Achievements and Future Goals of the Government of Serbia in the Field of Religious Freedom

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

The Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, established in 1918, soon became the scene of major disputes. After World War II, Josip Broz Tito's strict authoritarian leadership dominated the political climate of Yugoslavia.1 During the 1980s, however, failing communist systems and other political forces began to cause significant ideological shifts in Central and Eastern Europe. By the time the Berlin Wall crumbled in 1989, the communist regime in Serbia faced strong demands from democratic opposition parties to hold multi-party elections.2 As a result, Serbia held multi-party elections in December 1990 in which Slobodan Milosevic won the presidential election with two-thirds of the vote.3

Despite the urging for true democratic reform in Serbia, Milosevic's post-communist authoritarian regime remained in power for the next ten years.4 The regime's longevity may be attributed to two factors. First, the regime used propaganda, secret police, and political and economic power to influence and manipulate election results.5 Second, because of ethnic conflicts in neighboring Croatia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina and internal strife in Kosovo and Metohija,6 the authoritarian regime was able to take advantage of national sentiments in Serbia and strengthen its political grip on the country.7

Under such a background, one can understand how the government of Serbia faced severe problems in the area of religious freedom after the overthrow of Milosevic's regime in October 2000. Fifty years of communism and ten years of Milosevic's rule created strained relations between the state and Serbian churches and religious communities (hereinafter "religious communities").8 Additionally, due to the previous ten years of ethnic conflict, a lack of trust existed between the religious communities themselves.9

Since ethical and moral recovery of a society facilitates democratic development and rapid economic progress, the Serbian government's Ministry of Religions focuses on three principal areas of concern: (1) the reinforcement of religious freedom as a basic human right, (2) cooperation between the state and the Serbian religious communities, and (3) increased respect and cooperation between the various religious communities. Cooperation between the state and religious communities and among religious communities themselves rests upon the parallel observance of two basic principles: (a) the separation of church and state and (b) positive emphasis on the significance of religious communities in both the modern world and in Serbian society, especially with regard to the history, tradition, education, humanitarian work, and spiritual and cultural values of the Serbian people.

The Serbian government, in particular the Ministry of Religions, has used four principle means to reinforce religious freedom and reestablish cooperation between the state and religious communities and between religious communities themselves: (1) creating the Draft Law on Religious Freedom, (2) reestablishing religious education in schools, (3) providing restitution and indemnification for religious property appropriated after World War II, and (4) regulating the religious aspect of the media sphere, especially through enacting the Law on Broadcasting.

After this article was written, but before it was published, the first Prime Minister of the government of Serbia to be democratically elected in sixty years, Dr. Zoran Djindjic, was assassinated on March 12, 2003. In his capacity of Prime Minister from January 2001 until March 2003, Dr. Zoran Djindjic provided both initiative and crucial support for the described aims of the Ministry of Religions, particularly for designing and implementing the reestablishment of religious education, as well as drafting the law on restitution and indemnification for property appropriated after World War II and religious aspects of the Law on Broadcasting.

This article looks at three of the methods of promoting religious freedom. …