KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 4 June 2001.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

I. SERBIA: NEW RELIGION BILL IMMINENT. The Serbian minister for
religion has told Keston News Service that he expects the new law on
religious freedom in Serbia to go to a parliamentary vote before the summer.
Both he and his deputy indicated that what the government regards as
Serbia's `traditional' faiths (Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Islam and Judaism) are
likely to be favoured at the expense of newer faiths. It remains unclear how
the contentious issue of religious education in schools will be handled, with
rising opposition to compulsory classes.

II. YUGOSLAVIA: FEDERAL RELIGION LAW `ON HOLD' 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. A
spokesperson for the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, told
Keston News Service that no draft of the law had yet been made public and
that federal government was �polarised� over the question of religious
education in schools.

I. SERBIA: NEW RELIGION BILL IMMINENT

by Branko Bjelajac, Keston News Service

`The draft of the new law on religious freedom in Serbia has been completed
and the text is at the legal-technical preparation stage,' Vojislav
Milovanovic, Serbian minister for religion, told Keston News Service,
predicting that it will go to a parliamentary vote before the summer. Both he
and his deputy, Zivojin Stepic, indicated that what the government regards as
Serbia's `traditional' faiths (Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Islam and Judaism) are
likely to be favoured at the expense of newer faiths. It remains unclear how
the contentious issue of religious education in schools will be handled, with
rising opposition to compulsory classes.

`This weekend I will attend a conference in Berlin dedicated to relations
between the state and the Church in Serbia,' Milovanovic told Keston on 1
June in Belgrade, `and on our return we plan to initiate the legislative
process for the draft. It will then go to various committees and public debate,
and I expect voting in the Serbian parliament very, very soon, before the
summer. The public will get the text of the draft very soon.'

Milovanovic's remarks came just days after Stepic also reported that
consultation was imminent. `We will soon organise wide public discussions
of the first draft of the new law on religious communities,' Stepic told Srna
news agency on 26 May. `We expect all religious communities to give their
opinion on it as well as the Ministry of Education and the Serbian Academy
of Arts and Science.' He added that the law would take into consideration the
needs of the four `basic' religious communities in Serbia: Orthodox,
Catholic, Islamic and Jewish.

Milovanovic also indicated that `traditional' faiths would be favoured. `With
this new law, the traditional religions will get their rightful position,' he told
the press in Smederevo on 8 April, `while the "quasi-religious influences",
i.e. sects and cults, will be diminished and eliminated.' Describing the new
religion law as `a top priority for the ministry', Milovanovic commented that
Serbia has had no law to regulate this field since 1993, and that even then the
relationship between the Church and the state was not good. He added that
the state would soon return confiscated property to the Orthodox Church.

Other sources speak of not one but several laws to regulate church-state
relations. A statement issued in the wake of the Serbian Orthodox Church's
annual Holy Synod meeting in mid-May reported that the Serbian
government had informed the Synod about progress on drafting new laws.
`There are several laws prepared and several more in the preparation stage:
on return of religious education in primary and secondary schools, on
religious freedom, on relations between religious communities and public
and private media, on state and religious holidays, on church-issued
documents and on the return of nationalised Church land and property,' the
statement declared.

The Synod took the opportunity to appeal to the leaderships of Serbia and
Yugoslavia for religious education to be implemented with the new school
year. `The Synod requests that the same right be respected when speaking
about other historical churches and [all other] religious communities
traditionally present in this region.'

But Milovanovic was specific: `There will be only one law in addition to the
announced law on religious freedom and it is about the return of nationalised
property of various traditional churches and religious communities that
existed in Serbia in 1941,' he told Keston. `Other issues will not be regulated
in the form of law but in other government acts and documents.'

However, arguments over religious education might hold up the religion law,
despite Stepic's remarks in May that religious education would be
implemented in Serbia's primary schools as early as September. It is planned
that this subject will be obligatory for all students, with studies in ethics for
non-Orthodox children.

But recent reports show rising opposition, even from government officials,
especially from the Serbian Ministry of Education, which is looking at a
longer timescale. The education minister, Gaso Knezevic, his deputy Vigor
Majic and assistant minister Slobodanka Turajlic are proposing the
introduction of several pilot classes in the 2002/3 school year first, to test the
religious education programme and establish whether there are enough
qualified teachers.

`We should not forget the fiasco over religious education in the Republika
Srpska [the Serbian entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina] and in Croatia,
primarily because of the haste over implementation and the failure to
introduce the programme step by step,' Knezevic declared in a recent round
table on the subject, a transcript of which was passed to Keston by the
Helsinki Committee. `This we are trying to avoid.' Knezevic emphasised the
`multi-confessional nature of our country', complaining about the concept of
`segregation of children on the basis of religious affiliation or non-affiliation,
which is contrary to values supported by our Constitution and international
law'. (END)

II. YUGOSLAVIA: FEDERAL RELIGION LAW `ON HOLD'

by Branko Bjelajac, Keston News Service

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)

Copyright (c) 2001 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.