By Samir Kajosevic
Ethnic tensions have escalated in Montenegro after the country’s main faith group, the Serbian Orthodox Church confirmed that its new top bishop in Montenegro, Metropolitan Joanikije, will be enthroned on Sunday in Cetinje, despite complaints from opposition parties and self-proclaimed patriotic organisations.
The planned enthronement of the new Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Littoral in the old royal capital has angered some Montenegrins who claim that holding the event there is an insult to Montenegro’s “centuries-long struggle for sovereignty”, calling for the ceremony to be held somewhere else.
But the Serbian Orthodox Church says that all its metropolitan in the country’s history were enthroned in Cetinje Monastery, warning against the politicization of the traditional church ceremony.
“The only thing I have asked our leaders is to sit down, agree, and put the interests of the people above all other interests. I am not ready to trade hatred because in that way hatred multiplies even more,” Metropolitan Joanikije said on Friday.
“With apologies to all inhabitants of Cetinje, they have not yet created their own state, called Cetinje,” he added.
The outgoing Bishop of Budimlja-Niksic was elected Metropolitan of Montenegro at the Bishops’ Council of the Serbian Church in Belgrade on May 29, to succeed the late Metropolitan Amfilohije, who died of coronavirus infection last year.
On Saturday, Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Porfirije will be welcomed in front of the Christ Resurrection church in the capital, Podgorica. Only clergy will attend the enthronement on Sunday with no politicians present. The ceremony will be aired live on the public broadcaster.
Montenegro’s President, Milo Djukanovic, and MPs from his opposition Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, have announced they will attend protests on Sunday by self-proclaimed patriotic organisations in Cetinje, accusing the Serbian Church of working to undermine Montenegro’s independence. [The country quit a state union with Serbia in 2006.]
“The announced religious gathering in Cetinje is an unbearably high-risk event and the government will be responsible for any possible incidents. We believe the authorities will consider all the facts and challenges that the act of enthronement may have for the future of Montenegro,” the DPS said on Thursday.
Government officials responded by accusing the DPS of raising tensions and promising that state institutions will do their best to prevent trouble. “If there are incidents, the government will not be responsible, but those who organised the protests,” Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapic posted on Twitter.
On Friday, the European Commission spokeswoman Ana Pisonero Hernandez warned that encouraging ethnic and religious intolerance is dangerous to security, while the EU rapporteur for Kosovo, Viola von Cramon-Taubadel, on Thursday criticised the former authorities for fomenting tensions in the country.
“The former corrupted 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 Montenegrin society and prevent long-awaited democratic and rule-of-law reforms,” Von Cramon-Taubadel posted on her website.
On Friday, the National Security Council called for a calming of tensions. Parties and civic organizations urged the organisers of the planned protests in Cetinje to refrain from violence.
“There has been propaganda in some media connected with criminal structures, and they are continuously trying to raise tensions. These tensions are being provoked by those who didn’t manage to cause incidents when they lost power [in the elections] last August. I hope citizens will not support them,” Deputy PM Dritan Abazovic on Friday. “I hope that Djukanovic will not be present at the protest,” he added.
On September 1, Interior Minister Sergej Sekulovic said police could not guarantee absolute security to every citizen during the rival gatherings in Cetinje, warning that all uninvited politicians who come to Cetinje on Sunday will bear special responsibility for events.
“We know that there are extremes on both sides and that they are planning radicalization,” Sekulovic told a press conference.
Montenegro, which declared independence in 2006, is a multi-ethnic society split between those who consider themselves Montenegrins, those who identify as Serbs and various other smaller groups.