The DASH report and the still great challenges faced by religious communities in Albania

2023-05-19 20:04:00, Kulturë Dr.Arben Ramkaj
The DASH report and the still great challenges faced by religious communities in
Dr. Arben Ramkaj

As for many other areas of life, the US State Department's report on religious freedom is the only report that deals in the clearest possible and transparent way with all the problems currently faced by religious communities in the Republic of Albania.

Being a comprehensive report for almost all the countries of the world adds significantly to its weight. But on the other hand, it is known that the United States is a pioneer in terms of protecting freedom of religious belief.

Albania itself has signed and is a party to several international conventions such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (in 1991) or the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (also in 1991).

Additionally, it is a US partner in the Alliance for the Defense of Religious Freedom. The report published a few days ago, which scans the situation of the past year, takes on a special importance, because it mentions for the first time and gives a special importance to some events, which in the Albanian public opinion have passed in silence to some extent.

Thus, the DASH report mentions the permanent problems of religious communities related to the still unresolved issue of the return of their properties. He points out that although the government's agreements with the 5 religious communities stipulated that the government would return religious facilities and property, the laws that followed delegated this role to the courts.

But given the load on the system due to the justice reform started in 2016, community properties are experiencing the same ordeal as all other property claimants. The law stipulates that court decisions in civil cases, including those related to property, expire if not executed within 10 years.

And if the property cannot be reclaimed because it is occupied, in government use or unavailable, the religious community, with proof of title, can request financial compensation from the Property Handling Agency (ATP).

Under these conditions, the report suggests a joint initiative of the religious communities on issues that directly affect them, such as the fair financial compensation of the property of the religious communities in our country.

The US embassy has repeatedly called on government officials to speed up the handling of property claims, and to return religious group buildings and other properties confiscated during the communist dictatorship era.

In the report of the US Department of State, only the freedom of property is mentioned. But the fact is that what has happened to religious communities in Albania during the dictatorship has reached the limits of a cultural genocide.

This awareness should make the state institutions but also the public opinion itself more sensitive to the still unresolved problems from which the religious communities in Albania still suffer. As I mentioned at the beginning, the report also covers an event that generally passed without much attention from the responsible institutions with all the noise and uproar created in the media.

We are talking about the incident that happened in July 2022, with a state police officer who was denounced by the well-known imam of the Dine Hoxha mosque on Kavaja Street in Tirana, Ahmed Kalaja. The judicial police officer was denounced for aggressive behavior, offensive language and for pressuring individual believers who prayed and worked in the mosque to become police informants.

At this point, it is important for state institutions, for the special care they must show for what is sacred, and which is guaranteed by Article 3 of the Constitution of the Republic of Albania, which expressly states: "The independence of the state and the integrity of the territory of his, human dignity, his rights and freedoms, social justice, constitutional order, pluralism, national identity and national heritage, religious coexistence, as well as the coexistence and understanding of Albanians with minorities are the basis of this state, which has the task to respect and protect them".

Also, the report fails to mention the event that shocked the entire country, that of the Josifi family in Kombinat, where the mother and one of the daughters died, and the other daughter seriously endangered her life, the lack of preparation of experts dealing with matters of faith in Albania to handle it properly, and that brought this tragedy to be confused with Jehovah's Witnesses.

This mention is very important, because even minorities of different faiths have the right to exercise freedom of belief in the territory of the Republic of Albania. Such a wrong approach towards this community has also been noticed towards the Muslim Community of Albania, in the case of foreign fighters who went to the Middle East to fight the ranks of terrorist organizations.

In this case, it is a fact that the public opinion and also the media clearly lacked the balance of facts, unfairly stigmatizing an entire community for what are individual, immature, unstudied or misused actions of some individuals who chose to get involved in the Syrian civil conflict.

On the other hand, the DASH report also mentions another issue, which I consider to be extremely important. It is the discussion on religious education in public and private schools. Practically, this right in Albania remains unclear.

Is it only related to the official religious communities of Albania, or is it a constitutional right for any religious minority, or for any interest group that wishes to exercise the right to religious education in private schools?

I estimate that this issue takes on even greater importance today when there is a frightening increase in violence among teenagers in schools and on the streets, but also the strong identity conflict experienced by young people in relation to the emergence of their cultural and religious identity.

This is a very important topic that needs to be discussed, because some time ago a pilot project was proposed by the international community, according to which religious education would become part of the curricula in the country's public schools. But then this project was withdrawn.

Under these conditions, only private (non-public) schools can include in the teaching curricula any subject on the teaching of religious belief, even in this case as an optional and non-compulsory subject. The US State Department also cites with concern a government bill aimed at restricting universities affiliated with religious communities from offering only theological education programs, limiting secular education faculties.

The Interfaith Council and the State Committee on Religion noted that such restrictions could even lead to the closure of religiously affiliated educational institutions due to declining student enrollment and loss of tuition. Therefore, until the end of last year, the government did not implement the decision.

Also, the report underlines the great importance of state funding for religious communities, which according to DASH are not at the right level. Moreover, nothing has been done by the government during the last decade to have a different approach.

This document is very important as it scans in detail and objectively the relations of religious communities with the state and society, explains in detail the problems that still exist, and puts the points on the "i", on the measures that should be taken by the Albanian state institutions.

I think that this report constitutes an excellent example that should be followed by religious communities, which should publish a similar report every year on the relations of their community with the institutions of the Albanian state, but also with society as a whole.

I estimate that this culture of reporting and highlighting problems will put the religious communities in a healthier position, as well as restore their proper dignity in the Albanian society, which in the past, and due to the brutal communist regime, it has been part of the savage blow that religious communities suffered.

Lajmet e fundit nga