Slovenia starts work on first mosque after wait of over 40 years
By Marja Novak
LJUBLJANA (Reuters) - The foundation stone of Slovenia's first mosque was laid at a former industrial site in the capital Ljubljana on Saturday, more than four decades since the first official petition was submitted by Muslims seeking their own place of worship.
The initiative has been beset by administrative hurdles and a lack of political will in the mainly Catholic country of two million people, of which some 50,000 are Muslims.
Several thousand people attended the ceremony, including Slovenia's center-left prime minister, Alenka Bratusek, and Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Jankovic, who helped lay the first stone.
A handful of women in the crowd wore headscarves - an unusual sight in the Alpine ex-Yugoslav republic, a member of the European Union squeezed between Croatia, Italy and Austria.
"This means the world to me," said Sahra Kacar, 44, who was born the same year as the first official petition to build a mosque in Ljubljana was filed. "We will have a proper place to pray, rather than using various public halls."
The most prosperous of Yugoslavia's six republics, Slovenia saw an influx of people from across the region - including Muslims - seeking work over the past 50 years, particularly with the collapse of their joint state in the early 1990s.
Slovenia broke away in 1991 and its economy boomed, while the likes of Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo descended into war.
The proposal for a mosque had been held up by reluctant local officials, some of whom tried to force a referendum on the matter in 2004. Continued...