The Episcopal Council of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro issued a harsh statement regarding the meeting between Metropolitan Amfilohije and Bishop Joanikije with the Prime Minister of Montenegro, Duško Marković.
As it is pointed out, the announcement by the Church comes after several claims made by the prime minister regarding the meeting.
In particular, the bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church emphasise that the meeting with the prime minister, “was not constructive and did not contribute to true and committed dialogue.”
As they further stated, “The only thing that could be honestly concluded from the conversation was the regime’s offer, several times and publicly stated, that the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro be “part of the solution” in a way that we should participate in the realization of the ruling party’s political program and creation of a party “church” in Montenegro.”
Moreover, it was added, “We are sorry to state that, especially after Prime Minister Marković’s statement, we cannot understand this conversation or the offer to suspend the application of the law as a way to open and constructive dialogue, but exclusively as political abuse of a serious topic before the announced elections.”
They finally pointed out, “The government cannot expect the violence of seizure, directed only at Orthodox churches and shrines, which is clearly enshrined in the unconstitutional and discriminatory Law on Freedom of Religion, to be peacefully accepted by the people, who are from fear after decades of repression under the communist regime and its successors and send a clear message to everyone in Montenegro and in the world: We won’t give up our shrines!”
Read the full statement:
Prime Minister Duško Marković decided to speak publicly about the meeting that he, the president of the state and our archbishops: Metropolitan Amfilohije and Bishop Joanikije, held a few days ago.
Since the Prime Minister made several claims, we are obliged to comment on the most important ones.
First of all, it is true that the meeting was held, but scheduling the mentioned meeting had its own history in which it cannot be simply said that it was held “at the invitation of Metropolitan Amfilohije with Bishop Joanikije”. It would be most accurate to say that the initiative for the meeting at the highest level, before the continuation of the expert dialogue requested by us, was first given by the Prime Minister himself, and that the Metropolitan proposed a broader format of that meeting. Since the adoption of the unconstitutional and discriminatory Law on Freedom of Religion or Belief and the Legal Status of Religious Communities, the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral, as well as all dioceses of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro have had intensive contacts and meetings at all levels: with political parties, individuals, embassies, civil sector, as well as numerous international institutions. We inform the public only about those meetings which are constructive and contribute to a true and committed dialogue. And this one, unfortunately, was not like that.
In the conversation, the bishops asked for the acceptance of the Proposed Law on Amendments to the Law on Freedom of Religion or Belief and the Legal Status of Religious Communities, which was submitted to the Government a long time ago in official talks of our expert team. They also asked for the approval of residence permits, which have been denied for years to a (smaller) number of priests, monks and nuns who do not have Montenegrin citizenship, and some of them are being expelled from Montenegro these days, after they have been in Montenegro for more than ten to fifteen years.
We cannot agree with the Prime Minister’s allegations about the “permanent commitment” of the authorities to conduct a dialogue and seek common and best solutions. If that were the case, there would be no dispute here. Precisely because of the absence of such an attitude towards the Orthodox Church, the problematic situation we are in has occurred, and which, we agree on something with the Prime Minister, “burdens the overall social environment”.
The only thing that could be honestly concluded from the conversation was the regime’s offer, several times and publicly stated, that the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro be “part of the solution” in a way that we should participate in the realization of the ruling party’s political program and creation of a party “church” in Montenegro. For such a senseless proposal, of course, he will never have an interlocutor in the Serbian Orthodox Church, nor in any true religious community in the world. It is precisely such offers, not processions, that are merely a reaction to injustice, which drastically reduce the possibility of successful dialogue and create “misunderstandings and confrontations” in society.
It is really incomprehensible to accuse the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro of “rejecting dialogue, and thus the possibility of finding a sustainable solution”, after our many years of efforts to establish an institutional dialogue with state authorities, asking for nothing but basic human and religious rights, which were confirmed by treaties to other traditional religious communities in Montenegro.
We remind that in that sense, in order to enable an easier way to a solution, we have reduced our remarks on the unconstitutional and discriminatory Law with explanations on ninety pages to the Proposed Law on Amendments to the Law in four short articles concerning only the recognition of the existing legal personality to Church and religious communities and the provision according to which all “property disputes between Montenegro and religious communities regarding religious buildings and land, which were built or acquired before December 1, 1918” would be “resolved exclusively” before the competent courts in civil proceedings in accordance with ratified international agreements, the Constitution of Montenegro, the Law on Property Relations, the Law on State Survey and Real Estate Cadaster and other relevant regulations.” Therefore, before the courts and in accordance with the laws of this state. Is such a proposal a call for breaking the law, which the Prime Minister accuses us of?
As for the “generous” offer of President Đukanović and Prime Minister Marković to suspend the application of the law until the decision of the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights, it is unconstitutional, and thus malicious, for several reasons. It is also nothing new, and it has already been talked about in public. First, it is an attempt by the state authorities to absolve themselves of responsibility for passing an unconstitutional and discriminatory law. Secondly, the Government does not have the possibility to suspend the application of any law and has no institutional mechanisms by which it could guarantee that the law will not be applied, because it is currently an integral part of the legal order of Montenegro. Third, the Constitutional Court has the powers under which it has so far been able to initiate an assessment of the constitutionality of this unfortunate Law. The Government could have done the same, as well as the PMs of the ruling majority in the Assembly. Also, that court does not have a deadline to decide on the constitutionality of the law. The fact that the Constitutional Court does not currently have a president is not unimportant for such an important issue. Fourth and perhaps most important – the assessment of the constitutionality and legality of laws and other regulations is not in the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, but individual acts, which would be adopted during the application of the law. Therefore, this again rejected the request of our Church to conduct a dialogue on changing the law, which showed that the government is essentially not interested in the arguments of the Church or professional and general public about the unconstitutionality and discriminatory nature of certain norms of this law.
We are sorry to state that, especially after Prime Minister Marković’s statement, we cannot understand this conversation or the offer to suspend the application of the law as a way to an open and constructive dialogue, but exclusively as a political abuse of a serious topic before the announced elections. This is supported by the attitude of the ruling party and its political partners towards church property, which these days is reflected in the sale of the monastery mill in Pljevlja, stock exchange trading of Orthodox churches on Sveti Stefan, demolition of the monastery residence on Briska Gora near Ulcinj… on the site of an ancient monastery (the present church was built ninety years ago). Did the spiritual cry of the small Orthodox people there, who are building a house for the nuns, have to be stifled by anti-terrorist units armed to the teeth?!
As for the processions and their continuation, which, we remind, President Đukanović, probably in the spirit of alleviating “misunderstanding and confrontation”, which the Prime Minister accuses us of, declared a “crazy movement” – they represented and represent the only peaceful protest of its kind in the world against anti-constitutional and discriminatory law. Such a right is guaranteed to all democratic constitutions of the world. After all, if Montenegro is truly a “democratic society of European and Euro-Atlantic values” how is it that, unlike street violence happening around the world, peaceful religious processions can be problematic in such a society, on any grounds, let alone characterized as “threats and blackmail”, as Prime Minister Marković characterized them? According to prominent lawyers, the orders on limiting public gatherings to two hundred people violate the Law on the Protection of Population from Communicable Diseases, because bylaws arbitrarily change legal norms, and in accordance with the Constitution, only the introduction of a state of emergency can ensure that such bylaws can have legal force. It seems that these orders in Montenegro are especially aimed at restricting the religious rights of Orthodox believers.
In this regard, we strongly disagree with the Prime Minister that laws in Montenegro are implemented “in the spirit of equal application” for all, and we have talked about this discrimination many times. We remind that, of all the traditional Churches and religious communities, only the Orthodox Church has been left without an agreement with the state on the regulation of issues of common interest, and that only its clergy and monks are denied residence permits. There is still no word on the equal application of the latest epidemiological measures and regulations. Orthodox bishops, priests and believers were held in detention, arrested, held in custody, convicted and punished disproportionately more than other factors in Montenegrin society, including many citizens who went unpunished for the same “acts” (suffice it to mention the believers gathered in front of temples or bumper-to-bumper traffic on Saint Vasilije Ostroški day in Boka and Spasovdan in Kuči, whose participants were punished, unlike traffic jam, conflicts and gatherings, for example, on the occasion of May 21).
In the end, despite attempts to misrepresent the talks held as an introduction to the continuation of expert negotiations, which were almost sabotaged by this public appearance of the Prime Minister, the Episcopal Council remains open to continue dialogue and talks next week, if the Government has the will and strength to approach these conversations honestly and effectively.
The government cannot expect the violence of seizure, directed only at Orthodox churches and shrines, which is clearly enshrined in the unconstitutional and discriminatory Law on Freedom of Religion, to be peacefully accepted by the people, who are from fear after decades of repression under the communist regime and its successors and send a clear message to everyone in Montenegro and in the world: We won’t give up our shrines!
Archbishop of Cetinje and Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Littoral AMFILOHIJE
Bishop of Budimlje and Nikšić JOANIKIJE
Bishop of Mileševa АТАNASIJE
In addition, read the statement of the Episcopal Council of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro with the Clergy and Monkhood of Montenegro:
Dear Brothers and Sisters;
Dear Fellow Citizens;
Today is the birthday of the Church but also the second consecutive the Holy Trinity Day that we spend here in our country of Montenegro with anxiety, fearing that our nation’s government will act upon its announced intention of the nationalisation of our Church. It is the act of straightforward confiscation of Church property and the placing of Church affairs and its organisation under the administration of the state. Such plans most directly and brutally violate both international legal standards and the Constitution of Montenegro together with the religious canons. That is why we stand here today in front of the Montenegrin and international public raising our voice as loyal citizens and committed believers.
It has been a year since all of us took the Holy Trinity Oath – the promise that we will defend our Holy Places. We have been striving for six months now to talk to the local authorities about amending the anti-constitutional and discriminatory “Law of Freedom of Religion”. With our humanity and our consciences – as well as through those international calls made by others – we seek this dialogue. We have listened for the last six months to the Government’s verbal consent and alleged willingness to enter into negotiations: and what, really, do we have? We have procrastination and circumvention of dialogue on one hand and the obvious implementation of this “Anti-Law” on the other! In fact, this government – claiming it is for democracy – continues the work of the former communist authorities of Montenegro which killed Metropolitan Joannikije and more than a hundred Orthodox priests immediately after 1945 and then later sentenced Metropolitan Arsenije to eleven years in prison for “propaganda activities”, and demolished the church of Peter the Second Petrović and drove people out of Church…
Today, the most recent developments unequivocally tell us that the Government of Montenegro has practically given up on negotiations. It has been a month since we have awaited the answer of Prime Minister Duško Marković to the Metropolitan’s letter to continue the negotiations – after the announced mitigation of health measures at the beginning of May 2020. We have not received the answer to this day!
A statement made by Mr. Blažo Šaranović, Director of the Property Administration Agency, on June 6th this year clearly told us that state authorities – ignoring the negotiations – have started implementing the discriminatory and widely protested Law on Freedom of Religion. By starting the implementation of the Law’s provisions when they have been condemned by the public and professionals as discriminatory and anti-constitutional insults intelligence; it violates the spirit of elementary unspoken etiquette; and the basic human rights that are threatened by the very same Law. We expected the state authorities to refrain from any legal and administrative actions regarding this Law until the negotiations are over. But not only was that not the case, but by its unilateral actions the state confirmed that it was not in favour of negotiations or reaching of agreement – which it claims to advocate – and instead continues to abuse domestic and international public opinion.
In addition, the Montenegrin government presently holds, arrests and expels our priests and believers – not distinguishing between bishops, priests and lay people – but rather creates unprecedented discrimination of the Church against all other subjects and public gatherings in Montenegro. It violates its own proscribed health measures on the streets of Montenegrin cities for political rallies (both at stormy state celebrations and at peaceful civic demonstrations), in shopping malls, discos, construction sites, and in state bodies. Just look at the crowds at present in front of public institutions that issue ID cards and personal documents – which are far larger than those at gatherings within and without Churches. Yet only our bishops, priests and believers are disturbed and penalised. During the official duration of the COVID-19 epidemic in Montenegro, health measures were selectively applied and were repressively directed only toward religious gatherings. Because of that, Metropolitan Amfilohije was arrested while Bishop Joanikije and other our priests were detained. For the first time in the history of Montenegro, some of our priests were expelled from the country. It should be emphasised that the highest of state officials have recently declared our clergy as “occupiers“ and “enemies of the state”. The root of all this is the senseless and anachronistic aspiration of the present authorities to use a secular, multi-confessional and civic state to build its own “state church“ at the beginning of the 21st century. They forget the proclamation of European revolutionaries of the 19th century which called for the separation of Church and State, and which clearly and loudly called for a “Free Church in a Free State” as well as the European Union’s efforts to liberate the former communist countries from their Bolshevik totalitarian legacy with its trampling of basic human rights.
We are obliged to inform all the international actors about the chronology of discrimination and application of double standards in Montenegro as well as to present the clear evidence that in our country the law is far from equal and the same for all. It is superfluous to talk about the fact that such a discriminatory implementation of health measures has made their existence and the purpose of their further existence meaningless. In addition to the great sacrifice and philanthropy shown by Montenegrin doctors in hospitals and clinics – to whom we, as the Church, helped with prayer and donations – we must point out that certain measures of the so-called health authorities are perceived as measures against the Church, not against the sinister virus. Clearly, the Government uses the virus to affirm what for it is an even more dangerous disease – their love for limitless power as well as for nationalisation and property deprivation of both public and private subjects – but also against the Church and holy places and their sacred objects.
There are no reasons why we could expect a honest and well-intentioned attitude of the current regime towards the Church. On the contrary, it is clear to us what would happen to our Holy Places and Temples if this government were to reach them by any chance. The Government has proved and demonstrated its intention during these few days as well: the recent sale of shares in the company “St. Stefan Hotels”, which, unfortunately, owns the island temples illegally as well as the decision on selling the ancient mill belonging to the Holy Trinity Monastery in city of Pljevlja. Through its discriminatory actions, the Government also promotes religious intolerance which causes state of insecurity in those areas where the Orthodox Christians constitute a distinct minority of the local population. Let’s just remember the events on the Holy Place of Svač, than the removal of the Holy Cross in Martinovići place near city of Gusinje (the place of the remains of the Church demolished by the fascists in 1941) or yesterday’s unprecedented demolition of the residence of St. Basil of Ostrog on Briska Gora near city of Ulcinj using shamefully the assistance the of the Special Antiterrorist Unit where the couple of bare-handed nuns and priests have presented an armed threat to this Government. The strength of the state is not to be shown by force of arms and violence against its own citizens, but by democratic and uncorrupted institutions and the rule of law existing for all equally.
And now, here in front of the public and Montenegrin institutions, whose work in the first instance should be the good progress of this society through the renewal of justice, we announce that we continue our protests and peaceful prayers against this injustice. Prayer walks will start in all Montenegrin cities at June 14 this year, which is All Saints’ Day. Prayer walks will take the same streets and places where we could see other protests these days as well as state celebrations and ordinary walks of citizens, which are – thanks be to God – countless. We pledge our prayer walks shall be organised in accordance with the Law on public gatherings. And our liturgies go towards achieving four goals: peace, love, justice and brotherly reconciliation. And we will achieve that goal with The Lord’s help.
We call on members of the National Parliament and the Government of Montenegro – those who adopted this anti-Law as well as those who clearly intend to implement it forcibly and shamelessly – to give up their one-sidedness, and instead build a state that respects its communities through laws made in agreement and in accordance with Constitution and God’s justice. We call on them to respect fraternal harmony and reconciliation, for healing and not fratricide and – at the same time – as clergy and monks of the Serbian Orthodox Church of Montenegro, we say, confirming the oath made by the people of Montenegro:
We will never abandon our Sacred Places!
Source: Serbian Orthodox Church