Government authorities did not take steps to ensure that municipalities treated religious organizations equally on property issues, in particular with regard to churches and cemeteries.
Protestants alleged endemic and long-term institutional discrimination by the central and municipal governments, including not being allowed to establish their own cemeteries or build a church anywhere in the country. Protestants stated municipalities regularly ignored their requests for dedicated cemetery space, which resulted in imams performing funeral services for Protestants in Muslim-controlled municipal cemeteries. They said this violated their religious rights and constituted the imposition of another religious tradition over their own.
Representatives of the Messiah Evangelical Church in Prishtine/Pristina stated that municipal authorities refused to issue a building permit for its church despite the church’s work with municipal engineers to ensure the property and plans complied with legal requirements. Authorities did not resolve the problem during the year. Protestant leaders abandoned plans to establish a cemetery or build a church in Decan/Decani after assessing they could not obtain fair treatment from the municipality.
Decan/Decani municipal authorities and Privatization Agency of Kosovo representatives filed appeals against a 2012 Special Chamber of the Supreme Court ruling upholding the Visoki Decani Monastery’s legal ownership of disputed land parcels. During the first four months of the year, local groups opposed to the court’s findings sporadically engaged in public demonstrations near the monastery, which on February 8 led to its temporary closure for the first time in 13 years. On April 5, national politicians engaged in a related assembly debate about publicly owned properties: Numerous international observers issued statements condemning the inflammatory debate and rhetoric. SOC officials considered the agricultural land critical to the monastery’s self-sustainability and future security. The court issued no ruling on the appeals by year’s end.
Authorities allowed the construction of mosques throughout the country. Media reported the number of mosques increased to more than 800, up from 670 in 1999. The Prishtine/Pristina municipal government donated a 90-acre parcel of land in 2012 for a national mosque to the Kosovo Islamic Community (known by the Albanian-language acronym BIK), which represents the majority Hanafi population and appoints imams to mosques located throughout the country. Construction had not, however, begun by the end of the year.
The process of “unfixing,” or transferring responsibility for the round-the-clock security of SOC religious sites from the NATO-led peacekeeping forces (Kosovo Force, known as KFOR) to the Kosovo Police (KP) continued, although the SOC objected to KP treatment of visitors at some monasteries. Police assumed complete responsibility for security at Pec Patriarchate, leaving only one site – the Visoki Decani Monastery – under KFOR protection.
In March the prime minister’s office directed the formation of a KP Unit for Specialized Protection of Cultural and Religious Heritage Sites comprising 211 officers to provide 24-hour security at select sites around the country.
By October police had registered 18 incidents of theft and damage involving SOC facilities, primarily thefts of metal objects later sold for scrap and damage to cemeteries. Authorities recorded decreasing numbers of incidents at SOC sites every year since 2007, when they registered 90 incidents. SOC officials reported police dismissed or ignored numerous instances of petty and minor harassment of monasteries by neighbors, especially in the case of Devic Abbey in Drenica.
Religious leaders stated the lack of a mechanism for religious groups to register and obtain legal status created a number of practical challenges. Although many groups found alternative methods, some reported difficulties in registering property and vehicles, opening bank accounts, and paying taxes on employees’ salaries.
The State Commission on Religious Freedom convened five times to develop a recommendation about headscarves and religious education in the country’s schools.
BIK reported public schools prevented some students from attending classes while wearing headscarves. By October, BIK officials recorded two instances of girls in Prishtine/Pristina being denied entrance into public schools for wearing headscarves. The ombudsman’s office received one report of schools forbidding students to attend classes while wearing headscarves.
The government undertook numerous interfaith initiatives to promote religious tolerance and respect between religious communities, beginning with the formation of Interfaith Kosovo, a web portal supported by the foreign ministry and international partners, including the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. The site promoted increased dialogue among religious communities, civil society, and the public. As part of that initiative, the government organized the “Interfaith Conference – Peje/Pec,” which brought together religious leaders from the country’s five primary religious groups and international interfaith participants.
In May the government for the first time hosted “Week of Tolerance” events, culminating in the first government-hosted international prayer breakfast with significant regional and international attendance. The government also unveiled a Holocaust memorial commemorating the deaths of Jewish community members during World War II, and noting the interreligious cooperation that prevented a higher death toll.
In July a former Justice Party official began collecting signatures in support of an amendment that would remove references to secularism from the constitution, omit explicit recognition of the Protestant and Jewish communities, oblige the state to recognize the autonomy of religious groups, require the state to cooperate with religious communities, and give religious groups the status of legal persons.