f18 Logo

The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one’s belief or religion
The right to join together and express one’s belief

1 2 3 4  Next ▶

SERBIA: Restitution Law passed

As Serbia and Montenegro separate, the Serbian National Assembly has passed a Restitution Law for property confiscated from religious communities. Much doubt remains about whether the Law will operate fairly, Forum 18 News Service has found. There are also concerns about how the complex legal problems involved will be resolved. This is especially the case for communities, such as Kalmykian Buddhists, with no unambiguously clear legal successor. It is also, Forum 18 has found, a problem for those – such as Adventists and Baptists - whose property was in the 1920s and 1930s formally owned by private individuals or companies, even though it was in practice owned by the church. Property such as formerly-Catholic and formerly-Methodist hospitals is barred from return. But religious communities also hope to regain some property, such as Catholic and Serbian Orthodox land given to the churches in the eighteenth century by the Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa.

SERBIA: No changes to controversial Religion Law

Despite Serbian President Boris Tadic requesting amendments to the new Religion Law as it breaks the European Convention on Human Rights, and strong criticism from the OSCE and Council of Europe, the Religion Ministry "is not preparing any amendments and no-one has sent any amendments to the Ministry," it told Forum 18 News Service. Religion Minister Milan Radulovic refused to comment on either the President's request, or the strong criticism of the Law. Sonja Biserko of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights told Forum 18 that "I believe that the pressure of international organisations - including the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the US Congress – is needed." Vidan Hadzi-Vidanovic of the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights states that they will challenge the Law in the Constitutional Court. But, "we will need help to ensure that an appeal to the Constitutional Court does not end up in some file," Zarko Djordjevic of the Serbian Baptist Union told Forum 18.

SERBIA: Are some more equal than others?

The Serbian Government, following its discriminatory Religion Law, is planning a law to restore or provide compensation for religious property confiscated after 1945. However, Forum 18 News Service has found that some fear that the Restitution Law will be used to discriminate against all but the seven recognised "traditional" religious communities. Nenad Ilic of the Ministry of International Economic Relations has insisted to Forum 18 that the law covers "all churches that have confiscated property, irrespective of whether they are traditional or are some other kind of church or religion." But the text of the law does not contain an unambiguous statement of this. Vidan Hadzi-Vidanovic of the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights told Forum 18 that "I am almost sure that it will be changed with amendments to make restitution apply only to the seven traditional communities. Restitution should be made to all people affected and not just to some communities."

SERBIA: President signs controversial religion law

Despite openly recognising that the controversial new religion law approved by parliament on 20 April violates the European Convention on Human Rights, Serbian president Boris Tadic signed it into law on 27 April. He ordered parliament to amend the law "in an urgent vote" to remove the violations, though Aleksandar Mitrovic of Serbia's Evangelical Alliance told Forum 18 News Service the president "was unable to give me a clear answer as to how he thinks he can achieve this, given his status and authority". Under a last-minute amendment before parliament approved the law, all but the seven recognised "traditional" faiths lose their legal status and will have to reapply, even those present in Serbia for more than a century like the Nazarenes, Baptists and Adventists. They also lose their tax-exempt status. "This law makes some citizens more equal than others," General Secretary of the Baptist Union Zarko Djordjevic complained to Forum 18. Minority faiths also fear they will lose the chance to regain confiscated property in the restitution bill expected to begin its parliamentary process in May.

SERBIA: Religion law rushed through parliament

Serbia's National Assembly has with great haste passed the controversial new religion law, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. It has long been in preparation, and there is suspicion about why the law has been rushed through parliament just before the Serbian Easter holiday. Serbian President Boris Tadic has been asked to sign the Law into force "immediately." Many NGOs, religious communities and the Council of Europe's Venice Commission are highly critical of the law, but in an undated Religion Ministry report obtained by Forum 18, it is claimed that the law "is agreed by all churches, religious communities and other religious communities in Serbia." This is strongly denied by many religious communities, who are very concerned that the law's final text is not publicly available. "We cannot see the text. We cannot complain because we do not know what to complain about," Dane Vidovic of the Baptists told Forum 18, in a comment echoed by many.

SERBIA: Almost no one satisfied as religion bill reaches parliament

Serbia's National Assembly is today (17 April) due to begin consideration of the long-delayed new religion bill, which many religious communities and human rights activists complain discriminates between five levels of religious community with differing status, grants pre-eminence to the Serbian Orthodox Church at the expense of other faiths, fails to protect non-theistic beliefs adequately, prevents religious communities of similar name from gaining state registration and fails to protect against arbitrary denial of registration. "Our main complaint is that those drafting the law have capitulated under pressure from the national churches," Zarko Djordjevic of Serbia's Baptist Union told Forum 18 News Service. Some question the timing - between Western and Eastern Easter - of parliamentary consideration for this, the sixth draft religion law in thirteen years. "Maybe I sound paranoid, but controversial laws like this were always voted on in the holiday season and I believe the authorities want to do the same now," declared Belgrade professor Ljubisa Rajic.

MACEDONIA: Trials without end for Serbian Orthodox?

Just days after being handed an extra two years in prison for "embezzlement" for holding church funds in a private bank account for two days three years ago - bringing his total prison term to four and a half years - the fourth trial for Archbishop Jovan, head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Macedonia, began in Veles on 29 September. "It is ridiculous that I am accused of embezzling the funds that I spent on the life and work of my diocese," Archbishop Jovan told Forum 18 News Service before his recent imprisonment. Eleven church members who attended a service he conducted in a private flat in January 2004 now face court summonses. Goran Pavlovski, spokesperson for the cabinet of ministers, refused to explain to Forum 18 why his government is so hostile to Macedonian parishes of the Serbian Orthodox Church and declined to say if Macedonian citizens are allowed to belong to the Serbian Orthodox Church. It has called its followers to a week of fasting in response to the third sentence in a row against Archbishop Jovan.

SERBIA: Romanian priest to pay for official destruction of his church

Radmila Gerov, mayor of Negotin in eastern Serbia, has told Forum 18 News Service that a Romanian Orthodox church whose destruction has been ordered should have been approved by the Serbian Orthodox Church. She cited the 2003 planning law, although no such requirement exists in the law. The Negotin building inspectorate told the community's priest Fr Bojan Aleksandrovic on 24 August that as he has failed to destroy the church himself the authorities will do so at his expense. "As happens in such a situation, everyone tries to wash their hands, claming that someone else is responsible, yet the decision exists," Fr Aleksandrovic complained to Forum 18. He fears that any day the building inspector could notify him that demolition will take place the same day. Serbia's authorities also obstruct the functioning of Old Calendarist, Macedonian and Montenegrin Orthodox communities.

SERBIA: "Heavy pressure" forces postponement of first Macedonian Orthodox church

Soon after news emerged that an ethnic Macedonian association had bought a plot of land in Novi Sad to build Serbia's first Macedonian Orthodox church, religion minister Milan Radulovic declared publicly that the state has a duty to prevent the building of the church. "Radulovic's statements deny us one of our most basic rights – the right to freedom of confession," Dragan Veljkovski, president of the Association of Macedonians in Vojvodina which bought the site, told Forum 18 News Service. He complained of "very heavy pressure" since the news became public which has led to the building plans being postponed. Macedonians contrast the Serbian government's strong defence of the persecuted Serbian Orthodox Church in neighbouring Macedonia with its moves to restrict non-Serbian Orthodox jurisdictions at home.

SERBIA: Minister bans "non-existent" Church from building church

While a Serbian Orthodox church is being built in Lovcenac in northern Vojvodina, the local authority's allocation of land in the same village to build a Montenegrin Orthodox church sparked an immediate response from Serbia's religion minister, Milan Radulovic. He claimed that as an unregistered religious community, the Montenegrin Church does not exist, adding that the government has a duty to stop it and the Macedonian Orthodox Church building any places of worship in Serbia. The head of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church, Archbishop Mihailo, condemned what he called "arrogant behaviour on the part of Serbia", pointing out to Forum 18 News Service that the Serbian Orthodox Church operates unhindered in Montenegro. The Serbian government has tried to exclude or restrict all other Orthodox communities, including the Romanian Orthodox, the Old Calendarist Orthodox, the Macedonian Orthodox and the Montenegrin Orthodox.

SERBIA: Stabbing, beatings, arson and slander against religious minorities

Recent incidents of violence against Serbia's religious minorities have included the wounding by stabbing of Hare Krishna devotee Zivota Milanovic in the town of Jagodina and the beating of two Muslim conscripts during their military service, Forum 18 News Service notes in its latest listing of verbal and physical attacks on religious minority communities. Places of worship – particularly Adventist churches – have been vandalised and subjected to arson attacks, while the authorities have threatened to destroy a Romanian Orthodox church. A Serbian Orthodox bishop was quoted in the press as threatening to make sure that whatever the Old Calendarist Orthodox build will be torn down.

SERBIA: Minister admits but downplays attacks on religious minorities

As physical and verbal attacks on religious minorities continued over the summer, Serbia's religion minister Milan Radulovic has challenged Forum 18 News Service's documentation of the extent of such attacks over the past year and a half. While Forum 18 listed over 100 attacks on religious minorities in 2004, Radulovic put the number at 82, dismissing all but two as resulting in no more than "minimal" damage. He claims the number of such attacks this year has fallen by half. This is the first time a Serbian government minister has admitted such attacks have taken place, even if few attacks ever lead to prosecutions. "The very fact that in 2004, the police registered 82 attacks but brought only four criminal charges for inciting religious hatred, while in the first six months of 2005 police registered 20 attacks but launched only one criminal case for inciting religious hatred gives cause for concern," Vidan Hadzi-Vidanovic of the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights told Forum 18.

1 2 3 4  Next ▶