SLOVENIA: Registration breakthrough for minority faiths
Fifteen months after applying for registration, the Calvary Chapel Protestant church in Celje became on 7 August the first new religious community to be granted registration in Slovenia since 1999. The registration of the Tibetan Buddhist Dharmaling association followed on 22 August. The head of the government's Office for Religious Communities, Drago Cepar, who until this month had refused to register any new communities, met Hindu leader Natasa Sivic on 25 August. "He promised to register us this week," she told Forum 18 News Service. "It has been a big problem not having registration." The Hindus have been waiting for registration for seventeen months.
Natasa Sivic, a leader of the Hindu community, told Forum 18 on 27 August that she had met the head of the government's Office for Religious Communities, Drago Cepar, in the capital Ljubljana two days earlier. "He promised to register us this week," she reported. The Hindu community, which has existed for eight years, lodged its first registration application with the Office in March 2002.
Asked whether registration would end the Hindus' problems, Sivic responded: "We will see. It has been a big problem not having registration." However, she said the community was already building a small temple in a private flat in Ljubljana and would be able to follow suit in other towns, including Maribor and Celje. She said there were more than a thousand Hindus or people interested in Hinduism in Slovenia.
Cepar had long insisted that he was unable to register any religious communities as the law did not spell out criteria to determine which groups constituted religious communities (see F18News 18 June 2003). "There was an unofficial moratorium ever since Dr Cepar took office in 2000," Pastor Gerry told Forum 18.
Sivic said Cepar seemed more relaxed during their meeting about registering religious communities. She believed a June letter from Mirko Bandelj, general secretary of the government, instructing Cepar to register all waiting communities, was crucial. "He said it is now not his problem to worry about, so there is no longer any difficulty about registering communities." She also believed Forum 18's articles had contributed to breaking through the impasse.
Also pushing for an end to the registration obstruction was the ombudsman's office, which is headed by Matjaz Hanzek. "Our office played a great role in the registrations, first through letters to Mr Cepar and then through constant exposition of this issue in the media," spokesperson Barbara Samaluk told Forum 18 from Ljubljana on 27 August.
Gerry said his church, affiliated with Calvary Chapel in the United States and the only affiliated congregation in Slovenia, has 20 regular active participants, though more attend services. It applied for registration with the Office for Religious Communities in person in April 2002. Cepar visited the church on 27 July of this year, three days after it was informed its application had been filed. On 7 August the church was officially notified of its registration. The Office gave no explanation of why the application had been held up for fifteen months.
"After several letters to human rights representatives and to the government of Slovenia, and after the very useful reports from Forum 18, Dharmaling has been finally registered as the Buddhist Religious Community," the abbot of the Dharmaling Buddhist community, Gelong Shenphen, told Forum 18 from Ljubljana on 27 August. The association was formed last December and formally lodged its registration application in January. It too received no explanation for the delay in gaining registration.
The registration of Calvary Chapel and the Dharmaling community have already been noted on the Office for Religious Communities website (http://www.gov.si/uvs).
Forum 18 has been unable to identify the other seven or so religious communities believed to be waiting for registration. The ombudsman's office has identified one of them as the Stoic Pantheists, but told Forum 18 it does not know the identity of the others. Cepar – who was unavailable by telephone on 27 August - has declined to identify them to Forum 18. Nor have local journalists, who have widely covered the registration obstruction.
9 July 2003
Before the OSCE Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Freedom of Religion or Belief on 17-18 July 2003, Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org/ surveys some of the more serious abuses of religious freedom that persist in some countries of the 55-member OSCE. Despite their binding OSCE commitments to religious freedom, in some OSCE member states believers are still fined, imprisoned for the peaceful exercise of their faith, religious services are broken up, places of worship confiscated and even destroyed, religious literature censored and religious communities denied registration.
18 June 2003
Pressure is mounting on Drago Cepar, Office for Religious Communities director, not to block registration applications. Ten communities are known to have applied since Cepar became director three years ago but their applications languish unanswered. Government secretary Mirko Bandelj wrote to Cepar on 12 June instructing him to "handle promptly" the registration of the Dharmaling Buddhist group. The ombudsman has also urged him to register the Buddhists and the Stoic Pantheists, who have also complained of denial of registration. "The problem in our opinion is with the religious affairs office, which does not respond to the applications," Barbara Samaluk of the ombudsman's office told Forum 18 News Service. "I really wonder how such discrimination can still take place in a country which will enter Europe next year!" Abbot Gelong Shenphen of the Dharmaling community told Forum 18.
12 June 2003
Fifteen months after the Hindus lodged a registration application with the Office for Religious Communities and five months after the Buddhists lodged theirs, neither community has had any official response from the Office. "The law says an answer has to be given within two months," the abbot of the community, Gelong Shenphen, told Forum 18 News Service. Both the Hindus and the Buddhists blame Office director Drago Cepar for the impasse. He has not registered any religious communities since he took office three years ago. Cepar has been unavailable by telephone since 3 June and has failed to respond to Forum 18's written questions as to why the registration applications of ten religious communities have been stalled.