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L’Académie monténégrine des sciences et des arts critique l’accord fondamental entre le monténégro et l’Église orthodoxe serbe

The Fundamental Agreement between Montenegro and the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) has been signed on 3 August 2022, by Prime Minister of Montenegro Dritan Abazović and Patriarch of the SOC Porfirije Perić in Podgorica.

Among other institutions and subjects, Montenegrin Academy of Sciences and Arts (MASA) sharply criticised the content of this agreement, stressing that it ignores the first-class sources of the History of Montenegrin Orthodoxy.

Namely, in the Preamble of the Agreement, parties refer, among others, to the Church organisation since the founding of the Archbishopric of Žiča, the Patriarchate of Peć, i.e. the SOC, “starting from the fact that the Christian Church has been present on the territory of Montenegro since the apostolic times and its continuity mission through the historical Orthodox and church organisation since the founding of the Zeta, Budim and Hum episcopies of the Žiča Archdiocese (1219-1220)”. Additionally, in the Article 1, respect is expressed to “the contribution of the SOC in the social, cultural and educational development of Montenegro and the historical role of the Metropolitanate of Montenegro-Littoral during the time of the Montenegrin metropolitans/rulers”. It is also noted that “the SOC in Montenegro consists, as its organic part, of the Metropolitanate of Montenegro-Littoral, the Eparchy of Budimilje-Nikšić, the Eparchy of Mileševa and the Eparchy of Zahumlje-Herzegovina and Littoral (or : Zahumlje-Herzegovina)“. In the next article, “The state recognises the continuity of legal subjectivity and, in accordance with its Constitution, guarantees the Church and its ecclesiastical legal entities (dioceses, church municipalities, monasteries, endowments, independent institutions and funds and, according to the church’s purpose, certain temples) the exercise of public law powers in Montenegro in accordance with Orthodox canon law and the Constitution of the SOC”.

MASA referred, first of all, to the Constitution of the Holy Synod in the Principality/Kingdom of Montenegro (1904), and the Constitution of the Principality/Kingdom of Montenegro (1905), in which it is clearly stated that the Orthodox Metropolitanate in the Principality/Kingdom of Montenegro – Montenegrin Church is autocephalous, exactly like the Serbian Church in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Serbia (1888). It was composed of : "1) Cetinje archbishopric, composed of all the tribes located on the right side of the Zeta River, with the addition of the town of Podgorica and the Zeta tribe. This archbishopric is managed by the Archbishop of Cetinje, who is also the head of Orthodox church in Montenegro with the title of Metropolitan of Montenegro, Hills and Coastal Areas. The seat of the Cetinje archbishopric is the capital of the state - Cetinje. 2) Zahumlje-Raška eparchy, composed of all the tribes located on the left side of the Zeta River. This eparchy is managed by the Bishop of Zahumlje-Raška. The seat of the Zahumlje-Raška eparchy is in the Ostrog monastery."

In the process of creation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians in 1918, the Holy Synod of the Montenegrin Church decided to unite with the Serbian Church. Its autocephaly was abolished, and it joined the administrative unity with the Serbian Church. Archbishop of Cetinje lost his archbishopric title and power, and became one of the episcopes in the new relation between the principles of primate and conciliarity, with the former Belgrade Metropolitan as the patriarch of the Autocephalous United Serbian Orthodox Church of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians, later and until today - SOC.

MASA stressed that, after the restoration of independence of Montenegro in 2006, there was a certain organisational adaptation of the SOC to the new political reality and state system, through the decision of the Holy Council of the SOC which issued the following decision :

... Respecting the reputation of the Montenegrin Metropolitanate and its historical role in the life of Montenegro, which regained its statehood, as well as beyond ; In order to achieve the saving mission of the Church as successfully as possible, this Holy Synod of Bishops decides :
The Orthodox Church in Montenegro consists of the Eparchies of the Serbian Orthodox Church : Montenegro-Littoral, Budimlje-Nikšić, as well as parts of the dioceses of Mileševa and Zahumlje-Herzegovina. The bishops of the mentioned dioceses make up the Episcopal Council of the Orthodox Church in Montenegro, which, under the presidency of the Archbishop of Cetinje (as his old title reads) and the Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Littoral, will meet as necessary for consultation and decision-making within his jurisdiction …

In 2021, the Holy Council of the Serbian Orthodox Church abolished this decision and onsequently its three main elements : the name „Orthodox Church in Montenegro “, the honourable title of Archbishop and the Episcopal Council. In MASA’s opinion, this abolishment has been verified with the Fundamental Agreement.

Further on, MASA criticised the Article 7 in the following parts :

"The State guarantees to the Church the inviolability of property and state rights over monasteries, temples, buildings and other real estate and premises in its ownership, in accordance with the legal order of the State.
The state is obliged, in accordance with its own legal order, to register all unregistered immovable properties in the ownership of the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral, the Eparchy of Budimlje-Nikšić, the Eparchy of Mileševa, the Eparchy of Zahumlje-Herzegovina and their ecclesiastical legal entities to which they belong.

MASA stated that guarantees of inviolability of property are already contained in the Constitution of Montenegro, and that "additional guarantee by contract is redundant and unusual". It reminded that in the property-legal regime of the Principality/Kingdom of Montenegro, which has not been legally changed until today, Orthodox churches and other ecclesiastical institutions are independent legal entities and owners of movable and immovable property. MASA emphasised that, in accordance with this, hundreds of monasteries and churches are registered in the Cadastre in their name, as independent owners.

Obligation to register all unregistered immovable properties in the ownership of the eparchies of the SOC is "unnecessary and legally unacceptable". MASA concluded that the Fundamental Agreement cannot be a valid legal basis for registration (although this is not explicitly stated in the text of the contract), and it cannot be used to solve the property-legal regime on Orthodox monasteries, temples and other church assets. MASA proposed, having in mind that " these issues are too complex and require more detailed analysis and solutions” to adopt a special law on the property of religious communities, which would respect traditions, customs... comparative legal solutions, as well as solutions and standards in EU law”.

See the Fundamental Agreement between Montenegro and the Serbian Orthodox Church in PDF format.

D 15 septembre 2022    ANikola B. Šaranović

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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