The US State Department released its annual State of Religious Freedom Worldwide report on Thursday, which includes data on the state of religious freedom in 200 states and territories and documents violations committed by governments, terrorist groups and individuals.
The report analyzes in separate chapters the situation of freedom of religion in Albania and Kosovo.
The report recalls that the Albanian constitution guarantees freedom of religion. It declares that there is no official religion, says that the state is neutral in matters of faith, recognizes the equality and independence of religious groups, and prohibits discrimination based on religion.
The government has entered into agreements with the Albanian Muslim Community, the Bektashi Muslim Community, the Catholic Church, the Albanian Autocephalous Orthodox Church and the Evangelical Brotherhood of Albania. These agreements recognize these groups as the main religious communities in the country and address property restitution and other arrangements.
The government, according to the report, legalized 62 buildings owned by religious groups in 2021, which were built without building permits, compared to 92 that were legalized in 2020. While another 25 properties remained under consideration.
The five religious communities, which have reached agreements with the government, have continued to raise concerns about the return of property confiscated under the communist regime, stating that corruption, the government’s lack of knowledge of jurisdiction and jurisdiction over property issues, and the heavy workload of the court system, prevented the enforcement of their claims.
The National Cadastre Agency, which in 2020 created an official register to indicate the amount, value and ownership of real estate, reported difficulties in the process of restoring properties used by other parties, offering a compensation with other properties or by paying cash compensation.
Leaders of the Evangelical Fellowship reported continued difficulties in obtaining permission to build places of worship. The Bektashi community and the Muslim community again reported problems with protecting their property rights.
The five main religious communities continued to ask the government for exemption from certain state taxes, according to bilateral agreements. Although they supported government measures to prevent COVID-19, religious leaders complained that the government had failed to respond to their requests for financial assistance to deal with the impact of the pandemic, and that restrictions on public gatherings had prevented the meeting. of funds.
In September, the government and the Albanian-American Development Fund opened the bidding process for the construction of a museum in Vlora, dedicated to the country’s efforts to protect Jews during World War II.
The report mentions that in April a man attacked worshipers at a mosque in Tirana, injuring five people. Prosecutors demanded that the attacker, a convert to Islam, be hospitalized due to a history of mental illness.
According to a report by the International Republican Institute (IRI), most media in the country that made reference to Jews focused on the memory of the Holocaust and the country’s good relations with Israel, although some articles carried conspiracy theories about Jews. .
The U.S. Embassy, according to the report, called on government officials to expedite the processing of property claims and return buildings and other property confiscated during the Communist era from religious groups. Embassy officials met with representatives of religious communities to discuss interfaith and governmental relations, challenges related to legalization and property restitution, and financial challenges posed by restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic . Embassy-supported programs, including youth programs, have focused on building community inclusion, promoting the empowerment of women in faith communities, and emphasizing the compatibility of religious belief and democracy.
The US government estimates that of the 3.1 million people in Albania, according to the 2011 census, Sunni Muslims make up 57% of the population, Catholics 10%, Orthodox about 7%, and Bektashis 2%. About 20% refused to answer about their religious affiliation.
Public schools are secular, according to the report, while private schools could offer religious instruction. Religious communities run 113 educational institutions, including universities, primary and secondary schools, kindergartens, kindergartens, vocational schools and orphanages.
In the chapter on Kosovo, the report indicates that the constitution prohibits religious discrimination and guarantees freedom of religion, but warns that the law does not allow religious groups to be registered as legal entities. A bill to give them such status, submitted to parliament in 2020, remained pending.
The Islamic Community of Kosovo said some schools continued to enforce an Education Ministry directive banning religious clothing, denying school access to students wearing headscarves.
The report notes that in September, Kosovo’s Constitutional Court notified the Attorney General of the government’s continued refusal to enforce the 2016 court ruling recognizing the Serbian Orthodox Church as the owner of approximately 24 hectares of land around the Decani monastery. In response to the government’s continued non-implementation of this decision and a 2020 road works agreement in the Deçan Monastery Special Protected Area, the Serbian Orthodox Church cut off all official communication with the government in May.
In October, media reported that authorities were investigating a Christian non-governmental organization (NGO) following complaints that the organization had published photos of children with religious content without parental permission. The media reported that the NGO denied breaking any laws.
In August, the Islamic Community of Kosovo and the media reported that police arrested author Gjin Morena for publishing poems inciting intolerance towards Muslims. Morena later pleaded guilty and was fined.
Representatives of the Evangelical Protestant Church of Kosovo said the lack of institutional support to provide the cemetery for its worshipers prevents them from performing funeral services according to their faith.
According to the Serbian Orthodox Church, in June the police, without explanation, ordered a bus of Serbian pilgrims to return to Serbia. In April, the pan-European federation of civil society organizations for cultural heritage, Europa Nostra, included the Decani Monastery in its list of the seven most endangered heritage sites in Europe, a definition that government officials called ” biased” and incorrect “.
The report notes that in June, a Montenegrin citizen chanted “Kill the Albanians” at a rally on Saint Vito’s Day in Gazimestan near Pristina. A court in Pristina fined him instead of imprisonment and banned him from entering the country for five years.
The Islamic community said the media continued to portray its community negatively, contributing to a climate of intolerance and discrimination. Representatives of this community, as well as the Evangelical Protestant Church, said some of their followers were reluctant to practice their faith openly for fear of discrimination.
DASH cites Kosovo police reports of 87 incidents during the year, up from 57 a year earlier.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said it continues to support improved relations between religious communities and municipalities.
U.S. Embassy officials continued to encourage the government to pass laws allowing religious groups to obtain legal status, implement mechanisms to protect religious freedom, enforce legislation and rulings of justice at Serbian Orthodox religious sites and to resolve disputes. property with this church.
The US government estimates that of Kosovo’s 1.9 million people, 95.6% are Muslim, 2.2% are Catholic and 1.4% are Orthodox. The law does not define a formal religion, but lists five “traditional” religious communities that enjoy additional protections and benefits, including tax reductions.