Montenegro government’s church deal triggers no-confidence motion initiative

PODGORICA, Aug 3 (Reuters) – Several political parties have launched a parliamentary no-confidence motion against the government of Montenegro after the signing on Wednesday of a long-contested contract regulating the country’s ties with the powerful Serbian Orthodox Church.

Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic insisted the deal would solve a long-standing domestic problem and help heal deep divisions between pro-European Union parties and supporters of closer relations with Serbia and Russia.

The agreement regulates relations between the Serbian Orthodox Church, the largest church in Montenegro, including its real estate ownership rights, and the State of Montenegro.

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The proposed contract has been criticized by human rights activists and pro-Western political parties who said it gave too much power to the Church over other religious communities and called for further consultations of experts on the matter.

But Abazovic and Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Porfirije signed the agreement without the presence of the media and without prior announcement, in a government villa whose entrance was sealed off by police as a few dozen protesters demonstrated against it.

After a heated debate in a government session following the signing ceremony, 36 opposition MPs tabled a proposed parliamentary no-confidence motion in Abazovic’s minority government, which was approved in April .

They said the government had failed to push ahead with the reforms necessary for Montenegro’s accession to the European Union, as it had promised, while focusing on relations with the Serbian Orthodox Church and increasing tensions in society.

The parliamentary session on the vote of no confidence will be held on August 19. It requires the approval of a simple majority in the 81-seat parliament.

Montenegro’s politics have long been marked by divisions between those who identify as Montenegrins and pro-Russian Serbs who have opposed the independence of the Adriatic country from a former state union with Serbia and prefer stronger ties with Serbia and Russia.

Montenegro left its union with Serbia in 2006, but its church did not gain autonomy and remained under the Serbian Orthodox Church, making it a symbol for some Serbian influence.

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Written by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Aleksandar Vasovic, William Maclean and Mike Harrison

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