There have been worrying messages coming from Montenegro in the past few weeks, fueled by nationalism and shortsighted discussions regarding the past and the state-church relation. Recent days saw the particularly sharp rise of tensions related to the enthronement of Metropolitan Joanikije of Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) at the Cetinje Monastery. While the separation of church and the state powers is a guiding principle in liberal democracies, the utmost duty of the Government of Montenegro is to ensure that peace and security are preserved while both rights to freedom of expression and assembly as well as the freedom of religion are upheld.
Montenegro saw its’ first democratic transition of power only in 2020. As a fragile democracy with a heavy burden of past, it is finally on a pathway to build strong, independent and resilient democratic institutions. Nonetheless, the former corrupted and warmongering elite that captured the state, along with its ‘formal adversaries’ in Serbia, are trying to destabilize the situation in Montenegro by exploiting the tensions around the Serbian Orthodox Church’s ceremony in Cetinje. It is thus of vital importance to resist these both foreign and domestic tension-creators that are trying to antagonize the Montenegrin society and prevent the long-awaited democratic and rule of law reforms.
We strongly support the URA Movement as a true defender of civic and liberal values which is advocating for calming of tensions and a strict separation of church and state powers. The SOC must not interfere in domestic political affairs of Montenegro nor call for a public gathering given the sensitivity of the situation, while the government has to ensure the civic rights including right to a peaceful protest. The wobbling atmosphere should not be further heated up more by irresponsible call of President Djukanovic to protest in Cetinje or other parliamentary parties.
Montenegro deserves peace and long awaited stability that are prerequisite for the rule of law and democratic institutions reforms. Only by restraining from explosive rhetoric and taking the responsibility for the future of the country, Montenegro can make a prosperous and sustaining atmosphere necessary for domestic reforms and continue to be a role model in fighting against organised crime. The EU should robustly support URA and other progressive, vibrant voices in the Western Balkans in order to bring the region closer to the EU values and standards.