SERBIAN Orthodox churchmen have appealed for calm in Montenegro after an election setback by the Adriatic country’s governing party raised hopes for shelving a new religious law (News, 28 August).
“Mass gatherings all over Montenegro have produced several incidents — whether these are due to provocations by those who lost power does not matter, since they are completely unnecessary and harmful for everyone and carry the potential for violence inherent in the previous government,” Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro & the Littoral, who is 83, said in a statement with three fellow bishops on Tuesday.
“The change taking place in Montenegro must not be a reason for spreading intolerance. Peace and popular harmony are now most important for peacefully forming a truly democratic government.”
The statement was published as final results from the parliamentary ballot on Sunday showed that President Djukanovic’s pro-Western Democratic Party of Socialists, in power since 1990, had narrowly lost its majority, opening the way to a technocratic government by opponents.
It said that the predominant Orthodox Church now counted on steps to “heal society from vicious corruption and selfishness”, and “build a future on piety and brotherly love”.
PAOpposition supporters celebrate election results in Podgorica, Montenegro, on Monday
The vote was welcomed as a victory for religious freedom and rights by Bishop Joanikije of Budimlje-Nikšic, however, who said that it showed that “whoever strikes at faith, sanctity, dignity, and honour can never win.”
The Serbian Orthodox Abbot Sava Janjic of Visoki Decani, in neighbouring Kosovo, also praised the opposition’s advance. “After years of corruption, church persecution, theft, quarrels and crime, the people of Montenegro have fought for the rule of law, respect for tradition and freedom,” he said in a message on Twitter on Tuesday. “May we all enjoy this happy victory of justice over injustice.”
The election campaign was dominated by angry debate over the December 2019 law, tabled by the Djukanovic government, which required the Serbian Church to prove ownership of buildings and estates predating Montenegro’s 1918 merger with Yugoslavia, or their transferral to the state.
The measure, intended to strengthen a re-established Montenegrin Orthodox Church, sparked Serbian Orthodox protests and a warning of “civil war” from Metropolitan Amfilohije, who was detained with other clergy for mass rallies in violation of coronavirus restrictions.
A statement on the website of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which claims that most of Montenegro’s 628,000 citizens are members, said that voters had shown “determination to defend the saints and their Church” by backing opposition parties, who had “clearly spoken out against the unconstitutional act”.