The attack on the Protestant Church in Roma Mahala as an indicator of a number of systemic failures of Serbia and the international community

Related to the attack on the Protestant Evangelical Church in the village of Bošnjace near Lebane in the night between April 21 and 22, 2014, Center for Development of Civil Society (CDCS) wants to pay attention to a clearly unfavorable trends in the field of religious rights of discriminated (i.e. non-traditional) churches in Serbia, as well as their broader context, which, in this case, is manifested as discrimination against Roma.

In the night of April 21 and 22 of 2014, a group of vandals tried to set fire to a church in the Roma Mahala in the aforementioned village. Believers luckily quickly extinguished the fire.

This serious incident, reminiscent of the once burning Adventist Church in Stapar, or of the attempt to ignite believers and their children within the King Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Bajina Bašta, indicates at least four things:

– There is a lot of talk in the media lately about the increase of the number of hours of religious education in public schools and employing religious education teachers on a permanent basis. It is obvious that the government is trying to cover up their waiver of the rights to the Serbian Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija by clericalisation, in a similar way in which the government of Zoran Đinđić managed to pacify the resistance of the Serbian Orthodox Church to delivering of Slobodan Milošević to the ICTY in The Hague by unconstitutional introduction of religious education in public schools.

– The educational results of religious education in public schools are obviously unsatisfactory, if not, in every way, even harmful, because, according to the testimony of the pastor of the Protestant evangelical church, the young perpetrators of these attacks do not even distinguish the mosque from the Protestant church; it is reasonable then to ask ourselves how broad and what kind of knowledge these young people have of their own and other people’s religious beliefs, after thirteen years of teaching religion in public schools. It should be noted that these classes are taught much more under the control of the religious community than within the educational system of supervision.

– Due to the cooperative policy of state government on the issue of Kosovo, international organizations and institutions much milder assess the human rights situation in Serbia; they almost completely ignore the threat to freedom of religion.

– In the latest attack on the Protestant Evangelical Church in the village of Bošnjace, inhabited by Roma, multiple religious, ethnic and racial discrimination is visible.Expression of multiple, ethnic / racial, and religious hate is a very common form of discrimination that should be sanctioned according to Articles 317 and 387 of the Criminal Code (CC) as the spread of racial, religious and ethnic hatred, i.e. discrimination. Unfortunately, in practice of the prosecution, the application of these provisions of the Criminal Code is still extremely rare.

Since international organizations and institutions largely ignore the exercise of religious freedom in Serbia, and the prosecutions inadequately respond, a more intense action of civil society is required in this regard.