By Linda Karadaku
The small Protestant church in downtown Pristina has been around since 1985. Since then, its flock has grown to around 6,000 faithful, and 21 additional churches have been built around Kosovo.
But the denomination faces ongoing barriers in a country where the majority religion is Islam, says the community’s spiritual leader, Pastor Arthur Krasniqi.
“In this part of the Balkans, among Albanians as well, religion has always played a role in, or [rather] has been abused by, politics for electoral or other purposes,” he told SETimes.
Protestants, he said, have to deal with an atmosphere of unease. “They are visited at home, threatened there will be no place for them to be buried when they die, and their families are frequently isolated,” he said.
Sometimes, the pressure takes the form of physical violence. In Prizren, Krasniqi says, Muslim extremists beat a Kosovo Protestant, Besim Ajeti, earlier this year. Six people were arrested but released for lack of evidence.
In what the Protestants say was another example of intimidation, the Islamic community in Gjakova decided to post a list of Protestant missionaries and leaders, together with their addresses, on a website.
The information was taken down after complaints to authorities.
According to Krasniqi, Protestants face legal obstacles when they seek to build churches and, in some cases, do not even have the right to bury their dead.
Instead, he said, they must ask Islamic imams to perform the burial and pay a fee to the Islamic Community for this service.
“The Muslims then say, you can become Protestants, but in the end you have to come to us to get buried, because there is no other place to go,” he said.
The community has challenged what it says are onerous restrictions and is presenting its case before the Supreme Court. A particular concern, Krasniqi says, is the current law on religious freedom.
“The law clearly says religious communities aren’t legal entities in Kosovo. That means we don’t have the right to have properties or employ people.”
Similarly, the group plans to challenge the education ministry’s financing of an Islamic madrasa in the capital. Calling for clear separation of religion and state, they say the government should not be in the business of funding religious communities.