The Islamic Religious Community decided to pause all correspondence and misunderstandings with the government over the “slow and discriminatory” denationalization of their property, which threatened to coerce ahead of the presidential election in their 700 mosques across the country. The IRC says it doesn’t want to get involved in a political campaign, so they will draw its next moves after the end of the May elections. They are convinced that their arguments are sound and claim that hundreds of requests for returning property that were nationalized after World War II are held locked in desk drawers or dragged on in the courts.
The letter was internal
“It was an internal letter that we sent to the government and we still don’t understand how it was made public. It is not the first time that we communicate with the Prime Minister and his team. As early as June 2, 2017 we sent the first letter after coming to power, in which we pointed out the priority 11 cases of denationalization. Reis (Grand Mufti) also had meetings with him. Unfortunately, even today, when the second year of the functioning of the so-called “Reform government”, there is still no answer, let alone the realization of any request,” says Agron Vojnika, head of the public relations department at the IRC.
Members of this religious community explain that the last drop in cup of dissatisfaction was the case of the Alipasina Mosque when, despite the agreement with the government, that is, the received donation from Turkey, the construction of the minaret encountered obstacles.
“The Prime Minister ignores the agreement by receiving at the meetings the members of the newly formed association, which opposes the construction of the minaret.
In addition, they send inspectors on a daily basis. It’s not pressure, it’s super pressure. There can be a compromise for everything except for that case. A minaret existed there and was demolished with an explosive between the two world wars. This means that when it is conserved or restored, there is no need to seek a building permit. We won’t be building anything new, we are not adding anything, just returning things as they were. There are no exceptions, the minaret has to be built,” says Driton Dikena, director of the property of the IRC.
The IRC acknowledges that the problems are not new, but asked why they just decided to react and whether they had received any guarantees from Zaev, so now they feel cheated, they refused to give a precise answer.
“No, we did not threaten to talk against the government in the mosques, we did not blackmail, we have never interfered in politics especially not now, there was no agreement with Zaev”, the IRC explains.
Submitted 350 requests for denationalization
Since 1998, since the Law on Restitution was adopted, the IRC has submitted 350 requests for the return of its property. It is about four million square meters in land and over 42,000 square meters in stores, bedestans, buildings … Forty percent of the cases have been resolved (ten percent of the property has been returned, and thirty percent of it has been compensated), while the remaining sixty percent are unfinished.
“And so for years, it will move forward, and then we are back at the beginning. Denationalization was supposed to end in four or five years, and here we are two decades later and there is still solution. On our property were built courts 1 and 2, complex St. Cyril and Methodius, National Library, MANU, MOI, Railway Station, Kapan-an, Suli-an, Bezisten, etc. These are all attractive locations. For the location at the Red Cross we received compensation of 500 denars per square meter. What a sum for that kind of place. The Burmali Mosque was on Macedonia Square. The Skopje Fortress (Kale) is a whole other story, where we had two stamps for the construction of the residence of the Reis and the headquarters for the IRC. All other religious communities even received a gift from the state, but we didn’t. We invested 80,000 euros to arrange the area from the Skopje Mufti to the French cemetery. And then later, we learned that the land was sold to the businessman Orce Kamchev and his MPM for a price of 1.200 denars per square meter. Today, this land is sold by a bank as an indemnity for the failed firm. What we need now is to call the advertisement and buy something that has always been ours,” asks Dikena.
The Islamic Religious Community on Friday threatened the government that on the eve of the presidential election, 700 mosques across the country would inform its believers about discriminatory treatment by the state. In order not to do so, the community asked Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and his team to receive a written response to the intentions and activities related to the reconstruction of the Alipasina Mosque in Ohrid, the status of religious buildings in Lazec and the Husamedinpasha Mosque in Shtip, which was registered in the name to another religious community.
They received an instant reaction from the government building on Ilinden Street that Macedonia is a secular state, which is why the executive will not take steps to manipulate religious feelings or interfere in relations within religious communities.
The government even said that it also considered informing the Prosecutor’s Office of the threats.
Just two days later, Reis-ul-ulema was sitting right next to the ministers in the government of the DUI. Ali Ahmeti noted that there was room for discussion and did not think there was any problem between state institutions and communities that protect the rights of believers.
“We know that Macedonia is a secular state, but we also know that the Ministry of Finance, which is in charge of denationalization, is part of the government,” concludes the IRC.
The IRC had an obligation to annual income statement
The Public Revenue Office has been trying to get into the IRC for several months and see whether this religious community worked legally. According to the data from the Central Registry, the IRC has not submitted any income statements since 2006.
“They have on a number of grounds the obligation to fulfill tax duties towards the PRO. One of their duties is to submit an annual report. On this basis they have a tax on profits. These are part of the analyzes we are currently conducting,” said PRO director Sanja Lukarevska, adding that they requested data from several institutions to examine the work of the IRC.
The IRC, however, responded that according to the existing laws on religious obligations, they are not obliged to provide annual statements. They are not obliged to tax, they pay a lump sum tax, which is why they did not feel the need to cooperate with the inspectors from the PRO.
“On one occasion, Prime Minister Zaev asked the Reis how the financing of religious communities in other countries is regulated. We made an analysis, we saw that in a pile of European Union member states that are secular and a notion of democracy, the state financially helps communities of believers, respecting their feelings and protecting their rights. This is not the case with us. If it is someday, then the PRO will be able to carry out controls and inspections,” the Islamic Religious Community emphasized.