Date: Sat, 19 Sep 98 18:57:11 CDT
From: Greek Helsinki Monitor <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Albania: On Religious Freedom
Source : Compass Direct, July 1998
BRUSSELS (Compass)—Albania's latest efforts to prepare a new constitution and a subsequent law governing religious activity could severely affect minority religious communities, including many Protestant groups.
Vasil Kureta, an adviser under the direct authority of the Prime Minister's Cabinet, has been appointed to oversee religious matters, bypassing the State Secretariat of Religions. Kureta, like the Secretariat, makes a clear distinction between “communities” and “sects,” which could create problems for smaller religious groups. “We do not want sects to thwart traditional religions,” he said, “and I am personally opposed to their registration in courts because they can no longer be monitored and their membership cannot be checked any more.”
Rajwantee Lakshman-Lepain, a French historian living in Tirana, told Compass, “Kureta's initial project was to set up a Committee on Religions before the new constitution was to be voted by the parliament. He consulted the leaders of the Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim and Bektashi communities and of some sects … who approved of the initiative. However, he was told to wait for the constitution.”
The Committee on Religions is meant to replace the State Secretariat of Religions, which according to Kureta “has dealt with everything and nothing and the members of which mixed up their state function with the interests of their religion. It had no status and it went beyond its competencies.”
The State Secretariat consists of three representatives from the three dominant religions in the country: Sunni Islam, the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church. The representative of the Muslim community governs the Secretariat. He makes the final decisions on issues concerning religions not connected with Orthodoxy or Catholicism. Hence, the authority of this Muslim official has spread over the other Christian communities, including Evangelical Christians.
“It is obvious that the Albanian government is influenced by the majority religions of Islam, Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism and is pushing to introduce the registering of religions, so as to exercise governmental control over religious activity and especially to eliminate ‘undesirable’ sects and cults,” Lakshman-Lepain told Compass.
Dr. J.W. Montgomery of the London-based European Center for Law and Justice, said “Registration can readily violate the separation of church and state, which the constitution clearly wishes to endorse, and therefore it should not be instituted. But if registration cannot be prevented, a religion should not be denied registration on the basis of its doctrine; only proven criminal or antisocial activity should be taken into consideration.”
Kureta told Lakshman-Lepain that when the constitution is approved, the Committee would prepare a law on religion in consultation with official religious communities, some “guest sects” and all the others who will want to take part in the preparatory work. Each group will have the right to send two representatives, a lawyer and a believer, to the working group.
The Albanian Evangelical Alliance (AEA) has been allowed to participate in the constitutional preparatory process in a minor role. “We can take part in the meetings and make suggestions to the secretary of the commission,” a spokesman said, “But only its members can discuss them. We have made proposals about the article that deals with the right to choose and to change one's beliefs and with the relationships between state and church.”