YUGOSLAVIA: Federal Religion Law 'On Hold'.

by Branko Bjelajac, Keston News Service, 4 June 2001

While Serbia - the larger of federal Yugoslavia's two republics - presses ahead with its own religion law (see separate KNS article), the federal law on religious communities announced earlier this year seems to be on hold.

After initial meetings in the federal government in March with representatives of several European law schools and experts from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the federal minister for religion, Bozidar Sijacic, announced that Yugoslavia is preparing a new law that will be compatible with the `best European laws in this field'. The Belgrade-based daily Danas reported on 29 April that `secret meetings' had been held at the federal level about the introduction of religious education. At the time, federal officials denied such meetings, explaining them away as `regular working meetings' between Serbian and federal ministries and representatives of the Orthodox Church. Since these initial reports, federal officials have made no public announcements about the proposed law.

`The federal law is on hold,' Milanka Saponja-Hadzic, spokesperson of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, told Keston News Service in Belgrade on 28 May. `Despite their announcements, no one has seen the draft of the law yet.' She believes religious education is a stumbling block. `We believe the federal government is polarised over the issue. It seems that one group is trying to push through a proposal that would represent an interference in church-state relations, while the others are evaluating the growing opposition to this law that is probably offering rather archaic solutions.' She believes the best solution is to leave religious education in the hands of religious communities, who would continue their existing practice.

`We are very interested in this law, but we are not involved in its preparation,' Stella Ronner, spokesperson for the OSCE Mission to the FR Yugoslavia, told Keston in Belgrade on 31 May. `As I understand, the draft of this law is only in the initial stage. We hope that we will be invited in the later period.' (END)