MPs Vesna Markovic and Andrijana Avramov met at the National Assembly with the representatives of the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Beliefs visiting Serbia as part of a regional project.
MP Vesna Markovic stressed that freedom of religion and confession is a very important human rights issue and said that Serbia is a secular state whose Constitution protects religious freedoms. Serbia has 33 registered churches and religious communities and 95% of its population declares itself as a member of a religious community, said Markovic, adding that the majority are Orthodox Christians. She said that Serbia is a multicultural state, home to 25 national minorities, represented by national minority councils, who have the right to education in their mother tongue and freedom of religion.
On the other hand, the Serb population in the countries in the region does not enjoy the same level of freedom, said Vesna Markovic, stressing that we believe that Serbs in the region should have the same treatment and status as the members of minority communities in Serbia. Markovic then spoke of the current problems faced by the members of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro and the difficult position of Serbs in Kosovo-Metohija, south of the river Ibar.
Liv Hernæs Kvanvig, representative of the Secretariat of the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Beliefs, said she was very pleased by the high level of religious freedoms in Serbia. She said that it is vital to understand what freedom of religion and belief means and the relationship between religious freedoms and gender equality. The International Panel of Parliamentarians operates within the Norwegian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights and is conducting a project with ODIHR/OSCE Office, covering Serbia, the territory of Kosovo, North Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, analysing international obligations and national legislation on religious freedoms to ascertain the key challenges, best practice and finally give recommendations for the parliamentarians in the region how to advance religious freedoms in their home countries and the whole region. The project involves parliamentarians, representatives of religious communities, experts and NGOs.
In the course of the meeting, the officials agreed that connections and understanding in the region are crucial, as is not to abuse religion and religious feeling for political purposes.