IIRF Reports Vol. 1, No. 5 (May 2012)

By: Draško Djenović with contributions by Dr. Branko Bjelajac

Serbia: Report on Religious Freedom Issues: November 2008 – December 2011

November 2008 – December 2011

This report relates to a period of three years – from November 2008 until December 2011. In it, Center 9 explores a fact that a number of reported physical attacks on churches and religious communities within a given period have declined, when compared to previous periods. Most attacks were held against Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW), Seventh Day Adventists (SDA) and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). Center 9 found that there were no reported attacks on Catholic Church buildings, but rather against Catholic graveyards. Center 9 has also discovered that in this period no physical attacks were attempted against the church building and the believers of the Romanian Orthodox Church in Malajnica, in the region of Eastern Serbia. However, there was an increase in the number of attacks on the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) in Serbia but in most cases; these instances were not publicized as SOC does not offer such information to the public.

When asked for the possible reason of the decline of the violent attacks, Dr. Zdravko Šordjan, general secretary of the Belgrade-based Centre for Tolerance and Inter-religious Relations, told Center 9 on 23 March 2011:

“The decline of the attacks on small religious communities is a part of an improving climate in Serbia. ‘Hunting the sects’ is not ‘in’ anymore. Serbia understands that if we want to join the EU, we need to grant more human rights.”

Another reason for the decline can be found in the fact that courts recently started to prosecute attackers, which had not often been the case in the past. Damir Porobić of JW told Center 9 on 25 January 2010 that a hearing was held for the attacks on JW missionaries in Stari Banovci (two foreign JW missionaries had been held as hostages and a JW of foreign citizenship had been attacked in a barber shop):

“The case  nally came to the court. The accused Miroslav Savić from Stari Banovici was punished to 10 months of prison.”

This is probably one of the highest prison sentences for religious-related attacks in recent Serbian history, Center 9 has found.

Dr. Dragan Novaković, at that time Serbian Deputy Minister of Religion, told Center 9 on 24 March 2010:

“As a representative of the Ministry of Religion I must say that I am glad that a decline in religious-based attacks is evident. However, I am still not satis ed and I will be only when all the attacks stop. We should say that this improvement is a result of the new Serbian Constitution and the law passed in 2006 regarding churches and religious communities that grants religious freedom. The law explicitly proclaims religious freedom of churches and religious communities; although there is no doubt that some people and religious communities question some of the articles of this law.”

“The Minister and others in the Ministry are dedicated to the promotion of religious freedom and tolerance. Unfortunately, churches and religious communities do not always inform us about the attacks. When we are informed we visit and publicly support them to disapprove the attacks. We also advise churches and religious communities to inform the local police about the attacks, but also to inform the Ministry of Religion, since the Ministry of Internal Affairs does not forward such information to us.”