The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and religion. It stipulates there is no official religion and the state is neutral in matters of belief, recognizes the equality and independence of religious groups, and prohibits discrimination based on religion. The government has agreements with the Sunni Albanian Muslim Community (AMC), Bektashi Muslim community, Catholic Church, Albanian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (AOC), and Evangelical Brotherhood of Albania (VUSH), an evangelical Protestant umbrella organization. These agreements recognize these groups as the country’s main faith communities and address property restitution and other arrangements. By law, the government gives financial support to four of these faith communities, but not to VUSH or other religious groups; VUSH continued to seek changes to the law that would allow it to receive financial support from the government. The government legalized 62 buildings owned by religious groups during the year that had been built without construction permits, compared with 92 in 2020; 25 additional properties remained under review. The five religious communities with agreements with the government continued to express concerns about restitution of property seized under the former communist regime, stating that corruption, government lack of knowledge of competencies and jurisdiction on property cases, and large caseloads in the court system hampered their claims. The State Agency of the Cadaster (SAC), the official register established in 2020 to show quantity, value, and ownership of real estate, reported challenges in returning property being used by other parties, providing physical compensation by means of other property, or paying cash compensation. VUSH leaders reported continued difficulties in acquiring permission to construct places of worship. The Bektashi community and the AMC again reported problems defending their titles to certain properties. The five main religious communities continued to ask the government to exempt them from paying certain state taxes, per the bilateral agreements between these communities and the government. Although they said they supported the government’s COVID-19 prevention measures, religious leaders complained the government had not responded to their requests for financial assistance to cope with the impact of the pandemic, and that restrictions on public gatherings, which also applied to secular venues, hindered their fundraising ability. In September, the government and the Albanian American Development Fund opened the bidding process for building a museum in Vlora dedicated to the country’s efforts to protect Jews during World War II.
In April, a man attacked worshippers at a mosque in Tirana, wounding five. Prosecutors asked that the attacker, a convert to Islam, be hospitalized due to a history of mental illness. According to an International Republican Institute (IRI) report, most media in the country referencing Jews focused on Holocaust remembrance and the country’s good relations with Israel, although there were some stories propagating conspiracy theories about Jews. The Interfaith Council, a forum for leaders from the five religious communities with agreements with the government to discuss shared concerns, held several online and in-person meetings domestically and internationally on faith-related and other issues.
The U.S. embassy urged government officials to accelerate its handling of property claims and to return religious groups’ buildings and other property confiscated during the communist era. Embassy officials met with representatives of religious communities to discuss interfaith and governmental relations, the challenges they faced regarding property legalization and restitution, and financial challenges caused by COVID-19 restrictions. Embassy-sponsored programs, including youth programs, focused on developing community inclusivity, promoting women’s empowerment in religious communities, and emphasizing the compatibility of religious faith and democracy.