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Croatia

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religious thought and expression and prohibits incitement of religious hatred.  All religious communities have the same religious protections under the law, and are free to worship, proselytize, own property, and import religious literature.  The government has written agreements with the Roman Catholic Church that provide state financial support and favorable tax and other treatment; 53 other registered religious communities that have agreements with the state receive equivalent treatment that registered religious communities without such agreements and unregistered religious groups do not receive.  Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and international organizations reported instances of border police subjecting migrants to treatment inconsistent with their religious beliefs.  The government denied these reports.  The ombudsperson covering human rights reported some health institutions denied operations to Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused blood transfusions for religious reasons, despite the ombudsperson having issued a recommendation that public hospitals provide treatment in such cases.  Jewish leaders said the government did not take concrete steps to restitute private or communal Jewish properties seized during the Holocaust.  According to observers, the government made no significant progress on such issues during the year.  Atheists and Jewish organizations said non-Catholic children were discriminated against in public schools.  Senior government officials attended an annual commemoration for victims of the World War II (WWII)-era Jasenovac concentration camp.  Jewish and Serb leaders, the latter largely Orthodox, boycotted the commemoration for the third year in a row, the former stating the government failed to address anti-Semitism.  Leaders of the Islamic community reported overall good relations with the government.

Jewish community leaders continued to report Holocaust revisionism and public use of Ustasha (WWII pro-Nazi regime) symbols and slogans.  The Council of Europe and the national ombudsperson reported an increase in religious intolerance, particularly online.  The ombudsperson’s report said comments on various online portals accused Jews of undermining democracy, freedom, and financial institutions.

The U.S. embassy continued to encourage the government to restitute property seized during and after WWII, particularly from the Jewish community during the Holocaust, and advocated amendments to existing legislation that would allow for restitution and compensation claims with a revised deadline for new applications.  The embassy sponsored a visit by two teachers to the United States for a Holocaust education exchange program and sponsored the visit to the United States of the director of the Jasenovac Concentration Camp Memorial Site on a leadership study program.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 4.3 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the 2011 census, 86.3 percent of the population is Catholic, 4.4 percent Serbian Orthodox, and 1.5 percent Muslim.  Nearly 4 percent self-identify as nonreligious or atheist.  Other religious groups include Jews, Protestants, and other Christians.  According to the Coordination of Jewish Communities in Croatia, there are between 2,000 and 2,500 Jews.

Religious affiliation correlates closely with ethnicity.  Ethnic Serbs are predominantly members of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) and live primarily in cities and areas bordering Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Most members of other minority religious groups reside in urban areas.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for equality of rights regardless of religion, as well as freedom of conscience and religious expression.  It prohibits incitement of religious hatred.  According to the constitution, religious communities shall be equal under the law and separate from the state; they are free to publicly conduct religious services as well as open and manage schools and charitable organizations under the protection and assistance of the state.

The Catholic Church receives state financial support and other benefits established by four concordats between the government and the Holy See.  These agreements provide for state financing for salaries and pensions of some religious officials associated with religious education through government-managed pension and health funds.  These agreements also stipulate state funding for religious education in public schools.

The law defines the legal position of religious communities and determines eligibility for government funding and tax benefits.  Registered religious communities are exempt from taxes on the purchase of real estate, the profit/capital gains tax, and taxes on donations.  According to the law, a religious community previously active as a legal entity before enactment of the current law need only submit its name, the location of its headquarters, information on the office of the person authorized to represent it, and the seal and stamp it uses to register.  To register as a religious community, a religious group without prior legal status must have at least 500 members and have been registered as an association, with at least three members for at least five years.  To register as a religious community, a group submits a list of its members and documentation outlining the group’s activities and bylaws and describing its mission to the Ministry of Administration.  Nonregistered religious groups may operate freely but do not receive tax benefits.  They may conduct financial transactions as legal entities.  A contractual agreement with the state, which grants a registered religious community eligibility for further funding and benefits, defines the community’s role and activities and provides for collaboration with the government in areas of joint interest, such as education, health, and culture.

There are 54 registered religious communities, including the Catholic Church, SOC, Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Christian Adventist Church, Church of Christ, Church of God, Croatian Old Catholic Church, Evangelical Church, Macedonian Orthodox Church, Pentecostal Church, Reformed Christian Church, Union of Baptist Churches, Seventh-day Adventist Reform Movement, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Union of Pentecostal Churches of Christ, Coordination of Jewish Communities in Croatia (an umbrella group of nine distinct Jewish communities), Jewish Community of Virovitica, Bet Israel (a Jewish group), and the Islamic Community of Croatia.  Besides the Catholic Church, 19 religious communities have agreements with the state.

The state recognizes marriages conducted by registered religious communities that have concluded agreements with the state, eliminating the need for civil registration.  Marriages conducted by registered communities that have not concluded agreements with the state, or by nonregistered religious groups, require civil registration.

Registered religious communities that have not concluded agreements with the state and nonregistered religious groups may not conduct religious education in public schools or access state funds in support of religious activities, including charitable work, counseling, building costs, and clergy salaries; however, they may engage in worship, proselytize, own property, and import religious literature.  Only registered religious communities, with or without agreements with the state, may provide spiritual counsel in prisons, hospitals, and the military.

Public schools must offer religious education, although students may opt out without providing specific grounds.  The Catholic catechism is the predominant religious text used.  Other religious communities that have agreements with the state may also offer religious education classes in schools if there are seven or more students of that faith.  Eligible religious communities provide the instructors and the state pays their salaries.  Private religious schools are eligible for state assistance and follow a national curriculum.  Registered religious communities may have their own schools.  Unregistered religious groups may not have their own schools.

Education about the Holocaust is mandatory in the seventh and eighth grades of elementary school and during four years of high school education.

The law does not unequivocally allow foreign citizens whose property was confiscated during and after the Holocaust era to seek compensation or restitution.  According to law, an applicant’s country must have a bilateral restitution treaty with Croatia, but no such bilateral treaties currently exist.  Two court cases have held such treaties are not required; however, the law has not changed.  The law does not allow new property claims, because the deadline expired in 2003.

The ombudsperson is a commissioner of the parliament responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights and freedoms, including religious freedom.  The ombudsperson examines citizens’ complaints pertaining to the work of state bodies; local and regional self-government; and legal persons vested with public authority.  The ombudsperson may issue recommendations to government agencies regarding human rights and religious freedom practices but does not have authority to enforce compliance with his or her recommendations.

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

Government Practices

According to the Office of the Commission for Relations with Religious Communities, the government budgeted 288.2 million kuna ($45.67 million) during the year for the Catholic Church for salaries, pensions, and other purposes, compared with 299.5 million kuna ($47.46 million) in 2017.  The government offered funding to other religious communities that had concluded agreements with the state, a portion of which was based on their size, in addition to funds provided to support religious education in public schools, as well as the operation of private religious schools.  The government provided 21.4 million kuna ($3.39 million) to these groups.

Some minority groups said the Catholic Church continued to enjoy a special status in relation to other religious communities, in part because of its concordats with the government and in part because of its cultural and political influence as the majority religion.

Atheist, Jewish, and Serbian Orthodox organizations said that although the law allows students to opt out of religious education, in practice most public schools did not offer viable alternatives to Catholic catechism.  They also said public schools did not take adequate steps to prevent bullying of nonparticipating children.  The press covered several specific instances of such bullying during the year.  Atheist groups said Catholic symbols remained prevalent in government buildings such as courtrooms, prisons, and public hospitals.  They said they believed this practice was inconsistent with the constitution, which states religious communities shall be separate from the state.  The courts have not ruled on this question to date.

NGOs and international organizations reported incidents of border police using religious epithets in interactions with migrants and subjecting migrants to situations that conflicted with their religious values.  For example, one NGO said border police conducted a strip search of a Muslim woman in the presence of Muslim men.  Ministry of Interior authorities denied all such reports.

The ombudsperson reported continued obstacles encountered by Jehovah’s Witnesses regarding their right to health care in accordance with their religious beliefs.  During the year, the ombudsperson stated that in 2017, the latest year for which figures were available, there were 24 cases in which state healthcare institutions denied surgery to Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused blood transfusions because of their religious beliefs.  Of the 24 cases, 15 patients eventually received adequate medical care in private hospitals in the country.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses community reported again having to use its own finances to send patients to different hospitals for procedures, including hospitals outside of the country.  The ombudsperson’s report on 2017 recommended the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labor and Pension System improve hospital procedures and policies to provide adequate health care to patients in accordance with their religious beliefs.

The ombudsperson’s 2017 report said Jews faced frequent online hate speech, threats, and accusations, e.g., that Jews undermined Croatian society, democracy, and financial institutions; Jews should leave the country; and the extermination of the Jewish people during WWII should have been completed.  Jewish groups said the government did not take adequate steps to prevent or punish such speech.

Following a September meeting with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, Mufti Aziz Hasanovic, leader of the Islamic Community of Croatia, publicly described cooperation between his community and the government as excellent and a positive example for other countries in Europe.  Hasanovic cited as an example his cooperation with the government to provide religious and cultural instruction to soldiers before they deployed to Muslim countries, particularly Afghanistan.  The mufti accompanied President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic on state visits to majority-Muslim countries.

Following an April meeting with Prime Minister Plenkovic, Metropolitan Porfirije Peric, leader of the SOC, publicly stated he was satisfied with the legal status of the Church.

On April 22, the government held its official annual commemoration of victims killed by the WWII-era Ustasha regime at Jasenovac concentration camp.  The Jewish community, along with the Serb National Council and the Alliance of Anti-Fascist Fighters, boycotted the official commemoration for the third year in a row, instead holding their own commemorations.  Members of Jewish groups said the boycott was necessary to condemn what they said was the government’s lack of response to Holocaust revisionism and failure to address Holocaust-era property restitution.  Observers said the government made no significant progress on such issues during the year.

Representatives of the SOC reported the government resolved three outstanding property restitution cases related to the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, although several others remained unresolved.

On the same day the government commemorated victims of Jasenovac, and again on May 6, police prevented members of the extra-parliamentary Autonomous Croatian Party of Rights (A-HSP), described widely in both media reports and academic analyses as far right, from entering Jasenovac Concentration Camp Memorial Site to hold a meeting.  Prior to both attempts, A-HSP President Drazen Keleminec sent the media an online invitation that included the WWII-era Ustasha salute “Za Dom Spremni” (“For the Homeland Ready”).

In June Jasenovac Memorial Site released a statement criticizing state-owned television (HRT) for airing an interview with Igor Vukic, author of a book published during the year minimizing the crimes committed at Jasenovac during the Holocaust.  The officials said taxpayer-funded state-owned television should not be a platform for what they termed Holocaust revisionism.

Jewish community leaders said some government officials made statements downplaying the country’s role in the Holocaust.  For example, they highlighted as problematic President Grabar-Kitarovic’s March statement in Buenos Aires that, “After World War II, many Croats found a space of freedom in Argentina where they could testify to their patriotism,” saying that some Croats who settled there after the war were Ustasha fleeing prosecution for war crimes.

On February 28, a special government-appointed council tasked with examining the use of totalitarian symbols made a nonbinding recommendation to legalize limited use of such symbols for commemorative or ceremonial purposes.  Many civil society organizations criticized this recommendation, believing it would allow for continued use of symbols from the country’s WWII-era Ustasha regime by some veterans groups and nationalist political organizations who minimize the country’s role in the Holocaust.

The Office of the President continued to maintain a special advisor for Holocaust issues, who was involved in developing and implementing religious freedom projects, including a film festival on religious tolerance and a competition to choose an architect for a new Holocaust memorial in downtown Zagreb.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In May the Council of Europe released a report saying religious intolerance, including pro-Ustasha graffiti and online speech, were on the rise in the country.  Minority religious communities reported occasional instances of verbal harassment and physical assault, including of religious workers.  One NGO said that in Zagreb in September, volunteers in the process of removing graffitied swastikas from a building were beaten by unknown assailants and hospitalized, one with severe injuries.  Although police initiated an investigation, the volunteers ultimately declined to press charges, stating concern for potential social repercussions.

SOC representatives reported fewer incidents of targeted crime compared with the previous year.  For example, they reported to police two burglaries (compared with 10 in 2017) of SOC religious properties.  SOC representatives reported frequent verbal attacks on Metropolitan Peric in public spaces in Zagreb; however, they said Peric did not file police reports.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. Ambassador and embassy staff regularly discussed religious freedom issues, including the status and treatment of religious minorities, property restitution, anti-Semitism, and Holocaust revisionism with representatives of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Justice, and Culture; the ombudsperson; representatives of parliament; and other officials.  The embassy also discussed the religious freedom of migrants and asylum-seekers with officials from the Ministry of Interior.

In March the Ambassador, embassy staff, and the U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues met with the minister of justice, the minister of culture, officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, members of parliament, leaders of Jewish organizations, and a panel of Holocaust survivors.  The U.S. officials encouraged the government to adopt amendments to existing legislation to provide for restitution of private and communal or religious property seized during and after WWII, including provisions that would unequivocally allow for foreign claims and that would reopen the deadline for potential new claims.  Embassy engagement also focused on the restitution of Jewish communal properties such as cultural centers, synagogues, and cemeteries, as well as private property, and creation of a claims process for victims.

Embassy officials discussed religious freedom issues, including freedom of expression and efforts to counter discrimination, with NGOs such as the Society for Promotion of Religious Freedom, Human Rights House, Documenta, Protagora, and Zagreb Pride, as well as with representatives from Catholic, Serbian Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, and other religious groups.

In cooperation with the Ministry of Science and Education, the embassy again funded Holocaust education training in the United States for two high school teachers, who later applied the training in the classroom.  The Department of State, Association of Holocaust Organizations in New York, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum organized the annual program.  The program continued to focus on new teaching methods and techniques, facilitated an exchange of ideas and experiences, and provided resources and materials for classroom instruction.

The embassy sponsored the participation of the director of Jasenovac Memorial Site in a program in the United States focused on religious freedom and human rights.

The embassy posted a range of religious freedom issues on social media platforms, including support for Holocaust commemorations.

Montenegro

Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion as well as the right to change one’s religion.  It specifies there is no state religion and guarantees equality and freedom for all religious communities.  The law prohibits religious discrimination and hate speech.  Religious groups, particularly the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC), continued to say the laws governing their legal status were inadequate.  The SOC said the Ministry of Interior (MOI) denied visas to its clergy based on discriminatory registration procedures.  Police on occasion prevented Montenegrin Orthodox Church (MOC) and SOC members from engaging in religious activities at Orthodox sites at the same time, citing security concerns over potential clashes.  Construction was halted for several months during the year on a new synagogue in Podgorica begun in 2017 by the Jewish community, pending the granting of necessary permits and documentation, which the Jewish community said was a bureaucratic issue rather than discrimination.  The government maintained its policy of not restituting religious properties confiscated by the communist government, although it discussed a new religion law that could potentially address restitution.  The prime minister said that an SOC church in a spot revered by Catholics, Muslims, and Orthodox would have to be removed because it did not have the proper permits.  SOC Metropolitan Amfilohije stated, “The destruction of the church would be equal to a crime.”

The SOC and the MOC continued to dispute ownership of religious sites, and to call on the government to protect their interests.   

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officials met throughout the year with government representatives to discuss relations between the government and religious groups, specifically regarding the new religion law and outreach the government reports it is conducting.  The Ambassador spoke with MOC Metropolitan Mihailo about the MOC’s status and interreligious relations; the Charge d’Affaires held similar talks with Rifat Fejzic, the Islamic Community Reis (leader).  In June the Ambassador hosted an iftar with representatives of different religious communities to discuss interfaith tolerance and moderation.  The embassy also hosted the visit of a U.S. law enforcement specialist who discussed countering violent extremism with representatives of the Islamic Community.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 614,000 (July 2018 estimate).  According to the 2011 census, approximately 72 percent of the population is Orthodox, either SOC or MOC.  Local media estimate the SOC accounts for 70 percent of the Orthodox population, while the MOC makes up the remaining 30 percent.  The census reports 19.1 percent of the population is Muslim, 3.4 percent Roman Catholic, and 1.2 percent atheist.  Additionally, 2.6 percent of respondents did not provide a response, and several other groups, including Seventh-day Adventists (registered locally as the Christian Adventist Church), Buddhists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, other Christians, and agnostics, together account for less than 1 percent of the population.  According to press estimates, the Jewish community numbers approximately 350.

There is a strong correlation between ethnicity and religion:  ethnic Montenegrins and ethnic Serbs are generally associated with the MOC and the SOC, respectively, ethnic Albanians with Islam or Catholicism, and ethnic Croats with the Catholic Church.  Many Bosniaks (ethnic Bosnians who are Muslim) and other Muslims live along the eastern and northern borders with Albania, Kosovo, and Serbia.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion as well as the right to change one’s religion.  It guarantees the freedom of all individuals to express their religion in public and private, alone or collectively, through prayer, preaching, custom, or rites, and states individuals shall not be obliged to declare their religious beliefs.  The constitution states the freedom to express religious beliefs may be restricted only if required to protect the life and health of the public, peace and order, or other rights guaranteed by the constitution.  It specifies there is no state religion and guarantees equality and freedom for all religious communities in religious activities and affairs.  The constitution permits courts to prevent propagation of religious hatred or discrimination and prohibits organizations from instigating religious hatred and intolerance.

By law, it is a crime to cause and spread religious hatred, which includes publication of information inciting hatred or violence against persons on the basis of religion, the mockery of religious symbols, or the desecration of monuments, memorial tablets, or tombs.  Violators may receive prison sentences ranging from six months to 10 years.  If the violation is committed through the misuse of an official position or authority or leads to violence, or if the courts determine the consequences are detrimental to the coexistence of people, national minorities, or ethnic groups, the prison sentence ranges from two to 10 years.

The criminal code prescribes a fine between 200 euros ($230) and 16,000 euros ($18,300) or up to two years’ imprisonment for restricting an individual’s freedom to exercise a religious belief or membership in a religious group or for preventing or obstructing the performance of religious rites.  The code also provides for a fine of between 600 euros ($690) and 8,000 euros ($9,200) or a maximum of one year in prison for coercing another person to declare his or her religious beliefs.  Any government official found guilty of these crimes may receive a sentence of up to three years in prison.

The law provides for the recognition of religious groups through registration with local and federal authorities; religious groups that existed before 1977 are not obligated to register in order to obtain recognition.  New religious groups must register with local police within 15 days of their establishment to receive the status of a legal entity, although there is no penalty specified for failing to do so.  The police must then file this registration with the MOI, which maintains a list of all religious organizations in the country.  To register, a religious group must provide its name and organizing documents, the names of its officials, the address of the group’s headquarters, and the location(s) where religious services will be performed.  Registration entitles groups to own property, hold bank accounts in their own name, and receive a tax exemption for donations and sales of goods or services directly related to their religious activities; however, lack of registration or recognition does not affect a group’s ability to conduct religious activities.  An unregistered religious community may register as another type of organization in order to open a bank account, but may not receive the tax exemptions granted to registered religious groups.

There are 21 recognized religious groups in the country:  the SOC, MOC, Islamic Community of Montenegro (ICM), Roman Catholic Church, Church of Christ’s Gospel, Catholic Mission Tuzi, Christian Adventist Church, Evangelistic Church, Army Order of Hospitable Believers of Saint Lazar of Jerusalem for Montenegro, Franciscan Mission for Malesija, Biblical Christian Community, Baha’i Faith, Montenegrin Community, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Montenegrin Catholic Church, Montenegrin Protestant Church, Montenegrin Demochristian Church, and Montenegrin Adventist Church, as well as the Buddhist and Jewish communities.  All these groups are registered, except for the SOC, which has not applied to register, as it existed before 1977.

The government has agreements with the ICM, the Jewish communities, and the Holy See further defining the legal status of their respective groups and regulating their relationship with the state.  In the agreement with the Holy See, the government recognizes Catholic canon law as the Church’s legal framework and outlines the Church’s property rights.  The agreements with the ICM and Jewish communities have similar provisions.  The agreements establish commissions between each of the three religious communities and the government.  There are no similar agreements with the SOC, MOC, or the other recognized religious groups.

The Directorate for Relations with Religious Communities within the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights (MHMR) regulates relations between state agencies and religious groups, and is charged with protecting the free exercise of religion and advancing interfaith cooperation and understanding.  The MHMR provides some funds to religious communities and is in charge of communication between the government and the religious communities.  The ministry is also in charge of drafting new legislation defining the status and rights of religious organizations.

The law allows all religious groups, including unrecognized ones, to conduct religious services and rites in churches, shrines, and other premises designated by local governments, but requires approval from municipal police for such activities at any other public locations.

The law forbids “the abuse of religious communities or their religious sites for political purposes.”

The law provides prisoners the right to engage in religious practice and have contact with clergy.  Prisoners may request a diet conforming to their religious customs.

The constitution recognizes the right of members of minority national communities, individually or collectively, to exercise, protect, develop, and express “religious particularities” (i.e., religious customs unique to their minority community); to establish religious associations with the support of the state; and to establish and maintain contacts with persons and organizations outside the country who share the same religious beliefs.

By law, religion may not be taught in public primary or secondary schools.  The Islamic Community operates one private madrassah at the secondary school level, and the SOC operates one secondary school, both of which follow the state curriculum in nonreligious matters.

The law prohibits discrimination, including on religious grounds.  Offenses are punishable by a prison term of six months to five years.  The Office of the Protector of Human Rights (ombudsman) is responsible for combating discrimination and human rights violations, including those against religious freedom, by government agencies.  It may investigate complaints of religious discrimination and, if it finds a violation, may request remedial measures.  Failure to comply with the ombudsman’s request for corrective action within a defined period is punishable by fines of 500 to 2,500 euros ($570 to $2,900).  Generally, government agencies implement the ombudsman’s recommendations, although often with delays.  If necessary, the courts may enforce the recommendations.

The constitution exempts conscientious objectors, including those objecting for religious reasons, from military service.  Alternative service is not required.

The constitution states foreign nationals fearing persecution in their home countries on the grounds of religion have the right to request asylum.

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

Government Practices

On August 19, for the ninth year in a row, police banned members of both the MOC and SOC from celebrating the transfiguration of Christ at the Church of Christ the Transfiguration at Ivanova Korita, citing concerns over potential clashes.  The SOC controls the site, which is near the seat of the MOC in the historical capital of Cetinje.  The MOC said the ban constituted a violation of members’ basic human rights and requested state authorities allow MOC priests to practice in SOC-controlled Orthodox churches and monasteries.  The SOC stated that by preventing the services from taking place in the church, police were attacking the centuries-old canonical order and church property rights, and were toying with the deepest feelings of Orthodox believers.

Religious groups, especially the SOC, continued to say the law regulating their legal status was outdated and inadequate, particularly in regards to property, as it was drafted during the time of the former Yugoslavia.  For the third consecutive year, the government said it was revising a draft of a new law on religious communities.  By year’s end, the government had not completed the draft.

Representatives of ethnic Albanian parties strongly criticized national authorities for failing to remove an SOC church on Mount Rumija, near Bar, a site revered by local Muslims, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians.  The critics said the government’s inaction undermined multiethnic and religious harmony in the region.  Prime Minister Dusko Markovic stated the construction of the church was illegal, as it lacked the necessary permits, and that it would have to be removed.  Minister of Human and Minority rights Mehmed Zenka said the government would have a proper response to the SOC’s “provocation,” adding the placing of the church on top of Mount Rumija had a “negative effect” on the Albanian Muslim and Catholic populations.  In an open letter to Prime Minister Markovic, Metropolitan Amfilohije of the SOC said “the destruction of the church would be equal to a crime,” while another SOC bishop said he had never before seen such hatred against Serbs in Montenegro.  The statements came after Metropolitan Amfilohije reportedly blessed a new reinforcement of the church’s exterior in October.  In 2005, prior to Montenegro’s independence, helicopters from the Army of Serbia and Montenegro airlifted the metal church to the top of the mountain without permission from local authorities.

There was no change in the SOC position that it need not seek registration because the controlling 1977 law grandfathered in all religious groups active within the borders of present-day Montenegro in 1977 and that reregistration could have negative repercussions for the status of the Church.

The SOC said the MOI denied visas to its clergy based on discriminatory procedures that require work documentation from a registered employer, although the SOC is not legally required to register and is fully recognized.  The SOC said the MOI refused visas to 21 priests and nuns in August, September, and October.  The SOC also said the Ministry of Education refused to introduce religious education into schools as an optional subject and wanted the law changed to allow for such an option.

The MHMR continued to provide funding to some religious groups, which they could use to maintain religious shrines, for education or cultural projects, or to pay for social and medical insurance for clergy.  Both registered and unregistered religious communities remained eligible to apply for this funding.  For the first 10 months of the year, the MOC received 45,878 euros ($52,600), the ICM 38,765 euros ($44,500), the SOC 32,130 euros ($36,800), the Jewish community 17,500 euros ($20,100), and the Catholic Church 28,442 euros ($32,600).  Recognized religious communities also continued to receive in-kind assistance, such as property on which to build houses of worship, from other government ministries and from local governments.

The government continued its policy of not providing restitution of religious properties expropriated by the former Yugoslav communist government.  Government officials said the draft law on religious communities would address restitution issues.  Although the law remained highly contested, there were reports it would be passed in early 2019, but the contents were not available by the end of the year.

Delays with building permits stalled the building of a new synagogue in Podgorica, which the Jewish community started in December 2017.  The community said the delay was the result of bureaucracy rather than discrimination.  Government officials publicly supported the construction on a number of occasions.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Disputes over the ownership of 750 Orthodox sites, most of which are held by the SOC, continued between the SOC and MOC.  Both sides wanted the government and draft law on religion to address the issue favorably for them.  Each group continued to state it was the “true” Orthodox Church in the country.  Both groups celebrated Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Easter at separate locations, and police continued to provide protection around each group’s churches for events celebrated by both groups.  On January 6, SOC and MOC priests and followers again organized parallel, traditional Yule log lightings for Orthodox Christmas Eve:  the SOC in Podgorica and the MOC in Cetinje.  According to media, the events were peaceful.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and other embassy officers continued to meet with government officials responsible for religious issues at the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights and at local mayoral and municipal offices throughout the country to discuss relations between the government and religious groups.

On March 16, the Ambassador met with the Metropolitan of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church, Mihailo, and discussed government relations, property concerns, the draft law on religions, and interreligious relations.  On June 5, the Charge d’Affaires met with the Reis of the Islamic Community, Rifat Fejzic, and discussed interreligious relations in the country.  The Ambassador also met with representatives of Muslim communities in Podgorica, Bijelo Polje, Rozaje, Pljevlja and other towns to discuss the issues they faced, including the potential rise of religious extremism.  Embassy officials had regular contact with representatives of all major religious communities in the country such as the SOC, MOC, Jewish community, Islamic Community, and Catholic Church to discuss issues of concern to them related to religious freedom.

In September the embassy hosted the visit of a U.S. law enforcement specialist in building connections between police departments and local communities.  He met with police academy cadets, spoke at an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe/ Department of State conference on countering violent extremism, met with Muslim religious leaders in the local madrassah, Mehmed Fatih, and spoke with representatives from the NGO community about conflict resolution and interreligious understanding.

On June 6, the Ambassador hosted an iftar at the Islamic Cultural Center in Bar for representatives of various religious, political, cultural, and business communities and civil society, in which participants discussed interfaith tolerance and religious moderation.

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.

Slovenia

Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion and the right of individuals to express their religious beliefs in public and private.  It declares all religious communities shall enjoy equal rights and prohibits incitement of religious hatred or intolerance.  Religious groups do not have to register with the government but must register to obtain status as legal entities with tax and other benefits.  In September the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) and Ministry of Justice launched a project to establish the scope of Jewish heirless properties seized by the Nazis or their collaborators.  Muslims asked the government to expand their access to cemeteries and to provide pork-free meals in public institutions.  Muslim and Orthodox groups reported difficulties in providing services in hospitals, prisons, and the military.  In April the Constitutional Court upheld a law prohibiting the slaughter of animals without prior stunning.

Muslim groups reported obstacles in accessing halal food, spiritual care, and circumcising their male children.  These groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) also reported anti-Muslim sentiment at public events, in news media, and online.  Vice Chair of the Jewish Community of Slovenia Igor Vojtic expressed concern about what he described as a negative disposition towards Jews, especially among left-leaning citizens.  Anti-Muslim hate speech was prevalent, especially online.  Construction of the country’s first mosque continued after delays due to funding shortages.  Muslims held services elsewhere in the interim.

U.S. embassy officials continued to meet regularly with government officials responsible for upholding religious freedom, including the Ministry of Culture’s (MOC) Office for Religious Communities, to discuss issues such as interfaith dialogue, the prohibition of animal slaughter without prior stunning, and the status of circumcision of male children.  In April the Ambassador hosted representatives of the Roman Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish communities to discuss issues such as legal restrictions on the ritual slaughter of animals and circumcision of boys.  The embassy amplified its engagement on religious freedom issues through social media.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 2.1 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the 2002 census (the last one in which the Slovenian government asked about religious affiliation), 57.8 percent of the population is Catholic, 2.4 percent Muslim, 2.3 percent Serbian Orthodox, 0.9 percent “other Christian,” and 10.1 percent atheist.  In addition, 23 percent identified as “other” or did not declare a religion, and 3.5 percent declared themselves “unaffiliated.”  According to Secretary-General of the Islamic Community of Slovenia Nevzet Poric, the Muslim population numbers approximately 100,000.  The head of Slovenia’s Serbian Orthodox Church, Reverend Aleksandar Obradovic, estimates his community at 30,000.  The Jewish community estimates its size at 300 persons.  The Office for Religious Communities said the Catholic population was steadily declining but did not provide any estimates of its numbers.  The Orthodox and Muslim communities include a large number of immigrants from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, respectively.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion and the right of individuals to express their beliefs in public and private.  It declares all religious communities shall have equal rights and provides for the separation of religion and state.  The constitution guarantees equal human rights and fundamental freedoms to all individuals irrespective of their religion; it also prohibits incitement of religious discrimination and inflammation of religious hatred and intolerance.  The constitution recognizes the right of conscientious objection to military service for religious reasons.

The law states individuals have the right to freely select a religion; freedom of religious expression (or rejection of expression); to express – alone or in a group, privately or publicly – their religious beliefs freely in “church or other religious communities,” through education, religious ceremonies, or in other ways; and not to be forced to become a member or to remain a member of a religious group, nor to attend (or not attend) worship services or religious ceremonies.  The law guarantees the right to refuse to comply with legal duties and requirements that contradict an individual’s religious beliefs, provided such refusals do not limit the rights and freedoms of other persons.

The law requires churches and other religious communities to register with the government to obtain status as legal entities, but it does not restrict the religious activities of unregistered religious groups.  Unregistered religious groups are not permitted by law to purchase property in their name.  According to the law, the rights of religious groups include autonomy in selecting their legal form and constituency; freedom to define their internal organization and name and define the competencies of their employees; autonomy in defining the rights and obligations of their members; latitude to participate in interconfessional organizations within the country or abroad; authority to provide religious services to military, police, prisons, hospitals, and social care institutions (the state pays the salaries of chaplains providing services at these institutions); and freedom to construct buildings for religious purposes.  The law states religious groups have a responsibility to respect the constitution and the legal provisions on nondiscrimination.

As legal entities, registered religious groups are also eligible for rebates on value-added taxes and government cofinancing of social security contributions for their religious workers.

To register legally with the government, a religious group must submit an application to the MOC providing proof it has at least 10 adult members who are citizens or permanent residents; the name of the group in Latin letters, which must be clearly distinguishable from the names of other religious groups; the group’s address in the country; and a copy of its official seal to be used in legal transactions.  It must pay an administrative tax of 22.60 euros ($26).  The group must also provide the names of the group’s representatives in the country, a description of the foundations of the group’s religious beliefs, and a copy of its organizational act.  If a group wishes to apply for government cosponsorship of social security for clergy members, it must show it has at least 1,000 members for every clergy member.

There are 54 registered religious groups, including the Catholic Church, Evangelical Church, Jewish Community of Slovenia, Serbian Orthodox Church, and Islamic Community of Slovenia.

The government may only refuse the registration of a religious group if the group does not provide the required application materials in full or if the MOC determines the group is a “hate group” – an organization engaging in hate crimes as defined by the penal code.

By law, MOC’s Office for Religious Communities monitors and maintains records on registered religious communities and provides legal expertise and assistance to religious organizations.  The MOC establishes and manages the procedures for registration, issues documents related to the legal status of registered communities, distributes funds allocated in the government’s budget for religious activities, organizes discussions and gatherings of religious communities to address religious freedom concerns, and provides information to religious groups on the legal provisions and regulations related to their activities.

The government has an agreement with the Holy See covering relations with the Catholic Church.  Subsequent to that agreement, the government concluded similar agreements with several other groups.  None of the agreements offer rights or privileges beyond those accorded religious groups in the constitution.

In accordance with the law, citizens may apply for the return of property nationalized between 1945 and 1963.  The state may provide monetary compensation to former owners who cannot receive restitution in kind; for example, the state may authorize monetary compensation if government institutions are using the property for an official state purpose or public service such as education or healthcare.

According to the constitution, parents have the right to provide their children with a religious upbringing in accordance with the parents’ beliefs.  The government requires all public schools to include education on world religions in their curricula, with instruction provided by a school’s regular teachers.  The government allows churches and religious groups to provide religious instruction in their faiths in public schools and preschools on a voluntary basis outside of school hours.  The law prohibits religious instruction in public schools as part of the curriculum or during school hours but does not prescribe penalties for violations.  Private schools may offer religious classes during or after school hours.

The law mandates Holocaust education in schools.  This instruction focuses on the history of the Holocaust inside and outside of the country.  Schools use a booklet published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as part of the Holocaust education curriculum to create awareness of the history of Jews and anti-Semitism in Europe before World War II and of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust.  The booklet emphasizes the responsibility of everyone to remember the victims of the Holocaust.

The constitution provides for an independent Office of the Ombudsman for the Protection of Human Rights to investigate and report on alleged human rights violations by the government.  The national assembly appoints the ombudsman and allocates the office’s budget, but otherwise the ombudsman operates independently of the government.  Individuals have the right to file complaints with the ombudsman to seek administrative relief regarding abuses of religious freedom committed by national or local authorities.  The ombudsman’s office may forward these complaints to the state prosecutor’s office, which may then issue indictments, call for further investigation, or submit the claims directly to a court, whereupon the complaints become formal.  The ombudsman also submits an annual human rights report to the national assembly and provides recommendations and expert advice to the government.

The Council of the Government of the Republic for Dialogue on Religious Freedom under the auspices of the MOC’s Office for Religious Communities is responsible for promoting transparency and explaining national and EU legislation pertinent to religious groups through workshops and other events, and encouraging dialogue on issues of concern among the country’s religious communities.  Its members include representatives of the minister of culture, director of the Office for Religious Communities, commissioner for the principle of equality, and representatives of the Catholic Church, Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Slovenia, Islamic Community of Slovenia, Serbian Orthodox Church, and smaller religious communities.

The law allows for circumcision, but some hospitals believe it is illegal and do not offer the procedure.  The Ombudsman for the Protection of Human Rights has issued a nonlegally binding opinion that, based on the constitution and the law, “circumcision for nonmedical reasons is not permissible and constitutes unlawful interference with the child’s body, thereby violating his rights.”

The law requires that animals be stunned prior to slaughter.

The penal code’s definition of hate crimes includes publicly provoking religious hatred and diminishing the significance of the Holocaust.  Punishment for these offenses is imprisonment of up to two years, or, if the crime involves coercion or endangerment of security – defined as a serious threat to life and limb, desecration, or damage to property – imprisonment for up to five years.  If an official abusing the power of his or her position commits these offenses, he or she may be subject to imprisonment of up to five years.  Members of groups that engage in these activities in an organized and premeditated fashion – hate groups, according to the law – may also receive a punishment of up to five years in prison.

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

Government Practices

The government approved the registration of four new religious groups:  the Slovene Islamic Community of Grace, Community of Zandernatis, Monastery Awam Gesar, and Slovene Daoists Temple of Highest Harmony.  It did not reject any registration applications.

In July the WJRO and Ministry of Justice agreed to launch a joint research project to establish the scope of heirless properties in the country seized by the Nazis or their collaborators.  The research teams commenced research in September and planned to complete their study in 2019.  Restitution efforts for property seized during the Holocaust were complicated by the period (1945-63) covered by the law on property nationalization claims, which excluded, with some exceptions, property seized from Jewish families prior to 1945.

The Office for Religious Communities reported the Muslim community had requested the government to reserve special locations in cemeteries for Muslim graves and allow gravestones to face Mecca.  Only some cemeteries allowed this practice, and some Muslim families buried their dead outside of the country.  Muslims may establish their own cemeteries, but there were no reports they had done so.  The Muslim community also requested the government make pork-free meals readily available in hospitals, schools, prisons, and other public institutions.  The Office of Religious Institutions said it planned to convene a meeting in 2019 of the Council of the Government of the Republic for Dialogue on Religious Freedom to address food service practices in public institutions.

According to the Office for Religious Communities, an inability to provide spiritual care in the military, hospitals, and other public institutions remained a problem for some minority religious communities.  While many hospitals had Catholic chapels, members of other faiths had more limited opportunities to attend collective religious services while hospitalized.  The armed forces (SAF) employed full-time Catholic and Protestant clergy to provide religious services but no Muslim imams, Orthodox priests, or Jewish rabbis.  While Muslims and Orthodox Christians in the SAF had access to their local religious communities while serving domestically, such opportunities were not always available during deployments or training abroad.  Head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the country Obradovic attributed the SAF’s lack of Orthodox clergy to low numbers of qualified Orthodox priests in the country, rather than inadequate government support.  The Orthodox community said it was preparing two candidates for service as chaplains in the SAF by 2023.  The Ministry of Defense said the Muslim community had not made any requests for it to employ imams in the SAF.  The Jewish community did not have any rabbis in the country; a rabbi in Trieste in Italy was responsible for Slovenia.  Catholic officials said they requested the government employ an ordained bishop as a military ordinary in the SAF and expected this issue to be resolved in a future amendment to the agreement between the government and the Holy See.

According to the Slovenian Press Agency (STA), in April Igor Vojtic, Vice Chair of the Jewish Community of Slovenia, said the community was unable to receive compensation for a synagogue in Murska Sobota the communist government demolished in 1954 or secure a building for a synagogue and cultural center in Ljubljana.  Ministry of Justice officials stated it had not received any restitution claims for the Murska Sobota synagogue and the property identified by the Jewish community in Ljubljana was prime real estate with no historic ties to that community.

In April the Constitutional Court upheld the law prohibiting the slaughter of animals without prior stunning.  The Slovene Muslim Community, not affiliated with the larger Islamic Community of Slovenia, had filed a case in 2014 alleging this law violated religious freedom.  The Islamic Community of Slovenia continued to provide certificates to companies producing meat from stunned animals, confirming the meat was halal.  The country permitted imports of halal meat products.  The Jewish community also raised concerns over the prohibition and reported it imported kosher meat from neighboring countries.  The government defended the law as necessary to comply with EU regulations to prevent unnecessary suffering to animals.

Continuing confusion over the legal status of circumcision resulted in many hospitals not offering the procedure.  As a result, some Muslims and Jews continued to have the procedure performed in Austria.

Mufti Nedzad Grabus of the Islamic Community of Slovenia criticized the government’s treatment of Muslims in June at the community’s prayer for Eid al-Fitr, stating Muslims are “always being pushed towards the margins of this society.”  Among other issues, Grabus mentioned the restrictions on ritual slaughter of animals and circumcision.  He also stated the government prioritized Christian holidays over those of other faiths.

In November Janez Jansa, leader of the opposition Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), which won a plurality of votes in June parliamentary elections, said in a speech in Helsinki that Europe faced an external threat from radical Islam.  SDS national assembly member Branko Grims said during an election campaign debate in May the EU’s future would not be dictated by the budget but rather by “illegal migrations, the process of Europe’s radical Islamization, questions of identity, preserving European culture, civilization.”

The Office for Religious Communities continued to hold workshops and other events for religious communities to address their questions and foster interfaith cooperation.  Events included hosting a state prosecutor to explain technical details of hate speech legislation and a discussion of the UN’s Plan of Action for Religious Leaders and Actors to Prevent Incitement to Violence that Could Lead to Atrocity Crimes.

In July the government approved an agreement between the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Culture Ministry to grant museum representatives access to, and allow the museum to reproduce, material in Slovenia’s archives.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Muslim groups and NGOs said Muslims faced obstacles in obtaining access to halal food, spiritual care, time off for Islamic holidays, and in circumcising their male children.

There were some manifestations of anti-Islamic sentiment through public events and protests and on the internet.  In November the widely described as far-right-wing magazine Demokracija argued against the government’s adoption of the UN Global Compact for Migration, commenting, “The native population tried to preserve their customs and traditions, but the political authorities did not demand of the immigrants to integrate in the western society, but rather let the Muslim immigrants, joined by blacks from Africa, to create their territories (little Eurabias) where they live by their rules…the Marrakesh Declaration will legalize all that.”

In April STA reported that Vice Chair of the Jewish Community of Slovenia Vojtic expressed concern about what he described as a negative disposition towards Jews, especially among left-leaning citizens.  The report cited Vojtic as saying, “There is a new anti-Semitism prevailing in Slovenia, one that is in fact covert because of historical experience, so it is manifested through hatred to Israel.”  Also in April, online news site Total Slovenia News reported Vojtic expressed concern that immigrants from Syria and Iraq would bring the country “face to face with aggressive Islamic anti-Semitism.”

Hate speech, especially online, was prevalent and often targeted members of the Islamic community through anti-immigrant rhetoric.  The group Generation Identity Slovenia was particularly active in posting anti-Islamic comments on social media.  The Ministry of Culture reported Demokracija to the media inspectorate for its August cover showing a photo of seven black hands groping and touching a white woman with the title, “With Migrants Comes the Culture of Rape.”  The inspectorate referred the case to police; an investigation remained pending at year’s end.  Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

The general state prosecutor did not provide an update on the status of an investigation he announced in 2017 regarding why a local prosecutor had declined to prosecute Bernard Brscic, who had served as an adviser to a former prime minister, on charges of Holocaust denial for statements he made during a television interview earlier that year.

Construction of the country’s first mosque continued in Ljubljana, following delays.  According to press reports and the Islamic Community of Slovenia, the delays were due a shortage of funding, three-quarters of which came from the government of Qatar.  The Islamic Community of Slovenia said it expected the mosque to open in 2019.  In the interim, it said it rented places for worship, including large sports halls for major events.

The Orthodox community’s only church is located in Ljubljana, but Orthodox representatives said they planned to build two churches in Koper and Celje.  Catholic churches around the country routinely granted access for local Orthodox communities to host events and religious ceremonies.  Representatives of the Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim, and Protestant communities reported excellent relations among members of different religious groups, including an active dialogue at workshops and conferences.  They also reported good relations with the government.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy officials continued to meet regularly with government officials responsible for upholding the constitutional commitment to religious freedom, including the MOC’s Office for Religious Communities, to discuss issues such as interfaith dialogue, the prohibition of animal slaughter without prior stunning, and circumcision of male children.

In March the embassy supported a visit by the U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues and WJRO representatives to meet with senior government officials and members of the local Jewish community.  They discussed the proposed joint study on heirless properties, as well as possible goodwill gestures toward the Jewish community.  In April the Ambassador hosted a lunch for representatives of the Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish communities to discuss issues related to religious freedom, such as circumcision of boys and legal restrictions on the ritual slaughter of animals.

The embassy amplified its engagement through social media posts on the Ambassador’s lunch with representatives of the Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish communities, the release of the 2017 International Religious Freedom Report, and the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom’s remarks at the International Religious Freedom Ministerial in Washington in July.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future