Balkan Reflections

This blog has been set up to assist in communicating with friends and family while we are in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Location: Ontario, Canada

Striving to a better day.

Friday, July 14, 2006

This is from a news service I belong to. This explains some of my observations from when we were in Banja Luka!


The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one's belief or religion
The right to join together and express one's belief


13 July 2006
Legally building a place of worship in Bosnia and Herzegovina is often
difficult, Forum 18 News Service has found. Religious communities of all
faiths face obstruction in getting permission to build or re-build places
of worship. For example, in the Bosniak-controlled area, mosques have been
built without official permission. But Catholic and Protestant churches,
and Jehovah's Witnesses, face years of official obstruction, Forum 18 has
been told. In the Croat-controlled area, especially in and around Mostar,
Muslim and Protestant places of worship cannot be legally built. In the
Serb-controlled area, Serbian Orthodox churches can be built, but places
of worship of other faiths can face much obstruction. Another problem
Forum 18 knows of limiting building and other activities throughout
Bosnia-Herzegovina is taxation. All religious communities must pay 17 per
cent VAT on all their activities - even on humanitarian aid.
* See full article below. *

Kyrgykistan and Kasakhstan

13 July 2006
By Drasko Djenovic, Balkans Correspondent, Forum 18 News Service

Eleven years after the end of Bosnia and Herzegovina's civil war,
religious communities of all faiths face obstruction in getting permission
to build new places of worship, or rebuild those damaged or destroyed,
Forum 18 News Service has learnt. In the Bosniak-controlled parts of the
Federation (the larger of the two entities which make up the country),
many mosques have been built, apparently without official controls, but
Catholic and Protestant churches face years of official obstruction. In
Croat-controlled areas of the Federation, especially in and around Mostar,
Muslim and Protestant places of worship cannot be legally built. In the
Serb-controlled Republika Srpska (the smaller of the two entities),
Serbian Orthodox churches can be built, but places of worship of other
faiths face much obstruction.

The Catholic Church recently received permission to build a church in Novi
Grad, in Sarajevo, "after many years struggling for building permission,"
Monsignor Ivo Tomasevic, Secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of
Bosnia and Herzegovina, told Forum 18 from the capital Sarajevo on 24 May.
"For many years, Catholics did not have a place to celebrate Mass. This is
the first building permission we have received in Sarajevo since the
Second World War."

"However," Monsignor Tomasevic noted, "we have also been waiting for years
for building permission for a church in the Grbavica district of Sarajevo.
If you ask town officials they will tell you that they are open and that
we will receive this or that paper. But to complete the whole process to
get building permission is impossible. There is not the political will for
us to receive it."

Sarajevo City Council claims no responsibility for planning in Grbavica,
stating that this is the sole responsibility of Novo Sarajevo District.
With considerable difficulty, Forum 18 was able to track down an official
able to discuss the matter. Velma Kljuco, of the Department of Urban
Planning of Novo Sarajevo District, told Forum 18 on 12 July that "the
first planned location for a Catholic Church was near the Zeljin Stadium.
But because of a planned swimming pool, we offered another location. But
at his location a mosque was planned, and residents were opposed to either
a Catholic church or a mosque. So we will need to revert to the first
location. This means changes in plans, new paper work, and so on."

Jehovah's Witnesses in Sarajevo also have problems in Novo Sarajevo.
Building permission was received without too many problems in Ilidza
District, Djuro Landic from their office in the Croatian capital Zagreb
told Forum 18 on 12 July. "But in districts like Novo Sarajevo we have
been indirectly told that we will never receive permission." In Novo
Sarajevo, "we found a plot for a Kingdom Hall and after a year collecting
the different necessary papers, we learned that the urban plan for this
location was changed."

From Forum 18's knowledge of similar situations in the region, it may be
many years before the problems faced by Catholics and Jehovah's Witnesses
in Novo Sarajevo are resolved.

Monsignor Tomasevic noted that some religious communities do not face
difficulties. "Something I have found personally in Sarajevo is that
mosques are built like 'mushrooms after the rain' - as we say in the
Balkans," he told Forum 18. "Some are smaller, some bigger." He said that
some sources put the number of mosques in Sarajevo at 250 or more.

Hare Krishna devotees rent a building as a temple, Miro Skorup of the
community told Forum 18 from Sarajevo on 12 July. He stated that "Sarajevo
is a multi-ethnic town, where the international community is highly
involved in the government, so we believe that we would not have too many
troubles in getting building permission." Outlining how many devotees
there are in Bosnia, Skorup said that "we collected 300 signatures for
registration without too many problems. We do not have a 'church

"Obtaining building permission in Bosnia and Herzegovina varies from town
to town," Landic of the Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. "After the
civil war, we have built 6-7 new Kingdom Halls to add to those we built
before the war." Bosnia-Herzegovina's slightly over 2,000 Jehovah's
Witnesses have not requested building permission in the past year.

There were "a lot of problems in Zenica, in the Bosniak-controlled area.
We submitted all the required papers and exhausted all the legal
possibilities in the town. So eventually we had to take our case up with
the highest authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo, such as the
Ombudsmen." When the Jehovah's Witnesses did this, "very soon afterwards we
received building permission for Zenica's Kingdom Hall," Landic told Forum

In Bihac in the north-west, also in the Bosniak-controlled area, Jehovah's
Witnesses are planning to ask for building permission for a Kingdom Hall.
"We will see how this will work out," Landic commented.

In the ethnic Croat-dominated town of Mostar in the south, sharp
geographic religious divisions are clearly visible. City authorities have
not allowed the Muslim community to rebuild the destroyed mosque, Muharem
Omerdic, director of the educational service of the Islamic community in
Bosnia and Herzegovina, complained to Forum 18. He added that in Banja
Luka, in Republika Srpska, renovating the town's sixteenth-century
Farhadija Mosque, destroyed during the civil war, remains a big problem.
"It is a political game," he told Forum 18 from Sarajevo on 30 June. "The
Islamic community insists that everywhere where believers and real needs
exist, rebuilding places of worship should be allowed."

Mufti Seid Smaikic of Mostar told Forum 18 on 30 June that, several times,
the Muslim community has built small mosques without permission. "Building
a mosque east of Mostar, towards towns such as Capljina and Stolac,
conflicts with the 'ethnically clean' concept that some politicians have,"
he told Forum 18 on 30 June. "When we apply for building permission, the
administration just gives no response. So in west Mostar, we built a
mosque without building permission." Smaikic said "besides these small
mosques, we need bigger - modern mosques. In Mostar we have been waiting
for permission for such a mosque since 2000."

It is not just Mostar's Muslims who face obstruction. Karmel Kresonja,
president of the Evangelical Church in the non-Serb area of Bosnia and
Herzegovina, says there is a "big problem" in all of the
Croatian-controlled area. "In Mostar we have been waiting for planning
permission for more than six years," he told Forum 18 on 3 July. "It is
basically impossible to get it, even though in law we have the right to
build a church."

Despite repeated requests from Forum 18, and a promised response from
Miroslav Landeka of the city Press Office which has not been made, the
authorities in Mostar have declined all discussion of building permission.

Bernard Mikulic of an Evangelical church in Capljina, in the
Croat-controlled area, stated to Forum 18 on 30 June that "we are told
that under the urban plan, it is not possible to build a church in the
area where we land for a church. We are not able to get building
permission." The church intends to ask the authorities where it can have a
church. "But to be honest, I do not thing that we will be able to get
permission for a church," Mikulic said, "even though under Bosnian law we
have the right to have a church for worship."

Mikulic told Forum 18 that "only in Sarajevo do I know of Evangelical
churches which have not had building permission problems. In Capljina,"
he continued, "we received building permission for a house where we can
privately have singing and prayers - but we cannot hold public worship
services there." (The building permission describes this as a "monastery,"
but the permission is for a pastor's house with a room for worship.) The
church also intends to apply for permission to build a conference hall and

In Republika Srpska, the Orthodox Church is the only religious community
that does not face obstructions in gaining building permission. Forum 18
has learnt that, because of this, Protestant churches usually buy a house
and then convert it into a church.

Monsignor Tomasevic noted that, in Republika Srpska, the problem for
Catholics is not rebuilding churches, but the return of Catholic people.
From a pre-civil war Catholic population of about 200,000 Catholics, only
6,000 stayed in the area, and in the 11 years since the civil war about
6,000 to 7,000 have returned. "Most churches and parish houses that were
destroyed have been rebuilt or renovated. The problem is that the people
cannot return," he complained. "It is easier to rebuild church buildings
than the living church. The government causes administrative problems to
make it harder for people to return."

Landic of the Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 that in Republika Srpska,
"the Serbian Orthodox Church has the last word." Noting also problems with
registration, Landic said that it "is almost impossible for us to get
building permission." In Banja Luka, the area capital, permission was
received. "We were lucky that because there was already building
permission for another building on the plot of land, not giving permission
for a Kingdom Hall would openly show religious intolerance, so we received
it." Landic claimed that the situation in the entire Republika Srpska "is
chaotic. The Land Register is in chaos and everyone asks for a bribe."

Forum 18 knows of religious communities with problems gaining building
permission in Republika Srpska, who think that publicly discussing this
will end their chance of gaining permission. In one case known to Forum
18, a Protestant church's building permission was revoked when it became
public that a Protestant church would be built.

Another problem facing religious communities is taxation, which restricts
humanitarian work, building projects and other activities. Since January
2006 all religious communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina must pay 17 per
cent VAT even on humanitarian aid. "For public kitchens and other
humanitarian work, this is a big burden," Monsignor Tomasevic, Secretary
of the Catholic Bishops' Conference, complained. "Especially when it is
well-known that the whole country still depends on humanitarian aid."

A printer-friendly map of Bosnia and Herzegovina is available at


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