Gregor Lesjak, May 2007

The study of the state attitude towards new religious and spiritual movements in Slovenia is informative in two aspects. Because Slovenia did not revise its basic law on religion (Legal Position of Religious Communities in the Socialist Republic of Slovenia Act, 1976) together with its political system, but rather extended its validity for the first 15 years of independence, there arose an interesting opportunity to measure “religious transition.” Simultaneously, this transition has led us close to the social conflict that is essential to the Western understanding of new religious and spiritual movements - previously "invisible" Slovene new religion and spirituality (see tables: 1- 5) became socialy apparent in a process of defining legal position of dominant church.

The Yugoslav Socialist Republic of Slovenia and the independent, democratic Republic of Slovenia exercised the same legal provisions to justify very diverse and mutualy incompatible actions - to demand, guarantee, question, and – in a few cases – even deny the registration of new religious and spiritual movements. The socialist state provided for the obligatory registration of every organized religious activity. Every group had to acquire the official status of a religious community and thus accept the only admissible form of its activities. Even though the socialist state never really searched for or punished unregistered groups (non-compliance with obligatory registration was considered a punishable offence), their eventual activities would nevertheless be difficult – for example, every gathering of people had to be reported to the police. The first among the emerging new groups reported their activities to the state in the 1980s (these were, for example, the Free Catholic Church, the White Gnostic Church, and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness), although they were not traditional religious organizations. Their application for official religious status was therefore not forced by legal obligation, but motivated by a need for a formal framework. The institution of religious community was easy accessible, the administrative procedure was quick, and the authorities asked no further questions.
The same legal regulations were exercised after Slovenia abandoned socialism and gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, although the understanding of the institution of religious community changed significantly. Acquisition of this status was soon understood as the right of religious and spiritual groups to collective expression of their freedom of religion and belief, and the state did not hesitate to satisfy any of these claims. A new administrative procedure for registering a religious community was simultaneously developed in practice. Since it was never legally defined, public administration applied a principle of analogy with other types of legal persons of private law. Thus it obviously performed its service duty instead of its former supervision of religion; 18 new religious communities appeared in the period from 1991 to 1999. Unchanged legal regulations and new social circumstances, however, reduced the attractiveness of that particular formal framework. This ceased to be an existential concern of new groups, which were already able to apply for no or other types of legal personalities and practiced, for example, limited or full for-profit or other specialized activities. Because of the importance of holding a (even if less attractive) legal personality on the basis of a particular belief, the status of the religious community maintained its strong symbolic value.
It was minimal and obsolete, but still the same legal regulations finally convinced the state that formal recognition of a religious community demands an additional test of its “authenticity.” The new religious and spiritual movements that decided to compete for this status were consequently faced with an unusual situation: they were ready to consume their “right to freedom of religion,” and they were legally obliged to register themselves if they saw their activities as “religion,” but the state did not even respond to their applications for a period of more than three years. The government ended the silence of the administrative institution responsible for this task only after public protest by some groups, pressure from the press, intervention by the Slovene ombudsman, and inquiries by some foreign nongovernmental organizations. All communities with pending applications received certificates of their legal entity status according to the letter of law soon afterwards, but the (legally undefined) government’s interest in “genuine religious communities” continued more selectively. The first formal denial of registration ever in 2004 was followed by at least two other cases by 2006. Thus, the institution of a religious community finally become “a claim made by certain groups and – in some cases – contested by others [or by the state] to the right to [symbolic] privileges associated in given society with the religious label” (Greil 1996: 48).

TABLE 1: The changes in preforming and understanding of the Legal Position of Religious Communities in the Republic of Slovenia Act (1976 - 2006)

  1976 - 1990 1991 - 1999 2000 - 2006

The intention of the institution of "religious community" as performd by the Slovene state
Control over religion (as a private affair) Service duty Restriction of access

The institution of "religious community" as understood by Slovene NRMs
A civic obligation and/or handy formal frame The right to the (public) expression of freedom of religion A claim for (symbolic) religious status


The state’s changed attitude towards new religious and spiritual movements in independent Slovenia received a definitive form in 2007, when the new Religious Freedom Act was enforced (cf. Official Gazette of the Republic of Slovenia, 14/07). The regulation dismissed obligatory registration and for the first time included a technical definition of a church or other religious community, as well as the exact administrative procedure and clear criteria for registering such a group. According to these, an officially recognized church or other religious community has to prove that it has at least 100 members and 10 years of previous existence in the territory of Slovenia. The state declared these criteria appropriate and benevolent, even though they are already too high for almost 60% of all registered groups (which retain their status under the new regulations) and for 86% of all active new religious and spiritual groups regardless of their legal status.

Thus, the actual outcome of “religious transition” surprisingly indicates almost complete liberalization of the field of new religious and spiritual movements. The state is not interested in the typically small and predominantly young nontraditional groups; it neither fosters nor limits their activities (except, of course, by general legal order). New religious and spiritual movements did not provoke either its doubt or its hostility, as was the case in some other European countries (for example in France, Belgium, and Germany), but simply demarcation. This outcome can also be demonstrated by the evolution of the constitutionally guaranteed equality of all religious communities. Within socialist Yugoslavia, the Slovene state operated with absolute equality. In line with this concept, every member of a particular class of legally defined social phenomena should receive an equal share of privileges (regardless of the actual differences between all members of the class). Independent, democratic Slovenia has gradually evolved a variation of the concept of relative equality. This idea anticipates the equal distribution of goods in comparable actual situations, and different distribution of goods in different actual situations. Discrimination between members of the same class is thus permitted when it is well-founded or when legislators do not act arbitrarily. The new criteria for registering “a church or other religious community” suggest that being a new religious and spiritual movement denotes a current situation not comparable to dominant and historical churches and, thus, exclusion from any state interests or resources.

Final equality of all man as interpreted by Janez from Kastva (1480), The Church of Holy Trinty, Hrastovlje, Slovenia