Discrimination and religion-based violations against the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)

The Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric (OOA) is an autonomous Orthodox Archbishopric located on the territory of the Republic of Macedonia. It is the only canonical Orthodox Church in the Republic of Macedonia and is in full communion with all other Local Orthodox Churches.

Rejection of registration by the Government of Macedonia

The Macedonian State Religion Commission has been continuously refusing registration of the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric on the basis that each confession may be registered as one group and that the name of the OOA was not distinct from that of the Macedonian Orthodox Church (MOC). Although MOC is recognized by the Government of Macedonia, it is not recognized by any other Local Orthodox churches, considering the 1967 declaration of the MOC of autocephaly to be a breach of canon law.

 Arrest and Expulsion

In 2002, after canonical and ecclesiastical reunion with the Serbian Orthodox Church, police unlawfully, without a court ruling, expelled Archbishop Jovan from his residence and cathedra in Veles. In 2004, the same illegal actions were committed by the police in terms of the monks of four monasteries, who were immediately expelled from their monasteries after joining the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric.

In 2005 Archbishop Jovan was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment for Instigation of ethnic, racial and religious hatred, discord and intolerance.

 Harassment and arsons

The same year, some armed men, looking for Archbishop Joval, illegally broke into Saint John Chrysostom monastery in the village Nižepole. Having failed to find him there, the armed men started harassing and uttering threats to the nuns, cutting their hair and setting the monastery on fire. The buildings of the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric were raided by the police, the church in the Saint John Chrysostom monastery was demolished by the state authorities, the chapel St. Nectarios of Aegina was vandalized and then completely demolished as well with the serving priest, father Borjan Vitanov, who was beaten up twice.

In 2004, Macedonian Parliament adopted “the Declaration for support of the autocephaly of the MOC” thus legalizing the Government’s identification with a specific religious community – the Macedonian Orthodox Church. There were also case when canonical Orthodox clergy were not allowed to enter the country.

 International community reaction

In 2017, the European Court for Human Rights announced its verdict on the case nr. 3532/07: “Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric against the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)”:

“FYROM violated Art. 11 (freedom of assembly and association), in conjunction with Art. 9 (Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion), the European Convention on Human Rights “, as the authorities refused to register the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric (POA) as a special religious community.

In 2018, the Government of Macedonia filed a complaint before the Grand Chamber of the European Court for Human Rights, in relation to the said verdict. However, the complaint was rejected by the Court, thus confirming once more its verdict on the case, stating that the FYROM violated the precepts of the European Convention on Human Rights by rejecting to properly register the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric.

 Conclusion

 We draw the attention of the UN HRC to the fact that interference by states in the sphere of freedom of religious beliefs, as well as administrative and political favouritism in term of one one denomination, as is the case in the FYROM and Ukraine, leads to massive violations of the rights of believers and destroys democratic societies.

 n this regard, we ask the UN HRC and the international community to take measures to protect the rights of believers of the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric and ensure the full scope of its rights.