Kosovo to address religious intolerance

05/08/2014

The president seeks greater institutional co-operation to reduce religious hate speech and vandalism.

By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 05/08/14

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Moderate Islamic scholars are calling for protecting religious tolerance in Kosovo. [AFP]

Kosovo authorities are trying to undermine a trend of religious intolerance that has affected religious harmony and also the work of the dominant Islamic Community (BIK), experts said.

Kosovo President Atifete Jahjaga held a joint meeting in with the outgoing prime minister, Hashim Thaci, and the heads of government agencies. Jahjaga said all institutions need to co-ordinate their actions and vowed Kosovo will never become a shelter for those that promote such views.

"[The institutions] need to disable the activities, organisation and whatever radical and extremist activity threatens citizens," the office of the president told SETimes in a statement.

A 2014 US State Department report on the religious freedoms detailed a number of problems in Kosovo. "Observers noted an increase in openly anti-Semitic rhetoric and greater public attention to factions within the Islamic community that promoted less-tolerant views not congruent with the country's historically moderate and tolerant past," the report said.

Hate speech has spilled over from mosques into the social networks and the online media, Alma Lama, MP from the Democratic League of Kosovo, said.

"There is an increase in the identification with religion, more than with the nation," Lama told SETimes. Lama said the institutions need to particularly direct their efforts at the poor and uneducated, which remain primary targets of hate ideologues as means to attack Kosovo's religious harmony.

Experts said Kosovo needs to deal with the problems in the Islamic Community that recently included the ousting of moderate Islamic scholars such as Xhabir Hamiti.

Kosovo police said it investigated death threats against Hamiti, but did not identify any suspects.

Hamiti said that to overcome the situation, opportunities need to be given to individuals and groups that act with vigilance toward religious intolerance, while politics and ideology must not be involved in religion.

"A country that aspires to be a democratic country and get integrated in Europe, as well as in the other international mechanisms, cannot have success and prosper in the future if there is no tolerance and inter-religious respect," Hamiti told SETimes.

Protestants and Serbian Orthodox Christians called on local authorities to protect church grounds against instances of vandalism of church property.

"A large number of Serbian holy churches in Kosovo have been damaged, and even set on fire, and it speaks volumes about our religious freedom," Milomir Stosic, a 67-year-old pensioner from Mitrovica, told SETimes.

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Kosovo parliamentarians also said government institutions need to co-ordinate their work to reverse the trend in religious intolerance.

"The politics which flirts with radical Islam to obtain their votes has failed," Lama said.

Correspondent Bojana Milovanovic in Belgrade contributed to this report.

How can people promote an atmosphere of tolerance and community in Kosovo? Share your opinion in the comments space.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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