f18 Logo

The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one’s belief or religion
The right to join together and express one’s belief

MACEDONIA: Official discrimination continues

Officials continue to put into practice the Macedonian Religion Law's hostility to some religious communities, Forum 18 News Service has found. Discrimination continues against the Serbian Orthodox Church and Bektashi Muslim community, and in favour of the two "state faith communities" - the Macedonian Orthodox Church and Islamic Community of Macedonia. Smaller religious communities' main problems are the continuing official obstacles against them acquiring, regaining, expanding and using places of worship. Urban plans are often used as excuses to deny or give inadequate planning permission to religious communities, one Protestant pastor commenting to Forum 18 that "this is an excuse, but what can we do?" Controversy continues over the state's promotion of what the Macedonian Helsinki Committee describes as the two "state faith communities". This particularly focuses on the use of state funds to build high-profile places of worship for these communities, and attempts to introduce compulsory school religious instruction despite a Constitutional Court ruling against this.

MACEDONIA: New Law fails to solve building problems

Macedonia's new Religion Law will not end the building problems faced by minority religious communities, Forum 18 News Service notes. Religious communities of all faiths state that the major problems in practising their faith involve buildings, such as long-running denials of permission to build, extend or establish legal ownership over places of worship. In addition, the authorities have also demolished "illegal" Serbian Orthodox places of worship. The Law may even encourage religious discrimination by allowing existing religious communities – particularly the state-favoured Macedonian Orthodox Church – to effectively veto the construction of places of worship of other faiths. Additional problems for smaller religious communities are the cumbersome way urban plans are drawn up, and a section of the new Law which may be used to bar worship services in some buildings, or conducted by some people.

MACEDONIA: New Religion Law perpetuates discrimination

Macedonia's new Religion Law – which comes into force on 1 May – is designed to prevent the Serbian Orthodox Church gaining legal status, church members have told Forum 18 News Service. It may also be used to discriminate against the Bektashi Muslim community. The Law names without defining three types of religious entities – a church, a religious community and a religious group. No official has been able to explain to Forum 18 what differences, if any, there may be between these entities. The Law also does not specify clear requirements for communities seeking legal status, or whether unregistered entities can have religious freedom. Amongst the information demanded for registration is the "Manner of expression of the religious affiliation and performance of the religious rites and rituals." A spokesperson told Forum 18 that the Human Rights Ombudsperson 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."

MACEDONIA: Religious freedom survey, February 2008

In Macedonia, state discrimination in favour of one religious confession – the Macedonian Orthodox Church - is a dominant factor, Forum 18 News Service notes in its religious freedom survey analysis. Alongside this is active discrimination against other religious confessions, especially if officials see them as a threat or as "non-traditional". The main target for state officials is the Serbian Orthodox Church, but smaller confessions such as Baptists, Bektashi Muslims, Hare Krishna devotees and Jehovah's Witnesses are also discriminated against. The major problem faced by most confessions is their inability – due to inconsistent and discriminatory enforcement of the law and planning procedures – to build, expand or obtain buildings for worship. Unclear and discriminatory legal provisions continue in a new Religion Law, due to come into force in May 2008. The Macedonian authorities show few, if any, signs that they are willing to protect the religious freedom of all Macedonian citizens.

MACEDONIA: Will draft new Religion Law end discrimination?

Chief government religious affairs official Zvonko Mucunski has refused to provide religious communities with the latest text of the new draft Religion Law, religious minorities have complained to Forum 18 News Service. The big sticking point in the draft Law due to go to public discussion in March, is whether more than one denomination of any one faith can gain legal recognition. This is banned in the present Law and in the previous version of the draft new Law. "Both we and Brussels criticise this," Isa Rusi of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights told Forum 18. Imprisoned Archbishop Jovan, who heads the Serbian Orthodox Church in Macedonia which has been denied legal status, insists the new Law must allow all faiths to register "not only when they result from differences between religions, but also from possible conflicts with leaderships of already recognised religious communities". Mucunski insisted to Forum 18 that the current draft Law "carefully" guarantees full religious freedom for all religious communities, "taking care of our specific circumstances".

MACEDONIA: Religious communities still face building problems

Baptists, Serbian Orthodox, Adventists, Muslims and Jehovah's Witnesses have all told Forum 18 News Service of problems they have faced from the authorities in obtaining permission for building projects in Macedonia. Some religious minorities however, such as Catholics and Jews, have not experienced any problems in obtaining building permission. Methodists are pursuing the alternative approach of reclaiming confiscated property. A particular problem facing the Serbian Orthodox is that, without state registration, they do not even have the right to apply for building permission. Other religious minorities do have the right to apply for permission, even if some – such as Baptists – have told Forum 18 that they doubt that it may ever be granted. Under Macedonia's discriminatory approach, the Serbian Orthodox Church has been told that it will "never" be registered. Building problems faced by some religious communities in the country are long-standing.

SERBIA: Religion Minister breaks his own law

Serbia's Religion Minister, Milan Radulovic, has broken the controversial Religion Law his ministry sponsored, Forum 18 News Service has found. Radulovic's Ministry has published Regulations which illegally increase the number of adult Serbian citizens required for a religious community to be registered, from the 75 the Religion Law specifies to 100. The Ministry has repeatedly refused to say why it did this. What legal rights registered and unregistered communities will have remains unclear, and a legal challenge to the Religion Law has been submitted to the Serbian Constitutional Court, based on contradictions between the Law and the European Convention on Human Rights. Some Evangelical churches are refusing to apply for registration, as they refuse to "voluntarily and peacefully agree with discrimination between the churches." "Justice can only be gained via a court process, or with the help of the international community," two Evangelical leaders have publicly declared.

MACEDONIA: Sentence reduction sees Serbian bishop freed

The 28 February reduction of the sentence imposed on the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Macedonia, Archbishop Jovan (Vranisskovski), saw him freed from prison in Idrizovo several days later. But it remains unclear how much freedom the Church – which faces strong pressure from the government and the rival Macedonian Orthodox Church – will have. Father David (Ninov) told Forum 18 News Service he hopes charges against other monks and nuns for "performing unauthorised activities" will now be dropped, but complained of the government's continuing refusal to grant the Church registration. Archbishop Jovan's lawyer Vasko Georgiev told Forum 18 he is optimistic that the proposed new religion law will explicitly guarantee freedom to hold worship services on private property "since this is the European standard". Serbian Orthodox, Protestants and others complain that under unwritten rules, no non-Macedonian Orthodox places of worship can currently be built.

MACEDONIA: Why can't new non-Orthodox churches or mosques be built?

No government official was prepared to explain to Forum 18 News Service why Macedonia's religious minorities are in practice unable to build new places of worship or extend existing ones. "The only permission we can get is to build an ordinary house where we can hold worship services," Stojan Petrovski of the Evangelical Alliance complained to Forum 18, noting that the same problems apply to all small religious communities. The Seventh-day Adventists reported that for three decades they have been denied permission to build a church in Negotino, while the Muslims complain of denial of permission to build mosques. Applications by an Evangelical Church in Skopje to extend its building have been rejected although surrounding buildings have been able to extend.

MACEDONIA: Trials without end for Serbian Orthodox?

Just days after being handed an extra two years in prison for "embezzlement" for holding church funds in a private bank account for two days three years ago - bringing his total prison term to four and a half years - the fourth trial for Archbishop Jovan, head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Macedonia, began in Veles on 29 September. "It is ridiculous that I am accused of embezzling the funds that I spent on the life and work of my diocese," Archbishop Jovan told Forum 18 News Service before his recent imprisonment. Eleven church members who attended a service he conducted in a private flat in January 2004 now face court summonses. Goran Pavlovski, spokesperson for the cabinet of ministers, refused to explain to Forum 18 why his government is so hostile to Macedonian parishes of the Serbian Orthodox Church and declined to say if Macedonian citizens are allowed to belong to the Serbian Orthodox Church. It has called its followers to a week of fasting in response to the third sentence in a row against Archbishop Jovan.

MACEDONIA: Serbian bishop remains in prison as appeal fails

Despite appeals from politicians and Christian leaders around the world, on 16 September Macedonia's Supreme Court upheld the 18-month prison sentence on the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Macedonia, Archbishop Jovan. "The Macedonian state is doing everything to make him stay in prison as long as possible," his colleague Bishop Marko complained to Forum 18 News Service. "They are discriminating against him, that is obvious, and also against all of us in Macedonia, their own citizens." Archbishop Jovan has been denied visits in prison from his church colleagues and denied access to religious services. On 19 September he was taken to Veles as prosecutors try for the third time to convict him of embezzlement, a charge he denies. The Macedonian Helsinki Committee has condemned those who call for "intolerance and hatred" against Serbian Orthodox in the country.

SERBIA: "Heavy pressure" forces postponement of first Macedonian Orthodox church

Soon after news emerged that an ethnic Macedonian association had bought a plot of land in Novi Sad to build Serbia's first Macedonian Orthodox church, religion minister Milan Radulovic declared publicly that the state has a duty to prevent the building of the church. "Radulovic's statements deny us one of our most basic rights – the right to freedom of confession," Dragan Veljkovski, president of the Association of Macedonians in Vojvodina which bought the site, told Forum 18 News Service. He complained of "very heavy pressure" since the news became public which has led to the building plans being postponed. Macedonians contrast the Serbian government's strong defence of the persecuted Serbian Orthodox Church in neighbouring Macedonia with its moves to restrict non-Serbian Orthodox jurisdictions at home.

SERBIA: Minister bans "non-existent" Church from building church

While a Serbian Orthodox church is being built in Lovcenac in northern Vojvodina, the local authority's allocation of land in the same village to build a Montenegrin Orthodox church sparked an immediate response from Serbia's religion minister, Milan Radulovic. He claimed that as an unregistered religious community, the Montenegrin Church does not exist, adding that the government has a duty to stop it and the Macedonian Orthodox Church building any places of worship in Serbia. The head of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church, Archbishop Mihailo, condemned what he called "arrogant behaviour on the part of Serbia", pointing out to Forum 18 News Service that the Serbian Orthodox Church operates unhindered in Montenegro. The Serbian government has tried to exclude or restrict all other Orthodox communities, including the Romanian Orthodox, the Old Calendarist Orthodox, the Macedonian Orthodox and the Montenegrin Orthodox.

MACEDONIA: Orthodox Archbishop jailed – without the Gospels

The head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Macedonia, Archbishop Jovan (Vranisskovski) of Ohrid and Skopje, has now been jailed for 18 months on charges of "inciting national, racial and religious hatred, schism and intolerance". Jovan's colleague, Bishop Marko of Dremvica and Bitola, told Forum 18 News Service that, as well as keeping Jovan under conastant surveillance, police forced him to change out of his cassock and refused to allow him to take anything with him into prison. "The archbishop was not permitted to take his prayer book, the Gospels, an icon or any of the insignia of his rank with him," Bishop Marko told Forum 18. During the first 30 days of his jail term, Jovan is not being allowed visits from anyone, apart from his lawyer and his immediate family, who are only being allowed to visit him once, for five minutes only. After the initial 30 days he will be either be sent to a maximum security prison unit, or to a unit with less strict discipline.

MACEDONIA: Archbishop to be jailed for 18 months

A Serbian Orthodox Archbishop, Jovan (Vranisskovski) of Ohrid, has had an 18 month jail sentence confirmed by a Macedonian appeal court, in the latest development in a long-running government campaign against the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) in support of the rival Macedonian Orthodox Church. "It is ridiculous that they are trying to silence me, in this age of the internet and mass communication," Archbishop Jovan told Forum 18 News Service. He noted of government action against SOC believers that "when they hit the shepherd, they expect the sheep to run away, but church history is paradoxical, as, the more the church is persecuted, the more followers it gets." Court officials have claimed to Forum 18 that commenting on the jail sentence is "against the law." Archbishop Jovan was in 2003 jailed for five days in solitary confinement, for baptising his sister's grandchild.

MACEDONIA: Why is state interfering in Orthodox dispute?

When the Serbian Orthodox Church granted its embattled branch in Macedonia full autonomy in late May, the Macedonian prime minister rejected the move "with indignation". The government has stepped up its hostility to the Church and reaffirmed its support for the rival Macedonian Orthodox Church, which is not recognised by the rest of the Orthodox world. Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid – who heads the Serbian Church in Macedonia – complained of a new state-backed media campaign against his Church. "They are creating an unstable, explosive atmosphere among the population and are virtually inviting people to lynch us," he told Forum 18 News Service. The government has denied his Church registration, attacked its places of worship and launched two criminal cases against him. Macedonian government leaders have been unable to tell Forum 18 why they are interfering in the dispute between the Macedonian and Serbian Orthodox Churches in Macedonia and why they are denying full legal rights to Serbian Orthodox believers.

MACEDONIA: Priests and police raid and threaten Serbian Orthodox believers

Nearly a hundred members of the Serbian Orthodox Church's (SOC) Archbishopric of Ohrid in Macedonia were questioned by police and searched, after they backed its failed registration application, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Some were threatened they would be kicked out of their jobs. Police also tried to pressure them to sign a declaration that they had left the SOC for the rival, government-backed Macedonian Orthodox Church. When police questioned church member Goran Bogatinoski in Prilep in early January, they asked him why he allowed SOC monks to stay in his house and why there were icons in his home. Father David of the SOC Ohrid Archbishopric complained to Forum 18 of a "new wave" of police intimidation launched last December. The Interior Ministry denies that police questioned anyone just for signing the registration application.

MACEDONIA: Selective refusal to register Serbian Orthodox Church

The head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Macedonia, Metropolitan Jovan (Vranisskovski), has told Forum 18 News Service that he is challenging in the Supreme Court the government's refusal to register the Archbishopric of Ohrid. Without registration, the Archbishopric cannot own any church buildings or other property, maintain a bank account or receive permission to build churches. "Although the Constitutional court has ruled that people can gather in private homes for worship, the police do not always share that opinion," Metropolitan Jovan told Forum 18. "Basically, the police can break up any private meeting and arrest believers and priests if they want. For them without registration the Archbishopric of Ohrid is an illegal organisation." The government also claimed against Metropolitan Jovan that "only citizens of Macedonia can organise a religious group", ignoring the fact that he is a Macedonian citizen. It is notable that neither the Catholic Church nor the Methodist Church have had this claim used against them by the Macedonian government.

COMMENTARY: Kosovo - What now?

The KFOR peace-keeping force needs to defend the Serbian population and its Orthodox churches more effectively, a military chaplain, who prefers not to be identified, argues from personal experience of the violence in Kosovo in this personal commentary for Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org. The chaplain believes that international organisations naively did not understand the minds of the people of the region – and so did not understand what was necessary to provide religious freedom. The international community needs to state clearly that independence will not be granted until minorities have full rights and security. The big challenge is changing people's mentality before independence can be considered – and this requires a long-term commitment to genuine peace and genuine justice from both Albanian politicians and the international community.

MACEDONIA: Monastery demolished – another church demolition planned, and Metropolitan to be jailed?

A Macedonian government official, Dr Cane Mojanovski, has refused to confirm or deny to Forum 18 News Service reports that the government intends to demolish the Serbian Orthodox Church in the village of Luzani. The reports follow the surprise night-time destruction of the St John Chrysostom Monastery in Nizepole, southern Macedonia – which contained Metropolitan Jovan (Vranisskovski) and about 10 monks and nuns – by approximately 500 police armed with automatic weapons, and demolition workers with bulldozers. The monastery was the cathedral of the Archbishopric of Ohrid, and was earlier this year attacked by a paramilitary 'state security' unit armed with machine guns. Officials in Bitola have refused to discuss the monastery demolition with Forum 18. Metropolitan Jovan is separately being threatened with an 18 month jail sentence, and told Forum 18 that he expects his appeal against the sentence will be turned down.

MACEDONIA: Serbian Orthodox "will never get registration"

The Serbian Orthodox Church in Macedonia has again submitted a registration application, but this is unlikely to succeed. Such communities "will never get registration", Cane Mojanovski, head of the State Committee for Relations with Religious Communities and Religious Groups, told Forum 18 News Service, as only the Macedonian Orthodox Church can exist in the country. He said the Religion Law allows only one organisation for any one faith. He could not explain why Orthodox Christians could not freely choose their faith. Metropolitan Jovan (Vranisskovski), who heads the Serbian Church in the country, has been convicted of inciting religious hatred, while religious sites have been raided. He complains the state is "in league" with the rival Macedonian Church. "They do not let us perform services, they harass me with these trials, and they do not let foreign Orthodox priests enter or travel through Macedonia," he told Forum 18. An Interior Ministry entry ban list reportedly includes more than 20 Serbian Orthodox bishops banned from entering Macedonia.

SERBIA: Religious freedom survey, August 2004

In its survey analysis of religious freedom in Serbia, Forum 18 News Service notes the problems caused by a proposed draft religion bill, religious education in schools, and physical attacks on religious minorities. However, alternative civilian service regulations have been introduced, so conscientious objectors to military service are not now prosecuted. In a listing of attacks on religious minorities in 2003, Forum 18 records that Evangelical-Methodists, Jews, Seventh Day Adventists, Serbian Evangelicals, Jehovah Witnesses, Lutherans, Romany Pentecostals, Baptists, Hare Krishna devotees, Catholics, and Muslims were all victims of different types of attack in 2003, ranging from hate speech and graffiti to physical assaults. A noted church-state commentator, Mirko Djordevic, has told Forum 18 that "we cannot say that the religious freedom of Serbian citizens is threatened, but different confessions limit each others freedom." Pavel Domonji, from the Helsinki Committee, observed to Forum 18 that "Small religious communities are often under attack. It is probably because they form trans-national communities, where every believer is a member, regardless of their ethnic background."

KOSOVO & SERBIA: Destruction worse than initially believed, and violence sparks incidents in Montenegro, Bosnia and Macedonia

At least 28 people were killed, about 1,000 injured and 30 Orthodox churches and monasteries in Kosovo were destroyed during the recent violence by Albanian mobs against the minority Serbian population, KFOR and UNMIK units. Numbers are not yet final. The Serbian Orthodox Church is today demanding that German KFOR troops be withdrawn from duty in for "incompetence" during the violence, as they failed to save from destruction ten historic churches and other Orthodox property. Witnesses stated that the German KFOR troops did nothing to protect any of the sites. Also, the diocese blames UNMIK for failing to protect its sites in the period from 1999 to before the present violence, during which 112 Orthodox churches were destroyed without any attackers being arrested. In Serbia, the authorities have arrested 120 people for attacks against mosques in Belgrade and Nis, and religious leaders, political parties and the government have joined in condemned the burning of the two mosques. City officials have promised to refurbish the Belgrade mosque, and the police chief and his deputy have been fired. However, the Kosovo violence also probably sparked incidents elsewhere in Serbia, and in neighbouring Montenegro, Bosnia and Macedonia.

MACEDONIA: Who attacked, armed with machine guns, an Orthodox monastery?

Metropolitan Jovan (Vranisskovski) of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Macedonia, has accused Macedonian state officials of attacking a monastery loyal to his archdiocese. The "infamous Lions, a paramilitary state security unit, which was established in FYR Macedonia under supervision of former Milosevic paramilitary instructors", has been accused of responsibility by the Kosovo diocese. During the attack, five masked men armed with machine guns men broke in, smashed most of the religious items, stole a dozen icons, poured petrol on the furniture and set it alight. They also attacked two nuns, Renata Mizhimakovska and Dana Stojanovska, cutting their hair. The perpetrators escaped into the dark. The attack follows numerous legal cases brought by the Macedonian authorities in recent months against clergy and nuns of the church, including an accusation that Metropolitan Jovan is a spy of a foreign state. Metropolitan Jovan denies all the accusations.

MACEDONIA: Orthodox Monk and Bishop fined, and another Bishop still jailed

A Serbian Orthodox Bishop, Marko (Kimev), and a monk, Sasko Velkov, have been fined yesterday (27 January) for taking part in a baptism last July, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Another Bishop, Jovan (Vranisskovski), who conducted the baptism, is still in jail for his participation in a church service on 11 January at which Bishop Marko and other monks and nuns were also arrested by Macedonian police. Bishop Marko told Forum 18 that the arrest and sentencing of monks and nuns is "an obvious attempt to scare Macedonian Orthodox Church monks who desired to join the Serbian Orthodox Church". Both the Serbian and Greek Orthodox churches have asked the Macedonian government to release Bishop Jovan, who Amnesty International has described as being in jail for his "non-violent religious convictions". Macedonian officials have rejected these appeals.

MACEDONIA: Serbian Orthodox Archbishop arrested again

Serbian Orthodox Archbishop Jovan has again been arrested by Macdonian police, along with four monks, seven nuns, and a theology student from Bulgaria currently studying in Greece, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The Archbishop and the monks and nuns have been held in jail, and the theology student has been deported and banned for two years from entering Macedonia. The latest arrests took place when police interrupted a church service, and appears to be linked to moves by some within the Macedonian Orthodox Church, including some monasteries, to be reconciled with the Serbian Orthodox Church. The Macedonian government has told Forum 18 that "entering spiritual and canonical unity with the Archbishopric of Ohrid", which the government claims is "non-existent in Macedonia", constitutes "the dissemination of religious hatred."

MACEDONIA: Serbian Bishop sentenced to Solitary Confinement

Serbian Orthodox Bishop Jovan was arrested in Macedonia, on Sunday, for attempting to perform a baptism in a Macedonian Orthodox Church and was sentenced to five days' solitary confinement in prison. The Macedonian government has claimed to Forum 18 News Service that it "has no links with this arrest, it is an issue of public peace and order". Serbian prime minister Zoran Zivkovic has stated that the Serbian and Montenegrin ministers of Foreign and of Religious affairs will protest to the Macedonian authorities about both this sentence and the ban on Serbian Orthodox priests entering Macedonia in their vestments.