Macedonia Introduces Controversial Religion Law

Thursday, May 1, 2008

By BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest

SKOPJE/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife) -- Macedonia's controversial new Religion Law was due to come into force Thursday, May 1, a move rights groups say is designed to prevent the Serbian Orthodox Church of gaining legal status and could target unregistered Christian groups and congregations.

Forum 18, the Norway-based human rights group, warned that the legislation may also be used to discriminate against other religious groups, including the Bektashi Muslim community.

The law names without defining three types of religious entities – a church, a religious community and a religious group.

Forum 18 said in a statement that the Religion Law "does not specify clear requirements for communities seeking legal status, or whether unregistered entities can have religious freedom."


Among other information demanded for registration is the "Manner of expression of the religious affiliation and performance of the religious rites and rituals."

The Human Rights Ombudsperson reportedly was not involved in drafting the Law, "even though a draft law should be sent to the Ombudsperson's office before it goes for voting," Forum 18 said.

A main problem expected by Christians is that the law may not improve the situation of unregistered religious communities, who are unable to obtain property, run bank accounts, and pay pensions and health insurance.

In addition, foreign Christian missionaries and other church leaders may face problems in the country, the law suggests. Paragraph 2 of Article 12 states: "Proof of citizenship of the founders and of the person authorized to present and represent a church, religious community and a religious group."


This effectively forbids non-Macedonian citizens from being involved in the registration or representation of a religious entity, Forum 18 said.

"Some religious communities known to Forum 18 have formally designated a Macedonian as their official representative, but in practice responsibility rests with a non-Macedonian."

It comes at a time when Macedonia seeks to become a member of NATO and the European Union. Last month’s attempt to become a member of NATO was blocked by neighboring Greece because it wants Macedonia to change its name as it resembles a Greek province. Macedonia's official name is currently the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Western diplomats have been involved in pressuring the government to improve rights for religious and ethnic minorities, including its 25 percent ethnic Albanian community. It was not clear what, if any steps, the EU would take following the introduction of the new Religion Law. (With BosNewsLife Research).

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