Muslims in Serbia: The challenges Balkan Muslims face (Part 3)
Serbia has become one of the most important countries in the Balkans. It has most of the cultural remnants from the former Yugoslavia that survived even in the Wars of the 1990s and the subsequent breakup of Yugoslavia. Serbia has officially applied for EU membership in 2009. Accession negotiations might be completed in 2024 which may allow it to join the EU in the following year.
The issues of Muslims in Serbia
EU is also interested in giving membership to Serbia to isolate it from the Eastern Bloc and Russia. In these negotiations Muslims in Serbia from Presova Valley and Sandzak have not been included which has compelled them to leave the region.
Few other villages have also been abandoned. This situation is quite alarming for Bosniaks and Albanian Muslims residing in the country. Bosniaks (Slavic Muslims) live in the southwest Sandzak region, while ethnic Albanians are inhabited in the south, and Roma are scattered throughout the country.
There are two religious directorate authorities, one is recognized by the Serbian state and the other is more loyal to Bosina which has created a religious division. Such religious division can also be found in Presova Valley where one group is loyal to Pristina and the other has affiliations with Belgrade. Religious education in schools is limited to the state-recognized staff.
Hope for Muslims in Serbia
It hoped that all these cultural and religious divisions can be eliminated through the establishment of a Balkan Islamic unity. Such unity can provide better opportunities and platforms to the Muslims living as a minority in the region.
Efforts are needed to unite the Muslims in Serbia. Turkey can play an important role in the unification of Serbian Muslims. It can promote cultural programs and educational initiatives. Similarly, media projects can be encouraged and implemented through the involvement of Muslims to achieve the desired results.
The issues of Muslims in Montenegro
Montenegro was least affected by the Wars of the 1990s as compared to other Yugoslavian countries. It came to existence with comparatively less violence after the disintegration of former Yugoslavia. It has already been a member of NATO. The country is heading towards EU membership. There are chances to get it earlier than Serbia and Albania.
As per the 2011 Census, Muslims constitute 20% of the total population in Montenegro and Islam is the second-largest religion after Christianity in the country.
Due to the EU integration Process which requires a legal framework for the rights of minorities, the condition of the Muslim community has improved. But in spite of proper legislation, a weak implementation has been observed. When it comes to Islamophobic incidents very poor rule of law has been noted. No prosecution has taken place so far.
The Muslims in Montenegro also face the challenge of the lack of a system to track Anti-Muslim hate speeches or crimes. And no government or non-government institution exists to deal with Islamophobia. Nobody has data to share on Anti-Muslim hate crimes with the public. As Muslims living in the country were converted to Islam during the era of the Ottoman Empire therefore they are seen as traitors based on their religion.
However, Muslims can practice their religion and beliefs freely in Montenegro. The restoration programs of Islamic Institutions and a wider Balkan Islamic Integration would help create Muslim unity and it would protect their culture
(To be continued)
(Written by Ijaz Ali, a freelance journalist from Pakistan. He holds a Master Degree in European Studies from Germany and can be reached at [email protected])