According to representatives of the Catholic, Sunni Muslim, Orthodox, and Bektashi communities, the total government financial support for these four groups remained at 109 million lek ($850,000), the same as in 2015, with the Muslim community receiving a 28 percent share and the remaining three each receiving a 24 percent share. This support covered partial salaries for administrative and educational staff. For the Bektashi community, which had fewer staff, part of the support it received was used for new places of worship as well as for global outreach activities of its Tirana-based Bektashi World Headquarters.
Despite requests from the VUSH, the government continued not to provide it financial support. It did not amend the agreement with the VUSH to add the provision of financial support nor did it amend the law to include such financial support.
The government accelerated the process of legalizing unofficial mosques and issued 137 property certificates, compared to six in the previous year. The majority of these unregistered mosques had been built without permission during the 1990s. The government required endorsement from the Albanian Islamic Community (AIC) to legalize unofficial mosques.
Religious groups stated the government had made some progress addressing their claims for restitution or the return of property seized during the communist era. The government did not return any properties but approved partial compensation for 31 properties that had belonged to the Catholic Church, the AIC, and the Bektashi community. The government also stated some communities had not yet gone through the required step of requesting the funds.
Out of the many hundreds of claims submitted by the religious communities to the ATP since the fall of the communist regime in 1990, the vast majority remained unresolved. Religious groups continued to blame the slow progress with regard to the claims on government corruption, legal complexities stemming from the country’s communist past, and competing claims for the same property from individuals or private organizations. The ATP acknowledged there was a problem with the restitution process, saying the competing property claims and the constant restructuring and proliferation of government agencies involved in property disputes since the 1990s had left no agreement between the government and the religious communities on the number of valid property claims submitted over the past 25 years. The ATP met with the communities in March to begin reconciling lists of property claims and established a task force specifically to follow up on these claims.
The ATP reported it continued to budget funds for previous government decisions recognizing the rights of religious communities to numerous properties.
Although the government had promised to clear debris from a site in Dhermi where the local Inspectorate for the Protection of Territory had demolished an Orthodox church in August 2015, as of the end of the year the site remained untouched. A promise to find an alternate location for a new church had also gone unfulfilled. Authorities continued to state the Orthodox church had been built illegally on the site where a culturally significant 17th century church had stood. The Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania continued to protest the demolition.
VUSH members said they continued to rent existing buildings to use as places of worship, and reported continued difficulties in acquiring land on which to construct their own buildings due to local government tax assessments and regulations. They stated these difficulties impeded their ability to hold religious services and to run youth and social activities.
Construction continued on Bektashi places of worship in Korca, Permet, Gjirokaster, and Elbasan. Although the central government provided financial support to help build the properties in Permet and Gjirokaster, Bektashi representatives reported property disputes with some local government offices in these cities delayed progress.
In April Prime Minister Edi Rama announced a pilot project in 10 of the country’s secondary schools to introduce a new curriculum aimed at promoting religious tolerance. The prime minister and minister of education stated the initiative would not affect the country’s secular education system, and would serve as a way to counter violent extremism. Some religious communities expressed disappointment over what they saw as the limited consultation with them prior to the announcement. Religious leaders also expressed concern regarding the capacity of teachers to teach the new religious curriculum, as well as their own capacity to contribute to this initiative. While the government did not present a full version of the new curriculum by year’s end, it introduced elements of the new curriculum into the normal civics courses of several secondary schools.
VUSH leaders stated their churches continued to face problems early in the year concerning local tax requirements, particularly with regard to property taxes. In May VUSH reached an agreement with the Tirana municipality confirming VUSH’s exemption from these taxes. Some local governments continued to assess fines for nonpayment of other taxes, such as sales taxes, however, and VUSH administrators frequently had to appeal these fines, with varying degrees of success.
Representatives from the Catholic, Orthodox, and Bektashi communities all continued to state their numbers were underrepresented in the 2011 official census, leading to an inaccurate picture of the religious demographics of the country.