Agreement with Serbian Church overthrew Montenegrin government – ​​

The Serbian Orthodox Church has proven to be an inescapable factor in the political and social processes of the last three years in the small Adriatic republic of Montenegro. It all started in December 2019, when Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic’s ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) pushed through the local parliament the Religious Property Law, which encroached on the property of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

The arguments of Djukanović and the government of Podgorica were that this act restores a historic justice linked to the end of the First World War, when not only Montenegro, but also its territory was forcibly annexed to the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slavs – Yugoslavia, and the Montenegrin Church is part of the Orthodox Church.

After the adoption of the law, the late Montenegrin Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church, Amfilochius, and his close assistant, Ep. -governmental. The demonstrators did not win the resignation of the then government of Duško Marković, but they managed to mobilize all those who were unhappy with the policies of Milo Djukanović, who ruled Montenegro for thirty years (with one brief exception two years). And in the months leading up to the regular 2020 parliamentary elections, they created a big front against him.

Thus, on August 30, 2020, Djukanović’s party was forced to withdraw from the governance of the country, because six deputies did not have the necessary forty-one votes in the Assembly out of a total of eighty and passed in opposition. After several months of negotiations, the parties around Bishop Amfilohiy announced a coalition government, led by the technocrat Prof. Zdravko Krivokapich. He himself was proposed by Amphilochius as a unifying figure for the opposition during the elections. The SPC presented him as a believer who could make the controversial law on religions and their property and restore the place of the SPC in Montenegro. However, Krivokapić’s government was never able to repeal the law due to harsh opposition actions, which intensified internal contradictions, and partners against President Djukanović’s regime split into different camps .

Meanwhile, influential local Metropolitan Amfilochius, a Montenegrin, died of COVID-19, and during his funeral, Serbian Patriarch Irinej contracted the disease and also passed away, leading to a change in the CPS. It was headed by the Metropolitan Porphyry of Zagreb-Ljubljana, and in the Montenegrin-Primorska Diocese the Metropolitan came to Ep. Ioannicius. And instead of looking for a normal solution to the problems between Montenegro and the Serbian Orthodox Church, in the fall of 2021 there were very serious tensions due to the actions of the Serbian Church elite to organize the enthronement of Ioanniki in Cetinje. Residents of the former Montenegrin capital Cetinje protested violently, blocking the city’s road, burning tires and erecting barricades for Ioannici’s enthronement as a new Serbian metropolis.

Cetinje has always been considered the heart of the Montenegrin state, which the country received after the Congress of Berlin in 1878. Ultimately, the enthronement caused tension in the Balkan state. Serbian Patriarch Porfirij and guests at the ceremony arrived in military helicopters provided by the government of Zdravko Krivokapic, which was a politically engineered product of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, further heightening tensions. The Serbian Orthodox Church has always perceived Montenegro as an irrevocable part of Serbia and the independence of Montenegro as a transitional element that sooner or later will be fixed and the old status quo will be restored. It will therefore return either as part of Serbia or as a common state with it, as it was until 2006, when it seceded in a referendum under international supervision.

Many Serbian politicians in Belgrade hold similar views, coming to a complete denial of Montenegrin statehood. Indeed, Montenegro is at the center, with the Bosnian Serbs, of projects to create a “Serbian world” in the Western Balkans on the model of the “Russian world” promoted by the Kremlin authorities after the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

The political crisis in Montenegro led to the fall of the Krivokapić government and the creation of a new government headed by Dritan Abazović. Abazović’s desire to resolve the contract issue between Podgorica and the SOC led to his fall from power, as his biggest coalition partner, President Djukanović’s party, withdrew its confidence in the cabinet just four months after it was formed. . According to supporters of the signing of the Fundamental Treaty between Montenegro and the Serbian Orthodox Church, this document officially ends decades of attacks against the only canonically recognized Orthodox Church in Montenegro. According to Prime Minister Abazović, the agreement with the SOC had to be signed in order to obtain two-thirds support and to unlock the reforms of the judicial system in Montenegro. Abazovic commented that anyone who wants destabilization helps Russian influence in Montenegro and wants to ‘do what happened in Kosovo’ in October, when local elections are scheduled in several municipalities, alluding to lockdowns in northern Kosovo .

In fact, Djukanovic spoke out against the treaty signed by Prime Minister Abazovic because it did not guarantee Montenegro’s sovereignty. In an interview with Autonomy, Djukanovic spoke quite categorically, saying that “the SPC uses lies and commits historical falsifications. The PSC is the most sinister instrument of Great Serbian nationalism and Russian imperialism in the Balkans. The CPS participated in the theft of Montenegrin history”.

The CPS achieved its goal by signing the document with the authorities in Podgorica, but at too high a price – it plunged Montenegro into a serious political crisis. It is by no means certain that within the constitutional deadline of three months, the parties of the Montenegrin parliament will agree to form a new government. But even if they succeed, it is not certain that it will last until 2024, when regular legislative elections are expected to take place. It is becoming increasingly clear that snap parliamentary elections will take place in the country alongside local elections scheduled for October.

Besides Serbia, Russia is also among the main opponents of Montenegro, as Podgorica complies with the EU sanctions policy against Moscow due to its aggression in Ukraine. A month before his fall, Abazović’s government froze forty-four properties owned by Russian citizens in Montenegro. This was done as part of compliance with the EU sanctions regime imposed on Russia in connection with the war against Ukraine. According to local experts, Russian citizens and companies invested more than 129 million euros in the Montenegrin economy last year, including 49.46 million euros in real estate that Russians bought there.

Against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, political instability in Montenegro is part of the region’s fuzzy political mosaic that makes observers very wary. A few months ago, Montenegro and Bulgaria closed their airspace and prevented Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov from flying to Belgrade, which angered Moscow, and ten days ago the country of the Adriatic declared a Russian diplomat from the embassy in Podgorica “persona non grata”.

Whether the SOC will continue to interfere in public and political processes in Montenegro remains to be seen. And the policy of Belgrade is not much different from that of the SOC, because in recent years Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has not visited Montenegro once, which is considered an attitude towards the actions of Podgorica towards the local Serbs. Belgrade actively supports the Serbs in Montenegro and has made it clear that it will not recognize the result of the country’s next census in the fall if half of its inhabitants do not declare themselves to be Serbs and supporters of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which which can be perceived as direct interference in its internal affairs. It is clear that Montenegro faces serious challenges both nationally and regionally, which reinforces worrying expectations that processes could spiral out of control.

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