On the role of religious communities and on religion freedoms in a democratic society
1. Within the ISCOMET Network for Democracy, Human Rights and Protection of Persons Belonging to Ethnic and Religious Minorities in South Eastern Europe (SEE), the first Round Table was held on 14-15 December 2001 in Belgrade in the framework of the Project "Maribor Initiative". The objective of this Project is to encourage the contribution of religious communities to reconciliation, respect of diversity, democracy, human rights, protection of minorities, co-operation and stability in SEE. This Round Table represents a continuation of the ISCOMET meetings held on Pohorje (Slovenia) in December 1994, in Rogaska Slatina (Slovenia) in September 1997, Niska Banja (FR Yugoslavia) in November 2000, and Bled (Slovenia) in February 2001.
The Round Table was attended by more than seventy representatives of religious communities and theologians of Jewish and Islamic religious communities and Christian Churches (Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant and Evangelical), non-governmental organisations, state administration and scientists from the FR Yugoslavia and other South East European States, as well as by the representatives of the European Union, Ambassador Dr. Michael Weninger, and the Conference of European Churches, Rev. Rüdiger Noll. Messages and good wishes to the participants of the Round Table were expressed by His Holiness, the Serbian Patriarch Pavle; His Eminence, Cardinal Vinko Puljiæ, Archbishop and Metropolitan of Sarajevo and President of the Episcopal Conference of Bosnia-Herzegovina; Reisu-l-Ulema of the Islamic Community of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Dr. Mustafa Ceric; His Excellency, Dr. Josip Bozanic, Archbishop of Zagreb and President of the Croatian Episcopal Conference; and His Excellency, Dr. Franc Rode, Archbishop and Metropolitan of Ljubljana, President of the Slovenian Episcopal Conference. In the working sessions, the participants were further addressed by Muarem effendi Zukorlic, Mufti of the Islamic Community of Sandzak, and His Excellency, Stanislav Hoèevar, Archibishop and Metropolitan of Belgrade, President of the Episcopal Conference in the FR Yugoslavia.
2. Participants expressed their satisfaction and appreciation to ISCOMET for enabling their joint participation in the work of the round table, which was held at the time of searching for the ways of affirmation and deepening of democracy in the FR Yugoslavia. They stressed that the spiritual renewal of the society is one of the major elements of this democratic process. Churches and religious communities can contribute individually, and through mutual ecumenical cooperation and joint activities, to this renewal. Cooperation of all people of good will, both believers and non-believers, in searching for the new means of realisation of this objective, developed on the basis of the respect of difference of opinion, should create new models of relationships not only in the FRY, but in SEE as a whole.
3. Efficient implementation of religious education in public schools, as well as the forthcoming Religious Freedoms Act, will be crucial elements of the democratic society renewal in the FRY. Bearing in mind that the introduction of religious education is being realised in a multi-confessional and a multi-ethnic society, the theoretical and practical experience achieved through its implementation could serve as an example for the solution of similar problems in the region. Efficiency of this programme will depend not only on institutional and legislative framework, but also on its social recognition.
4. Of special importance is the fact that the aforementioned and other experiences were made possible through the successful cooperation between religious communities themselves, on the one hand, and between those communities and the state, on the other. An efficient dialogue regarding the relationships of the Churches and religious communities with the state, as well as regarding religious freedoms, should also be an integral part of the process of democratic society. The further openness of the Serbian Orthodox Church, as the majority Church, for cooperation and dialogue, will also in the future be a prerequisite for the creation of democracy, human rights system, including religious freedoms and rights and protection of religious minorities in the FR Yugoslavia.
5. Churches and religious communities should have the right to publicly express their opinions as to the ethical and social, or even political questions, but they should not act as instruments of political parties.
6. One of the main preconditions of religious freedoms is the legal separation between the state and religious communities, as well as their positive relationship and cooperation. Religious communities should have equal rights and should be treated equally in all social spheres. In a multi-religious society, special attention should be devoted to freedoms and rights of ethnic and religious minorities and to the status of new religious movements, in order to assure equality and respect of the non-discrimination principle.
7. With regard to their cultural and historical character, religious communities have the right to realise their presence in mass media, while the state should not legally limit the possibilities for setting up their television and radio stations and other public media.
8. The participants of the Round Table set out different aspects of the realisation of religious freedoms and of the status of religious communities; on which the public and experts dialogue should be carried out further, and the adequate solutions should be found in the spirit of respecting the difference of opinion and mutual tolerance:
I. preservation of tradition, religious and ethnic diversity in modern society which is based on the social mobility of population;
II. searching for adequate models of religious education that would take into account religious diversity, and education of the expert pedagogical cadre;
III. presence and assistance of religious communities in public institutions, hospitals, prisons and military institutions; trade, import, export and distribution of religious literature; unimpeded administration of religious institutions and selection of religious officials without interference of the state; reasonable adjustment of the working process to the course of religious holidays and sacred rituals;
IV. strengthening the mutual understanding through dialogue and round tables, in mass media, and especially on television, between the representatives of different religions;
V. regulation of the social, humanitarian and philanthropic activities of religious communities (voluntary work, collecting aid, establishing endowments, etc.);
VI. appropriate tax- and other regulations that would ease the financial situation and activities of religious communities;
VII. the return of the nationalised property or compensation of the churches and religious communities in defined time limits.
9. The participants expressed their support for the continuation of co-operation between the states and religious communities in SEE, especially on the territory of the former Yugoslavia, in the spirit of the "Maribor Initiative". In particular, the co-operation in the following fields was emphasized:
I. realisation of religious freedoms and rights in the context of restructuring and development of democracy and plural society;
II. co-operation of religious educational institutions (seminars, exchange of teachers and students, of literature, etc.);
III. religious activity (preaching, rituals, prayers, education) of religious communities directed towards mutual respect and appreciation of the positive qualities of others;
IV. social field especially protection of workers deprived under the conditions of brutal introduction of the principles of market economy;V. teaching history on all levels of education, with the aim of educating for mutual respect and understanding without pretensions that the current generations should rectify injustices of the past;
VI. development of religious education and representation of religious communities in the fields of culture, education and media;VII. status of minority religious communities and new religious movements in the new democratic societies in SEE.
10. The participants expressed their firm belief that, in a long-term perspective, only those churches and religious communities in SEE will be affirmed, which respect freedoms of people in a plural society and deepen the spirit of reconciliation, co-operation and stability of their followers and other citizens.
Belgrade, 15 December 2001
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