Since December 27th, Montenegro has been rocked by protests, as parliament passed a controversial church law. The protests were happening even before that, but at a much smaller scale.
Protests took place not only in Montenegro, but in Serbia too, in front of the Montenegrin embassy.
The Serbian Orthodox Church said the law could strip the church of its property, including medieval monasteries and churches.
The law, approved by 45 ruling coalition lawmakers, says religious communities with property need to produce evidence of ownership from before 1918, when Montenegro joined the Kingdom of Serbia, eleven years later renamed to Yugoslavia. If they can’t prove ownership, the state will take over ownership of their property.
Opposition lawmakers in the Montenegrin parliament attempted to block the bill by throwing what appeared to be either a tear gas cannister or a firecracker and tried to destroy microphones.
Plainclothes police officers wearing gas masks intervened, detaining 22 people, including 17 opposition lawmakers.
#Montenegro's parliament approved on Friday a law on religious communities despite street protests and a last-minute attempt in the chamber by deputies of the pro-Serb opposition to prevent the vote going ahead. pic.twitter.com/uZ4d1n1PMN https://t.co/wWJnBBkTUr
— Atlantide (@Atlantide4world) December 27, 2019
All but three of the lawmakers were released. The three are suspected of attacking the speaker of the parliament speaker and preventing him from performing his job, police said.
The Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro described the law as “discriminatory and unconstitutional.” Patriarch Irinej, the head of the church, said Montenegrin authorities “must immediately stop with the brutal terror against the church, its priests and followers.”
A new protest over the controversial law on religion passed by Montenegro's parliament yesterday took place in the western city of Niksic tonight, where several people were detained after a brief clash between demonstrators and police.
— Balkan Insight (@BalkanInsight) December 27, 2019
Pro-Western Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic accused the Serbian Orthodox Church of promoting pro-Serb policies and seeking to undermine the country’s statehood since it split from Serbia in 2006.
The Episcopal Council of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the dominant church among Montenegro’s 620,000 residents, issued a statement urging believers to “gather in temples to pray … and show we would not waver before the Montenegrin regime.”
In a statement, Montenegrin police accused the church of instigating violence.
“Statements of church dignitaries are leading to obstructions of public order and injuring of police officers,” the statement said
In relation to what’s taking place in Montenegro, a remote meeting of the Holy Synod was held on December 28th, 2019, the members of which unanimously approved the following Patriarchal and Synodal message on the situation in Montenegro.
“With pain and concern, we learned about the adoption by the Assembly of Montenegro of a discriminatory law against the Serbian Orthodox Church, and of the dramatic events that followed.
Accept on behalf of the fullness of the Russian Orthodox Church the expression of deep, sincere and heartfelt sympathy in connection with the outrageous arbitrariness of the police, which humiliated and battered the faithful, led by His Grace Bishop Methodius of Diocles.
The bitterness is caused by the legislators’ disregard for the will of the majority of citizens who were and remain members of the Church of St. Basil of Ostrog and Peter Tsetinsky. It is this Church, as a caring mother, spiritually gave birth and through vigilant care for centuries brought up in love for freedom and truth the inhabitants of Montenegro. And today, its temples and monasteries, testifying to the living faith and piety of the generations who built them, faced the threat of plunder,” the statement read.
Furthermore, the Holy Synod said that “schism is the greatest national tragedy,” and that Montenegro may go on the same path as Ukraine, to make purely political decisions in order prove some sort of fealty to the Western establishment.
“In the Russian Orthodox Church, they know from their own experience that schism is the greatest national tragedy. The political forces of both Montenegro and Ukraine, interested in undermining national unity, supported the schismatics for many years, seeing in them an instrument for weakening the canonical Church. The tree they brought up brought the poisonous fruits of a new “state thinking,” which assigns the split the role of the driving force for the degeneration of public consciousness.”
And the Holy Synod’s statement specifically underlined that the agenda in both Ukraine and Montenegro appeared to have too many similarities to be an accident, and that it was fueled from foreign actors.
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