SLOVAKIA: NON-CHRISTIAN FAITHS `OUTSIDE' THE RELIGION LAW DEBATE

by Kazi Stastna, Keston News Service, 23 November 2000

Although it could in theory have an effect on all religious groups in Slovakia, the amendment to the religion law adopted by parliament in October (see KNS 22.11.2000) has largely been seen as a product of a dispute among Christian faiths. `We are outside this [debate],' the executive director of the Federation of Jewish Communities, Frantisek Alexander, told Keston News Service on 13 November. `We were always satisfied with law 308,' he added, in a reference to the religion law adopted in 1991 when Czechoslovakia still existed.

Apart from the current 15 registered faiths in Slovakia (Roman Catholic, Augsburg Lutheran, Greek Orthodox, Reformed Christian, Russian Orthodox, Methodist, Seventh-Day Adventist, Baptist, Brethren, Apostolic, Jewish, Old Catholic, Christian Corps, Czechoslovak Hussite and Jehovah's Witnesses), there is a wide spectrum of non-registered religions in Slovakia, including Islam, Zen Buddhism and the Bahai faith.

Non-registered groups such as the Muslim community, which according to the director of the Islam Foundation in Bratislava, Mohamad Safwan, who spoke to Keston by phone on 13 November, numbers roughly 4000, also feel outside of the debate but for another reason: Safwan sees the issue of equality among faiths as currently a moot point for the Muslim community, since it numbers far less than the minimum of 20,000 members required to obtain official status.

Several signs indicate it is likely to remain a moot point and not just for Slovakia's Muslim community. Aside from the fact that, as the director of the Culture Ministry's Department of Churches Jan Juran told Keston on 9 November, there are no plans to alter this limit in the near future, a recent furore over the teaching of Yoga in Slovak schools (in which the Ecumenical Council and the Catholic Church were united in their protest) indicates that the equality so heralded in the recently passed amendment does not seem to apply across the board. (END)