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Montenegro resists new Serbian Orthodox leader

10 September 2021

Enthronement is not the will of the people, says President


Police officers detain a man during protests against the enthronement of Bishop Joanikije in Cetinje, Montenegro, on Sunday

Police officers detain a man during protests against the enthronement of Bishop Joanikije in Cetinje, Montenegro, on Sunday

THE President of Montenegro, Milo Ðukanovic, has accused his own government of bringing “unprecedented shame” on the country, after a new Serbian Orthodox leader was installed in the historic capital of Cetinje under police and army protection.

“By brutally abusing state resources and misusing force against civilians, the Montenegrin government has forcibly enthroned this Metropolitan against the will of the vast majority,” President Ðukanovic said in a statement on YouTube.

“Only a person without dignity would allow himself to enter the Cetinje monastery by helicopter under the protection of armoured shields.”

The head of state spoke after Sunday’s enthronement of Metropolitan Joanikije Micovic, elected by the Serbian Orthodox synod in May to succeed Amfilohije Radovic, who died of the coronavirus last year (27 November 2020).

The country’s Interior Ministry confirmed that police and civilians had been injured when teargas and and baton rounds were used to stop opponents of the pro-Serbian government of the Prime Minister, Zdravko Krivokapic, from barricading entrances to Cetinje, which is viewed by many Montenegrins as the historic cradle of their independence.

Relations between Church and State have been tense in Montenegro — which became independent from Serbia in 2006, and joined NATO in 2017 — over President Ðukanovic’s support for an independent Montenegrin Church.

This has not been recognised by the larger Serbian Orthodox Church, which has the loyalty of about one third of the country’s 622,000 inhabitants, and insists that its canonical rights still extend to former Yugoslav republics.

In elections in August last year, President Ðukanovic’s pro-Western Democratic Socialist Party was narrowly defeated after three decades in power, forcing the abandonment of a religious law requiring the handover of Serbian Orthodox assets to the new Montenegrin Church.

A posted on the Serbian Church’s website said that Metropolitan Joanikije had been “welcomed by tens of thousands of faithful” at his inauguration, which was attended by Orthodox representatives from at least a dozen countries.

Website footage, however, also showed Metropolitan Joanikije and Patriarch Porfirije of Serbia cordoned by heavily armed troops after arriving by helicopter for the Cetinje ceremony, which was marked by continuing protests across the town.

In his address, Patriarch Porfirije said that Metropolitan Joanikije had been “legally and legitimately elected” in line with Orthodox canons, and would now face a task of overcoming “meaningless ideological conflicts”, while “blunting blades and building bridges”.

Metropolitan Joanikije pledged to work for “fraternal reconciliation”, but said that he regretted that his Serbian predecessor, Metropolitan Amfilohije, had been forced to endure “insults, blasphemies, curses, slanders, and intrigues from one part of his deluded flock and well-organised para-patriotic groups”.

Western press reports, however, said that the use of security forces at the enthronement was likely to deepen divisions in the small Balkan country.

In his YouTube statement, President Ðukanovic said that the weekend events had shamed the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Montenegrin government, and that bells heard during the enthronement had “become funeral tolls for the Serbian Orthodox Church’s mission in Montenegro”.

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