SERBIA: Increased attacks on religious minorities
Last year saw an upsurge in attacks on religious minorities, ranging from slander and vilification in the media to physical attacks on places of worship and individuals, with such attacks continuing at a high level into this year, Forum 18 News Service reports in presenting the results of its investigation into religious intolerance in Serbia. More than 100 attacks took place on Protestant, Catholic, Jehovah's Witness, Jewish, Muslim and Romanian Orthodox targets in 2004, with more than 25 such attacks between January and May this year. Religious minorities complain the authorities are failing to take action to punish the perpetrators. Incidents range from an attack on a mosque in Presevo with a hand-held rocket launcher last February to graffiti "Death to Adventists" written on the walls of the Adventist theological college in Belgrade in March. Numerous Catholic graveyards have been desecrated, while the media constantly speak of Protestants, Old Calendarist Orthodox and Mormons as "dangerous sects".Serbia has seen a sharp upsurge in attacks on religious minorities, with more than one hundred recorded incidents in 2004, double that of the previous year. This high level has continued in 2005, with more than 25 in the first five months of this year, Forum 18 News Service has found in its survey of the attacks, which range from slander and vilification of religious minorities in the media to physical attacks on places of worship and individuals. Baptists, Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Muslims, Jews, Pentecostals, Reformed, Catholics, Assemblies of God, Mormons, Brethren, Christian Church, Lutherans, Christian Community, Old Calendarist Orthodox and Romanian Orthodox are among the religious communities to face attacks, which show how widespread religious intolerance remains in Serbia.
The number of recorded attacks has fluctuated in recent years - about 73 in 2001, falling to about 37 in 2002, rising once more in 2003 to about 50 (see F18News 5 August 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=387) – but the level remains disturbingly high.
Most of the attacks are carried out at night, with stones thrown at windows and pejorative graffiti scrawled on buildings, but some constituted physical attacks against individual believers. A special problem is the numerous desecrations of Catholic graveyards throughout Vojvodina province of northern Serbia.
Most representatives of religious groups affected are not satisfied with the police response to the attacks, though some municipalities have now begun to react. Another problem is "ignorance" on the part of both local and national print and electronic media about the rights of religious communities, since their reporting often expresses intolerance and religious hatred towards "others".
Another concern among religious minorities is the state recognition of seven "traditional" churches and religious organisations without any legal ground. This permeates most of the relations between other religious groups and the state. Those outside the "traditional" faiths are not allowed to perform religious education in public schools and at the expense of the state. Recently non-"traditional" faiths have been re-taxed on their property, while the newest version of the VAT law is going to include only "traditional" faiths among those exempted from this tax. Moreover, local municipalities are planning to support only "traditional" faiths from their budgets. This also occurs at the Vojvodina regional level, where the secretariat for national minorities offers financial support for building and rebuilding places of worship only to "traditional" faiths.
The situation might improve if and when Serbia at long last gets a law on religious groups to take over from the last one abolished in 1993 (see F18News 16 May 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=562). Serbia's religion minister Milan Radulovic stated on 6 June that the latest draft of the proposed new law on religious organisations is going to be presented to the government in September. The current draft recognises some of the attacked religious groups by name, and it is to be expected that – if the new law is adopted - state bodies and local municipalities will be more willing in future to respond if attacks persist.
For the list below of incidents in 2004 and in the first five months of 2005, Forum 18 has gathered information directly from religious communities, except where as indicated information is from published sources.
ATTACKS ON RELIGIOUS MINORITIES IN 2004
5 January – While driving toward Romany Evangelical church tent in Leskovac, Pastor Selim Alijevic's car was stoned by four young Serbian men. In following days group of 15 young men continued to provoke Romany believers and insult them on religious grounds. Complaint filed with police, but no resolution. On 10 January humanitarian warehouse broken into, little missing but much destroyed.
19 January – Desecration of Hungarian Catholic cemetery in Novi Sad and Hungarian Reformed church in Sombor.
21 January – Broken window at entrance door and one on belfry at Adventist church in Orlovat.
24 January – Desecration of Croatian Catholic cemetery in Subotica.
1 February – Mufti Muamer Zukorlic, head of Islamic Faith Community of Novi Pazar, complained against Serbian Orthodox celebrations in public schools saying: "We will never agree to Muslim children being forced to take part in ceremonies with purely [Christian] Orthodox content. Imagine the feeling of a Muslim family whose daughter has to recite 'Serbian Churches and Schools' or when a Muslim schoolgirl is proclaimed a winner of a literary contest entitled 'Unification of Serbs'." (Politika daily, 1 February 2004)
2 February – In interview with Belgrade daily Glas Javnosti, director of VBA army security agency, colonel Momir Stojanovic, claimed that groups of "Wahhabis" operate in southern Serbia and northern Montenegro as heralds of radical Islam and links with international terrorism.
2 February – Bogatic Adventist church forcibly broken into, leaving minor damage.
4 February – Unknown vandals broke sign of Baptist church in Vrsac. Police investigated and stated that the perpetrators are "likely to be either drug addicts or alcoholics".
7 February – Belgrade daily Politika ran article from its correspondent in Novi Sad under the title "Sects in Vojvodina are coming", where Christian church, Brethren, Christ's Spiritual church of Footwashers, Jehovah's Witnesses, Adventists, Methodists, Baptists, Pentecostals and Mormons are portrayed among "dangerous sects" trying to convert peaceful citizens. Baptist Union complained to State Union Minister of Human Rights Rasim Ljajic, with no response.
25 February – Local newspaper Nasa rec attacked Romany Evangelical church in Leskovac, alleging that "children are afraid to go onto the streets alone" and that Romany believers are becoming aggressive. Police denied any rise in tension. Local correspondent in regional edition of Belgrade daily Blic reported on 26 February about increased number of incidents between Serbian and Romany youth and tense situation with Romany church tent.
25 February – Belgrade daily Vecernje Novosti attacks Adventists, Romany Evangelicals, Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, Baptists and others in series of articles on "dangerous sects".
27 February – Large graffiti daubed on door and wall of Adventist theological faculty in Belgrade: "Death to sectarians" and "Put end to sectarians".
27 February – Garage and balcony of Adventist church building in Ruma hit by bricks, and fence set on fire with petrol.
Early March – Anti-Semitic graffiti in Kikinda: "Death to the Jewish occupation". (Blic 2 March 2004)
10 March – Windows broken at Adventist church in Pancevo.
12 March – Windows broken at Adventist church in Borca.
12 March – Broken coloured window at entrance door of Adventist church in Sremska Mitrovica.
17 March – Windows broken at Adventist church in Pancevo.
17/18 March – In echo of violence against ethnic Serbs and churches in Kosovo that erupted on 17 March, vandals set fire to 400-year-old Bayralki mosque in Belgrade and Islam-aga mosque in Nis. Police do not stop perpetrators. Belgrade police commissioner and one of his deputies later sacked by interior minister. State accused perpetrators and charged them at municipal courts.
18 March – Thirty hooligans threw two Molotov cocktails at Baptist Bible Cultural Centre at 11pm, leaving serious damage but no injured people. Police investigate but find no perpetrators.
18 March – Twenty hooligans arrive intending to set Adventist church on fire, but did not do so.
18 March – Windows broken at Adventist church in Mladenovac.
26 March – Windows broken at Adventist church in Pancevo with large stones.
26/27 March – Desecration of another Subotica Catholic graveyard at Kertsko, with almost 100 gravestones demolished or damaged. Police reported three minors of 8 and 7 years of age, stating they "were training in karate". (B92, 1 April 2004)
30 March – Windows at Slovak Evangelical Church (Lutherans) in Backa Palanka broken, along with windows at nearby Slovak cultural building. NGO Centre for regionalism from Novi Sad condemned this vandalism complaining that the "state is not reacting in a proper manner, thus encouraging those who are destroying inter-ethnic relations". Incident sharply criticised by Vojvodina province Secretariat for Ethnic minorities (30 March 2004, Politika and Radio 021, Novi Sad)
2/3 April – Unknown perpetrators broke large double windows at Baptist church in Novi Sad and at Christian Community church building several streets nearby. Police visited both sites.
3 April – Windows broken at Adventist church in Borca.
3 April – Recently demolished and set on fire Bayrakli mosque in Belgrade was burgled and two computers received after fire were stolen. Islamic faith community asked authorities to find perpetrators quickly to prevent further crimes. Several days later police identified thief and returned stolen computers. (B92, 3 April 2004)
3 April – One ethnic Hungarian political leader in Subotica accused unnamed state official who asked him to cover up graffiti at Catholic cathedral targeting Hungarian minority. "If the investigative bodies and the intelligence service, so called BIA, cannot discover the perpetrators, that means they are not acting alone. We are witnessing favourable behaviour by police and courts towards such perpetrators." (B92, 3 April 2004)
4 April – Windows broken again at Adventist church in Borca.
5 April – Window broken and much interior damage at Serbian Evangelical church in Leskovac.
7 April – Information board in yard broken at Adventist church in Indjija.
During April – Commissioner of Military Museum in Belgrade, colonel Dragan Nikolic, with authorisation of managing director colonel Srboljub Miletic, physically destroyed two shehidic nishans (martyrs' tombstones) from 15th and 16th centuries – very rare monuments of Islamic culture. Colonel Nikolic and two workers used large hammers to break into little pieces nishans displayed near museum as part of exhibits. (Danas daily early April, Glas Islama May 2004)
12 April – Facade of Adventist church in Knjazevac entirely covered with graffiti "Sects" and "Serbia is Orthodox".
15 April – Belgrade weekly Vreme published statement from Serbian Orthodox Bishop Atanasije (Jevtic) declaring that Muslims are people with unpleasant sweat and odour, since they eat suet. (Glas Islama, May 2004)
28 April – In early hours, three large windows broken at Christian Community in Novi Sad, leaving serious material damage. Windows again broken 30 April. Police visited site, but without results.
30 April – Romany Evangelicals in Leskovac prevented municipal authorities demolishing their church services tent. Authorities promised new site for their building.
1/2 May – Desecration of 21 gravestones in Catholic graveyard in Novi Becej.
1-3 May – Desecration of local Catholic graveyard in Muzlja near Zrenjanin. (Balkan daily)
5 May – Three young men attacked two pastors inside Adventist church in Novi Sad after evening service. Police intervened, but young men accused only of disturbing peace and public order. The next day, young men threatened pastors again, despite police claims they were drunk the night before. Ministry of religion condemned attack. One of perpetrators received seven-day prison sentence, two others sentenced to fine of 1,000 dinars (17 US dollars). (Dnevnik, 5 May 2004)
5 May – During evening church service, home of Romany Evangelical pastor Selim Alijevic broken into, and salary stolen with some savings. No investigation.
5 May – Local TV station in Pancevo broadcast programme "Mormons in Pancevo" which accused local Mormon missionaries of propaganda and being a danger to minors. Religiously intolerant voice-over commentary. Also sparked local newspaper's commentaries. (Pancevac, 28 May 2004)
30 May – During night, unknown perpetrators wrote large graffiti on Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall and Christian Nazarene church in Stara Pazova: "Sects", "Go to Bush" and "Go to Germany you Ustashas" (B92, 30 May 2004). Local community leaders asked police to react swiftly and publicise names of perpetrators.
2 June – Belgrade daily Politika portrays Jehovah's Witnesses as "dangerous sect".
2 June – Belgrade daily Politika reported that during football match in Novi Pazar fans burned Israeli flag and shouted anti-Semitic slogans, praised Al-Qaida and chanted "Islam will rule the world". (Politka, 2 June 2004)
4/5 June – Stones thrown at Romany Evangelical church in Jagodina, windows broken with damage of 80 US dollars. Police filed report.
5 June – Windows broken at Novi Sad Adventist church.
18 June – A Jehovah's Witness beaten by perpetrators known to police, spent three days in hospital with head injury.
2/3 July – Seventeen gravestones broken and overturned at Catholic cemetery in Sombor. (B92, 5 July; Politika, 6 July 2004)
5-12 July – Youth camp participants from Christian community church of Novi Sad insulted and maltreated by staff of military-owned hotel in Valdanos, Montenegro. Young people verbally attacked daily, and once also physically, as "sectarians, cultists and drug addicts".
1 August – Windows broken at Kovilj Adventist church. Police identified 37 local sport fans as perpetrators. (Politika, 5 August 2004)
3 August – From 31 July until 3 August ten large windows broken at Baptist Church in Novi Sad. Windows also broken at Christian community church nearby. Police claimed it is intensively working to discover perpetrators.
5 August – Two windows and glass door broken at Christian humanitarian agency Duga (Rainbow) in Novi Sad.
8/9 August – Repeat attack at Romany Evangelical Church in Jagodina, damage again 80 US dollars.
17 August – Local correspondent from Kragujevac of Belgrade daily Politika accused six local minority religious communities (Baptists, Adventists, Reformed Adventists, Jehovah Witnesses, Pentecostals and others) of being dangerous pseudo-Christian communities who deny all that is national and are trying to change spiritual matrix of nation. (Politika, 17 August 2004). In 23 August 2004 issue, Politika printed a reprimand from Baptist Union.
3/4 September – Kingdom Hall in Ruma stoned during night. Attacks occurred again on 28 September and again on 2 October. Police advised Jehovah's Witnesses to call them as soon as any attack starts in order to come quickly and discover villains.
5 September – Adventists in Belgrade daily Vecernje novosti portrayed as dangerous sect that is banned in several European countries, France, Belgium and Switzerland. On 11 September reprimand published on behalf of Adventist union. (Vecernje novosti, 11 September 2004)
18 September – Window and entrance door glass broken at Adventist church in Novi Sad.
18 September – Coloured window broken at entrance of Adventist church in Sremska Mitrovica.
20 September – Police officer as guest on morning programme of BK TV station describes Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses as dangerous sects who "are organising language schools and sports activities in order to deceive citizens".
20 September – Local Serbian Orthodox priest describes Old Calendarist Orthodox monastery in village of Zlot near Bor as "pandemonium" and "temple for unclean spirits". (Vecernje novosti, 20 September 2004)
22 September – Kingdom Hall in Nis broken into and 200 US dollars-worth of equipment stolen. Police launched investigation.
26 September – Licence plates on Catholic's priest car in Novi Slankamen stolen, and replaced with two-headed eagle (symbol of Serbian kings). (B92, 26 September 2004)
28 September – Local TV in Jagodina aired show in which local Evangelical humanitarian organisation Duga (Rainbow) portrayed as using humanitarian work to lure people into a sect.
29 September – Windows broken at Adventist church in Ruma using large stones that penetrated roller-blinds.
1 October – Serbian Orthodox Church magazine Pravosljavlje accused Campus Crusade for Christ missionary organisation in Serbia of guilt in suicide of one Belgrade student in 2002. Same article accused Old Calendarist Orthodox believers of being a "sect and splinter group". (Pravoslavlje, 1 October 2004)
3/4 October – Baptist church in Novi Sad stoned during night.
3 October – At entrance gate to Reformed church in Sombor, unknown persons wrote large graffiti: "We will burn you" and "Fuhrer" and also drew swastikas. (Vecernje novosti and B92, 7 October 2004)
8 October – RTV Belgrade 1 broadcast programme in which guests attacked Jehovah Witnesses as "worse than Satanists".
9 October – Attempted assault on Adventist pastor by unknown attackers in Novi Sad.
10 October – Window broken at Adventist church in Novi Sad. The stone bounced and also damaged pastor's vehicle parked nearby. Police launched investigation. (Balkan and B92, 11 October 2004).
13 October – A tombstone at Catholic graveyard in Novi Sad damaged. (Dnevnik, 13 October 2004)
23 October – Unknown perpetrators wrote insulting graffiti on walls of freshly-painted Catholic church in Kovin. (Blic, 28 October 2004)
25 October – Front window broken on pastor Selim Alijevic's car while parked in front of church office in Leskovac.
28 October – While coming to Kingdom Hall, Jehovah Witness was attacked verbally first and then physically by three young men. They hit his leg with a stone, then attacked him with fists. Police discovered those responsible. The JW and another person attacked will charge them at court and police is also filing case on their behalf.
During November – Frequent attacks on Kingdom Hall in Milorada Mitrovica in Belgrade. Unknown perpetrators threw stones, bottles and daubed graffiti. Reported to police.
4/5 November – Anti-Semitic graffiti, including swastikas and slogans, daubed on wall of human rights NGO in Belgrade. (HLC, 5 November 2005)
21 November – Around 11pm minor wrote swastika graffiti on Catholic church in Petrovaradin, along with several other graffiti "Catholics out!". Police able to identify perpetrator. Several years ago, some people entered priest's home and beat his elderly mother. (Balkan, 7 December 2004).
21 November – Unknown perpetrator threw beer bottles at Christ's Spiritual church building in Aradac near Zrenjanin and broke two windows and entrance door. Police reported that house is not properly registered as church building. (Gradjanski list and Glas Javnosti 23 November 2004)
24 November – Local newspaper in Jagodina, Novi put, accused Evangelical humanitarian organisation Duga of being a dangerous sect in "direct confrontation with Orthodoxy". Article later republished in Belgrade daily Politika on 24 December 2004.
27 November – Neighbours of Jehovah's Witness building in Backa Palanka ask municipality to ban activity of this religious organisation since "they will influence their children to become JW followers", which was publicised in Blic daily newspaper on 30 December 2004.
2 and 4 December – Three people threatened Jehovah's Witnesses in Loznica that if they are not given 1,000 Euros monthly the Kingdom Hall will be burned. Police discovered attempted extortionists, who are well known.
5 December – Media attack on Bishop Danil and members of Romanian Orthodox Church in Negotin for performing dedication of small chapel's bells in village of Malajnica, on grounds that it is canonical Serbian Orthodox territory and that without its blessing such dedication is unlawful. (Balkan, 5 December 2004).
9 December – Group of unknown perpetrators stoned Church of God building in Belgrade, damaging facade and sign, later jumped into church yard and made loud noise.
10 December – Islamic Faith Community of Novi Pazar sent written complaint to Serbian Justice Ministry against local court ruling. They claim that "under the influence of various interest groups, with their sentences they are bringing material and moral damage to the Islamic community in Novi Pazar". Court ruling seen as interference in internal religious issues of religious community. (Glas islama, January 2005)
18 December – During evening service, house of Serbian Evangelical pastor Miodrag Stankovic in Leskovac raided. Two perpetrators, seen at site, attacked family returning home and run away. Family jewellery stolen.
20 December – In interview for Novi Sad daily Danas, Belgrade mufti Jusufspahic complained that city of Belgrade is deliberately stalling their requests for land to build new mosque, and also to have their own graveyard. Only Belgrade mosque, Bayrakli mosque, is property of Belgrade municipality, it is 400 years old and was badly damaged in March fire. (Danas, 20 December 2004)
23 December – Belgrade daily Vecernje novosti accused Baptists of Bor in eastern Serbia of being "pseudo-Christian sect" lurking children by delivering Christmas shoe-box gifts (also in Vecernje novosti, 30 December 2004). Belgrade daily Balkan on 24 December quoted Serbian Orthodox Bishop Justin who stated that the Baptists are "exploiting the [poor] social condition of our nation to promote the religious activity of a religious sect".
25/26 December – Two windows broken and yard gate twisted by unknown perpetrators at Church of God building in Sremska Mitrovica.
25/26 December – Stones thrown at Serbian Evangelical church in Leskovac, causing minor damage at entrance door and on wall.
28 December – Methodists, Baptists, Jehovah Witnesses, and Old Calendarist Orthodox portrayed as organisations trying to trick the public and sects trying to expand in eastern Serbia. Serbian Orthodox Bishop Justin requests state to stop "illegal activities" of these religious groups. (Vecernje novosti, 28 December 2004)
30 December – Firecrackers thrown at entrance door and church yard of Serbian Evangelical church in Leskovac.
ATTACKS ON RELIGIOUS MINORITIES IN 2005 (to May)
2/3 January – Firecrackers thrown into Serbian Evangelical church yard in Leskovac and mailbox broken.
7 January – At meeting with local representatives of Serbian Orthodox Church, president of municipality attacked Baptists and Jehovah Witnesses which was reported by a local TV station.
8 January – Window broken with large stone at the Assemblies of God church building in Pancevo. Police investigating.
14 January – Serbian religion minister Milan Radulovic condemned Romanian Orthodox Church building consecration in village of Malajnica since it was done without "consent of the Serbian Orthodox Church". (Dnevnik, 14 January 2005)
20 January – Local municipality of Negotin ordered demolition within 15 days of small chapel and priest's apartment of Romanian Orthodox Church, built on private property in Malajnica (see F18News 15 March 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=523). (Balkan 22 January 2005)
26/27 January – Memorial tombstone of 63 Jewish victims of Holocaust desecrated with derogatory graffiti and swastikas in Novi Knezevac (Politika 30 January 2005). Daily Balkan on 31 January reports that local municipality and citizens of Novi Knezevac condemned vandals.
29 January – Threatening e-mail sent to Vrsac-based Gospel in Every Home local mission office, accusing organisation of "brainwashing other people". E-mail came from account with name "Death to Sects".
15 February – Belgrade daily Vecernje novosti accused Islamic Faith Community of Novi Pazar of being behind speeches, home meetings and preaching and also public statements of Suleyman Bugari, a hafiz from Bosnia. Islamic Faith Community denied such accusations in Belgrade daily Borba (21 February 2005).
17/18 February – Windows broken at First Baptist church in Belgrade in attack believed to be connected with local municipality elections won by hard nationalists.
18 February – Belgrade daily Politika accuses Old Calendarists of being mystic zealots, an Orthodox sect and extreme schismatic group.
18 February – Mosque in Presevo attacked from hand-held rocket launcher. Rocket exploded in mosque yard. Police launched investigation. (Politika, 18 February 2005)
23 February – Police opened investigation into anti-Semitic books, brochures and Internet sites published in Serbian in Novi Sad. (Blic, 23 February 2005)
28 February – Graffiti "Death to sect!" written in afternoon on Assemblies of God church building in Pancevo.
20 March – Visiting Novi Sad, Serbian president Boris Tadic met only representatives of several Christian churches, while avoided meeting with Evangelical groups and Islamic faith community. (Dnevnik, 20 March 2005)
27/28 March – Large graffiti "Death to Adventists" and "Death to sabbatarians" written on walls of Adventist theological college in Belgrade.
28 March – Islamic Faith Community in Novi Sad complained against "bureaucratic slowness" over request for mosque building permit. Some 20,000 believers have only a 60 square-metre (645 square feet) room. Administration has stalled process since 1990 when first application lodged. (Glas Javnosti, 28 March 2005)
31 March – Belgrade daily Srpski Nacional accused Jehovah's Witnesses of being dangerous sect attacking and targeting villages around Belgrade, cheaply purchasing orchards, houses, fields and other property and later performing "secret seances".
1 April – Young man arrested while writing anti-Semitic graffiti on walls of Jewish cemetery in Belgrade. Sent to a municipal court and charged with arousing religious intolerance. (Blic, 1 April 2005)
2 April – Windows broken and church sign damaged at Adventist church in Smederevo. This church has faced constant stream of attacks since October 2002. (B92 and Beta, 4 February 2005)
2 April – Anti-Semitic graffiti at Educational centre in Zrenjanin: "Jews, march from Serbia". Zrenjanin municipality expresses regret for such "uncivilised" acts. (Zrenjanin, 7 April 2005)
5 April – Large graffiti "Orthodoxy or death" and "They serve the devil here" written on walls of Adventist church in Zrenjanin. (Danas, 7 April 2005)
5 May – Belgrade daily Vecernje novosti accused Evangelicals and neo-protestants of being a US political vehicle.
21 May – Service to commemorate the dead organised by local Romanian Orthodox Church and its believers at site of historical battle at Rovine was forbidden by police. The court later ruled in favour of organisers.
29 May – Local Adventist church in Ruma attacked and stoned for fifth time in last six months. Two attackers seen and reported to police arrested two days later and sent to magistrates' court in Sremska Mitrovica. Same perpetrators identified as responsible for setting fire to a church wall in October 2004. Church reacted that it gave names of perpetrators to police earlier, but nothing was done to prevent latest incident. (B92 and Beta, 30 May and 1 June 2005)
For a personal commentary by a religious freedom lawyer arguing that Serbia should not follow Austria's system of dividing religious communities into different categories with differing legal rights, see F18News
The previous Forum 18 Serbia religious freedom survey is at
A printer-friendly map of Serbia and Montenegro is available at