THE President of Montenegro, Milo Ðukanovic, has been forced to sign legislation restoring places of worship across his country to the Serbian Orthodox Church, while urging opponents of the measure to try to overturn it.
“Given the state President’s obligation to promulgate a re-voted law, there was no alternative,” explained President Ðukanovic, whose Adriatic country separated from Serbia after a referendum in 2006. “But I believe our Constitutional Court is the only competent body which can now provide an answer: I hope conditions have been created for this.”
The President made his remarks on Twitter after signing the “Re-decision on the Law on Amendments to the Law on Religious Freedom”, which reversed a December 2019 law requiring the Serbian Church to hand over lands and buildings to a re-established Montenegrin Orthodox Church (News, 3 July 2020).
Montenegro International, a Podgorica-based NGO, accused parliamentarians of violating procedures, and said that it had petitioned the Constitutional Court to suspend the “Re-decision”.
“It would legalise discrimination between religious communities and abolish guaranteed freedoms and rights, allowing the alienation of state property and Montenegro’s cultural treasures to a religious community which belongs to another state,” the NGO said in its statement.
The 2019 law, tabled by President Ðukanovic’s pro-Western government, required the Serbian Church to prove ownership of assets predating Montenegro’s 1918 merger with Yugoslavia, or have them transferred to the State.
Intended to strengthen the Montenegrin Church, the law sparked angry protests from Serbian Orthodox leaders, who say that most of Montenegro’s 268,000 citizens still belong to their Church. It was shelved after President Ðukanovic’s Democratic Party of Socialists, in power since 1990, lost its majority in late August elections to a new three-party coalition under Zdravko Krivokapic (News, 4 September 2020).
The “Redecision” reversing the law, passed on 28 December, was vetoed by the President on 2 January, but re-enacted on 20 January by a one-vote majority in the 81-seat Podgorica parliament.