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Bosnia and Herzegovina

Executive Summary

The constitutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and each of the country’s two entities – the Federation of BiH (the Federation) and Republika Srpska (RS) – provide for freedom of religious thought and practice, prohibit religious discrimination, and allow registered religious organizations to operate freely.  The Federation constitution declares religion to be “a vital national interest” of the constituent peoples.  The RS constitution establishes the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) as “the Church of the Serb people and other people of Orthodox religion.”  A provision in the state constitution provides for representation of the three major ethnic groups – Serbs, who predominantly belong to the SOC; Croats, who mainly belong to the Roman Catholic Church; and Bosniaks, who are predominantly Muslim – in the parliament and in government positions.  Individuals not belonging to one of the three major ethnic/religious groups reported they continued to be unable to obtain government positions or seats in parliament.  There were few reports of the various levels of government making progress in resolving longstanding issues pertaining to religious freedom and rights.  The Islamic Community (IC) continued to express its discontent over what it said was the Presidency’s continued inaction on the anticipated agreement between the state and the IC on certain accommodations for religious adherents.  Local religious groups in the minority continued to report discrimination by municipal authorities regarding the use of religious property and issuance of permits for new religious properties.  In March the Sarajevo Canton Assembly annulled its 2016 decision to name an elementary school after a World War II-era Ustasha anti-Semite who glorified Hitler; at year’s end, the annulment had not been implemented, and the school still bore the name.  In April seven defendants were charged for a 2015 attack on a mosque and sentenced to one and a one-half years in prison, but their sentences were suspended pending two years of probation.

Of the 209 attacks on religious officials and sites registered by the Interreligious Council (IRC) since 2010, police had identified perpetrators in 73 of the attacks, and the courts had prosecuted 23 of the cases.  In an annual report issued in May on the protection of holy sites, the IRC registered 11 attacks from November 1, 2016, through December 31, 2017:  seven attacks on IC members’ property, three attacks against SOC cemeteries, and one against property of the Catholic Church.  The IRC said again that the failure of authorities to pursue many cases reflected ignorance about hate crimes and a desire to deflect criticism of religious intolerance.  There were several instances of vandalism of religious buildings, including a mosque in Kiseljak (in December 2017), an SOC church in Visoko, and a Catholic church in Zenica.  The IRC continued to take steps to promote interfaith dialogue, including organizing joint visits of senior religious leaders representing each of the major religious groups to sites of suffering in the past wars, supporting open-door days of religious communities, and sponsoring various projects with women believers and youth.

U.S. embassy officials met with government officials to emphasize the need to promote respect for religious diversity and to enforce equal treatment under the law, including for religious minorities.  In regular meetings with religious groups, embassy officials continued to urge these groups to improve interreligious dialogue in order to contribute to the development of a peaceful and stable society.  In December the Deputy Secretary of State met with leaders of the four major religious communities in BiH to discuss religious freedom and interreligious dialogue.  Embassy officials continued to attend significant events in the various religious communities, including events to commemorate Eid al-Fitr, Catholic Christmas, and Orthodox Christmas, to support religious tolerance and dialogue.  In December 2017, embassy officials attended a meeting in Banja Luka with the local mufti, Catholic bishop, and Orthodox bishop to discuss ways to encourage increased interreligious dialogue.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population of BiH at 3.9 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the most recent census, conducted in 2013, Sunni Muslims constitute approximately 51 percent of the population; Serbian Orthodox Christians 31 percent; Roman Catholics 15 percent; and others, including Protestants and Jews, 3 percent.

There is a strong correlation between ethnicity and religion:  Bosnian Serbs affiliate primarily with the SOC, and Bosnian Croats with the Roman Catholic Church.  Bosniaks are predominantly Muslim.  The Jewish community estimates it has 1,000 members, with the majority living in Sarajevo.  The majority of Serbian Orthodox live in the RS, and most Muslims and Catholics in the Federation.  Protestant and most other small religious communities have their largest memberships in Sarajevo and Banja Luka.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

Annex IV of the Dayton Peace Agreement, which serves as the country’s constitution, provides for freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.  It stipulates no one shall be deprived of citizenship on grounds of religion and all persons shall enjoy the same rights and freedoms without discrimination as to religion.  The entity constitution of the Federation states all individuals shall have freedom of religion, including of public and private worship, and freedom from discrimination based on religion or creed.  It defines religion as a vital national interest of the constituent peoples.

The entity constitution of the RS establishes the SOC as “the Church of the Serb people and other people of Orthodox religion.”  It guarantees equal freedoms, rights, and duties for all citizens irrespective of religion.  It specifies religious communities shall be equal before the law and free to manage their religious affairs and hold religious services, open religious schools and conduct religious education in all schools, engage in commercial activities, receive gifts, and establish and manage legacies in accordance with the law.

A state law on religion guarantees freedom of conscience; grants legal status to churches and religious communities; and grants numerous rights to registered religious communities, including the rights to assemble, conduct collaborative actions such as charity work, raise funds, and construct and occupy places of worship.  The law states churches and religious communities serve as representative institutions and organizations of believers, founded in accordance with their own regulations, teachings, beliefs, traditions, and practices.  The law recognizes the legal status of four “traditional” religious communities:  the IC, SOC, Catholic Church, and Jewish community.  The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) maintains a unified register of all religious communities, and the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees is responsible for documenting violations of religious freedom.

According to state law, any group of 300 or more adult citizens may apply to register a new religious community or church through a written application to the MOJ.  Other requirements for registration include the development of a statute defining the method of religious practice and a petition for establishment with the signatures of at least 30 founders.  The ministry must issue a decision within 30 days of receipt of the application, and a group may appeal a negative decision to the state-level Council of Ministers.  The law allows registered religious communities to establish their own suborganizations, which may operate without restriction.  The law also stipulates the ministry may deny the application for registration if it concludes the content and manner of worship may be “contrary to legal order, public morale, or is damaging to the life and health or other rights and freedoms of believers and citizens.”

The law states no new church or religious community may be founded bearing the same or similar name as an existing church or religious community.  The law also states no one may use the symbols, insignia, or attributes of a church or a religious community without its consent.

A concordat with the Holy See recognizes the public juridical personality of the Catholic Church and grants a number of rights, including rights to establish educational and charitable institutions, carry out religious education, and officially recognize Catholic holidays.  The commission for implementation of the concordat comprises five members from the government and five from the Holy See.  A similar agreement exists with the SOC, but a commission for implementation does not yet exist, due to inaction from the government and also from the SOC.

The state recognizes the IC as the sole supreme institutional religious authority for all Muslims in the country, including immigrants and refugees, as well as for Bosniaks and other Muslim nationals living outside the country who accept the IC’s authority.  According to the law, no Islamic group may register with the MOJ or open a mosque without the permission of the IC.

The laws of the Federation and RS, as well as those of all 10 cantons, affirm the right of every citizen to religious education.  The laws allow a representative of each of the officially registered religious communities to be responsible for teaching religious studies in public and private pre-, primary, and secondary schools and universities if there is sufficient demand.  Children from groups that are a minority in a school are entitled to religious education only when there are 18 or more students from that religious group in one class.  Religious communities select and train their respective religious education teachers.  These individuals are employees of the schools where they teach, but they receive accreditation from the religious body governing the curriculum.

The IC, SOC, and Catholic Church develop and approve religious curricula across the country.  Public schools offer religious education in a school’s majority religion, with some exceptions.  Secondary students who do not wish to attend the religion class have the right to opt out if their school offers a class in ethics as an alternative, which many schools do.  Parents of primary school students may request an exemption for their child from religion class attendance.

In the Federation’s five Bosniak-majority cantons, primary and secondary schools offer Islamic religious instruction as a twice-weekly course.  In cantons with Croat majorities, Croat students in primary and secondary schools attend an elective Catholic religion course twice a week.  In the five primary and 10 secondary Catholic schools spread throughout the Federation and the RS, parents may choose either an elective Catholic religion course or a course in ethics.  In Sarajevo and Tuzla Cantons, primary and secondary students may either opt out or take ethics courses in lieu of religious education classes.  The Sarajevo Canton Ministry of Education offers Orthodox and Protestant religious education in addition to classes offered to the Muslim and Catholic communities.  In September the RS Ministry of Education introduced religious education in secondary schools.

A law against discrimination prohibits exclusion, limitation, or preferential treatment of individuals based on religion in employment and the provision of social services in both the government and private sectors.

The state constitution provides for representation of the three major ethnic groups – Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks – in the government and armed forces.  The constitution makes no explicit mention of representation for religious groups, although each ethnicity mentioned by the constitution is associated with a particular religion.  Parliamentary seats and government positions are apportioned among the three constituent major ethnicities – Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks – according to quotas set by constitutional provisions.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

Officials publicly acknowledged the need to the address a 2009 decision by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) stating the country should amend its constitution to allow members of religious and other minorities, including Jews, to run for president and the parliament’s upper house, but they took no action during the year.  According to the ECHR ruling, observers said, by apportioning government positions and seats in the parliament only among Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks, the constitution discriminated against minority groups.  Individuals who were not members of the three major ethnic/religious groups reported they could not hold any of the proportionally guaranteed government positions, including the presidency.  There were reports of the various levels of government making little progress in resolving longstanding issues pertaining to religious freedom and rights.

NGOs, academics, and government agencies reported the continued association of each of the country’s major political parties with the religion practiced by the dominant ethnic group among its membership.  The biggest ethnic Bosniak parties continued to align with the IC, the biggest ethnic Croat parties with the Catholic Church, and the two largest ethnic Serb parties with the SOC.

NGOs continued to report that government authorities were not enforcing the 2015 decision by the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council prohibiting employees of judicial institutions from wearing any form of “religious insignia” at work, including headscarves.  During the year, the Border Police complied with a November 2017 state Constitutional Court ruling that declared their January 2017 regulation prohibiting beards for the police to be unconstitutional and ordering the police to abolish the regulation.

According to IC officials, the Presidency again did not approve an agreement, reached in 2015, between the state and the IC that addressed dietary restrictions in public institutions, employer accommodations for daily prayer, and time off to attend Friday prayers as well as to take a one-time trip to Mecca for the Hajj.  During the year, the Croat and Serb members of the Presidency refused to put this issue on the agenda of the Presidency sessions due to disputes over the proposed text of the agreement.

According to representatives of the Catholic Church, there had been no meeting of the joint commission for the implementation of the concordat with the Holy See since June 2016 due to a perceived lack of government interest.  Earlier agreements reached by the commission, including legislation on observing religious holidays, remained unimplemented by the government and parliament.

In December SOC officials reported the government had taken no steps to establish a commission to implement the government’s agreement with the SOC.

According to officials of religious groups that are in a local minority, authorities at all levels continued to discriminate against those groups with regard to the use of religious property and issuance of permits for new religious properties.  Drvar municipal authorities continued to refuse construction permits for a new Catholic church, despite repeated requests from the local Catholic priest, the Banja Luka Catholic Diocese, and representatives from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which became directly engaged on the issue.  In pursuit of a solution, Drvar Catholics, led by their priest, began raising funds to purchase private land to build the church.

In December leaders of the four major religious communities in BiH lamented the lack of any BiH institution responsible for the rights of religious communities.  They said this lack hindered efforts on the part of the religious communities to resolve the issue of restitution for property confiscated and nationalized under communist rule from 1946 to 1965.

According to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), provisions of the law regarding the religious education of returnee children remained unimplemented, particularly in segregated school systems, often at the behest of senior government authorities seeking to obstruct the process.  Parents of more than 500 Bosniak children, who returned to their prewar homes in several RS communities, continued to boycott public schools for a sixth year, choosing instead to send their children to alternative schools organized on the premises of the IC’s administrative buildings and supported by the Federation Ministry of Education.

Academic and NGO representatives reported continued social pressure on students from communities throughout the country to attend instruction in their respective religions.

Authorities continued to enforce selectively the rights of religious groups in areas where those groups constituted religious minorities.  These members of religious minorities reported discrimination regarding access to education, employment, health care, and other social services.  They stated that refugees returning to their original communities pursuant to the Dayton Peace Agreement were particularly subject to discrimination.  Leaders of religious minority communities and NGOs, particularly in Canton 10 in the western part of the Federation and several municipalities in eastern RS, reported the continued failure of authorities to provide government services and protections to minorities, including access to health care, pensions, other social benefits, and the transfer of student records between districts.  NGOs reported that representatives of minority communities in the Canton 10 municipalities of Drvar, Bosansko Grahovo, and Glamoc were discriminated against particularly when it concerned access to education in their mother tongue and employment in public companies.  The community leaders also said local authorities continued to discriminate when it came to providing police protection and investigating threats of violence, harassment, and vandalism.  While only a few cases were recorded, the IRC said law enforcement treated these cases as simple theft or vandalism, without taking into consideration the acts occurred at religious sites and could be categorized as hate crimes.  According to an annual report published by the IRC in May, only 45 percent of perpetrators were identified in these cases.  Because religion and ethnicity often are closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many actions as solely based on religious identity.

On March 6, the Sarajevo Canton Assembly annulled its 2016 decision to name an elementary school and a street in the town of Dobrosevici in the canton’s Municipality of Novi Grad after Mustafa Busuladzic, a World War II-era Ustasha figure who glorified Hitler and was known for his anti-Semitism.  As of the end of the year, the decision remained unimplemented.  The school’s website continued to list the school name as Mustafa Busuladzic, and the street was still named after him.  During the year, the president of the Jewish Community strongly condemned the continued use of the name.

In April seven individuals were convicted for a 2015 attack on a mosque in Tomislavgrad and sentenced to one and one-half years in prison, but their sentences were suspended pending two years of probation.  In 2017, a different defendant in the same case pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a similar one-year suspended prison sentence.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In May the IRC, which records and tracks cases of intolerance and hatred in an annual report when members of affected religious communities report them, released data it had collected between November 2016 and December 2017.  The data showed 11 attacks on religious sites, religious officials, or believers during that period (compared with 12 in the report covering November 2015-October 2016).  One attack was against a Catholic site, seven against the IC, and three against the SOC.  Of 209 attacks on religious officials and sites since 2010, the IRC reported police had identified perpetrators in 73 of the attacks.  As of May 2018, the courts had prosecuted 23 of these cases.  The IRC stated that while there were fewer reported attacks, authorities continued their practice of not categorizing these attacks as hate crimes.

In March unknown perpetrators stole items from and desecrated the Catholic Church of Saint Elijah the Prophet in Zenica, causing significant material damage.  The local chapter of the IRC condemned the incident, but as of year’s end, no perpetrators had been identified.  In June individuals broke into an Orthodox church in the town of Cekrekije in the Visoko Municipality, set fire to sacral items, and stole valuables.  Police arrested two suspects and forwarded the case to the Zenica Doboj Prosecutor’s Office for further proceedings.  On July 10, three minors verbally accosted a Catholic nun in the central town of Fojnica.  Police identified the perpetrators and discussed the incident with their parents.  The local mayor condemned the attack.

The Council of Muftis of the IC continued efforts to persuade unregistered Islamic congregations (or para-jamaats), which gathered predominantly Salafist followers and operated outside the purview of the IC, to cease their “unsanctioned” religious practices and officially unite with the IC.  While the IC reported that 64 para‑jamaats were active in 2016, only 21 were active and operating outside the auspices of the IC in 2018.

On July 18, during a talk show on the Serbian television program Cirilica, also broadcast on Alternative TV in BiH, then RS President and leader of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats Milorad Dodik referred to the adhan (Muslim call to worship) as “howling” that disturbed citizens in Banja Luka and caused property values to depreciate.  The statement drew strong condemnation from opposition politicians, the international community, and the IC.

On July 20, anti-Semitic graffiti appeared, almost at the same time, inside the hallways of apartment buildings in Tuzla and Sarajevo, where members of the Jewish community resided.  Authorities condemned the incidents.  No perpetrators were identified by year’s end.

On December 28, 2017, individuals threw beer bottles at the city mosque in Kiseljak, inflicting light damage to the mosque’s facade.  Police identified the perpetrators and forwarded the case to the local prosecutor’s office.  No information was available what sanctions, if any, were handed down to the perpetrators.

The IRC continued to sponsor projects aimed at increasing interfaith dialogue involving women and youth.  On April 23, in cooperation with the German Maximilian Kolbe Foundation, the IRC organized its fourth “European Workshop on Facing the Past Burdened with Violence,” which also involved participants from other European countries.  Within the project, religious leaders visited places of suffering of each ethnic/religious group from past wars.  The visits included the testimonies of victims in those places.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials engaged with the Presidency, the BiH Minister of Security, and other ministries to discuss the government’s efforts to combat violent extremism related to religion and religious freedom.  They also underscored the need to promote respect for religious diversity and enforce equal treatment under the law, including for religious minorities, emphasizing that restrictions on minority religious groups can lead to their marginalization and possible radicalization.

In a December meeting with leaders of the four major religious communities in BiH, the Deputy Secretary of State stressed the importance of religious freedom and interreligious dialogue.  The embassy continued to promote interreligious dialogue in regular meetings with leaders and representatives of the four “traditional” religious communities and other religious groups, including discussing ways the groups could contribute to the further development of a peaceful and stable society.  In December 2017, the embassy met with the local mufti, Catholic bishop, and Orthodox bishop in Banja Luka to discuss ways to promote interreligious dialogue.

As part of a U.S. government program with the IRC to promote peace, reconciliation, tolerance, and coexistence among the country’s diverse religious and ethnic communities, embassy officials regularly attended significant events in the different religious communities – Eid al-Fitr celebrations with the IC, Christmas and Easter celebrations with the Orthodox and Catholic communities, and a Passover seder with the Jewish community.  At these events, embassy officials emphasized the importance of interreligious dialogue and respect for religious diversity.

The embassy continued to maintain regular contact with the IRC and support its activities, including the development of its first communication strategy, 14 small grant applications to be administered by local IRC chapters, and other activities to help the IRC further develop its institutional capacity.  The IRC continued to participate in U.S. government-funded programs designed to help overcome ethnic and religious divisions through dialogue and restore trust among the country’s religious groups.  Such events included multiple roundtables featuring prominent women and a youth summit.

Kosovo

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of religion, subject to limitations to ensure public order, health, and safety or to protect the rights of others.  The law does not allow religious groups to register as legal entities, creating obstacles for them in conducting their affairs.  In 2017 the parliament voted to consider a draft law that would allow religious groups to register as legal entities so they would be able to conduct business and legal matters with the state and private entities, but the law had not received final approval at year’s end.  On March 23, a Pristina Basic Court panel acquitted Shefqet Krasniqi of a February 2017 indictment by Kosovo’s Special Prosecution (SPRK) on charges of incitement for terrorism, incitement to religious hatred, and tax evasion.  While religious groups stated they generally had collaborative relationships with local governments, some groups said municipal governments did not treat religious organizations equally on property issues, including building permits.  Representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) said the government violated the SOC’s property rights, including by refusing to implement court decisions in the SOC’s favor or pursuing construction in Special Protective Zones (SPZs).  Decan/Decani authorities, including the mayor, continued to refuse to implement a 2016 Constitutional Court decision awarding 24 disputed hectares (59 acres) around the Visoki Decani Monastery to the SOC; government authorities did not hold any municipal officials accountable.  The municipality, with central government support, began constructing a road through the SPZ around Visoki Decani Monastery in breach of a Kosovo law banning construction in SPZs.  The Kosovo Islamic Community (BIK) continued to report social and employment discrimination against devout Muslims, particularly in the public sector.  The government continued to work with the BIK to combat violent extremism and condemned vandalism of religious sites.

According to police reports, protestors assaulted Serbian Orthodox pilgrims and prevented church services from taking place in Gjakove/Djakovica and Istog/Istok.  Religious groups met each other regularly to discuss property rights, legislative priorities, and local community issues.  Religious leaders participated in numerous interfaith discussions on property rights, legislative priorities, and local community issues.  The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) continued to coordinate some activities among religious groups, including meetings with municipal mayors, to discuss issues such as permits to construct religious buildings.  On January 6 and August 28, ethnic Albanians staged protests against planned pilgrimages in front of the local Serbian Orthodox Church in Gjakove/Djakovica.  Ethnic Albanian protesters in Istok/Istog and elsewhere attacked or intimidated Serbian Orthodox pilgrims on multiple occasions.  On October 21, media reported local ethnic Albanians threw rocks at two buses transporting Serb pilgrims to religious services near Istog/Istok.  Police arrested five ethnic Albanians for disturbing public order and three ethnic Albanian minors for causing damage to the buses.  A prosecutor later released the suspects following a decision not to file charges.  The prosecutor did not provide an explanation for the decision.  Police initiated a disciplinary procedure against the officers in charge of security for the religious services, suspending one lieutenant for 48 hours.

The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy representatives met frequently with government officials to urge religious tolerance and the issuance of public condemnations of incidents of violence or cases of intimidation.  The Ambassador and U.S. embassy representatives also pressed for passage of legislation to allow religious institutions to obtain legal status and for the full implementation of the constitution and the law protecting religious sites.  The embassy advocated regularly at all levels of government for full implementation of judicial decisions in favor of minority religious communities and encouraged the resolution of property disputes involving religious groups.  The Ambassador and other embassy representatives pressed the government at the highest levels to prosecute perpetrators of violence or intimidation against the SOC, and to respect the SOC’s property rights.  The embassy discouraged public officials, educational institutions, and other entities from engaging in discriminatory hiring practices against Muslims who self-define as religiously observant or other religious groups.  Embassy officials regularly discussed religious tolerance with leaders of all major religious communities.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 1.9 million (July 2018 estimate).  Census data from 2011 identifies 95.6 percent of the population as Muslim, 2.2 percent Roman Catholic, and 1.4 percent Serbian Orthodox.  Census categories for “other,” “none,” or “no response” each constitute less than 1 percent.  According to the SOC and international observers, a boycott of the census by ethnic Serbs resulted in a significant undercounting of SOC members.  Other religious communities, including Tarikat Muslims and Protestants, also contest the census data.  Protestant leaders and those without a religious affiliation state census takers incorrectly classified some members of their communities as Muslims.  According to the census regulation, census takers did not inquire if citizens were Protestant.

The majority of the Muslim population belongs to the Hanafi Sunni school, although some are part of the Sufi Tarikat community.  There is also a Sufi Bektashi community consisting of a small number of adherents.  Tarikat leaders state Bektashis are one of nine Tarikat orders, but the Bektashis self-identify as a separate Islamic order.

Most SOC members reside in the ten Serb-majority municipalities.  The largest Catholic communities are in Gjakove/Djakovica, Janjeve/Janjevo, Kline/Klina, Pristina, and Prizren.  Evangelical Protestant populations are located throughout the country, concentrated in Pristina and Gjakove/Djakovica.  There are small Jewish communities in Prizren and Pristina.

Religion and ethnicity are often linked.  The majority of ethnic Albanians are Muslim, while some are Catholic and Protestant; almost all ethnic Serbs belong to the SOC.  The majority of ethnic Ashkalis, Bosniaks, Egyptians, Goranis, Roma, and Turks are also Muslim, while most ethnic Montenegrins and some Roma belong to the SOC.  Almost all ethnic Croats belong to the Catholic Church.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and religion for all residents, including the right to change, express, or not express religious belief; practice or abstain from practicing religion; and join or refuse to join a religious community.  These rights are subject to limitations for reasons of public safety and order or for the protection of the health or rights of others.  The constitution provides for the separation of religious communities from public institutions, including the right of religious groups to regulate independently their own organizations, activities, and ceremonies, and the right to establish religious schools and charities.  It provides for equal rights for all religious communities, stipulates the country is secular and neutral with regard to religion, declares the state shall ensure the protection and preservation of the country’s religious heritage, and prohibits discrimination based on religion.  The constitution states the law may limit freedom of expression to prevent provocation of violence and hostility on grounds of race, nationality, ethnicity, or religion.  It allows courts to ban organizations or activities that encourage racial, national, ethnic, or religious hatred.

The constitution stipulates communities traditionally present in the country, including religious communities, shall have specific rights, including maintaining, developing, and preserving their religion; using their own language; establishing and managing their own private schools with financial assistance from the state; and having access to public media.  Additional rights include establishing and using their own media, maintaining unhindered peaceful contacts with persons outside the country with whom they share a religious identity, and having equitable access to public employment.  The constitution guarantees 20 of 120 seats in the national assembly to ethnic minority communities.  It also stipulates the adoption, amendment, or repeal of all laws pertaining to religious freedom and cultural heritage requires approval by a majority of the parliamentarians representing minority communities, as well as by a majority of all parliamentarians.

The constitution provides for the Ombudsperson’s Institution, which is responsible for monitoring religious freedom, among other human rights, and recommending actions to correct violations.  It stipulates the state shall take all necessary measures to protect individuals who may be subject to threats, hostility, discrimination, or violence because of their religious identity.

The law does not require religious groups to register and does not provide a legal mechanism or specific guidance for religious groups to obtain legal status through registration or other means.  Without legal status, religious groups may not own property, open bank accounts, employ staff, access the courts, or perform other administrative tasks in their own name.  Local communities often recognize religious groups’ possession of buildings; however, the law does not protect these buildings.  SOC property is an exception.  The Law on SPZs and Law on Supervised Independence acknowledges SOC property ownership and gives it stewardship over designated areas.

The law stipulates there is no official religion, but it lists five “traditional” religious communities:  Muslim, Serbian Orthodox Christian, Catholic, Hebrew (Jewish), and evangelical Protestant.  The law provides extra protections and benefits to these five groups, including reduced taxes.

The law provides safeguards for religious and cultural SPZs, determined based on religious and cultural significance, by prohibiting or restricting nearby activities that could damage the surrounding historical, cultural, or natural environment.  According to the law, the Implementation and Monitoring Council (IMC) arbitrates disputes between the government and the SOC concerning SPZs and other matters related to protecting the SOC’s religious and cultural heritage.  The IMC is a special body originating from the 2007 Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement (also known as the Ahtisaari Plan) and the SPZ law.  The IMC members include the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning (as cochair); the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sport; the SOC; the Special Representative of the European Union (as cochair); and the OSCE.

Municipalities are legally responsible for upkeep and maintenance of all public cemeteries, including those designated for specific religious communities.

According to the law, “public education institutions shall refrain from teaching religion or other activities that propagate a specific religion.”  This law is unenforceable in schools operated under Serbian government-run parallel structures, over which the Kosovo government has no control.

The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

On March 23, a Pristina Basic Court panel acquitted Shefqet Krasniqi, the former head imam of the Grand Mosque in Pristina, of a February 2017 indictment by Kosovo’s Special Prosecutor (SPRK) on charges of religious hatred and tax evasion.  The presiding judge cited contradictory statements and lack of evidence as reasons for the acquittal.  On October 1, the appellate court upheld the lower court’s decision, acquitting Krasniqi on all charges.

On May 18, the Pristina Appellate Court acquitted four imams, whom the Pristina Basic Court had charged in 2017 with committing terrorist acts or “inciting national, racial, religious, ethnic hatred,” citing lack of evidence.

Religious leaders continued to advocate adoption of a law drafted in 2015 that would provide a mechanism through which religious groups could gain legal status.  The draft passed a first reading at the Assembly in 2017, but a series of political disputes unrelated to the law continued to delay final passage.  The law would allow religious groups to conduct business and legal matters with the state and private entities.  The Bektashi community also requested the law include language stating it is a distinct Islamic community constituting part of the historical heritage and cultural and social life of the country.  Although representatives of many religious groups stated they had found alternative methods to conduct some of their affairs, most continued to report difficulties in registering property and vehicles, opening bank accounts, and paying taxes on employee salaries.  All religious communities said they continued to operate bank accounts not in their communities’ names, and the Kosovo Protestant Evangelical Church (KPEC) said it continued to be taxed as a for-profit business.

According to BIK, some school officials continued to apply a mandatory “administrative instruction” (regulation) previously issued by the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology that prohibits primary and secondary students from wearing religious garb on school property.  According to BIK and other Muslim community leaders, public schools occasionally continued to send home students who insisted on wearing headscarves while attending classes; however, during the year, the Ombudsperson Institution did not receive any reports of a school barring students wearing religious garb, such as headscarves, from attending classes.  Media reported a professor at the University of Pristina had intimidated female students wearing head coverings, compelling them to leave class.  Students reported the occurrences to the University’s Ethics Council, which had not met to consider the issue by year’s end.

Religious groups said municipal governments failed to treat religious organizations equally on property issues.  Although the law specifies municipalities are responsible for the upkeep of cemeteries, in practice, some municipalities allowed religious groups to take de facto possession of public cemeteries.  According to both BIK and KPEC, authorities sometimes allowed or compelled local BIK imams to oversee day-to-day cemetery operations.  While non-Muslim religious groups reported generally strong relationships with imams at cemeteries around the country, KPEC representatives stated local imams and other BIK authorities occasionally charged them for services even when they provided their own ministers.  Pristina’s Catholic and Orthodox Christian communities continued to use separate public cemeteries.

On June 18 and 19, as part of an annual event, representatives of the Jewish community and a local public utility company cleaned and repaired Pristina’s  Jewish cemeteries.  Members of the Jewish community said they lacked the resources to maintain their cemeteries and local authorities did not maintain these public sites as required by law.  According to Jewish community representatives, local governments did not maintain Jewish cemeteries outside of Pristina, including in Novo Brdo/Novoberde, Lipjan/Lipljan, Kamenice/Kamenica, Prizren, Mitrovice/Mitrovica, and Gjilan/Gnjilane.

The SOC and international organizations said Decan/Decani municipal officials continued to refuse to implement a 2016 Constitutional Court decision confirming the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling that the municipality should return more than 24 hectares (59 acres) of land to the SOC’s Visoki Decani Monastery.  Mayor of Decan/Decani Bashkim Ramosaj continued throughout the year to refer to the decision as unacceptable.  Government authorities did not hold him or other municipal officials to account for failing to implement the Constitutional Court decision.  NATO Kosovo Force, also known as KFOR, troops continued to provide security at the monastery.

Decan/Decani Municipality moved forward with plans to construct a road through the SPZ near Visoki Decani Monastery.  According to EU and OSCE legal opinions issued during the year, Kosovo law forbids the construction of a transit road through an SPZ.  The Prime Minister’s Office disputed this legal interpretation.  In 2014 the IMC decided the planned road would violate the law.  The IMC reaffirmed the road’s illegality at an April meeting.

BIK leadership reported the group continued to advocate unsuccessfully for the reconstruction of a mosque in Mitrovice/Mitrovica North, which Federal Republic of Yugoslavia forces destroyed in 1999.

Preparatory work began during the year to connect the public utility company supply network to the construction site for a new “grand mosque” in Pristina.  Construction was set to begin in 2019, but was subject to municipal approval.

As of year’s end, Pristina Municipality had not allocated a plot of land, approved in a 2016 municipal decision, for the Jewish community to construct a synagogue.  Jewish community leaders said this was due to administrative delays and expected the municipality to allocate the land in 2019.  The Jewish community in Prizren obtained approval from Prizren Municipality in 2016 to renovate a building for use as a museum and cultural center.  The Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports contributed 5,000 euro ($5,700) to the project during the year, and the Jewish community expected construction to begin in 2019.

According to the SOC and international organizations, there was no progress during the year to resolve the government’s 2016 denial of a construction permit requested by the SOC for the reconstruction of St. Nicholas Church in the Holy Archangels Monastery in Prizren.  In its denial of the permit, the Ministry of Culture stated the SOC was not listed as the land’s legal owner in government records.  The SOC said that because the government had denied the permit after the legal deadline expired, the permit was issued by default.  The SOC stated the government was violating the law and the Ahtisaari Plan, which gives the SOC full discretion to manage its historic sites.  Responding to separate Ministry of Culture concerns, an OSCE-funded expert examined the site to determine whether a pre-existing archeological site was present; however, it had not published its findings by year’s end.

The Municipality of Pristina’s appeal of the Basic Court’s 2015 ruling that the Catholic Church owned property adjacent to the Mother Teresa Cathedral remained pending at year’s end.  On February 26, an appellate court ruled in favor of Catholic Church ownership of more than 7,500 square meters (80,000 square feet) of land, overturning the Pristina municipality’s land claim.

The multiethnic police unit for specialized protection of cultural and religious heritage sites, led by a Kosovo-Serb police commander, continued to provide 24-hour, countrywide security to 24 SPZs.  For the first time since the country’s 2008 independence, there were no incidents during the year at these sites.  According to police reports and the SOC, theft and vandalism continued at SOC sites outside SPZs, where police did not provide special protection.  The Ministry of Culture said it requested increased support from local governments to protect religious heritage sites.

According to KPEC, Kosovo Customs continued to ask KPEC to pay a fine it levied in late 2017 for the misuse of duty-free imports for religious organizations, stating KPEC’s sale for profit of imported used clothing violated the Customs Code.  An OSCE legal opinion noted contradictions in Kosovo law surrounding the sale of goods for charitable purposes.  KPEC reported successfully clearing one shipment of goods for sale in August without paying the duty, though the legal interpretation remained unclear at year’s end.

According to municipal officials and NGOs, the central government continued to provide some funding to Islamic education in BIK madrassahs in Pristina, Prizren, and Gjilan/Gnjilane.  Some members of other religious groups and secular representatives believed this funding was discriminatory because the government did not provide funding for religious education to any other religious group.

According to the Ministry of Education, Ethnic Serbs, Gorani, Croatians, and some Roma continued to attend Serbian-language public schools operating under Serbian government parallel structures over which the Kosovo government had no control.  Most ethnic Serbs elected to enroll in Serbian Orthodox religious classes instead of civic education.  The Serbian government funded the salaries of all teachers in Serbian-language schools, including religious instructors.  The Kosovo government supplemented the salaries of some teachers and staff in Serbian-language schools.

The Kosovo Islamic Community (BIK) continued to report social and employment discrimination against devout Muslims, particularly in the public sector.

The Water Regulatory Agency (WRA) continued to waive water utility fees for religious buildings belonging to the five “traditional” religious communities, in accordance with the law.  The Commission for Agriculture stated it started the early stages of reviewing the bill on regulating water services in October, stating the 2006 law on religious freedom did not provide for the exemption.  Based on the proposed draft amendments, all religious communities would be required to pay water utility fees.  Religious leaders said they opposed the proposed amendments, but the WRA said it was necessary to prevent possible misuse of utilities.  At year’s end, the water utility fee waivers continued.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stopped holding its annual International Interfaith Conference following the 2017 departure of the official in charge.  The Jewish community said religious leaders found the decision disappointing; however, they continued to meet regularly amongst themselves.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were instances of religious-based violence, interference with religious pilgrimages, hate speech, and vandalism.  Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was sometimes difficult to categorize incidents as being solely based on religious identity.  SOC representatives and international organizations reported an increase in attacks on ethnic Serbs during the first half of the year, some commenting that these and other attacks on Serbian Orthodox were often driven more by ethnicity than religion.

According to police reports, on May 28, Kosovo Albanians blocked the road to protest a visit by displaced Kosovo Serbs to church ruins in Petric village (Pejr/Pec region).  Protesters threw rocks at the pilgrims, and three sustained light injuries.  The 50 pilgrims eventually managed to access the site.

Media and police reported that on May 30, near Istog/Istok, a Kosovo Albanian attacked his neighbors, a Serbian Orthodox priest and his family, while they were in their car.  Police detained the alleged perpetrator, whom the prosecutor later released due to lack of evidence.  The SOC called on local authorities to hold perpetrators of violence fully accountable under the law.

On October 21, media and police reported ethnic Albanians threw rocks at two buses transporting Serb pilgrims near Istog/Istok while the pilgrims took part in religious services.  Local Kosovo Albanians set up a roadblock with a tractor and tires, but police subsequently dispersed the crowd and the buses managed to leave the site.  Police investigated and arrested eight local ethnic Albanians suspected of participating in the incidents.  Police released the suspects after prosecutors chose not to bring charges.  The prosecutors did not explain the reason for their decision.

On January 6, media and police reported a group of Kosovo Albanians staged a protest in front of the local Serbian Orthodox church in Gjakove/Djakovica, even though displaced Serbs had cancelled their annual visit due to security concerns.  Protestors blocked access to the church for several hours while four elderly nuns remained trapped inside, preventing the celebration of Orthodox Christmas liturgy.

Media and police reported displaced Kosovo Serbs from Gjakove/Djakovica canceled an August 28 visit to the city’s Serbian Orthodox church, citing a lack of guarantees ensuring their safety.  Gjakove/Djakovica residents staged a protest in front of the church demanding the Serbian government apologize for crimes committed during the Kosovo war.  Police arrested five protesters.  Gjakove/Djakovica Mayor Ardian Gjini told media Serb pilgrims should be required to request permission to visit from ethnic Albanian mothers who lost children during the war.

The SOC reported two cases of police harassment against its clergy in Kosovo-Albanian majority areas.  According to the clergy, police officers used unprofessional and ethnically charged language and made baseless accusations against them.  In one instance, the victims filed an official complaint with the Police Inspectorate of Kosovo (PIK); however, the PIK ruled it could not find a criminal element in the case and forwarded it to the Professional Standards Unit, which deals with disciplinary violations.  Neither the SOC nor the Professional Standards Unit reported any further action on the case.

Politicians from the Srpska List (SL) party criticized and occasionally threatened SOC Bishop Teodosije Sibalic and other SOC clergy in Serbian-language newspapers, radio, television, and official press releases following the SOC’s criticism of SL’s approach to the Kosovo-Serbia normalization process.

Throughout the year, the SOC criticized media for contributing to a climate of intolerance.  BIK said secularists in media outlets generally portrayed devout Muslims in a negative light, claiming online news portals sometimes equated Islam with terrorism.

During the year, national police reported 86 cases targeting religious sites, primarily involving property damage and theft, up from 44 cases in 2017.  Of these sites, 59 belonged to the Islamic community, 23 to the Serbian Orthodox Church, and four to the Catholic Church.

In March ethnic Croats reported the desecration of religious symbols in the Catholic church in Janjevo village.  A police investigation continued at year’s end.

Religious leaders continued to participate in numerous interfaith discussions on property rights, legislative priorities, and local community issues.  The OSCE continued to coordinate some activities among religious groups, including meetings with municipal mayors, to discuss issues such as permits to construct religious buildings.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy representatives met frequently with government officials, including the president, prime minister, assembly speaker, and other members of parliament to urge passage of legislation that would allow religious institutions to function without impediment.  Embassy officials urged increased dialogue between ethnic Albanian members of the government and civil society with SOC members.  The embassy encouraged government officials to resolve the disputed building permit for St. Nicolas Church in the Holy Archangels Monastery in Prizren.  Embassy officials urged the government to respect the law on SPZs, particularly in the case of the planned road near Visoki Decani Monastery.  Embassy officials publicly condemned media and political attacks against SOC officials.  The embassy advocated at all levels for the implementation of the 2016 Constitutional Court decision in favor of Visoki Decani Monastery, urging the government and the judiciary to hold local officials accountable.  The embassy discussed the property issues of other religious groups with government officials on numerous occasions and urged officials to respect the country’s laws.  Embassy officials urged Kosovo Customs on multiple occasions to delay issuing citations to religious communities for the alleged misuse of duty-free imports pending clarifications of the Customs Code and the law covering customs exemptions for religious organizations.

Embassy officials regularly discussed religious tolerance with leaders of all major religious groups.  They met with BIK imams and members of the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Pristina to discuss efforts to promote tolerance and counter violent extremism and discussed draft laws on religious freedom and cultural heritage.  Embassy officials met with religious leaders on multiple occasions to discuss their human rights and legal concerns, and held roundtables with religiously observant Muslims on employment and education discrimination.  The embassy often posted messages on social media in support of religious freedom.

In May visiting Department of State officials met with the BIK and SOC to discuss the role of religious communities in interethnic reconciliation.  The officials also met parliamentarians and government officials to advocate for passage of a law that would enable religious groups to acquire legal status and to encourage the government to respect SOC rights and engage religious communities more deeply in interethnic reconciliation.  In June a joint government/BIK delegation traveled to the United States on a Department of State program to explore the role of religious communities in a secular democracy.  In September the embassy sponsored the visit of an interfaith expert from the United States to meet with religious communities to discuss the role of media in reporting on religion.

North Macedonia

Executive Summary

The constitution and laws prohibit religious discrimination and guarantee freedom of religion and religious expression.  They provide for equality before the law for all individuals regardless of religious belief.  The constitution cites five religious groups by name; other religious groups may register with the government to receive benefits equivalent to those received by the five named groups.  In December hate crimes were added to the criminal code, including crimes based on the religion or belief of the victim.  During the year, the court in charge of registering religious entities accepted two applications and did not rule on two others.  The Orthodox Archbishopric of Ohrid (OAO) remained unable to register as a religious entity.  In April the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) rejected the government’s appeal of the court’s November 2017 ruling that the government had violated the OAO’s rights by refusing it registration.  Also in April the ECHR reached a unanimous verdict in favor of the Bektashi Community and determined the government had violated the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms by denying the community registration.  As of the end of the year, both the OAO and the Bektashi Community registration applications were pending with Skopje Basic Court II.  In June the government paid the last tranche of compensation to the Holocaust Fund of the Jews from Macedonia (Holocaust Fund) based on previous restitution claims.  The Islamic Religious Community in Macedonia (ICM) said the government continued to show favoritism toward the Macedonian Orthodox Church-Ohrid Archbishopric (MOC-OA), and smaller religious groups continued to report unequal government treatment compared with the five constitutionally named groups.  Some MOC-OA clergy protested the change of the country’s name to the Republic of North Macedonia, while ICM religious leaders supported it.  In March the country marked the 75th anniversary of the deportation of Jews with a tribute at the Jewish cemetery in Bitola and a March of the Living in Skopje.

Representatives of the Bektashi Community objected to the ICM’s claims to full ownership of, and plans to renovate the Harabati Baba Teqe, the complex where the unregistered Sufi Bektashi Community of Macedonia’s headquarters are located.  Additionally, the representatives reported harassment by ICM-affiliated individuals.  There were several incidents of vandalism or theft of Orthodox Church property, one at the Harabati Baba Teqe, one case of fire at the Turkish Islamic cemetery in Bitola, and one incident in which a mosque was burned near Prilep.

The Ambassador and other embassy officials met with representatives from government and parliament to discuss religious freedom issues, including improved interfaith cooperation, MOC-OA autocephaly, religious freedom, and governmental respect for and equal treatment of faith groups.  The Ambassador met with the justice minister to discuss the then draft legislation on hate crimes.  The Ambassador also discussed these issues with the heads of the Bektashi Community and MOC-OA.  Embassy officials met with representatives from a variety of minority religious groups, including the Bektashi, Jewish, and Christian minority denominations, and with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) concerned with religious freedom.  The embassy supported Holocaust education efforts and sponsored civil society and government representatives on visits to the United States for programs that focused on promoting religious tolerance.  The embassy also continued to fund a television documentary series featuring prominent religious leaders, academics, and citizens promoting tolerance of different ethnic, linguistic, and religious communities.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 2.1 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the last national census, in 2002, an estimated 65 percent of the population is Orthodox Christian and 33 percent Muslim.  The Muslim community includes a small number of Sufi orders.  Other religious groups that together constitute less than 2 percent of the population include Roman Catholics, various Protestant denominations, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The Jewish community estimates it has 200-250 members.  According to a 2017 Brima/Gallup poll, less than 1 percent of the population identifies as atheist.

The vast majority of Muslims are Sunni, and most live in the northern and western parts of the country.  The majority of Orthodox Christians live in the central and southeastern regions.  There is a correlation between ethnicity and religious affiliation:  the majority of Orthodox Christians are ethnic Macedonian, and most Muslims are ethnic Albanians.  Most Roma, and virtually all ethnic Turks and ethnic Bosniaks, are Muslim, and most ethnic Serbs and Vlachs are Orthodox Christian.  There is also a correlation between religious and political affiliation, as political parties are largely divided along ethnic lines.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for equality of rights for all citizens regardless of religious belief.  It guarantees freedom of religion and the right of individuals to express their faith freely and in public, individually or with others.  It guarantees the protection of religious identity of all communities.  Some rights may only be restricted in cases determined by the constitution and in cases of war and emergency on a nondiscriminatory basis, and not at the detriment of freedom of conscience or freedom of religious expression.  The constitution specifically cites five religious groups:  the Macedonian Orthodox Church, the Islamic Religious Community in Macedonia, the Catholic Church, the Evangelical Methodist Church, and the Jewish Community.  The law allows other religious groups to obtain the same legal rights and status as these five groups by applying for government recognition and registration through the courts.  The constitution states the five named religious groups “and other religious communities and groups” are separate from the state, equal before the law, and free to establish schools, charities, and other social and charitable institutions.  The constitution bars political parties or other associations from inciting religious hatred or intolerance.

In December the criminal code was amended to add hate crimes and defined these as a criminal offense against a person, legal entity, and related persons or property committed because of a real or assumed characteristic including nationality, ethnic origin, and religion or belief of the victim.  Hate and hate crime were added as a punishable category to the criminal acts of murder, physical injury, coercion, deprivation of liberty, torture and other cruel inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment, threats to safety, denying right to freedom of public assembly, rape, severe theft, desecration of cemeteries, justification of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

Religious organizations may apply to register as a “church,” a “religious community,” or a “religious group.”  These classifications are based on group size, internal organization, and internal hierarchy.  According to judicial authorities, the law treats these three categories equally, bestowing the same legal rights, benefits, and obligations on all of them.  The government recognizes 37 religious organizations (consisting of 17 churches, 10 religious communities, and 10 religious groups).  Once registered, a church, religious community, or religious group is exempt from taxes and is eligible to apply for property restitution for properties nationalized during the communist era, government-funded projects, and construction permits for preservation of shrines and cultural sites.  It may also establish schools.  Failure to register does not prevent a religious group from holding meetings or proselytizing, or result in legal punishment or fines, but prevents the group from engaging in certain activities, such as establishing schools or receiving donations that are tax-deductible for the donor.

Skopje Basic Court II accepts registration applications and has 15 business days to determine whether a religious organization’s application meets the legal registration criteria.  The criteria are:  a physical administrative presence within the country, an explanation of its beliefs and practices that distinguish it from other religious organizations, and a unique name and official insignia.  An applicant organization must also identify a supervisory body in charge of managing its finances and submit a breakdown of its financial assets and funding sources as well as minutes from its founding meeting.  The law allows multiple groups of a single faith to register.  Registered leaders or legal representatives of religious groups must be citizens of the country.

The court sends approved applications to the Committee on Relations between Religious Communities and Groups (CRRCG), a government body responsible for fostering cooperation and communication between the government and religious groups, which adds the organization to its registry.  If the court denies the application, the organization may appeal the decision to the State Appellate Court.  If the appellate court denies the application, the organization may file a human rights petition with the Constitutional Court, the highest human rights court in the country, on grounds of denial of religious rights.  If the Constitutional Court denies the petition, the organization may appeal the case to the ECHR.

The law does not permit religious organizations to operate primary schools, but allows them to operate schools at the secondary level and above.  The Ministry of Education requires sixth grade students and above to take one of three elective courses, two of which have religious content:  Introduction to Religions and Ethics in Religion.  According to the ministry’s description, these courses teach religion in an academic, nondevotional manner.  The courses are usually taught by Orthodox priests or imams, whose salaries are paid by the state.  The Ministry of Education states all teachers of these subjects receive training from accredited higher education institutions taught by professors of philosophy or sociology.  If students do not wish to take a course on religion, they may take the third option, Classical Culture in European Civilization.

All foreigners who seek to enter the country to carry out religious work or perform religious rites must obtain a work visa before arrival, a process that normally takes approximately four months.  The CRRCG maintains a register of all foreign religious workers and may approve or deny them the right to conduct religious work within the country.  Work visas are valid for six months, with the option to renew for an additional six months.  Subsequent visa renewals are valid for one year.  There is no limit to the number of visa renewals for which a religious worker may apply.  Clergy and religious workers from unregistered groups are eligible for visas.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

In April the ECHR rejected the government’s appeal of its November 2017 ruling that the country had violated the OAO’s religious freedom, right of assembly, and freedom of thought and conscience, by refusing to formally register it as a separate religious group.  The ECHR also upheld its order to the government to pay the religious group 9,500 euros ($10,900), which the government had not paid by year’s end.  The national courts had denied OAO registration on the grounds it could not substantiate the difference between its name and symbols and those of the MOC-OA.  In 2017, the ECHR stated the government had violated the Council of Europe’s Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which includes an obligation to act in a neutral and unbiased manner towards religious groups.

In April the ECHR reached a unanimous verdict in favor of the Bektashi Community of Macedonia (Tetovo), an Islamic Sufi order, which appealed to overturn the 2013 Constitutional Court’s denial of its registration.  The ECHR determined the government violated the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and obliged the government to compensate the community for nonpecuniary damages and court fees.  The ECHR ruling entered into force September 10, and the Bektashi Community reapplied for registration with Basic Court Skopje II on September 25.  The government continued to issue visas to foreign members and spiritual leaders of the Bektashi Community of Macedonia (Tetovo).

During the year, the Basic Court Skopje II approved the registration of the Christian Community Trinitas and the Bektashi Religious Community seated at Hadder Baba Teqe in Kichevo.  Applications from the Bektashi Community (Tetovo) and the Community of Muslims remained pending.

In June the Ministry of Education and Science’s State Inspectorate fined the public elementary school in Radovish and its principal for allowing Muslim religious services on school premises during Ramadan.    

Smaller religious groups continued to state the government treated them unequally, and the ICM said the government favored the MOC-OA.

MOC-OA clergy participated in political events, and some clergy protested against the change of the country’s name.  In September the MOC-OA Holy Synod expressed confidence that citizens would exercise their democratic right of choice, freely and democratically, at the September 30 referendum.  The MOC-OA’s statement underscored citizens’ democratic right to vote, free of any pressure, in the referendum, but did not indicate an explicit position (either for or against) on the country’s name change.  In an earlier statement, MOC-OA Bishop Petar, speaking at a protest February 27, said the United States and NATO were pressuring Macedonia to change its name.  In February and March the MOC-OA said it did not want to interfere in politics, and some members of the clergy feared a change of the country’s name would also affect the name of the Church.  The ICM called on Muslims to turn out massively in support of the country’s name change in the September 30 referendum.  The ICM said the name change would remove a barrier for the country to join NATO and the EU.

According to various university professors, NGO leaders, and legal and political analysts, religious differences continued to play a role in criminal and civil court cases.  The OAO accused the government of bias against it.  In July the OAO said police limited OAO Archbishop Jovan Vraniskovski’s freedom of movement by seizing his passport without explanation while he tried to cross the border into Greece.  The OAO said the action showed religious persecution by the government and “discrimination characteristic of countries lacking rule of law.”  In August Vraniskovski filed complaints with the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment over the issue, as well as the Council of Europe’s Directorate General on Human Rights and Rule of Law.  In August he sent an open letter to the interior minister saying he needed to go abroad for medical treatment.  The OAO said authorities returned Vraniskovski’s passport in September without explanation.  Vraniskovski had been convicted in February 2017 for money laundering, which OAO considered to be a result of government bias.

In July Social Democratic Union of Macedonia Vice President and Member of Parliament Muhamed Zeqiri submitted a request to the Special Prosecutor’s Office (SPO) to open an inquiry into wiretapped conversations of ICM Head Reis Sulejman Rexhepi that purported to show his abusing his position to charge increased prices for the Hajj and selling visas to Saudi Arabia that were actually free of charge.  In response, the ICM called on government officials to refrain from interference in religious communities.  The SPO made no public announcements regarding an inquiry into the ICM.

In June the government paid the Holocaust Fund the last installment of 5.6 million euros ($6.42 million) as part of the 2007 Compensation Agreement for a total of 21.1 million euros ($24.2 million) in return for seized properties from Jews.  In March the Supreme Court ordered the government to pay the ICM 9.35 million denars ($175,000) for damages to a mosque in Arachinovo, sustained during the 2001 armed conflict, and an additional 9,300 euros ($10,700) in court costs.  The ICM said the government had restored less than 30 percent of property the state previously seized.  The ICM said the government was still seeking ownership rights to the Yeni Mosque in Bitola, which the state seized in 1950, declaring it a cultural monument.  The Catholic Church regained a property seized by the state before the communist era in the southern village of Paliurci, where it rebuilt a church.

The ICM stated the government continued to prevent construction of a mosque in the ethnically mixed village of Lazhec by denying a construction permit due to pressure from local residents opposed to the mosque since 2002.  The ICM also reported the government continued to block reconstruction of the mosque in Prilep, which burned down during armed conflict in 2001, and the Ali Pasha Mosque in Ohrid.  According to the ICM, the government denied a permit to rebuild the mosque on the grounds that the Prilep site was a monument of culture under the government’s jurisdiction.

The MOC-OA stated the Municipality of Struga had still not issued a decision on the construction of an Orthodox church in the village of Belica and that the Municipality of Tetovo refused to build a road leading to the city chapel.  The application for the church has been pending since 2013.

During the year, the ICM continued to state the government favored the MOC-OA by granting it unique privileges, such as providing it with public properties free of charge, and funding for the construction of new Orthodox churches

Smaller religious organizations, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Evangelical Church, Bektashi Community (Tetovo), and OAO, continued to state the government did not treat them as equals of the five religious organizations recognized in the constitution.  For example, they stated the government excluded them from official events, such as official holiday celebration events and government building ground-breaking ceremonies, and did not grant them the same level of access to government officials.  The OAO and the Bektashi Community said that, as unregistered communities, they often faced discrimination and intimidation.  For the seventh year, the Bektashi continued to report to police harassment by what they said were ICM- and government-affiliated occupants of the Harabati Baba Teqe compound in Tetovo

A joint survey by the Institute for Political Research Skopje and Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Foundation, conducted in January with over a thousand respondents, assessed that both the MOC-OA and the ICM had influence over politics.  More than 44 percent of the respondents said the two communities built new religious buildings to mark territory and areas of dominance rather than to meet the needs of worshipers.

In March the country marked the 75th anniversary of the deportation of Jews with a tribute at the Jewish cemetery in Bitola and a March of the Living in Skopje.  The two-day commemorative events were attended by government leaders and dignitaries from Israel, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the United States.  Additionally, parliament adopted a declaration commemorating the country’s Jews and acknowledging the country’s commitment to protect, never forget, and promote dialogue and understanding.

In March the government adopted the International Remembrance Holocaust Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism.

On December 1, Minister of Education and Science Arber Ademi and the director of the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center (IHRC) signed a joint declaration pledging continued cooperation in Holocaust education and encouraging effective measures against anti-Semitism and discrimination of any kind.  Ademi lauded the material IHRC provided to the Bureau for the Development of Education, and said the ministry would assist in teacher training at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Skopje as well as improve educational resources addressing the Holocaust.

The CRRCG reported it issued letters of consent to all foreign missionaries and clerics who submitted requests for religious work during the year.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In February the Bektashi Community (Tetovo) celebrated the 480th anniversary of the Harabati Baba Teqe.  In April the ICM signed in Ankara, Turkey, a new agreement with the Turkish International Cooperation Agency to restore the Harabati Baba Teqe complex, without the consent of the Bektashi Community.  The move came after the ICM said in March 2017 it was the sole owner of the compound.  Bektashi representatives continued to express concerns that the renovation of the complex would displace them from the compound entirely.  In June the ICM Muftiship (regional district) of Tetovo placed a banner with its insignia and title in both Albanian and Arabic at the entrance of the Bektashi shrine.  The Bektashi could not assert a claim of ownership to the compound because they remained unregistered.

In March two unknown individuals assaulted the founder of the Religious Community of Orthodox Albanians, Professor Branko Sinadinovski, in front of his home in Skopje.  He said he had been targeted several times before and his life threatened for publicly declaring himself an Orthodox Albanian.  Sinadinovski said the MOI did not conduct a thorough investigation of the case.

In March police filed charges against an individual, identified as K.D., for painting a swastika on the memorial museum of the uprising against fascism and other buildings in Prilep, under the section of the criminal code for “damage or destruction of protected objects, cultural heritage or natural rarities”.

Again this year, the Holocaust Fund, an NGO, continued to work with the Ministry of Education to implement Holocaust education and Jewish history programs and promote interfaith cooperation.  The project provided teachers with tools to teach secondary school students about the Holocaust and Jewish history.  The Holocaust Memorial Center, a museum overseen by members of the Jewish community and the government that commemorates the 7,200 Jews sent to the Treblinka death camp, also conducted Holocaust education programs in partnership with the Ministry of Education and organized a number of regional seminars on Jewish culture, tolerance, and respect for diversity with Bulgaria, Serbia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Greece.

According to religious communities, there were fewer reported acts of vandalism at religious sites than during 2017.  MOC-OA reported 12 acts of vandalism of Orthodox churches, including in July, when unknown individuals broke the window of the Orthodox church in Radiovce, near Tetovo, and stole donation money.

In October unknown individuals set on fire a 350-year-old mosque in the village of Erekovci, near Prilep.  The ICM condemned the action as “racist.”  Police were investigating the case as arson.  In October there was a fire at the Turkish Islamic cemetery in Bitola; there were no reports of a police investigation to determine the actual cause of fire.

On May 29, unidentified individuals vandalized the Harabati Baba Teqe, causing material damage and stealing documents.  Representatives of the Bektashi Community notified the police and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Field Office in Tetovo.

The MOC-OA reported 14 robberies of Orthodox churches in various towns during the year, most often involving money from church collections.

In May the MOC-OA celebrated the 1000th anniversary of the establishment of the Ohrid Archbishopric with multiple activities.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. Ambassador and embassy officials engaged with government and parliamentary representatives, including the speaker, to discuss issues of religious freedom and tolerance, including improved interfaith cooperation, MOC-OA autocephaly, religious freedom, and governmental respect for and equal treatment of faith groups.  The Ambassador also discussed interfaith tolerance, the importance of open dialogue, and countering religiously based violent extremism with senior government officials, including Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, Minister of Interior Oliver Spasovski, and new National Coordinator for Countering Violent Extremism and Counterterrorism Borche Petrevski.  The Ambassador, other embassy personnel, and the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues (SEHI) participated in official events commemorating the 75th anniversary of the deportation of Jews from Macedonia.  The SEHI met with the head of the Jewish Community to discuss the government’s involvement with the community’s activities, the status of property restitution, and the Holocaust Memorial Center.

In May the Ambassador took part in an event hosted by the World Leader of the Bektashi Community on religious tolerance following the ECHR decisions on unregistered religious groups in the country.

Embassy officials met with the heads of the ICM and MOC-OA to discuss religious freedom issues, including charges of political interference and favoritism toward certain religious groups and efforts to combat violent extremism related to religion.

The embassy continued to support the Holocaust Fund with a grant to fund a seminar for teachers on Sephardic Jewish history and the Holocaust.  Forty-five primary and secondary school teachers of different ethnicities from all over the country and the region learned how to teach their students about Jewish life before the war and the Holocaust, using digital technology and social media.  The seminar also provided an opportunity to share best practices for presenting Holocaust education in schools.

The embassy covered the cost of three participants to attend an international summer academy focused on Holocaust education, 20th century Jewish history, and civil society in Budapest and Belgrade.

The embassy sponsored the participation of a Holocaust Fund staffer working on multicultural education and religious dialogue in a program to discuss interfaith dialogue and religious freedom with leaders on these issues in the United States.

The embassy again partnered with a team of journalists and film professionals to produce and broadcast a documentary series that presented a tolerant and multicultural account of the country’s ethnic, linguistic, and religious communities.  The show, On the Same Side, comprised 30-minute episodes containing Macedonian and Albanian dual-language content.  It featured prominent members of the religious community, academics, and citizens from locations throughout the country.  The series, now in its third season, aired on Sitel, the largest privately owned television station in the country.

The embassy posted 10 different messages on social media regarding religious freedom reaching over 200,000 followers.

Serbia

Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees the freedom of religion, as well as the right to change one’s religion, forbids the establishment of a state religion, guarantees equality for all religious groups, and prohibits incitement of religious hatred.  Some religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) criticized the government for granting special privileges to seven religious groups it defined as “traditional” and protested difficulties in the registration process, without which religious groups lacked property rights, tax exemptions, and legal status.  Four religious groups applied for registration or had applications pending during the year, and the government approved two of them, the Buddhist Religious Community Nichiren Daishonin and the LOGOS Christian Community in Serbia.  In March the government appointed a chairperson to the supervisory board charged with overseeing the proper implementation of the law on Holocaust-era heirless and unclaimed property, enabling the board to commence work.  During the year, the government restituted to religious groups 1,151.4 hectares (2,845 acres) of land and 1,618 square meters (17,416 square feet) of office and residential space confiscated since 1945.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported two incidents of physical assault and two instances of verbal death threats against their members and said prosecutors failed to respond adequately to the incidents.  Protestants said persons frequently branded their religious groups as “sects,” which has a very strong negative connotation in the Serbian language.  One Protestant group said its members sometimes hid their religious affiliation for fear of discrimination.  Many smaller or nontraditional religious groups reported low-level public bias or discrimination against their members without citing specific examples.  A Baptist group said religious documentaries critical of Protestant groups occasionally played on conservative television stations but did not cite specific examples.  Anti-Semitic literature was available in some bookstores, and the Jewish community reported one incident of pro-Nazi graffiti at a public park in Belgrade.

U.S. embassy officials urged the government to continue implementing restitution of Holocaust-era heirless and unclaimed Jewish property and closely monitored plans for a memorial at the World War II (WWII)-era Staro Sajmiste concentration camp site.  The Ambassador met with the head of the Restitution Agency to express support for the agency’s work in restituting WWII-era Jewish heirless and unclaimed property.  Embassy staff met with local and national officials in efforts to assist these restitution efforts and advocated the appointment of a chairperson to the supervisory board charged with oversight of the Holocaust-era heirless and unclaimed property law.  Embassy officials continued to meet with representatives of a wide range of religious groups to discuss issues of religious freedom and tolerance, cooperation with the government, interaction between traditional and nontraditional religious groups, and property restitution.  In May the embassy hosted an iftar that brought together representatives of the two different Islamic communities, which rarely met, to encourage the groups to work together and overcome long-standing divisions.  An embassy officer visited a series of religious sites in Belgrade in January and February, spotlighting U.S. support for religious tolerance via the embassy’s social media outlets.  In December the embassy hosted an interfaith discussion and networking event for 20 religious leaders and others.  One speaker said it was the first occasion in almost 20 years that brought together such a wide cross-section of the religious community.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 7.1 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the 2011 census, approximately 85 percent of the population is Orthodox Christian, 5 percent Roman Catholic, 3 percent Sunni Muslim, and 1 percent Protestant.  The remaining 6 percent includes Jews, Buddhists, members of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, members of other religious groups, agnostics, atheists, , and individuals without a declared religious affiliation.  The vast majority of the population identifying as Orthodox Christian are members of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC), a category not specifically listed in the census.  Adherents of the Macedonian, Montenegrin, and Romanian Orthodox Churches may be included in the numbers of “Orthodox Christians” or in the “other Christian” category that is part of the remaining 6 percent, depending on how they self-identify.

Catholics are predominantly ethnic Hungarians and Croats residing in Vojvodina Province.  Muslims include Bosniaks (Slavic Muslims) in the southwest Sandzak region, ethnic Albanians in the south, and Roma located throughout the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution guarantees the freedom of belief and religion as well as the right to change one’s religion.  It states everyone shall have the freedom to worship and practice religion individually or with others, in private or in public, and no one shall be obliged to declare one’s religion.  The constitution states the freedom to express one’s religion or beliefs may be restricted by law only as necessary to protect life or health, the morals of democratic society, freedoms and rights guaranteed by the constitution, or public safety and order or prevent incitement of religious, national, or racial hatred.  The constitution forbids the establishment of a state religion, guarantees equality for religious groups, and calls for separation of religion and state.  It states churches and religious communities shall be free to organize their internal structure, perform religious rites in public, and establish and manage religious schools and social and charity institutions in accordance with the law.  The constitution prohibits religious discrimination or incitement of religious hatred, calls upon the government to promote religious diversity and tolerance, and states religious refugees have a right to asylum, the procedures for which shall be established in law.

The law bans incitement of discrimination, hatred, or violence against an individual or group on religious grounds and carries penalties ranging from one to 10 years in prison, depending on the type of offense.

The law grants special treatment to seven religious groups the government defines as “traditional.”  These are the SOC, Roman Catholic Church, Slovak Evangelical Church, Reformed Christian Church, Evangelical Christian Church, Islamic community, and Jewish community.  The law considers Islam in general a traditional religion, and the Islamic community is divided between the Islamic Community of Serbia (emphasis added), with its seat in Belgrade, and the Islamic Community in Serbia (emphasis added), with its seat in Novi Pazar.  Both Islamic communities are officially registered with the government and can conduct most normal business.  Neither group, however, has absolute authority over matters regarding the Islamic community as a whole.  “Church” is a term reserved for Christian religious groups, while the term “religious community” refers to non-Christian groups and to some Christian entities.

The seven traditional religious groups recognized by law are automatically registered in the Register of Churches and Religious Communities.  In addition to these groups, the government grants traditional status, solely in Vojvodina Province, to the Diocese of Dacia Felix of the Romanian Orthodox Church, with its seat in Romania and administrative seat in Vrsac in Vojvodina.

The law also grants the seven traditional religious groups, but not other registered religious groups, the right to receive value-added tax (VAT) refunds and to provide chaplain services to military personnel.

There are 22 “nontraditional” religious groups registered with the government:  the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Evangelical Methodist Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints , Evangelical Church in Serbia, Church of Christ’s Love, Spiritual Church of Christ, Union of Christian Baptist Churches in Serbia, Nazarene Christian Religious Community (associated with the Apostolic Christian Church [Nazarene]), Church of God in Serbia, Protestant Christian Community in Serbia, Church of Christ Brethren in Serbia, Free Belgrade Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Zion Sacrament Church, Union of Seventh-day Adventist Reform Movement, Protestant Evangelical Church Spiritual Center, Evangelical Church of Christ, Slovak Union of Baptist Churches, Union of Baptist Churches in Serbia, Charismatic Community of Faith in Serbia, and, added during the year, the Buddhist Religious Community Nichiren Daishonin and the LOGOS Christian Community in Serbia.  Several of these organizations are umbrella groups that oversee many individual churches, sometimes of slightly differing affiliations.

The law does not require religious groups to register, but it treats unregistered religious organizations as informal groups that do not receive any of the legal benefits registered religious groups receive.  Only registered religious groups may build new places of worship, own property, apply for property restitution, or receive state funding for their activities.  Registration is also required for opening bank accounts and hiring staff.  Registered clerics of registered groups are entitled to government support for social and health insurance and a retirement plan.  According to government sources, 17 registered groups use these benefits.  The law also exempts registered groups from property and administrative taxes and from filing annual financial reports.

To obtain registration, a group must submit the following:  the names, identity numbers, copies of notarized identity documents, and signatures of at least 100 citizen members; its statutes and a summary of its religious teachings, ceremonies, religious goals, and basic activities; and information on its sources of funding.  The law prohibits registration if an applicant group’s name includes part of the name of an existing registered group.  The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) maintains the Register of Churches and Religious Communities and responds to registration applications.  If the MOJ rejects a registration application, the religious group may appeal the decision in court.

According to the constitution, the Constitutional Court may ban a religious community for activities infringing on the right to life or health, the rights of the child, the right to personal and family integrity, public safety, and order, or if it incites religious, national, or racial intolerance.  It also states the Constitutional Court may ban an association that incites religious hatred.

The MOJ’s Directorate for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities manages all matters pertaining to the cooperation of the state with churches and religious communities.  These include assistance to national minorities in protecting the religious traditions integral to their cultural and ethnic identity, cooperation between the state and SOC dioceses abroad, support for religious education, and support for and protection of the legal standing of churches and religious communities.  The government’s independent Office for Human and Minority Rights, which addresses policy and monitors the status of minorities, also oversees some religious issues.

The law recognizes restitution claims for religious property confiscated in 1945 or later for registered religious groups only.  The law permits individual claims for properties lost by Holocaust victims during WWII, but religious groups may not claim property confiscated prior to 1945.  Registered religious groups that had property and endowments seized after WWII may apply for their restitution.

In accordance with the Terezin Declaration on Holocaust-era assets, the law provides for the restitution of heirless and unclaimed Jewish property seized during the Holocaust, allowing the Jewish community to file restitution claims based on these seizures, while still permitting future claimants to come forward.  The law defines “heirless property” as any property not the subject of a legitimate claim for restitution.  The Jewish community must prove the former owner of the property was a member of the community and the property was confiscated during the Holocaust.  The law also stipulates financial support from the state budget for the Jewish community of 950,000 euros ($1.09 million) per year for a 25-year period, which began with an initial payment in 2017.  The law requires the appointment of a supervisory board with representatives from the country’s Jewish community, the World Jewish Restitution Organization, and a government-appointed chairperson to oversee implementation of the restitution law’s provisions and use of the state payment.  The board is primarily responsible for auditing use of the annual financial payments from the government to the Jewish Federation.  The government appointed a chair for the board in March after more than a year without an established supervisory body.

The constitution states parents and legal guardians shall have the right to ensure the religious education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.  The law provides for religious education in public schools, but only for the seven traditional groups.  Students in primary and secondary schools must attend either religious or civic education class.  Parents choose which option is appropriate for their child.  The curriculum taught in the religion classes varies regionally, reflecting the number of adherents of a given religion in a specific community.  Typically, five interested students is the minimum needed to offer instruction in a particular religion.  In areas where individual schools do not meet the minimum number, the Ministry of Education attempts to combine students into regional classes for religious instruction.  The Commission for Religious Education appoints religious education instructors in schools throughout the country from lists of qualified candidates supplied by each religious group.  The commission comprises representatives from each traditional religious group, the Ministries of Education and of Science and Technological Development, and the Directorate for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities.  Representatives of the Islamic Community in Serbia have not participated in the work of the commission.  Instead, they have submitted their list of religious teachers directly to the education ministry for approval.  According to the Islamic Community in Serbia, appointment of their religious teachers in schools throughout the Sandzak region has depended on local authorities rather than the education ministry.  The Islamic Community of Serbia participates in the commission.

The constitution recognizes the right of conscientious objection based on religious beliefs.  It states no person shall be obliged to perform military or any other service involving the use of weapons if this is inconsistent with his or her religion or beliefs, but that a conscientious objector may be called upon to fulfill military duty not involving carrying weapons.  By law, all men must register for military service when they turn 18, but there is currently no mandatory military service.

The constitution allows any court with legal jurisdiction to prevent the dissemination of information advocating religious hatred, discrimination, hostility, or violence.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, public prosecutors provided unsatisfactory levels of follow-up on the two cases of physical assault and two cases of death threats against their members during the year, although they reported that police generally took appropriate action.

The MOJ reported it approved two registration applications from religious groups during the year, one for the LOGOS Christian Community in Serbia that applied during the year, and one for the Buddhist Religious Community Nichiren Daishonin that applied in 2017.  The approval of Nichiren Daishonin’s application marked the first time the government approved the registration of a non-Christian religious group.  The government rejected three other applications:  one submitted during the year by Christian Community Golgotha because the government said the application was incomplete, and two submitted in 2017, by the Old Orthodox Catholic Church in Serbia and the Diocese of Raska and Prizren in Exile of the Serbian Orthodox Church.  The government was still reviewing two other applications submitted during the year, by Christian Center – Good News, and Theravada Buddhist Community in Serbia.

Minority religious groups continued to state the law was inherently biased in differentiating between traditional and nontraditional religious groups and in conflict with constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion and equality among religious groups.  One religious community stated the government was not transparent with the application process to apply for benefits and grants the government provided to religious groups.  Director of the Directorate for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities Mileta Radojevic said the directorate focused its expenditures on the traditional groups because they represented the vast majority of the population.  He also stated there was no open call for project proposals to fund; rather, the directorate distributed information on the availability of funds directly to specific religious groups.  One Protestant Church in the city of Nis reported it faced difficulty navigating the process to apply for pension and health-care benefits for its clergy, stating central government officials gave it a list of additional requirements to prove its valid status as a Church, despite belonging to a registered umbrella organization.  The Directorate for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities stated it provided scholarships only for members of religious groups with a formal, university-level religious institution within the country.  Prospective clergy from smaller denominations who relied on seminaries outside the country were ineligible for such scholarships.

The Macedonian and Montenegrin Orthodox Churches remained unregistered.  The government recognizes only one Orthodox Church in Serbia and thus defers to the SOC for approval of any other Orthodox Church to operate in the country.  The SOC continued not to recognize the autocephaly of the Macedonian or Montenegrin Orthodox Church, and government officials stated that secular authorities should not try to resolve issues among individual Orthodox Churches.  The registered Romanian Orthodox Church (ROC) Diocese of Dacia Felix operated in the Banat region of Vojvodina Province in an agreement with the SOC.  Government and SOC officials criticized the activities of ROC priests outside Vojvodina Province in the eastern part of the country, where the ROC remained unregistered, who continued to hold services in the Romanian language and to repurpose buildings for religious use.

Representatives from the First Baptist Church of Belgrade continued to protest the legal requirement that groups register in order to obtain legal status by refusing to apply for registration, citing its long-held legal standing in the country under previous legal frameworks.  Representatives from the Church of Christ said the requirement to submit legal documents and the signatures of 100 citizens was costly, time consuming, and often impossible to fulfill for many smaller churches and those whose members were primarily noncitizens.

One Tibetan Buddhist group stated the registration requirement to submit religious texts for review was difficult for Buddhist groups to comply with, given the breadth of texts used in their practice.  The same group said, prior to the government’s approval of Nichiren Daishonin’s application, that the government had not registered any Buddhist groups under the religion law during several years of attempts by various groups to do so.

Multiple groups, including the First Baptist Church of Belgrade, Protestant Evangelical Church, Anglican Church, Church of Christ, and one Tibetan Buddhist group, continued to state that lack of registration did not directly prevent a religious organization from worshiping.  They said, however, it did impose restrictions, including inability to apply for property restitution, open bank accounts, purchase or sell property, obtain visas for religious travel, and publish literature.  The First Baptist Church of Belgrade reported that lack of legal recognition became more onerous over time, as it impeded a variety of activities.

At year’s end, a 2013 complaint by the Christian Baptist Church and the Protestant Evangelical Church, both of which had declined to apply for registration under the law, to the European Court of Human Rights, alleging the law violated the rights and freedoms safeguarded by the European Convention on Human Rights, remained pending.

In March the government appointed a chairperson to the supervisory board charged with overseeing the proper implementation of the law on heirless and unclaimed property confiscated during the Holocaust.  The appointment effectively established the board, which immediately began auditing the use of funds by the Jewish community and compliance with the law’s general provisions.

At least one religious researcher and an evangelical group said the religious education system in public schools discriminated against nontraditional groups.  These same observers noted the separate religious classes inhibited interreligious dialogue, religious tolerance, and basic understanding of other groups.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that, unlike in previous years, they did not encounter legal difficulties in publicly distributing religious literature or conducting door-to-door ministry activities.

The government continued restitution of religious properties confiscated in 1945 or later, returning 1,073 hectares (2,651 acres) of agricultural land, 78 hectares (193 acres) of forest, 0.4 hectare (one acre) of construction land, 185 square meters (1,991 square feet) of residential building property, and 1,433 square meters (15,425 square feet) of business facilities to the SOC, Roman Catholic, Romanian Orthodox, Evangelical Christian, Greek Catholic, and Reformed Christian Churches and the Islamic Community.  The government estimated it had returned 56 percent of previously confiscated properties since the beginning of implementation of the law on religious restitution in 2006, 76 percent of confiscated land and 36 percent of confiscated buildings.

In accordance with the law on Holocaust-era heirless and unclaimed property, the government continued to return heirless and unclaimed property taken during WWII to the Jewish community and to individuals.  This law governs personal property taken from members of the Jewish community during the Holocaust, primarily consisting of nonreligious residential and business property and agricultural land.  The government began processing claims under the law in 2016 and reported it had returned a total of 7,180 square meters (77,285 square feet) of buildings and 625.24 hectares (1,545 acres) of land, of which 625.19 hectares (4,724 acres) was agricultural land and 442 square meters (4,758 square feet) was unfinished construction land.

In November the Restitution Agency returned a building located in the southwest city of Novi Pazar to the Islamic Community in Serbia.  This was the first restitution claim returned to either Islamic community.  Previously, representatives of both communities, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe observers, and local political leaders speculated the Restitution Agency had been unwilling to resolve the claims because the government did not want to decide which was the “rightful” Islamic group.  The two Islamic communities said they had each submitted claims on the same set of properties.  The Restitution Agency stated it had been processing the claims from both communities and confirmed the Novi Pazar property was the first returned to either Islamic group.  In explaining the lack of progress on other claims, the agency said that, in general, the claims were poorly substantiated and required extra resources to process.  The agency said it had already rejected three requests from the Islamic Community of Serbia because of insufficient evidence the community had owned the property prior to appropriation.

Following the July death of Hatidza Mehmedovic, President of the Mothers of Srebrenica, an advocacy group representing survivors of the Srebrenica massacre during the Bosnian war, Member of Parliament and Serbian Radical Party member Vjerica Radeta posted a tweet mocking the woman’s loss of her husband and two sons in the 1995 killings of 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys.  Radeta’s tweet called the group “businesswomen of Srebrenica” and asked, “Who will bury her?  Her husband or sons?”  The tweet sparked outrage among some media and officials – including Prime Minister Ana Brnabic; Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Construction, Transportation, and Infrastructure Zorana Mihajlovic; and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Trade, Tourism, and Telecommunications Rasim Ljajic.  Members of the Serbian Radical Party defended the tweet, which Radeta quickly removed.

On July 11, the Belgrade Higher Court ruled against the petition to rehabilitate WWII-era Prime Minister Milan Nedic, who headed the Nazi-collaborationist government in 1941-44, during which 90 percent of the country’s Jews were killed in the Holocaust.  The court ruled that the presumption that “Milan Nedic was arrested without any court or administrative decision and was a victim of persecution for political or ideological reasons” was groundless.

A commission dedicated to development of a memorial at the location of the WWII-era Staro Sajmiste concentration camp met monthly from January through September.  The commission also continued work on, but did not complete, a 2017 draft law authorizing the memorial, undertaking new rounds of edits and reviews in consultation with community members and various government ministries.  The government did not transfer responsibility for the commission from the city of Belgrade to the Office of the President as it announced it would do in 2017, leaving the commission with unclear guidance.  The commission held no meetings in the last three months of the year; commission head Bishop Jovan Culibrk of the SOC said that, without a clear government mandate or an approved law, the commission could make little progress.

The national television service, Radio Television of Serbia, continued to broadcast a daily 10-minute Religious Calendar program about major holidays celebrated by monotheistic religions.

The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The government did not keep records of religiously motivated violence, and reporting from individual religious organization remained sparse.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported two incidents of physical assault against members engaged in field ministry and two death threats.

On March 31, in Belgrade, an unknown assailant punched a Jehovah’s Witness in the head while he engaged in door-to-door ministry.  Jehovah’s Witnesses said police passed the case on to the public prosecutor, but neither the group nor the victim had received any updates on the status of the case by year’s end.

On April 13, in Zitkovac, an unidentified assailant hit a Jehovah’s Witness in the face and overturned his mobile literature cart.  Police informed the public prosecutor, who declined to pursue the case.  The case concluded with a police warning to the perpetrator.

On March 2, in Belgrade, a Jehovah’s Witness reported to local police that a man from his neighborhood had threatened several times to kill him because of his faith.  Police informed the public prosecutor of the incident, who asked the victim to provide a supplementary statement.  At year’s end, the prosecutor had not taken additional action.

On June 17, in the city of Sabac, an unnamed person made death threats against a Jehovah’s Witness.  According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the misdemeanor court in the city of Sabac ordered the perpetrator to pay a fine of 100 euros ($110) but declined to classify the incident as religiously motivated.

Anti-Semitic works, such as the forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion, were available for purchase from informal sellers or online used bookshops or posted online.  Right-wing groups maintained several websites and individuals hosted chat rooms (although many were inactive) that openly promoted anti-Semitic ideas and literature.

Aleksandra Djuric Milovanovic, an anthropologist of religion, stated that society distrusted Protestant religious groups, especially smaller evangelical groups, and that most citizens lacked a basic understanding of Protestant teachings.  She said that because students received religious instruction only in the specific, traditional religion of their choosing, they acquired no information in the public school system about other religious groups.  Milovanovic and members of Protestant groups said persons often branded the groups with the term “sect,” which she said had “a very strong negative connotation associated with secrecy and mystifying rituals in the Serbian language.”  One Protestant group reported that members sometimes hid their religious affiliation for fear of discrimination.

Many smaller or nontraditional religious groups reported low-level public bias or discrimination against their members without citing specific examples.  A Baptist group said religious documentaries critical of Protestant groups occasionally played on conservative television stations but did not cite specific examples.

The Jewish community reported one incident of pro-Nazi graffiti painted on a wall in Studentski Park in Belgrade on September 20.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. embassy continued to work with the Restitution Agency and other members of government in the application of the heirless and unclaimed Jewish property law.  In several meetings with government officials, the Ambassador and other embassy staff encouraged the government to appoint a member/chairman of a supervisory board to oversee proper implementation and financial responsibility of the heirless and unclaimed Holocaust-era property, as required by the law and without which the board lacked a mandate to begin work.

In March the Ambassador met with the head of the Restitution Agency and in a press conference urged the government to continue its work in returning Holocaust-era heirless and unclaimed property.

Following reports that some local archives were slow in assisting local Jewish communities in their research of claims under the law on Holocaust-era heirless and unclaimed property, embassy staff visited local archives to urge their cooperation with the Jewish community.

Embassy officials met individually with members of the SOC, Romanian Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic Church, Islamic Community in Serbia, Islamic Community of Serbia, Reformed Christian Church, Jewish community, First Baptist Church of Belgrade, Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Tibetan Buddhist group, Evangelical Student Union, Faculty of Orthodox Theology, Directorate for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities, Church of Christ, NGO Centar9, Journal of the Politology of Religion, editors at Teologija.net, and individual religious researchers to discuss the status of religious freedom and interreligious cooperation.

Embassy representatives continued to attend regular meetings of, and engage with, the commission responsible for establishing a memorial at the site of the WWII-era Staro Sajmiste concentration camp in Belgrade.

In May the embassy hosted an iftar, which brought together members of the Islamic Community of Serbia and the Islamic Community in Serbia.  Embassy officials encouraged the two groups to work together during Ramadan to overcome longstanding divisions in the community.

A senior embassy official conducted a series of visits to SOC, Roman Catholic, and Islamic sites around Belgrade, spotlighting U.S. support for religious tolerance and diversity via the embassy’s social media outlets.

In December the embassy hosted an interfaith panel discussion and networking event with more than 20 members of the religious community and others, including members of the SOC, Roman Catholic Church, both Islamic communities, Jewish community, Slovak Evangelical Church, several minority Protestant denominations, University of Belgrade, and Office for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities.  The primary speaker, an SOC official, stated it was the first occasion in almost 20 years that brought such a diverse group of religious leaders together for a conversation on interfaith cooperation.  Members of the smaller denominations said the gathering was a valuable opportunity to network with key religious and government officials.

The U.S. embassy continued to work with the Restitution Agency and other members of government in the application of the heirless and unclaimed Jewish property law.  In several meetings with government officials, the Ambassador and other embassy staff encouraged the government to appoint a member/chairman of a supervisory board to oversee proper implementation and financial responsibility of the heirless and unclaimed Holocaust-era property, as required by the law and without which the board lacked a mandate to begin work.

In March the Ambassador met with the head of the Restitution Agency and in a press conference urged the government to continue its work in returning Holocaust-era heirless and unclaimed property.

Following reports that some local archives were slow in assisting local Jewish communities in their research of claims under the law on Holocaust-era heirless and unclaimed property, embassy staff visited local archives to urge their cooperation with the Jewish community.

Embassy officials met individually with members of the SOC, Romanian Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic Church, Islamic Community in Serbia, Islamic Community of Serbia, Reformed Christian Church, Jewish community, First Baptist Church of Belgrade, Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Tibetan Buddhist group, Evangelical Student Union, Faculty of Orthodox Theology, Directorate for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities, Church of Christ, NGO Centar9, Journal of the Politology of Religion, editors at Teologija.net, and individual religious researchers to discuss the status of religious freedom and interreligious cooperation.

Embassy representatives continued to attend regular meetings of, and engage with, the commission responsible for establishing a memorial at the site of the WWII-era Staro Sajmiste concentration camp in Belgrade.

In May the embassy hosted an iftar, which brought together members of the Islamic Community of Serbia and the Islamic Community in Serbia.  Embassy officials encouraged the two groups to work together during Ramadan to overcome longstanding divisions in the community.

A senior embassy official conducted a series of visits to SOC, Roman Catholic, and Islamic sites around Belgrade, spotlighting U.S. support for religious tolerance and diversity via the embassy’s social media outlets.

In December the embassy hosted an interfaith panel discussion and networking event with more than 20 members of the religious community and others, including members of the SOC, Roman Catholic Church, both Islamic communities, Jewish community, Slovak Evangelical Church, several minority Protestant denominations, University of Belgrade, and Office for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities.  The primary speaker, an SOC official, stated it was the first occasion in almost 20 years that brought such a diverse group of religious leaders together for a conversation on interfaith cooperation.  Members of the smaller denominations said the gathering was a valuable opportunity to network with key religious and government officials.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future