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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

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".

MACEDONIA: Why is state interfering in Orthodox dispute?

When the Serbian Orthodox Church granted its embattled branch in Macedonia full autonomy in late May, the Macedonian prime minister rejected the move "with indignation". The government has stepped up its hostility to the Church and reaffirmed its support for the rival Macedonian Orthodox Church, which is not recognised by the rest of the Orthodox world. Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid – who heads the Serbian Church in Macedonia – complained of a new state-backed media campaign against his Church. "They are creating an unstable, explosive atmosphere among the population and are virtually inviting people to lynch us," he told Forum 18 News Service. The government has denied his Church registration, attacked its places of worship and launched two criminal cases against him. Macedonian government leaders have been unable to tell Forum 18 why they are interfering in the dispute between the Macedonian and Serbian Orthodox Churches in Macedonia and why they are denying full legal rights to Serbian Orthodox believers.

SERBIA: Orthodox veto on new religion law?

The long delay in completing the text of a new religion law is being caused by the Serbian government waiting for comments from the Serbian Orthodox Church, sources close to the government have told Forum 18 News Service. The government is not commenting on the cause of the delay. "There are no statements for the press and no information," Religion Minister Milan Radulovic told Forum 18. "When the time comes, all will be informed." Earlier drafts of the law met strong criticisms from religious minorities and the Council of Europe, and there seems to be a level of legal confusion which has led to Serbia's Baptist Union facing a suspended fine.

SERBIA: Romanian Orthodox church threatened with demolition

Romanian Orthodox deacon Bojan Aleksandrovic is fighting an order, by the local authority, that he must demolish a church he built on his land in his home village of Malajnica in eastern Serbia. Officials say he cannot build without planning permission (although this is not required in rural areas) or the permission of the separate Serbian Orthodox Church (although this is nowhere required in law). Because Aleksandrovic is not a cleric of the Serbian Church "he has no right to ask to build a church," the council declared. Police too have questioned him about his religious activity. "All the questions were related to Orthodox church rules and jurisdiction rather than to civil law," Aleksandrovic told Forum 18 News Service. The Serbian government has long refused to recognise the Romanian Orthodox Church's diocese in the country.

SERBIA: No religion law means a "dangerous legal void"?

The latest, fourth, draft of a proposed religion law is an "improvement," Baptist and Seventh-day Adventist leaders have told Forum 18 News Service. However, religious minorities are worried that the latest draft, like previous drafts, divides religious communities into "traditional" faiths and other faiths with lesser rights. Baptist Pastor Dane Vidovic told Forum 18 that this division "is critical, because it will affect other laws and areas of life, including rights to religious education in public schools, taxes and property, social security and pension funds." Religion Minister Milan Radovic has recently wrongly claimed that Serbia is the "only country in Europe without a law regulating relations between the state and religious communities", claiming that this is a "dangerous legal void". Some European countries, such as Ireland, have never had a religion law and have no plans to introduce such a law.

MACEDONIA: Priests and police raid and threaten Serbian Orthodox believers

Nearly a hundred members of the Serbian Orthodox Church's (SOC) Archbishopric of Ohrid in Macedonia were questioned by police and searched, after they backed its failed registration application, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Some were threatened they would be kicked out of their jobs. Police also tried to pressure them to sign a declaration that they had left the SOC for the rival, government-backed Macedonian Orthodox Church. When police questioned church member Goran Bogatinoski in Prilep in early January, they asked him why he allowed SOC monks to stay in his house and why there were icons in his home. Father David of the SOC Ohrid Archbishopric complained to Forum 18 of a "new wave" of police intimidation launched last December. The Interior Ministry denies that police questioned anyone just for signing the registration application.

MACEDONIA: Selective refusal to register Serbian Orthodox Church

The head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Macedonia, Metropolitan Jovan (Vranisskovski), has told Forum 18 News Service that he is challenging in the Supreme Court the government's refusal to register the Archbishopric of Ohrid. Without registration, the Archbishopric cannot own any church buildings or other property, maintain a bank account or receive permission to build churches. "Although the Constitutional court has ruled that people can gather in private homes for worship, the police do not always share that opinion," Metropolitan Jovan told Forum 18. "Basically, the police can break up any private meeting and arrest believers and priests if they want. For them without registration the Archbishopric of Ohrid is an illegal organisation." The government also claimed against Metropolitan Jovan that "only citizens of Macedonia can organise a religious group", ignoring the fact that he is a Macedonian citizen. It is notable that neither the Catholic Church nor the Methodist Church have had this claim used against them by the Macedonian government.

KOSOVO: "Religious freedom will be seriously hindered" by draft law

Religious minorities and the Kosovo office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are seriously concerned by a draft religion law being discussed by Kosovo's government. "I can tell you that we have some concerns with what we've seen," the OSCE has told Forum 18 News Service. The Evangelical Movement of Kosova, representing several Albanian-speaking Protestant churches, said that "We believe the rights of religious freedom within the Protestant community of Kosovo will be seriously hindered." Professor Xhabir Hamiti of the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Pristina also expressed grave concerns to Forum 18. Asked why a draft that seriously contradicts international human rights commitments was sent to the government, he said that "we didn't have any influence. Government people or others changed the text by themselves." One Protestant on the drafting group, Pastor Artur Krasniqi, described the draft as "totalitarianism". Fr Sava of the Orthodox Decani Monastery, the Seventh Day Adventists, and the Jehovah's Witnesses all told Forum 18 that they had neither heard of the draft law, nor been given copies of it.

COMMENTARY: Kosovo - What now?

The KFOR peace-keeping force needs to defend the Serbian population and its Orthodox churches more effectively, a military chaplain, who prefers not to be identified, argues from personal experience of the violence in Kosovo in this personal commentary for Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org. The chaplain believes that international organisations naively did not understand the minds of the people of the region – and so did not understand what was necessary to provide religious freedom. The international community needs to state clearly that independence will not be granted until minorities have full rights and security. The big challenge is changing people's mentality before independence can be considered – and this requires a long-term commitment to genuine peace and genuine justice from both Albanian politicians and the international community.

SERBIA: Religious freedom survey, August 2004

In its survey analysis of religious freedom in Serbia, Forum 18 News Service notes the problems caused by a proposed draft religion bill, religious education in schools, and physical attacks on religious minorities. However, alternative civilian service regulations have been introduced, so conscientious objectors to military service are not now prosecuted. In a listing of attacks on religious minorities in 2003, Forum 18 records that Evangelical-Methodists, Jews, Seventh Day Adventists, Serbian Evangelicals, Jehovah Witnesses, Lutherans, Romany Pentecostals, Baptists, Hare Krishna devotees, Catholics, and Muslims were all victims of different types of attack in 2003, ranging from hate speech and graffiti to physical assaults. A noted church-state commentator, Mirko Djordevic, has told Forum 18 that "we cannot say that the religious freedom of Serbian citizens is threatened, but different confessions limit each others freedom." Pavel Domonji, from the Helsinki Committee, observed to Forum 18 that "Small religious communities are often under attack. It is probably because they form trans-national communities, where every believer is a member, regardless of their ethnic background."

SERBIA: "Discriminatory" religion bill

Religious minorities and human rights activists have told Forum 18 News Service that a draft Serbian religion bill is discriminatory. If passed, the bill would give full rights only to religious communities recognised by the parliament of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia between 1918 and 1941. These communities are the Serbian Orthodox Church, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Slovak and Hungarian/German Lutherans, and the Hungarian Reformed Church. They will receive substantial state financial support and the right to perform marriages, burials and to maintain marriage registers. Other religious communities would be denied these rights and have strongly criticised the bill, the Baptists pointing out to Forum 18 that the only communities recognised are essentially mono-ethnic, and so the bill discriminates against "multi-ethnic" religious communities and is thus un-constitutional. Milan Radulovic, Minister of Religion, has dismissed criticisms as "communist".

SERBIA/MONTENEGRO: Romany tent church demolition averted?

This morning (30 April), building inspectors, three police squad cars, an electrical distribution company crew and a demolition team, tried to demolish a tent used by the Protestant Evangelical Romany Church, observed by Forum 18 News Service. However, almost 1,000 believers from the church held a worship concert in the tent and in a yard, stopping the demolition. This was the latest move in a long-running struggle between the city council and the church, in which the council based its actions on the fact that building is prohibited on the site. But only the church tent was singled out for demolition, despite there being other buildings on the site, including an industrial plant and homes. An agreement was reached later today, under which the city council will provide new land for the church tent, and the church will move the tent to this land.