Issue 7, Articles 22-23, 20 July 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.

ERECTED WITHOUT PERMIT. A building constructed for use as a church
has been demolished as part a wider campaign regarding buildings constructed
without a permit under the late President Tudjman�s government. Intended for
use by Serbian refugees during the 1992-95 war in Croatia, four people who
claim ownership of the land (three of whom are Croats) said they never gave
such permission and wanted their land returned.

DISCRIMINATION? Representatives of ten Hungarian minority religions
submitted a petition to the Constitutional Court arguing that a recently adopted
amendment to the law on value-added tax (VAT) violates the law on freedom
of religion. They link it to the government�s dissatisfaction with the 1990 law
on religion, which it regards as too liberal. According to one church leader, the
government is trying to achieve their aims by incorporating restrictions into
laws that need only majority support.

Thursday 20 July 2000

by Branko Bjelajac, Keston News Service

The Croatian authorities demolished a Serbian Orthodox building in the village
of Lovas near Vukovar in eastern Slavonia in early July as a part of a wider
campaign to demolish buildings constructed without a permit under the
previous government of the late President FRANJO TUDJMAN. The church
building - built in 1992 in a Moravian style as a smaller replica of the St Sava
cathedral in Belgrade - was intended to be consecrated as the church of St
Petka, but this never happened and no church services were ever held there.
The two Serbian businessmen who financed the project, LJUBAN DEVETAK
and ZORAN KUZMANIC, spent an estimated one million US dollars on the
building, and they intended it to be used by the Serbian refugees who settled in
the village during the 1992-5 war in Croatia. However, they have left and the
original Croatian owners have returned. A monk of the local Serbian Orthodox
diocese declined to comment on the demolition to Keston News Service.

The Croatian minister for constructions and building, BOZO KOVACEVIC,
declared in a statement that all buildings slated for demolition had been erected
without any permission, and that this particular building was built by two
prominent Serb individuals from the village on land that belonged to four other
people, three of whom were Croats evacuated from the area because it was
under the control of Serbian troops. The land was never sold and the original
owners never agreed to its use for this purpose. Recently the owners submitted
a complaint asking for the land to be returned. The government acted in
accordance with the decision of the newly elected officials, who are trying to
eradicate many cases of illegal building in Croatia.

The Serbian representative in the local government tried to offer the building
for use as a Roman Catholic chapel, but this was rejected by the community.

A Serbian Orthodox representative declined comment on the demolition. `The
Diocese of Osijek, Polje and Baranja of the Serbian Orthodox Church has
nothing to say about this case,' Deacon MIRON of the diocesan office in the
town of Dalj on Croatia's border with Serbia told Keston by telephone. `The
Bishop is not giving any statements for the public and he intends to report
about this event to the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church. They will
decide whether there will be any reactions or statements.' Deacon Miron
confirmed that the building had never been used as a church. `I can only
confirm that the building was never consecrated, that there were no holy icons
or relics inside, and that the bells were returned by the authorities to those who
donated them. Thank you for your interest but this is all I can say.'

The case did not attract much interest as there are almost no Orthodox believers
left in the village. The Croatian government tried to handle the case in a low
key manner, stressing that the demolition of this building was no different from
any other. (END)

Thursday 20 July 2000

by Robert Polcz, Keston News Service

Representatives of ten Hungarian minority religions (including Christian
Advent, The Bible Speaks, the Unitarians, the ISKCON Hare Krishna
movement and the Buddhists) submitted a petition to the Constitutional Court
on 22 June arguing that a recently-adopted amendment to the law on value-
added tax (VAT) discriminates against non-historical denominations and thus
violates the law on freedom of religion. They claim that the amendment reflects
a policy which might lead to a legal distinction between politically favoured
religious groups and those out of favour with the government. Organisers claim
the protest has the support of ten to fifteen more religious groups which did not
want to join for either theological or political reasons, or feared possible
negative consequences. The Constitutional Court must now investigate whether
or not the new amendment contradicts the law on freedom of religion, whose
provisions have priority over the amendment.

According to the 1998 law on tax, churches and organisations had the
opportunity to claim VAT refunds on specific non-profit activities. On 2 May
parliament passed an amendment to this law which added reconstruction of
buildings to the list of eligible activities, but at the same time restricted refunds
to those religious groups `in contract with the state', a reference to the six
denominations the state recognises as `historical' (Roman Catholic, Calvinist,
Lutheran, Jewish, Baptist and Serbian Orthodox). The amendment thus
excluded all other religious groups from eligibility for VAT refunds.

KRISZTINA DANKA, spokesperson of ISKCON Hungary which had initiated
the protest, told Keston on 9 July that the primary aim of the protest was not
financial, since most of the groups joining the protest were not eligible for the
refund because they employ full-time workers. They sense that the government
is trying to form an electoral alliance with the historical churches that demand a
more radical `anti-sect' policy in return for votes. Her view is echoed by
another of the organisers, ZSUZSA VANKO, the head of the Sola Scriptura
Theological College run by the Christian Advent Community. `It is evident that
certain ecclesiastical circles, and primarily the Roman Catholic Church, are
trying to push the government into negative discrimination against both
Christian and non-Christian churches,' she told Keston on 30 June.

ANDRAS TALLAI, a parliamentary deputy and initiator of the amendment,
told Keston by telephone on 4 July that the drafting of his original proposal,
completed on 24 March, did not include the restriction of eligibility to the
historical denominations. The economic weekly paper HVG wrote that `the
influence of a so-called historical denomination' lay behind the proposal. In
support of this view, Danka reports that a few weeks before the amendment
was put to the vote, representatives of several minority religions were invited to
a discussion on the proposal at the Ministry of Economic Affairs in Budapest.
This conference was however cancelled by the government, although the
reasons were never made known.

Keston contacted the office of the spokesman of the Catholic Church, Bishop
ANDRAS VERES, to seek a response to accusations that it was pressuring the
government to restrict other faiths, but was told he is on holiday until 28 July.

The minority religions that have joined the petition believe the present
amendment is linked to the government's dissatisfaction with the 1990 law on
the freedom of religion, which it regards as `too liberal'. They claim that since
the government cannot come up with a successful amendment (as it would
require two-thirds support to pass through parliament) they are trying to
achieve their aims by incorporating restrictions into laws that need only
majority support. PETER MORVAY, spokesperson of the Faith Church (which
claims to be the fourth largest Hungarian denomination), maintains that
freedom of religion started to decline in 1997, when the government signed a
co-operation contract with the Vatican, and continued when similar `pacts'
were signed with five more historical denominations in 1998. Morvay claims
these contracts provide a legal framework which makes it possible to
distinguish between certain groups and others on a subjective basis. Danka
agrees. `If the government, as it maintains, had no intention to form a
discriminative basis with the contracts, why didn't they offer the possibility to
other denominations?' However, KATA ANDRASI of the press department of
the Ministry of National Cultural Heritage denied to Keston on 4 July that the
present amendment has any relevance to the government's policy on religious
affairs and refused to comment further, declaring that the ministry is not
competent in economic matters.

While the Constitutional Court is considering its response, another amendment
is being prepared which includes similar restrictions. The Ministry of
Education has drawn up a proposal under which the state would provide the
same level of financial support to the `contracted' denominations as they
provide to state institutions, while other denominations would receive lower
funding. While conservative parliamentary deputies hail the proposition as the
emancipation of religious education, the socialists doubt whether the proposed
amendment is in accordance with the constitution. (END)

Copyright (c) 2000 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.