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The European Commission in the Report on Montenegro 2022: Fundamental Agreement with the Serbian Orthodox Church raised tensions

  • October 2022

No credible efforts have been made to overcome the societal and political polarisation, which culminated with the enthronement of the Metropolitan of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) in September 2021 and the signing of the Fundamental Agreement with SOC in the summer 2022. This is the key religion-related finding from the European Commission’s Report on Montenegro 2022, published on October 12th.

High-risk Enthronement

The EC noted: “The mass gatherings during the enthronement of the Metropolitan in the Cetinje Monastery on 5 September 2021 had not been announced to the police, thus preventing them from taking appropriate security measures. Violent clashes between police and some protesters took place amidst the otherwise peaceful religious ceremony. Formal investigations into the use of excessive force and torture by the police are ongoing.” (p. 39).

Demonstrations of the citizens of Cetinje and other cities were deamed the event of the highest security risk in the recent Montenegrin history. Demonstrators tried to prevent the enthronement in Cetinje Monastery, the historical centre of Montenegrin statehood and the strongest symbol of Montenegrin identity, including religious identity. They argued that the enthronement led by the Head of the SOC Porfirije Perić was a symbolic subjugation of Cetinje and Montenegro to Serbia in the name of the concept of „Serbian world“, as a new variation on the old theme of the Great Serbia.

On the eve of the enthronement, the Montenegrin Orthodox Church (founded in 1993, canonically unrecognised. It determines itself as a re-created historical Montenegrin Church, which existed until 1918 and the creation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians), organised a three days peaceful cultural program under the title „Montenegrin National Assembly“, in Cetinje. The day before the enthronement, demonstrators were joined by the President of Montenegro Milo Đukanović, whose Democratic Socialist Party, together with other opposition parties and subjects, strongly supported and participated in anti-enthronement activities.

On the other side, the enthronement was supported by the Government of Montenegro and its President Zdravko Krivokapić, that is by the parliamentary majority, created after the parliamentary elections on August 30, 2020. On that election, the Democratic Socialist Party lost after 30 years in power, mainly on the wave of mass and unprecendent demonstrations in the form of Church processions (litije) which took place in almost all Montenegrin cities. They protested against the new Law on Fredom of Religion and Legal Status of Religious Communities, which prescribed the nationalisation of church property. The main pro-enthronement argument was that it is a historical tradition since centuries, as well as a question of freedom of religion and of the autonomy of the Church. On that line, demonstrations were marked as organised by President Đukanović, abusing religious issues for political purposes.

The day before the enthronement, demonstrators blocked the approaches to Cetinje, ultimately asking the Government and the Church to cancel the enthronement in Cetinje Monastery. One of the alternative proposals was to enthrone the new Metropolitan in the Cathedral of the Christ’s Resurection in the Capital Podgorica where Patriarch Porfirije Perić was solemnly welcomed that day. High representatives of other orthodox churches came to Montenegro to attend the enthronement.

The situation became critical during the night and early morning when, after a complex and controversial communication within the Government, it was decided to break up demonstrations and organise the arrival of Patriarch and Metropolitan from Podgorica to Cetinje by helicopter. While the police were showering demonstrators with tear gas and expelling them with other means, the Patriarch was enthroning the new Metropolitan in Cetinje Monastery, in presence of a minimal number of people, while others, including guests from abroad, were waiting their return to Podgorica Cathedral to celebrate.

The European Commission said this is a matter of serious concern as a religiously motivated attacks took place (p. 36), including one “on a bus transporting children and young people from Niksic in Cetinje in April 2022” (p. 36), who previously visited Cetinje Monastery and sang Serbian songs in front of it.

Low-risk Fundamental Agreement

Further tensions, as the EC noted in the Report, were raised with the conclusion of the Fundamental Agreement with the SOC, which took place “amidst protests from CSOs, several members of the government and some political parties, leading to a vote of no-confidence and the subsequent fall of the government” (p. 4). This “had an impact on the political atmosphere” (p. 4), since following the signature of a Fundamental Agreement “the government was challenged by part of its own majority and lost a confidence motion on 19 August” (p. 12).

The Fundamental Agreement was the object of the similar critics from the same addresses criticising the enthronement, but this time followed on one side by low-risk protests of a small group of activists in the front of the Government, although on the other side strengthened by an official negative opinion of the Presidency of the Montenegrin Academy of Sciences and Arts.

Common denominator

Finally, there are many common denominators between the enthronement and the Fundamental Agreement, one of them, completely banal but illustrative, marked both events. Namely, like for Cetinje on enthronement, Patriarch Porfirije Perić came without public announcement, almost secretly, in Podgorica to sign the Fundamental Agreement, leaving back to Belgrade immediately after the event - by helicopter. While in the public space of Montenegro, one can still smell the mixed scents of incense and tear gas...

D 17 October 2022    ANikola B. Šaranović

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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