved from Kosova and Dukagjin at that time were not Serbs, but Orthodox and Catholic Albanians and Vlachs, because there were no Serbs in Kosova and Dukagjin at that time, from the point of view of nationality and ethnicity.

The well-known Serbian historian Jovan Tomić, who was a good expert on Serbian, Austrian and Venetian matters, in 1913 concluded as following:

“This movement of population […] which is known in the history of the Serbian population by the name ‘the great movement of the Serbian people to Hungary”, headed by patriarch Arsenije III Çarnojeviq, has been dominated by a wrong thought which has been repeated from one book to another [….]. Open any history of the Serbian population, you will find everywhere that notably the movement of Serbian population occurred mostly in Serbian regions – the areas of Prizren, Gjakova and Peja and that those regions were almost completely destroyed then. This is a mistake that has to be corrected once and for ever. The fact presented in that way does not indicate the truth. It is a wrong illusion which has not been studied sufficiently, but has managed to last up to now. The source of that mistake lies in the written chronicles of Orthodox clergymen […]. Then, other records, contemporary events prove that many Serbs from those areas, after the rude behavior of the Duke of Holstein, left the imperial army together with Catholic Albanians and passed to the Turkish side before Turks crushed Austrians. And those Serbs had no need to get away before the Turkish military, nor could they go under Austrian protection {…}. Furthermore, the patriarch himself with his suit could hardly manage to get away because Turkish military units arrived quickly after the Austrian army left, so that one cannot speak of a massive population movement”. (5)

This picture gives a scene of refugee waves from the so-called ‘Seoba Srba’ (or the Great Serb Migration). It has been painted by the famous Serbian painter, Paja Jovanović. In the first plan can easily be seen at least six Albanians, whose white dress is evident. This important detail refute the blatant myth that all of deported persons were Serbs. Actually, Patriarch Arsenije III Čarnojević headed his flock, which consist mainly of Orthodox native Albanians from Montenegro, Sandjak and Western Kosova.

In addition with this, it should be emphasized that some researchers (for example Frederick Anscombe) maintain that the migrations never took place (or never in such a large scale), and describe the events as a “myth” created to lay claim to the territory of Kosovo in the 19th century:

“The Ottoman records, the only significant indigenous source available, make no mention either of large-scale Serbian revolt in Kosovo or to an early case of ethnic cleansing by the Ottomans that led to a mass migration by Serbs and the subsequent relocation of Albanians to displace them. Far from being in turmoil in 1689–90, Kosovo was calmer than the surrounding areas. The Ottomans did try to move population groups in some of them, but had no need to do so in Kosovo itself. The “great migration”, like the events of the battle of Kosovo Polje, is the stuff of legend rather than history“. (6)

Whatever the number of expatriates has been during the Austro-Turkish war, remains an undeniable fact that most expelled were Albanians, Vlachs and to some extent some Serbs. Even in Catholic Encyclopedia, although with some flaws, it still admits to have been the Albanians who were mostly expelled from their lands:

“When, in 1690, the Emperor Leopold I issued a proclamation declaring that he would protect the religion and the political rights of all Slavonic peoples on the Balkan peninsula, and called upon them to rise against the Turks, about 36,000 Servian and Albanian families, led by their patriarch, emigrated from Servia. After Leopold had given them the desired guarantees they crossed the Save and settled in Slavonia, in Syrmia, and in some of the Hungarian cities, where their descendants now form a considerable portion of the population” (7).

The most illustrative facts corresponding these expelling of Albanians is also offered by the Hungarian researchers themselves, which throw light on a number of Albanian settlements on the banks of the Danube or in different places of Hungary. Although today many of these Albanians are assimilated, their existence proves the opposite of the claims that Serb nationalist historians try to sell. The Albanians of Kosova, regardless of whether they were Catholic, Orthodox or Muslim they took part actively in the Austrian imperial troops against the Ottomans. Thanks to Albanians, the Austrian Army managed to arrive in Skopje. In his appeal to the peoples of the Balkans, the Austrian Emperor Leopold I ranked the Albanians first. Even the Albanian Archbishop of Skopje, Pjetër Bogdani gave unsparing support to the insurgency’s major anti-Ottoman:

“He contributed a force of 6000 Albanian soldiers to the Austrian army, which had arrived in Prishtina, and accompanied it to capture Prizren” (8).

Austrian sources witness that Piccolomini (a renowned Austrian commander) was greeted in Prizren by 6.000 Albanians and among them there were those who had been with the Ottoman Empire by then, but on that occasion they took their oath for fidelity to the Austrian emperor. Piccolomini was received in Prizren, the capital of Albania (zu Prizren, der Haupstatt in Albanien) by the patriarch of Kelmends. In the sources of Vatican, it is said among other things, that ‘the Archbishop Pjeter Bogdani followed with joy and progress of the imperial military towards Shkup. His grandson, the monk Gjon Bogdani, said that Archbishop[ Pjeter had gone personally to welcome General Picolomini and made him company to his birthplace, Prizren. An anonymous of the time says that the Archbishop [Pjeter Bogdani) brought 6.000 Albanians to General Piccolomini so that the army of General increased to 20,000 Albanians that rose in a rebellion: from Prishtina 5.000 Albanians, from Peja 3.000 Albanians, from Klina and Drenica 6.000 Albanians, from Prizren 6000 – 8000 Albanians, etc. The Jesuit Wagner mentions that ‘patriarch Clementinorum’, i.e Archbishop Pjeter Bogdani made an agreement with General Piccolomini concerning the contribution that Albanians would give them.

Edwin Jacques, a connoisseur of Albanians Christianity throws light on the causes of the Kosova Albanians, either for the expulsion or were forced to cooperate with the Turks. According to him, Peace Treaty between the Habsburg and the Ottoman Empire left Albanians in a very awkward position:

“The Turks met with serious defeat at Vienna in 1683, and the overthrow of Turkish role in Hungary followed. This was the turning point in Turkish imperial fortunes. The Venetians saw their opportunity. They declared war in 1684, capturing Albanian Preveza and undertaking the conquest of Greece. Orthodox and Catholic Albanians alike followed sympathetically the advance of the Venetian armies down the Balkan Peninsula under General Piccolomini. When the army reached the region of Kosova the Christians at once took up arms against the Turks. On the death of Piccolomini, however, his successor, the Duke of Holstein, acted altogether differently toward his allies. When he tried to disarm the Albanian countryside the people turned against him. He retaliated by burning their villages, and the alienation was complete. When the Austrians later made peace with Turkey they failed to include any favorable stipulations for their Albanian allies, who once again were exposed to the merciless revenge of the Turks” (9).

Given these undeniable historical facts, it appears that there is some “exodus” at 1690, but not the Serbian – as fake Serbian propaganda claims – but Albanian. Albanians, as proved by a number of Western sources, carried the heavy burden of uprisings - Albanians were one of the main allies of Austrian offensives in Balkans against the Ottoman Empire.

Nationalistic politicians and priests in Serbia show off how the whole Kosovo Orthodox heritage is cultural property of the Serb people! But how true is this?

According to Serbian historiography, the Serbian dynasty of Nemanjići invaded Kosova in the the 12th century, and thus the Serbian rulers of this dynasty have allegedly built Serbian churches and monasteries in Kosova. Because of this alleged reason they belong to them. The question is what do historic facts say?

An Anonymous letter about Albanian origin of dynasty Stephan Nemany

According to an old Greek tradition and the annotations at the Hilendar, the Nemanjici dynasty (of Nemanya), which ruled the medieval state of Kosova, was of Albanian origin and belonged to the NIMANI (Nimanaj, Nemanaj) tribe. The Nimanis were originally Catholic, i.e they belonged to the Albanian Church, who switched to Orthodoxy later (14th century). Finally, when the Ottomans came, they accepted Islam.

1. The Greek administration has registred Niman-Neman = Nemanje as “Νημανη”. This is what figures out in the Hilendar. The Greek letter “η” can be read in two ways. In the old etacist-pronunciation “η” is pronounced as “e”, and the later in the itacistic – ‘η’ is pronounced as “I”. The NIMANI tribe was written as “Νημανη”, whereas Stephen Nemanya as “Στεφαν Νημανη” = Stephen Nimani. At the Hilendar, Stephen Nemanya was signed as ‘Στεφαν Νημανη” (Stefan Nimani). Later on, the itacistic variant ‘NIMANI’ was adapted in Albanian which formerly was pronounced as ‘NEMANE’. With the Slavicization of the name Nemane in the late Middle Ages the variant Nemanya was adopted. This is what regards the origin of the name Nemanj (iqi). The suffix –“ići” is obiviously a Slavic suffix for family names. Similarly, in the pre-war Yugoslavia, they attached to our family names Slavic suffixes: -“ići”, -“vići”, -“ski”, -“ov”, etc.

2. The Nemanya dynasty ruled according to the Albanian customary law until 1354, when Emperor Dushan passed his Code, which was full of Albanian customary law relics. The aim of the Code was to limit the use of old Albanian customary law and to regulate the legislation and the juridical life according to the Byzantine example. However, with the collapse of the state of Nemanjići (Nemanya) in 1389, the population returned to their customs which have been preserved among Albanians and the native Schismatics (Orthodox) in Kosova and Dukagjini plain up to nowadays. Nimanaj (Nemanajt – Nemanići) were the first cousins of the Albanian prince Dimiter (Demetrius principe Arbanensis), who is thought to have established the Dukagjini dynasty in the environs of Peja. This is a second proof showing that Nemanjći were of Albanian origin.

3. At the time of Nemanjić dynasty, jurisprudence was organized in the same way as it was organized among Albanians in the Dukagjini plain up to recent times – by the council of dignitaries (Alb. “pleqnia”). This is the third proof showing that the Nemanya, Nemanjići dynasty had organized their jurisprudence according to the Albanian example.

4. At the beginning, Nemanya was not a ‘great zupan’ (a head of the tribal state), but was called a ‘great dorëzan’ (a great guarantor) and later, influenced by the Greeks and the Slavs, he received the title ‘great zupat’. As a ‘great dorëzan’, he had his own cavalry and people, who were his nights and nobles and ruled through them. This is the fourth proof of Nemanya’s (Nemani, Nimani) Albanian method of ruling in the mediaeval Rascia. Moreover, Demitri, the prince of Albanians (Demetrius princips Arbanensis), who came originally from an aristocrat Albanian family, and as mentioned earlier, was Nemanya’s cousin, after the fall of Byzantine Empire (1204), had given a pledge to Ragusa municipality that he would live in peace with Ragusians, and that Ragusians could come freely to his country without paying any taxes. This oath taking was given by his men, who had Albanian names and titles, such as ‘stephanus’, ‘sundia’ (Alb. ‘sundues’ ruler), etc. (10)

Saint Symeon (Stefan Nemanja), fresco from an orthodox church in Prizren (1307—1309). The tribe of Nemanja were close cousins of the Albanian prince Dimiter (Demetrius principe Arbanensis), who is thought to have established the Dukagjini dynasty in the evirons of Peja. Nemanja was born around the year 1113 AD in Ribnica, Zeta, in the vicinity of present day Podgorica, capital of Montenegro. At the Medieval period, Zeta principality was inhabited mostly by native Albanians who retained their old Illyrian identity. This cast some light on narrow relations of Zeta and the rest of Albania: during all the time, Zeta was closely related with Northern Albania and for some period was even incorporated into Albania.

The Ottoman sources about Albanian origin of population of Deçani, Lloqani and Carabreg (1617)

The Sublime Porte (the Ottoman Governemnt) through its acts had solved all social, economic, political, cultural and religious affairs of Deçani Monastery and of its officials; had appointed prestigious Albanians as voivodes (guardians and protectors) of the Monastery, had appointed Albanians to work in the property of the Monastery, etc. In the Ottoman defters of 15th and 16th century, Albanians were also registered by their national names: Arbanas, Alban and Arnavud. In the Kosova plain, for instance, Albanians, among others, are also mentioned by the family name Arbanas (1455): Radica Arbanas, Gerdash Arbanas, Rasku Arbanas, Petru Arbanas, Bogdan Arbanas,, Todor Arbanas, Branislav Arbanas, Radihna Arbanas, Radac Arbanas, Mihail Arbanas, Nikolla Arbanas, Dimitrij Arbanas, Branki Arbanas, Milosh Arbanas, Kin Arbanas, Andrij Arbanas, Marku Arbanas, Vikoslav Arbanas, Vladko Arbanas, Danko Arbanas, Radi Arbanas, Gjon Arbanas, etc.

In the Dukagjini plain, however, Albanians are mentioned with the family names Arbanas (1485): Nikola Arbanas (inhabitant from Peja and from the village of Rudnik too), Drag Arbanas (inhabitant of Prizren), Nenad Arbanas, Miha Arbanas (inhabitants of Peja district). (11)

These data are clear evidence of majority onomastic Albanian in Kosovo during the late middle Ages. All tests indicate that there has been no massive arrival of Albanians to modify this ethnic structure of Kosovo. Consequently, all Orthodox churches and monasteries were either built or used by Christian Albanians. Solid evidence about the Albanian presence at the Deçan Monastery is in abundance. Edith Durham notes that:

“Stefan Urosh III, when founding the monastery at Dechani, gives it in 1330 many “villages and katuns of Vlahs and Albanians between the Lim and White Drin …” (12).

Christian Albanians have always considered Orthodox temples like theirs. Throughout time they have used them as places of prayer. Serbian propaganda often describes Albanians as destructive to churches and monasteries, while the truth is quite different. Albanians were precisely those who retained their Christian legacy at all times.

This is illustrated even the fact that the High Porte itself, but also the clergy of the Orthodox churches and monasteries had entrusted the security of temples to Albanians who had faithfully preserved them:

“Kosovo Albanians did not always hate the Church of the Serbs. Well into the nineteenth century, when both peoples lived under Ottoman rule, the mainly Muslim Albanians revered several Serbian shrines. The Albanian clans surrounding Dećani monastery, in the far west, famously guarded the building for generations. Other churches had a similar following among both Muslims and Christians as places where women could be healed and ensure a successful childbirth” (13).

Albanians considered it an honor to preserve their monasteries and churches:

“At Peć, as at nearby Dećani and elsewhere, the Albanian tribesmen agreed to consider it an honor to guard the Christian holy places, and to appoint one of their number as the “chieftain” (vojvoda, which also means “Duke”)… Ramë Nikçi is the latest in this long line of Albanian Muslim vojvodë of the Serbian Orthodox Patriarchate” (14).

In a number of other important Orthodox monasteries in Kosovo (Deçan, Deviç and the patrarchate of Peja) protection was formalized in the institution of the so-called manastirske vojvode (Serbian) or vojvodat e kishës (Albanian), i.e. monastery ‘dukes’ or guards. They were provided by powerful Muslim Albanian clans who posted one of their members in the monastery to guard it against outside attacks, and in return they received payments or certain privileges. This has probably saved these sanctuaries from destruction, especially in times of war and upheaval. Sometimes these guards also provided pilgrims who traveled to the shrine with protection against bandits. The main study of this phenomenon was done by the Albanian ethnologist Mark Krasniqi (Krasniqi 1958). In the patriarchate of Peja relations with the monastery vojvoda were broken off in the beginning of the 1980s, whereas in Deçan this institution continued to exist until 1991, when the Albanian guard resigned for political reasons (Djurićić 1994: 690-1) (15).

Not only Christian Albanians but also the Muslim has always turned to the churches and monasteries as places where they found solutions to their everyday concerns. According to researchers Gerlachlus Duijzings gives a clear picture of how the Albanians until later did pilgrimage in their Orthodox churches. Therefore we give a full passage from the chapter: ‘Zoćiste: the end of a ‘mixed’ pilgrimage’ of Duijzings :

“In July 1991 I went to visit another shrine in Zoçishtë, a small Serb-Albanian village some 4 km. south-east of Orahovec. Just outside the village, on a hilltop, is a medieval Serbian Orthodox monastery (fourteenth –century or earlier), a shrine which has the reputation of being particularly helpful in cases of eye disease and mental and psychosomatic disorders. The church is called Sveti Vraçi (the Holy Healers) after its patron saints Kuzman and Damnjan. The church is (like Graçanica) situated in the middle of the porta, but (unlike it) consists only of a low and very sober single-asiled building. I wanted to visit this shrine because, until the late 1980’s, many Muslim Albanians from Zoçishtë as well as from nearby Orahovac would go to the Zoçishtë monastery to join the festivities accompanying the sabor, which takes place every year on July 14. The story goes that before the Albanian protests of 1989, which were violently suppressed in Orahovac, Albanian pilgrims were even more numerous here than Serbs, and in a more distant past local Albanians had once joined with the Serb inhabitants of the village in helping the priest defend himself against external Albanian attackers (Kostiç 1928: 55-6). However, as a result of the tense political situation, Albanians have recently stopped visiting the monastery and the growing distrust between Albanians and Serbs brought this ‘mixed’ pilgrimage to an end” (16).

While unfolding authentic pictures of Orthodox monasteries of Pejë and Deçan can be observed the presence of Albanians everywhere, even church council. Monastery of Pejë consisted of Orthodox Albanians.

Also, the church frescoes and icons can be observed clearly in these monasteries typical elements of Albanian clothing especially ‘Plis’ (the traditional skull-cap of Albanians). This is a clear indicator of the Albanian Orthodox believers belonging to these monuments.

Nadžija Gajić-Sikirić in her book “Memories from Bosnia” ‘during its trip through western Kosovo notes:

“We stopped in Prizren, spent the night in Dečani, and visited the famous Dečani Monastery. It was interesting to see many women entering the church dressed in the Albanian national costumes, in the female shalwars. I am not sure if they were Muslims, but I thought that Serb and Montenegro women did not have such costumes. Maybe they were the Orthodox Albanian women, although I thought that Albanians were mostly of Muslims and Catholic religion” (17).

Completing the summary of this well-informed of neutral resources hoping that western democratic world will be aware of the danger that the Serb propaganda which has spread ignorance, irrationality and falsehood. The democratic world must recognize the truth. It should not allow to outrage history and civilization of the Albanians as the oldest people in Europe. The future cannot be built on foundations of lies spread by Serbian politics and churches propaganda. Even the renowned Serbian propagandist, Dobrica Cosic has recognized that:

“A lie, trait of our patriotism… We lie to deceive ourselves, to console others, we lie for mercy, we lie to fight fear, to encourage ourselves, to hide our and somebody else’s misery. We lie for love and honesty. We lie because of freedom. Lying is a trait of our patriotism and the proof of our innate intelligence. We lie creatively, imaginatively and inventively. “Deobe” (Divisions) 1961. Volume I, page 135″.

Let Serbs delude themselves in any way: creative, imaginative or inventor. But let this be in their fictional literature. So the democratic world to be aware of sick Serbian fiction fixation!


(1)   Royal Gould Wilder, The Missionary review of the world: Volume 34, (C.S. Robinson & co., printers, 1911 ) p. 849
(2)   Henry Rushton Fairclough, Warming both hands (Stanford university press, 1941), p. 366
(3)   Bernard Newman, Balkan background (the Macmillan company, 1945), p. 231
(4)   Skënder Rizaj, The Falsifications of Serbian Historiography (Prishtinë, 2006), p. 92
(5)   Rizaj, pp. 84-85
(6)   Frederick F. Anscombe, The Ottoman empire in recent international politics – II: the case of Kosovo (The International History Review 28), p. 792
(7) Charles George Herbermannm, The Catholic encyclopedia (Encyclopedia Press, 1913), p. 733
(8)   Robert Elsie, Historical dictionary of Kosova (Scarecrow Press, Inc. 2004), p. 28
(9)   Edwin E. Jacques, The Albanians: an ethnic history from prehistoric times to the present (McFarland, 1995), p. 245
(10)   Rizaj, pp. 81-82
(11)   Rizaj, p. 84
(12)   Mary Edith Durham, Some tribal origins, laws and customs of the Balkans (George Allen & Unwin, 1928), p.
(13)   Marcus Tanner, The tablet, (Tablet Pub. Co., 2004), p. 8
(14)   Reports service, Volumes 12-15 (American Universities Field Staff, 1965), p. 18
(15)   Gerlachlus Duijzings, Religion and the politics of identity in Kosovo (C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, 2000), p. 72
(16)   Duijzings, pp. 71-73
(17)   Nadžija Gajić-Sikirić, Memories from Bosnia (Lulu.com, 2009), p. 165

Written by: Progon Kërçova
Translated by: Lona


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