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  • December 2017: The foundation stone for the first synagogue in the capital of Montenegro, Podgorica, laid down during Hanukkah

The foundation stone for the first synagogue in the Capital of Montenegro, Podgorica, was solemnly laid down on Sunday, December 17th, during the great traditional Jewish holiday of light - Hanukkah. This is the beginning of the construction of the first synagogue in the Balkans in this century and one of the first synagogues in post-war Europe. It was announced that the temple will be built in record time.

The ceremony was attended by many officials: the President of Montenegro H.E. Filip Vujanovic, the Minister for Human and Minority Rights Mehmet Zenka, current and former Mayor of Podgorica Slavoljub Stijepovic, and Mr. Miomir Mugosa, the Ambassador of Israel in Serbia and non-resident in Montenegro H.E Alona Fisher-Kamm, Honorary Consul of Montenegro in Israel, Mr. Nimrod Rinot, representatives of churches and religious communities in Montenegro, as well as Montenegrin Jews and members of Jewish communities from neighbouring countries, and others.

The foundation stone was laid down by the President of the Jewish Community of Montenegro Mr. Jasa Alfandari, Montenegrin rabbis Mr. Luciano Mose Prelevic and Mr. Ari Edelkopf, as well as the Montenegrin businessman Zoran Becirovic.

President Alfandari welcomed the joint efforts of all relevant actors in the country and society to help the Jewish Community of Montenegro to realize the project of building a synagogue in Montenegro. He said that the synagogue will be a place where all people of good will and intentions are welcome. Ambassador of Israel H.E. Alona Fisher-Kamm said that in the 16th century, Jews who fled persecution in Spain and Portugal came to Montenegro, and were safe there also during the Holocaust. Rabbi Luciano Mose Prelevic wished that the construction of this religious temple would be another significant contribution to the strengthening of the connection between people.

After Rabbi Ari Edelkop read the blessing for Hanukkah, the President of Montenegro Filip Vujanovic was given the honor to light the first candle in the menorah. President Vujanovic thanked the Jewish Community of Montenegro for its contribution to the overall co-existence in Montenegro, the role it plays in strengthening peace, tolerance, respect for other religions and cultures, that is, its importance in strengthening the multicultural and multiconfessional character of Montenegro.
For the Jewish community, this date and Hanukkah in the year 5778 of the Jewish calendar will be remembered as one of the most significant dates in the recent history of the Jews of Montenegro.

Sources: jevzajcg, minmanj.

  • November 2017: Combating violent extremism in Montenegro

In addition to the Strategy for the Suppression of Violent Extremism 2016-2018, the Government of Montenegro will consider the idea of a new platform against this phenomenon, which would bring together experts from the public, private, non-governmental, scientific, and civil sectors.

This was announced at the conference "The Role of the Community in the Fight Against Violent Extremism", organized by the NGO Center for Democratic Transition (CDT) on 31 October in Podgorica, with the support of the Regional Cooperation Council.

Interior Minister Mevludin Nuhodzic said that this complex issue must be addressed in a comprehensive manner and in all areas of society, and that the goal of the platform is to provide a better planning of the measures focused on a wider community engagement.

The Minister said that there is a strategy for the suppression of violent extremism and an action plan for its implementation. He added that violent extremism is a complex phenomenon that represents a challenge requiring concerted efforts: "Therefore, it is necessary to further develop local level-based initiatives in addition to law enforcement agencies, including other state institutions, as well as academic community, civil society organizations, media and, above all, families ".

Milica Kovacevic, representative of the Center for Democratic Transition, said that almost two years after the adoption of the Strategy, this document is partially implemented: "Of the 27 authorities responsible for its implementation, only a few of them actively dealt with this, primarily all security organs and several of them dealing with the ’soft’ prevention of extremism and radicalism". Kovacevic stressed that the NGO suggests a significant change of approach in this field in the form of a platform that will more effectively deal with violent extremism, which includes a revision of the strategy.

It is important to emphasize that there are still no official information on the implementation of this strategy. However, it is not the only document dealing with violent extremism: the Strategy for Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism, Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing 2015-2018 and Action Plans contains some measures and activities that are substantially identical with the measures and activities in the Strategy for Suppression of Violent Extremism and Action Plan, for example: identification of groups subject to the influence of violent radicalism and extremism and potential links with foreign fighters, assessment of risk and risk analysis, as well as familiarization of the local police with measures for identifying forms of violent radicalization and terrorism. Implementing these measures means that the Strategy for Suppression of Violent Extremism is being implemented both directly and indirectly.

In any case, an additional mechanism such as the Platform for the Fight Against Violent Extremism appears useful at least for spreading the awareness of the negative dimensiony of this phenomenon in the Montenegrin society.

Source: Center for democratic transition

  • November 2017: Restitution of property rights to religious communities on the governmental agenda

The government of Montenegro announced the drafting of a Law on the Restitution of Property Rights to Religious Communities.

In the information on the process of drafting the National Report on the State of Human Rights in Montenegro within the third cycle of the United Nations general periodic review for the period 2013-2017, which was in the agenda of the Government session held on 12 October, it is stated that the aim of this Law is to "resolve the cases of restitution of property rights": "An analysis of the drafting of the text of the law is under way. After the adoption of the law, the requests for restitution will be subjects of analyses and solving."

For some stakeholders, this "novelty" is perceived as a surprise, since the draft of a new, general law of the freedom of religion is envisaged to be adopted by the Government in the 4th quarter of this year. The first draft of this law, prepared in 2014, caused turbulent public debate, precisely because of the issue of property of churches and religious communities, since the article 52 of that law prescribed that: "Religious buildings and land used by religious communities on the territory of Montenegro, which are found to have been built or obtained from public state revenues or were in state ownership until December 1 1918, are state-owned property as a cultural heritage of Montenegro. Religious objects that are found to have been built on the territory of Montenegro by the joint investments of citizens until December 1 1918 are state-owned property."

However, the Government still sticks to its annual program of work. As stated in the same information: "the adoption of the draft law on freedom of religion is envisaged at the end of 2017. The law is expected to regulate relations between the state and religious communities in the best possible way in accordance with European standards."

It remains to be seen what the dynamics of preparation will be, as well as content of these laws, which in any case must be harmonized, with the Constitution of Montenegro and with international standards in the field of religion.

Source: Government of Montenegro.

  • October 2017: Inspection of illegal islamic schools at the North of Montenegro

The head of the Islamic Community in Montenegro Rifat Fejzic called competent authorities to inspect some Islamic schools in the north of the country, since they have been illegally set up by an Islamic Community in Serbia (with the seat in Novi Pazar, close to the border with Montenegro; there is also an Islamic Community of Serbia, with its seat in Belgrade, Capital of Serbia). He clarified that these schools are opened in at least two municipalities, Rozaje and Petnjica, and maybe in a third - Plevlja – in the form of medresa, Quranic school and even kindergarten, abusing the term „children’s playroom“: „They are opened by Islamic Community in Serbia in rented premises and certainly not with good aims,” said Fejzic.

The Ministry of Education stated that the only institution which has a valid public educational program, when it comes to Islamic education, is a Mmdresa in Tuzi (municipality within the Capital Podgorica), legally opened by the Islamic Community in Montenegro.

Reis Fejzic then asked the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights, which is competent for relations with religious communities, how to implement the Agreement on Regulating Relations of Common Interest between the Government of Montenegro and the Islamic Community in Montenegro, signed in 2012. Article 4 of the Agreement reads as follows: „The Islamic Community in Montenegro has its seat in Montenegro and religious jurisdiction over all Islamic believers in Montenegro, and the borders of its jurisdiction match with the state borders of Montenegro.“

Fejzic warned competent authorities again, stressing that they must determine the organization, structure and funding of these schools: „Ministries of interior, justice, minority rights, culture, and education, must have this information,“ said Fejzic.

After the eight session of the Mixed Commission for Monitoring the Implementatioon of said Agreement, held in the medresa in Tuzi, the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights informed that they will examine, together with the Islamic Community, whether there were requests for the opening of religious schools in Montenegro by another state or religious community.

In the meantime, Ombudsman formed the case and asked the Government which organ is competent for this issue, since the Ministry of Education stated that they are competent only for legally opened schools, such as the medresa in Tuzi.
The answer came from the Government that the Inspection Administration will inspect the work of these schools, as well as the Ministry of Interior, which will check whether foreigners who work in religious schools have the approval to stay in Montenegro.

 Cafe del Montenegro, "Illegal Koran schools in the North"; "Investigating work of illegal religious schools"; "Has another State opened a religious school in Montenegro?"; "Religious institutions will be controlled by inspection".
 Government of Montenegro.

D 19 December 2017    ANikola B. Šaranović

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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