Last year saw an upsurge in attacks on religious minorities, ranging from slander and vilification in the media to physical attacks on places of worship and individuals, with such attacks continuing at a high level into this year, according to a European persecution watchdog group.
In presenting the results of an investigation into religious intolerance in Serbia, Norway-based Forum 18 reported more than 100 attacks on groups including Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Romanian Orthodox in 2004, with more than 25 such attacks between January and May this year.
Most of the attacks are carried out at night, with stones thrown at windows and pejorative graffiti scrawled on buildings, but some constituted physical attacks against individual believers, Forum 18 stated in its June 9 report. A special problem is the numerous desecrations of Catholic graveyards throughout Vojvodina province of northern Serbia.
Forum 18, which monitors religious persecution in Communist and former Soviet states, reported that most representatives of religious groups affected are not satisfied with the police response to the attacks, though some municipalities have now begun to react. Another problem is "ignorance" on the part of both local and national print and electronic media about the rights of religious communities, since their reporting often expresses intolerance and religious hatred towards "others."
Also, religious minorities are concerned with the states recognition of seven "traditional" churches and religious organizations without any legal ground. While traditional faiths are allowed to perform religious education in public schools and at the expense of the state, those outside the "traditional" faiths are not.
Forum 18 reports that the situation might improve if and when a long-awaited law on religious groups in Serbia replaces the last one, which was abolished in 1993. The current draft recognizes some of the attacked religious groups by name, and it is to be expected that if the new law is adopted - state bodies and local municipalities will be more willing in future to respond if attacks persist.
According to Forum 18, Serbia's religion minister stated on June 6 that the latest draft of the proposed new law on religious organizations will be presented to the government in September.