Government responds to Islamist party's challenge of Kosovo secularism


Officials said secularism is a sacred value in Kosovo.

By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 17/01/14


Supporters of the Islamic Movement Unite (LISBA) party gather in front of Pristina's grand mosque. [Levizja Islamike Bashkohu]

The Islamic Movement Unite (LISBA) party's public challenge of Kosovo's separation of religion and state and the country's EU agenda will not succeed, an official said.

Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj said religious groups are trying to bring Islam into the public discourse and dictate a lifestyle to citizens.

"Kosovo and its citizens are Europeans by history, geography and culture. Kosovo does not need to import or export Islam. Our European agenda is to return to Europe," Hoxhaj told the Kosovo daily Zeri.

LISBA accused Kosovo officials of being vassals and profiteers, anti-national and anti-religious tools aiming to change Albanians' identity.

"[W]e guarantee the people that Islam and the Muslims will be the main identity and the factor for the general good of the people," LISBA said in a statement.

There are no exact numbers on LISBA membership but the party has strongholds in Pristina, Gjilan and Peja.

Analysts said the debate concerns the preservation of Kosovo's traditional Islam as much as the fundamental values underpinning the state.

Islamist groups are objecting to Kosovo's secular character as opposed to the institutional approach of the elected government based on constitutional principles and the principle of a secular state, said Petrit Zogaj, executive director of the Fol (Stand up) Movement in Pristina.

"Certain groups that pretend to change the character of our state would be interested in such debates," Zogaj told SETimes.

They try to change the relationship between the state and religion, giving the latter a predominant role in Kosovo's society, Zogaj added.

Moreover, Islamists threaten traditional Islam in Kosovo because they create a division "not only in society as a whole, but also within the Muslim community and among Muslims in Kosovo," Ramadan Ilazi, executive director of the Kosovo Institute for Peace Ilazi told SETimes.

Officials said they are optimistic secularism is a long-standing value and the current debate will strengthen Kosovo's constitutional system.

"Secularism is a sacred value for the state of Kosovo -- in the past and through concrete actions now as well," Hoxhaj said.

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The main opposition Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) party agreed, saying Kosovo Muslims do not need others to tell them to re-discover Islam nor how to think or behave.

Traditional Islam has existed in Kosovo in harmony with the Albanian national sentiment and with European values for centuries, and will continue do so for centuries to come, according to AAK.

"There will be no place for fundamentalism in Kosovo," AAK said in a statement.

What should Kosovo authorities do to ensure the state maintains a secular society based on separation of state and religion? Share your opinion in the comments space.

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