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Religion draft in Macedonia prompts concern across Europe

SKOPJE, Macedonia (BP)–The content of a proposed religious freedom law in Macedonia, a republic in the former Yugoslavia, and the way in which the law is being developed have led evangelical groups in Europe such as the European Baptist Federation to voice concern, according to a European Baptist Press Service report.

A draft of the law was completed and sent to certain Macedonian religious groups, but not to any Protestant or evangelical representatives, EBPS noted, citing a report by Baptists in the country. When the Baptists inquired about receiving a copy of the draft, they were told the government recognizes only three religious groups: Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim, EBPS reported.

When evangelicals did get to see a copy of the proposed law, further concerns arose, EBPS continued. The law mirrors much of the wording and approach of the communist era. Church activities would be confined to their buildings. Religious life would be subject to a government office of religious affairs. No missionaries from outside the country would be allowed to work in Macedonia. The draft even restricts the use of the word, “church,” solely to the Macedonian Orthodox Church.

For these and other concerns, Theo Angelov of Bulgaria, president of the European Baptist Federation, and Karl Heinz Walter, its general secretary, have directed an appeal to the Republic of Macedonia that all its citizens be considered in drafting a proposed law of religious freedom.

Macedonia has a population of 2.5 million people, only 400 to 500 of whom are identified as born-again believers, according to Ivan Grozdanov, president of the Baptist Christians in the Republic of Macedonia and coordinator for Evangelical and Protestant Christians in the Republic of Macedonia. The Baptist union in Macedonia has applied for membership in the European Baptist Federation and is scheduled to become EBF’s 50th organizational member at the EBF meeting in September.

Baptists wishing to send appeals advocating the rights of all Macedonians in the drafting of a religious freedom law may write to Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski, Vlada na Republika Makedonija, 91000 Skopje, Republic of Macedonia or Minister Vladimir Naumovski (principle author of the draft for religious groups) at the same address.

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