Despite calls for tolerance and co-operation, the Islamic Religious Community boycotted the recent world religious conference.
By Biljana Lajmanovska for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 16/05/13
Skopje hosted the third International Religious Dialogue Conference. [AFP]
Macedonia Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said he is disappointed that members of the Islamic Religious Community chose to boycott a world religious conference in Skopje in protest of what they termed "marginalisation" of Muslims in Macedonia.
"To boycott the dialogue means to boycott one's self, and undermine the sincerity of the proclaimed values. The dialogue is the best and the most civilised manner to overcome every misunderstanding and problems, so nothing should condition the dialogue," Gruevski said.
More than 250 domestic and foreign religious leaders and theology professors participated in the recent the conference, which focused on religious tolerance, respecting diversity and the contribution of media to the inter-religious and intercultural dialogue.
The May 10th conference concluded with the adoption of a joint declaration that promotes freedom and dignity as a basic human value, imperative for a civilised dialogue among representatives of different religions and cultures.
Although more than 30 percent of Macedonians identify themselves as Muslim, its religious leaders are unhappy with the state's failure to solve several issues important to Muslims in the country, including the project Skopje 2014.
The Islamic community openly asked the Islamic communities and centres worldwide to support their stance and refuse to participate in the conference organised by the Macedonian government and the ministry of culture.
The Islamic Religious Community is demanding the reconstruction of the mosque Carsi Xhami in Prilep, a new mosque in the village Lazec near Bitola, and a location to build a community residence and a cultural centre.
None of the demands have been met, but new monuments and orthodox churches are being built, which attests to discrimination against Muslims in the Macedonian state, according to the Islamic community.
"The government … [doesn't] want Macedonia to function as a normal civil and secular state, where all citizens are equal and enjoy the same human, cultural and religious rights," said Plumi Veliu, the Bitola mufti and high Islamic Religious Community representative.
"In Macedonia, legally, we have a secular state, but de facto it's a clerical state, where the current prime minister plays the role of an archbishop, and the government acts as the Holy See of the Orthodox Church," he added.
According to Valentina Bozinovska, the president of the government Commission for Interreligious Relations, the community's claims are unfounded and the boycott was unjustified.
"They've managed to raise this local issue into an international one. With this, maybe unwillingly, they damage the image of Macedonia," Bozinovska told SETimes.
According to Veliu, the decision to speak openly about the problems and call for a boycott will not damage the inter-religious tolerance in the country.
"In Macedonia we don't have an inter-religious problem. We don't have a problem with people that have different religious beliefs. [The community] has a problem only with state institutions that act voluntarily and keep doing what is damaging, instead of doing that which would benefit the country," he said.
Should the Islamic community have participated in the conference? Let us know what you think.