Religious intolerance exists in FYR Macedonia

Religious intolerance exists in FYR Macedonia

Skopje, May 21, 2013

In general, religious liberties have been respected in FYR Macedonia, but religious communities have expressed their discontent.

This has been underlined in the annual report issued by the US Department of State on Religious Liberties in the world, in the part that concerns FYROM.

“The Constitution, other laws and policies in FYROM guarantee the freedom of religion and in practice, the government respects religious freedom. Last year, the government trends in respect of religious freedom have not significantly changed. The members of several religious groups claimed that the government favored the Orthodox Church of Macedonia. The restitution of expropriated properties from the time of Yugoslavia was slow. There have been reports for abuses and social discrimination based on religion, faith or practice”, states the report of the US Department of State on religious freedoms in Macedonia.

According to the report, religious communities have claimed that the government has favored the Orthodox Church of Macedonia, by offering to it free public properties and securing funds for the construction of new Orthodox churches. Moreover, there have been accusations according to which the ethnic dominating party of the government coalition in FYROM, which is predominantly Orthodox, has politicized the religious issues for political gains.

The restitution of religious properties expropriated by the government of former Yugoslavia has remained an unsolved issue. The government has restituted almost all the churches and mosques to the respective religious groups, but several groups haven’t yet been fully restituted the properties expropriated during the communist regime. Such concerns have been mainly expressed by the Islamic Religious Community in FYROM, which seeks the restitution of temples and expresses its concern for their usurpation by state institutions.

The report states that the government hasn’t restituted the land upon which the mosque of Burmali at the center of Skopje, which was destroyed in 1920. The Islamic Community has declared that the government refused the restitution of this property, because the FYR Macedonian ethnic party which is part of the governing coalition KOM-OA cannot accept the possibility of the construction of a new mosque at the center of Skopje.

The report of the US Department of State also mentions the case of the five murders in Smilkovc. “In May, police arrested a large group of Muslims belonging to the Albanian ethnicity in relation to the killing of five Macedonian Orthodox men in Smiljkovci, Skopje. The government and police immediately described the suspects as Islamic radical terrorists. By the end of the year, authorities had released 11 suspects, a part of them was kept in prison and two escaped. The trial against 4 convicts started in December and continued up until the end of the year. The government hasn’t offered evidence to support its claims that the crime has been religiously motivated. In May, thousands of Muslims belonging to different ethnicities, protested against the arrest and labeling of the suspects as Islamic terrorists”, stresses the report of the US Department of State.

The report also includes incidents and demolitions of institutions and religious temples, thus manifesting a lack of religious tolerance. Isolated acts continued with vandalism in cemeteries and religious acts.

In January, unknown arsonists unsuccessfully attempted to set fire to two Orthodox churches, one in Struge and the other one in Tetovo. It was claimed that the incidents were sparked by the annual carnival that takes place near Struge, where participants had worn Muslim clothes, which is insulting to Islam.

According to the report, according to the 2002 Census, 65% of the population is orthodox and 33% is Muslim. Other religious groups include Catholics and other religions.

There is no official religion, but a constitutional amendment made in 2001 specifically lists 5 religious groups: KOM-OA, Islamic Community of FYROM, Roman Catholic Church, Jewish and Evangelist Community and the MethodistChurch. /ibna/