Serbia

Last Updated 5 November 2020

Serbia generally respects human rights and the freedom of religion following the implementation of its new constitution in 2006. The vast majority of the population, 85%, is Christian Orthodox, and 94% of people belong to one of the seven ‘traditional’ religions recognised by the government. It is estimated that only 1.1% of the population are atheists.1https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/resources/the-world-factbook/geos/print_ri.html

 
Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

Officially, Serbia has no state religion. The Constitution2https://www.ilo.org/dyn/natlex/docs/ELECTRONIC/74694/119555/F838981147/SRB74694%20Eng.pdf specifically invokes the principle of the separation of church and state (Article 11); however it also recognizes seven “traditional” religions, which appear automatically in its Register of Churches and Religious Communities and privileged over other registered religious groups.3https://www.mpravde.gov.rs/registar/1138/spisak-crkava-i-verskih-zajednica-.php These so-called traditional religions are the: Serbian Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic Church, Slovak Evangelical Church, Reformed Christian Church, Evangelical Christian Church, the Islamic Community, and the Jewish community.

Although it is not mandatory for groups outside these seven to register, unregistered groups can experience considerable difficulty when trying to open bank accounts, purchase or sell property, or publish literature.

The process of registration is regulated in Articles 9 and 17-25 of the Law on Churches and Religious Communities. 4https://www.paragraf.rs/propisi/zakon_o_crkvama_i_verskim_zajednicama.html To register, groups must to provide members’ names, identity numbers and signatures, proof the group has over 100 members, a summary of its teachings, ceremonies, goals, basic activities and sources of funding. As of 2019, there were 25 “non-traditional” religious groups registered with the government, the majority of which are Christian.5https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/SERBIA-2019-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf

Article 44 of the Constitution provides that:

“[The] Constitutional Court may ban a religious community only if its activities infringe the right to life, right to mental and physical health, the rights of child, right to personal and family integrity, public safety and order, or if it incites religious, national or racial intolerance.”

Preferential treatment

The government gives some preferential treatment to the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC), through funding and subsidies for clergy working outside the country.

Other Orthodox Churches may only operate in the country following the approval of the SOC.6https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/SERBIA-2019-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf

The law grants so-called “traditional” religions with the right to receive VAT refunds and provide chaplain services to military personnel. The same benefits are not bestowed on any other registered religious groups.7https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/SERBIA-2019-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf All registered groups’ clergy receive healthcare and a pension, replacing a system in which the government would sporadically allow these benefits to certain religions based on individual agreements with the clergy and Ministers.

In 2012, the Serbian Constitutional Court ruled the law maintaining the privileged status of the ‘traditional seven’ was constitutional and not discriminatory.

Education and children’s rights

Primary and Secondary students are required to attend classes on at least one of the seven traditional religions, or opt for ‘civil education’ instead in which students learn about modern day values, including democracy, tolerance and human rights.8https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/SERBIA-2019-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf

According to the US State Department, “[r]epresentatives of the Office for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities have stated that religious education in public schools may be provided for any registered religious community, but no parents have requested education for any religion except the seven traditional groups.”9https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/SERBIA-2019-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf

The curriculum taught in the religion classes varies regionally, reflecting the number of adherents of a given religion in a specific community. Typically, five interested students is the minimum needed to offer instruction in a given religion.

In June 2020, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development confirmed that religious education would continue in schools as the number of students electing to stake religious education classes remains stable.10http://rs.n1info.com/Vesti/a614966/Ministarstvo-Verska-nastava-nece-biti-ukinuta.html

The Commission for Religious Education approves religious education programs, textbooks, and other teaching materials and appoints religious education instructors from lists of qualified candidates supplied by each religious group. The commission is comprised of representatives from each traditional religious group, the Directorate for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities, and the Ministries of Education and of Science and Technological Development.11https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/SERBIA-2019-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf

Family, community and society

Article 21 of the Constitution provides protection from “[a]ll direct or indirect discrimination based on any grounds, particularly on race, sex, national origin, social origin, birth, religion, political or other opinion, property status, culture, language, age, mental or physical disability.” Further, Section 3 provides specific protections of national minorities, including the expression of their “religious specificities”.

Police responses to religiously-motivated vandalism are often sluggish and inconclusive, and rarely lead to arrests, and members of minority groups occasionally experienced social aggression – including things like spray-painted graffiti, rocks and bricks being thrown at churches and cemeteries, general hate speech and a negative portrayal in the media. In particular, Jehovah’s Witnesses and members of the Jewish community appear to have been the focal targets of discrimination.12https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/SERBIA-2019-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf

However, there are also reports of rising intolerance towards migrants.

LGBTQ+ rights

Despite the appointment of the nation’s first openly gay Prime Minister in 2017, conservatism in society leads to ongoing discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.13https://www.euronews.com/2019/09/16/i-m-not-giving-up-belgrade-pride-calls-for-serbia-to-address-lgbt-rights; https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/serbia/kosovo; https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/europe-and-central-asia/serbia/report-serbia/

Article 62 of the Constitution defines marriage as a contract between a man and a woman, as such rendering same-sex marriage unrecognized.

The law prohibits same-sex couples from adopting, and recent changes to regulations imposed a ban on anyone with a “history of homosexual relations during the last five years” from donating “reproductive cells” for the purposes of artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, or laboratory tests.14https://www.rferl.org/a/lesbian-pm-or-not-serbia-blocks-gays-path-to-parenthood/30123813.html

Roma

According to the 2011 census, 2.1% of the population is Romani.15https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/resources/the-world-factbook/geos/print_ri.html However, rights groups have drawn into question the accuracy of statistics relating to the Roma in Serbia as many choose not to identify as such for fear of stigma and discrimination.16https://minorityrights.org/minorities/roma-16/; https://www.coe.int/en/web/portal/-/despite-serbian-authorities-efforts-protection-of-minority-rights-needs-to-be-significantly-improved-roma-situation-still-alarming

According to Minority Rights Group:

“Roma face discrimination and exclusion in all spheres of life. Unemployment is particularly high among the Roma, and those who are employed are usually in low paid positions. Poverty is widespread and many people do not have access to such necessities as electricity or even clean water. Conditions are particularly appalling in informal settlements; these are makeshift temporary settlements populated mainly by Roma displaced from Kosovo or forcibly returned from abroad.[…] Roma have problems with access to basic services, such as health care and social assistance.”17https://minorityrights.org/minorities/roma-16/

According to Amnesty International, “Roma also faced ill-treatment by the police. A series of attacks by youths on Roma in Leskovac in May were not investigated as hate crimes.”18https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/europe-and-central-asia/serbia/report-serbia/

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

While freedom of the press is technically protected under the Serbian Constitution, journalists are often verbally and physically attacked.19https://rsf.org/en/serbia Pro-government media outlets frequently smear independent outlets and journalists, describing them as “traitors” and “foreign mercenaries.”20https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/serbia/kosovo The lack of resources available to the media often leads to self-censorship.

In 2019, the Independent Association of Journalists in Serbia recorded 119 attacks on the media – including verbal threats, physical attacks as well as pressure. To date it has recorded 163 attacks on the media in 2020.21https://www.bazenuns.rs/srpski/napadi-na-novinare

Freedom of expression has been a key focus of the process of integration of the Republic of Serbia into the European Union.22https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/20180417-serbia-report.pdf; https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/serbia_report_2020.pdf Among concerns raised are: concentration of media ownership; lack of transparency in allocation of state funding; attacks on the media; the lack of professionalism; spread of hate speech in the media.

According to the European Commission:

“During the COVID-19 related state of emergency, the government adopted on 28 March 2020 a decree to centralise all information on the pandemic exclusively through the government crisis team, which was then withdrawn on 2  April. A journalist was arrested after having written an article describing lack of COVID-19 protective equipment in a hospital. While the criminal charges against her for causing panic were dropped a month later, the journalist has since then continued to be the victim of smear campaigns, verbal abuse and threats, including by high-level officials. A restriction measure on access of journalists to the daily press conferences on the pandemic was in place for ten days and then withdrawn.”23https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/serbia_report_2020.pdf

References

1, 15 https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/resources/the-world-factbook/geos/print_ri.html
2 https://www.ilo.org/dyn/natlex/docs/ELECTRONIC/74694/119555/F838981147/SRB74694%20Eng.pdf
3 https://www.mpravde.gov.rs/registar/1138/spisak-crkava-i-verskih-zajednica-.php
4 https://www.paragraf.rs/propisi/zakon_o_crkvama_i_verskim_zajednicama.html
5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12 https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/SERBIA-2019-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf
10 http://rs.n1info.com/Vesti/a614966/Ministarstvo-Verska-nastava-nece-biti-ukinuta.html
13 https://www.euronews.com/2019/09/16/i-m-not-giving-up-belgrade-pride-calls-for-serbia-to-address-lgbt-rights; https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/serbia/kosovo; https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/europe-and-central-asia/serbia/report-serbia/
14 https://www.rferl.org/a/lesbian-pm-or-not-serbia-blocks-gays-path-to-parenthood/30123813.html
16 https://minorityrights.org/minorities/roma-16/; https://www.coe.int/en/web/portal/-/despite-serbian-authorities-efforts-protection-of-minority-rights-needs-to-be-significantly-improved-roma-situation-still-alarming
17 https://minorityrights.org/minorities/roma-16/
18 https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/europe-and-central-asia/serbia/report-serbia/
19 https://rsf.org/en/serbia
20 https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/serbia/kosovo
21 https://www.bazenuns.rs/srpski/napadi-na-novinare
22 https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/20180417-serbia-report.pdf; https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/serbia_report_2020.pdf
23 https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/serbia_report_2020.pdf

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