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Macedonia Muslims Threaten Boycott to Press Demands

April 19, 2013

The Islamic Religious Community, IVZ, is threatening to boycott a global inter-religious dialogue if Macedonia blocks the reconstruction of an old mosque and does not return seized real estate.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic, Balkan Insight, 18.04.2013


Skopje | Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

The second largest religious community in Macedonia, after the Macedonian Orthodox Church, said its leader, Sulejman Rexhepi, will not take part in this year’s world conference on Inter-Religious and Inter-Civilization Dialogue, organized by Macedonia, unless their demands are met.

They are seeking reconstruction of the old Burmali Mosque in central Skopje as well as other old mosques across the country.

In addition, they want the return of some 19th and early 20th-century properties in Skopje’s Old Bazaar area.

“We will not participate unless our demands are not met. If there is no change, we will continue boycotting all such state-organized events,” Abaz Islami, spokesman of the IVZ, said.

The IVZ says a boycott of the event in Skopje, taking place from 10-20 May, will put a spotlight on what they see as continuous institutional discrimination against them.

The religious forum, first held in 2007 as meeting place for different cultures and denominations, has become a key venue for senior clerics and politicians from all over the world.

“We hope that all misunderstandings will be overcome in the weeks to come and that they will change their mind,” the head of the State Commission on Religious Communities, Valentina Bozinovska, said.

The organizers expect participants from all over the region, including heads of state and government, cabinet ministers, religious leaders, international organisations, NGOs, and academics.

In 2007, the Islamic Community filed an appeal in Skopje requesting that the city set aside a lot for reconstruction of the old Burmali mosque, whcih the then Serbian rulers of the city tore down in the 1920s. [Serbia obtained much of Macedonia from the Ottoman Empire as a result of the Balkan wars of 1912-13.]

The issue of a rebuilt mosque in the predominantly Christian central area of the city became a hot topic in early 2008 when the government announced plans to fund construction of an Orthodox church on the same square.

After much controversy, the government dumped plans to finance the church, and the construction site was relocated.

The issue of the Burmali Mosque reemerged at the end of last year when a Greek investor who bought the land originally occupied by the mosque, said he would build a hotel and an office on the site.

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