Bosnia and Herzegovina – an example to Europe of how much religious freedom means

Bosnia and Herzegovina – an example to Europe of how much religious freedom means

The dead pig was thrown into the harem of the City Mosque in Bratunac on the first day of the New Hijri in 1442, which was celebrated in August 2020. The main imam of the Majlis of the Islamic Community of Bratunac, Elvir-ef. Hodžić pointed out that this is not a coincidence because it is a domestic animal that is not bred in the center of Bratunac, and that for several months now the imams and members of the congregation have been finding garbage bags in the mosque's harem in the morning.

The vandal attack on the Orthodox Church of the Holy Prophet Elijah in Ilijas was committed by several participants, who walked into the port of the temple and smashed the protective door with a metal bar, and then the wooden door of the temple. Then an alarm sounded and stopped their further intentions.

The Catholic Church of St. Luke the Evangelist in Sarajevo has been attacked seventeen times, and the last time vandals smashed the church windows with stones. Precisely frequent attacks are the reason why the reconstruction of the church has been going on for more than a decade.

This news are from Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), a country that has sought to cultivate a spirit of multiculturalism and interreligious dialogue in its history, especially the capital Sarajevo. Due to historical circumstances, this dialogue has often been suppressed, and it seems that modern times also face great challenges in educating new generations in the spirit of dialogue.

In BiH, we find three large religious communities – the Islamic Community, the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church. Along with them, there is also the Jewish community and numerous other minority religious communities. There are three constituent peoples living in BiH: Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats. Religious identities are intertwined with ethnic identities. Freedom of religion and the rights of churches and religious communities are regulated by the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Constitutions of the Entities, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Srpska.

The country is in a difficult economic position, which is reflected in society and everyday life. Difficult coexistence in BiH due to historical circumstances, and especially due to the past war, is often expressed through attacks on religious buildings, as recognizable symbols of religious/ethnic communities, especially during religious holidays or political elections. As we can see from the above news, the facilities of all religious communities are being targeted by vandals. It should also be noted that representatives of the Catholic Church often warn that due to the difficult situation in the country, there is an increasing departure of Croats from BiH, which also reduces the number of Catholics in the area.

Apart from attacks on religious objects, which according to some figures are on a downward trajectory, the issue of religious freedom of members of minority religious communities in an area dominated by one religious religion is endangered, and there are regular reports of discrimination.

Therefore, the words of Jasna Dobričik, Head of the Human Dimension Department at the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina, are understandable: “Improving freedom of religion or belief on the principles of inclusion and non-discrimination is essential for the security of the population and future stability”. This was said in Sarajevo in 2019 at a conference on freedom of religion or belief, attended by more than 50 representatives of religious communities, local authorities and civil society organizations from Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), and organized by the OSCE Mission to BiH. This conference is just one of many attempts to develop social sensitivity to religious tolerance and the future it opens.

The Interreligious Council in BiH (Međureligijsko vijeće u BiH), which monitors and warns the media about attacks on religious objects, also contributes a lot to the effort to ensure the best possible coexistence and tolerance. The Interreligious Council is implementing the project “Protection of Holy Places” of all denominations in BiH, in which they keep records of attacks, question the motives, locations of attacks, arrests of perpetrators and the like. Their effort is to build civil society through interreligious dialogue. They also enable anonymous reporting of attacks on a religious object through their website

Conclusion. As an area where the three religious communities (along with many other religious traditions) are trying to achieve a common life, as a country that is a potential candidate for membership in the European Union, BiH has undoubtedly always been, and still is, a great test for Europe and the world. The fundamental human right – the right of religious freedom – is recognized as one of the essential factors of improving coexistence. However, it is a long way from recognition to everyday living and respect of that right. BiH still has a lot of work and challenges ahead of it. Without the efforts of the citizens of BiH, as well as the European Community, it will be difficult to achieve this goal.

On the other hand, BiH seems to be a true example for Europe that without legal recognition and practical application of freedom of religion there is no social stability and cooperation. This is a fact that should direct European efforts even more towards the preservation of this fundamental human right in its territory and stop the increase of religious intolerance and discrimination against believers, especially towards Christians.


dr Saša Horvat

University of Zagreb

Autor: Laboratorium Wolności
Date: 29 September 2020
Financed from the means of the Justice Fund, administered by the Minister of Justice.
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