The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.
There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.
The generally amicable relationship among the religions in society contributed to religious freedom.
The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.
Section I. Religious Demography
The country has a total land area of 11,100 square miles, and its population is approximately 3,490,000. It has a largely homogeneous ethnic population, consisting of Ghegs in the north and Tosks in the south. The southern part of the country has ethnic Greek communities estimated at 3 percent of the population. Other small minorities include the Roma, Egyptian people (an ethnic group similar to the Roma but which does not speak the Roma language), Vlachs, Macedonians, and Chams.
The majority of citizens are secular in orientation after decades of rigidly enforced atheism under the Communist regime, which ended in 1990. In spite of this secularism, most citizens traditionally associate themselves with a religious group. Albanians of Muslim background make up the largest traditional religious group (roughly 65 to 70 percent of the population) and are divided into two communities: those associated with a moderate form of Sunni Islam and those associated with the Bektashi school (a particularly liberal form of Shi'a Sufism). The country is the world center of the Bektashi school, which moved from Turkey to Albania in 1925 after the revolution of Ataturk. Bektashis are concentrated mainly in central and southern regions of the country and claim that 45 percent of the country's Muslims belong to their school.
The Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania (referred to as Orthodox) and the Roman Catholic Church are the other large denominations. An estimated 20 to 30 percent of the population belong to communities that are traditionally Albanian Orthodox, and 10 percent are associated with Roman Catholicism. The Orthodox Church became independent from Constantinople's authority in 1929 but was not recognized as autocephalous, or independent, until 1937. The Church's 1954 statute states that all its archbishops must be of Albanian citizenship. However, the current archbishop is a Greek citizen, because there are no Albanian clerics who meet the Orthodox requirement that higher clergy must be celibate.
The Muslims are concentrated mostly in the middle of the country and somewhat in the south; the Orthodox are concentrated mainly in the south, and Catholics in the north of the country; however, this division is not strict. The Greek minority, concentrated in the south, belongs to the Orthodox Church. There are no data available on active participation in formal religious services, but unofficial sources state that 30 to 40 percent of the population practice a religion. Foreign clergy, including Muslim clerics, Christian and Baha'i missionaries, members of Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and many others freely carry out religious activities.
According to updated data provided by the State Committee on Cults during the reporting period, there are 12 different Muslim societies and groups with some 60 to 70 representatives in the country. There are 50 Christian societies and groups and more than 1,100 missionaries representing Christian or Baha'i organizations. The largest foreign missionary groups are American, British, Italian, Greek, and Arab.
Section II. Status of Religious Freedom
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. According to the 1998 Constitution, there is no official religion and all religions are equal. However, the predominant religious communities (Muslim, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic) function as juridical persons and enjoy a greater social recognition and status based on their historical presence in the country. All registered religious groups have the right to hold bank accounts and to own property and buildings. Official holidays include religious holidays from all three predominant faiths.
Religious movements--with the exception of the three de facto recognized religions--can acquire the official status of a juridical person only by registering under the Law on Associations, which recognizes the status of a nonprofit association irrespective of whether the organization has a cultural, recreational, religious, or humanitarian character. The Government does not require registration or licensing of religious groups; however, the State Committee on Cults, founded in September 1999, is currently registering all foreign religious organizations. No groups reported difficulties registering during the period covered by this report.
The State Committee on Cults, created by executive decision and based on the Constitution, is charged with regulating the relations between the State and religious communities. The Committee recognizes the equality of religious communities and respects their independence. The Committee works to protect freedom of religion and to promote interreligious development, cooperation, and understanding. It organized seminars in December 2000 and February 2001 to discuss religious tolerance. The Committee claims that registration facilitates the granting of residence permits by police to foreign employees of various religious organizations; however, some foreign religious organizations have complained that obtaining registration has not made gaining residence permits any less cumbersome administratively. There is no law or regulation that forces religious organizations to register with the Committee. There is no law on religious communities, although one is mandated by the new Constitution. Most religious communities recognize the need for such a law to clarify their rights and responsibilities and relationship to the Government. The Committee has shown a willingness to act as a mechanism for creation and passage of such a law; however, no movement on the issue was made during the period covered by this report.
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
The country is a secular state and religion is not taught in public schools. According to official figures, there are 29 religious schools in the country with approximately 2,745 students. The State Committee on Cults has the right to approve the curricula of religious schools. Students are not allowed to demonstrate their religious affiliations in public schools. In one recent case, the Government prohibited three female students from wearing headscarves in a public school. No restriction is imposed on families regarding the way they raise their children with respect to religious practices.
In 1967 the Communists banned all religious practices and expropriated the property of the established Islamic, Orthodox, and Catholic Churches. The Government has not yet returned all the properties and religious objects under its control that were confiscated under the Communist regime. In cases where religious buildings were returned, the Government often failed to return the land that surrounds the buildings, sometimes due to redevelopment claims by private individuals who began farming it or using it for other purposes. The Government does not have the resources to compensate churches adequately for the extensive damage many religious properties suffered. Although it recently recovered some confiscated property, including one large parcel of land near Tirana's main square, the Orthodox Church has complained that it had difficulty in recovering some religious icons for restoration and safekeeping.
The Albanian Evangelical Alliance, an association of more than 100 Protestant churches throughout the country, complained that it encountered administrative obstacles to building churches, accessing the media, and receiving exemptions from customs duties. The growing evangelical community continues to seek official recognition and participation in the religious affairs section of the Council of Ministers.
There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.
Forced Religious Conversion
There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.
Section III. Societal Attitudes
Relations among the various religious groups are generally amicable, and tolerance is widespread. Society is largely secular. Intermarriage among religious groups is extremely common. There are amicable relations between the three main religions in the country, and religious communities take pride in the tolerance and understanding that prevails among them.
The Archbishop of the country's Orthodox Church has noted incidents in which the Orthodox and their churches or other buildings have been the targets of vandalism. However, he concluded that the problem was largely due to the country's weak public order. There were no new incidents of vandalism reported during the period covered by this report. Members of the ethnic Greek minority as well as ethnic Albanian and Greek members of the Orthodox Church left the country in large numbers between 1990 and 1991, with another large exodus between 1997 and 1998 because of the lack of security and poor economic prospects. Ethnic Greek Albanians, among others, continue to leave the country in search of employment and/or permanent residence elsewhere.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. Government has numerous initiatives to foster the development of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in the country, and to further religious freedom and tolerance. The U.S. Embassy periodically has urged the Government to return church lands to the denominations that lost them under Communist rule. Embassy officers, including the Ambassador, meet frequently (both in formal office calls and at representational events) with the heads of the major religious communities in the country. The U.S. Embassy has been active in urging tolerance and moderation on the part of the Government's Committee on Cults.