US State Dept praises religious harmony in Albania but calls on Government to return properties to religious communities

Tirana, Albania | 30 May (Tirana Echo) – The US Department of State has praised Albania’s religious freedoms and harmony while calling on the Albanian government to return properties confiscated during the former communist regime from religious communities.

The International Religious Freedom Report for 2017  notes the Albanian constitution guarantees freedom of conscience and religion while it stipulates there is no official religion and the state is neutral in matters of belief.

However the US report points out that that the government did not return any properties confiscated under the communist regime during the year.

Religious groups reported the Agency for the Treatment of Property (ATP) did not process any claims for restitution of property seized during the communist era and approved only one claim for compensation. The ATP stated hundreds of claims awaited amendment of the property law provisions before they could be resolved.” – says the report.

The Albanian government has agreements with the Sunni Muslim and Bektashi communities, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and the Evangelical Brotherhood of Albania (VUSH), a Protestant umbrella organization, pertaining to recognition, property restitution, and other arrangements. The law stipulates the government will give financial support to faith communities, but the government’s agreement with the VUSH under the law does not specifically designate it to receive such funding. The government legalized 41 mosques during the year, compared with 137 in the previous year, six in 2015, and reportedly none in 2014.

The President of Albania Ilir Meta praised the report and said that the restitution of properties to religious communities is not only a constitutional obligation, but rather an essential contribution to their further recovery and strengthening independence. The President added that the state institutions and the faith communities should use the report to improve the state of religious rights and freedoms in the country.

The U.S. government estimates the total population of Albania at 3 million (July 2017 estimate). According to the most recent census conducted in 2011, Sunni Muslims constitute nearly 57 percent of the population, Roman Catholics 10 percent, members of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania nearly 7 percent, and members of the Bektashi Order (a form of Shia Sufism) 2 percent. Other groups include Protestant denominations, Bahais, Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and a small Jewish community.

Representatives of the Catholic, Orthodox, and Bektashi communities continued to state the 2011 census presented an inaccurate picture of the religious demographics of the country because their numbers were undercounted. Bektashi leaders expressed concern the census had classified many of their followers as Muslim but not Bektashi.

Nearly 20 percent of respondents declined to answer the optional question about religious affiliation, creating the potential for an under-count. No other official estimate is expected until the next census in 2021.

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