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Forum18 (02/15/06) – Members of Kosovo’s minority Protestant community are concerned about a new draft religion law, initially drawn up in secret under the auspices of the Austrian Government, which they fear will privilege the Muslim community, the Catholics and the Serbian Orthodox Church and will grant fewer rights to other communities. “Overall, this draft law is worse than the previous draft law passed in its first reading by the Kosova Assembly,” Pastor Bekim Beka of New Hope Baptist Church told Forum 18 News Service from Pristina on 14 February. “This new draft attacks religious freedom.”

As well as the content of the latest draft law, the secrecy and lack of openness surrounding its drafting – involving the governments of Austria and Kosovo along with only three of the religious communities – has also drawn strong criticism within Kosovo (see F18News 15 February 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=726).

Pastor Artur Krasniqi of the Fellowship of the Lord’s People in Pristina made no comment on reports of the latest proposal, but stressed to Forum 18 from Pristina on 14 February that Protestants “do not agree in any way with any discrimination whatsoever towards any religious group”. Pastor Dijana Daka of the Seventh-day Adventist Church , from Gjakova (Djakovica in Serbian) in south-western Kosovo, insisted on 14 February that “no law should make boundaries between churches.”

“These are not amendments to the previous draft law passed by the Kosova Assembly, but a completely new law,” Pastor Beka told Forum 18. Previous attempts to agree to a Kosovo religion law have also been controversial (see F18News 19 November 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=457 and 1 July 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=596).

Amongst the elements of the Austrian-influenced draft causing concern is Proposal E, which states that “the Islamic Community of Kosovo, the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Bektashi Community and the Jewish Religious Community and their existing organisational units have, as traditional Religious Communities and Churches, the special status pursuant to Article J.” Pastor Beka notes that Protestants are, unlike in previous proposals, excluded from designation as “traditional”. He regards this as a particularly strange list of religions, as there is no functioning Jewish religious community in Kosovo.

Article J specifies among other provisions that “public authorities shall cooperate with these Religious Communities by inviting them to render their opinion on measures, decision and draft legislation on important matters of common interest.” There is no reference to consultation with other religious communities or groups in civil society.

Pastor Beka notes that the new proposals for registration of religious communities is particularly troublesome, as it specifies that applications must include “the names and surnames, the numbers of identification documents as well as the signatures of .. citizens or habitual residents of Kosovo, having full business capacity.” He maintains that in Kosovo society, many people would be afraid to provide their identification numbers, both due to their unwillingness to be identified by Muslim family members as Christian, and also due to people’s historic suspicions in Kosovo about the intentions of public authorities. It is unclear how many signatures would be required in such applications.

The number of members needed for religious communities to be registered provoked much discussion at the Pernegg meeting, with the religious communities present demanding a minimum of 500, in contrast to the Austrian proposal of 30 members. It was eventually agreed that the Kosova Assembly will specify the number needed in the Religion Law.

No discussion appears to have taken place about the place of unregistered religious communities, or whether a system of state registration of religious communities is necessary.

Proposal K, which allows communities to obtain “special status” under article J, specifies that the numbers of such communities’ members must be “one per thousand of inhabitants of Kosovo according to the last census” In other words, the minimum number of members is 2,000. As Pastor Beka notes, many of the newer communities would find it very difficult to meet this demand, although this would not be a problem for Protestants…[Go To Full Story]