Controversy in Macedonia over law on religious groups

Skopje, Macedonia - The Macedonian government, in consultation with the OSCE, has been drafting new legislation to amend the Law on Religious Communities and Groups. However, a stumbling block has arisen over proposals to liberalise the registration process, a move called for by the European Commission.

Current law recognises a single religious community for people of a particular denomination. The Macedonian Orthodox Church (MOC) is considered the representative of the Orthodox denomination, while the Islamic Religious Community (IRC) represents the Muslim denomination.

The MOC, IRC and the Roman Catholic Church have all come out in favour of maintaining the current system, rather than allowing the establishment of more than one religious community for each denomination.

Proponents say the liberalisation would give religious groups more freedom to choose their denominational orientation, thus potentially introducing more diversity.

According to the MOC, however, liberalisation would open the door for registration of the Ohrid Archbishopric in Macedonia, which is headed by a controversial bishop of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, Jovan Vraniskovski. He is currently imprisoned at the Idrizovo penitentiary for misusing donations at the diocese he previously headed.

The IRC, meanwhile, says the proposed changes would lead to the registration of an independent Bektesi Community, a move it opposes.

After a meeting between Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and MOC officials, it was announced that negotiations on amending the law would continue. However, no specific solution has been chosen.

In parallel with the registration issue, the MOC has sent a letter to the Serbian Orthodox Church, proposing continuation of their dialogue regarding a decades-long church dispute. The Serbian church continues to deny ecclesiastical independence to the MOC, instead offering it autonomy. But MOC bishops insist on an auto cephalic church under its own constitutional name.