The Situation in Montenegro

The organized religious processions in Montenegro are continuing with the aim to pressure the government to repeal the Religious Freedom Law passed in December 2019 that partially affects the property interests of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) in Montenegro.

On 6th February thousands of citizens attended the religious processions organized by SOC in protest over the law on freedom of confession across Montenegro, despite the cold and the fact that the police announced earlier that no security would be provided.

Montenegro’s top police official Veselin Veljovic met earlier in the day with a delegation of the SOC Montenegrin Littoral Bishopric, reaching an agreement on the police providing security only for those processions which are registered beforehand.

The processions, which have been held every Thursday and Sunday since January 7 (Serbian Christmas according to the Julian calendar), were organized in the capital Podgorica, led personally by Montenegro Littoral Bishop Amfilohije, in Niksic and Herzeg Novi in the north of the country, where is concentrated the population identifying itself as Serbian.

In the meantime, the European Union’s enlargement commissioner Oliver Varhelyi has urged dialogue in Montenegro over the contentious law on religious rights and offered the support of EU. As a result, the Prime Minister of Montenegro Dusko Markovic assured him, that the government is ready temporarily to suspend the implementation of the law challenged by the SOC. Markovic suggested that the law be postponed until the Constitutional Court of Montenegro clarifies the case or, if the request to the Constitutional Court by SOC Montenegrin Littoral Bishopric is rejected, until the decision of the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

At the same time, responsible politicians from the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SPP) have made discriminatory statements about Montenegrins living in Serbia. Speaking live on O2 pro-government television on February 6th, Health Minister Zlatibor Loncar said the policy he pursued in his ministry was to have no Montenegrins, saying they did not speak Serbian. “I try not to have them. Serbia has enough people who speak Serbian and deserve to be here. I am not demeaning anyone but if you want to live in Belgrade, if you want to have some position learn Serbian”, the minister said and added: “We don’t have a single Serb CEO in Montenegro and there are many Montenegrins in leading positions here who have not learned Serbian”.

Serbian Commissioner for Equality Brankica Jankovic condemned Loncar’s statement as discriminatory and offensive and said that his views run counter to the Constitution and principle of equality for every citizen. She warned that statements like this could upset the public and added that holders of public office have to promote tolerance, understanding and equality. “Serbia has a high level of protection for national minorities and statements like this damage the state’s reputation”, she said.

Essentially, the Serbian Constitution forbids discrimination and guarantees special protection for national minorities while a separate law bans discrimination based on nationality, ethnic origin, religion and language.

In protest, the Montenegrin Party in Serbia called Prime Minister Ana Brnabic to demand Loncar’s immediate resignation over his statement.

Commenting on the situation in Montenegro, in which tensions escalated over the adopted Religious Freedom Law, which the SOC strongly opposes, well-known Bosnian lawyer and journalist Senad Pecanin expresses his fears that Montenegro will go through the 1992 Sarajevo scenario.

Current developments in Montenegro are “a reproduction” of the Greater Serbian aspirations to redraw the territories of ex-Yugoslavia, Pecanin said in N1’s “Current affairs” show, stressing that final goal is overthrowing the country’s President Milo Djukanovic.

“I believe that the situation in Montenegro now resembles that of Sarajevo in March 1992. Our experience tells us that what came first was media preparation, then the Church, then protests. I’m afraid this would be the same scenario that we had experienced”, he said. Pecanin describes what is currently going on in Montenegro, as “a complete undermining of Montenegro’s sovereignty” and the final goal is its federalisation, modelled after Bosnia and Herzegovina, “which is practically impossible to carry through without raising tensions in national relations in Montenegro.”

According to him, NATO is at this moment occupied with much deeper problems than those in Montenegro, one of its member states. “The intensity of the campaign against Montenegro exceeds the hysteria of the period ahead of the war in Croatia and aggression on Bosnia and Herzegovina”. “Montenegro has achieved a fascinating success. Minorities in Montenegro were never in a better place. The country has no problem with neighbors, except Serbia,” he said.

Pecanin believes that Russia supports Belgrade because it perceives instability in the Balkan region as an advantage. Pecanin’s conclusion is: “Without the active engagement of USA, no strategic issue can be solved and that’s detrimental for the European Union.”

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