Montenegrin parliament amends Law on Freedom of Religion

Foto: Vijesti, screenshot

The Law on Freedom of Religion, which was adopted by the Montenegrin Parliament a little over a year ago – on the night between December 26th and 27th, 2019 – was amended after midnight last night. The opposition did not attend the sessions at which the law was adopted and amended. What changed from last year, however, is that the then ruling coalition is now the opposition and the fact that, unlike the then DF deputies, the DPS deputies did not spend the night in the police station.

A total of 41 MPs of the Montenegrin parliament voted in favor of amending the Law on Freedom of Religion, the adoption of which resulted in a months-long protest of citizens, led by religious leaders in numerous lithiums.

The adoption of the amendments was received with applause, and two amendments to the URA were included in the amendments to the law, Vijesti reports.

Dissatisfaction caused by the original draft law also led to the removal of Milo Djukanovic’s decades-long DPS administration in the August elections.

As a result of those elections, the Montenegrin government is now headed by a non-partisan candidate, Zdravko Krivokapic, while the key role in forming the majority was played by the civic party URA, led by ethnic Albanian, Dritan Abazovic.

Both Krivokapic and Abazovic are criticized in the region for their cooperation, primarily due to what is interpreted as Krivokapic’s „pro-Serbian“ and „pro-Russian“ orientation. Although Krivokapic rejects such labels, the Serbian president, Aleksandar Vucic is incessantly criticizing the new Montenegrin government.

At a press conference held yesterday, Vucic pointed out that the new Montenegrin authorities have not yet withdrawn the decision to expel the Serbian ambassador. He also said that the country’s position on the recognition of Kosovo would not change, alleging that this is not surprising.

Krivokapic reacted to the adoption of amendments to the Law on Freedom of Religion on Twitter.

He tweeted that „the injustice done to the Serbian Orthodox Church has been addressed after a year.“

„Now all religious communities, without exception, are equal before the law. This is a victory for the rule of law, but also for the people who defended it on the streets for a full 12 months. Tonight, the hands of those people defended the rule of law in the Assembly,“ Krivokapic wrote.

The controversial provision of the Law on the Freedom of Religion read that churches in Montenegro must provide proof that they owned the buildings and land in their possession before 1918. Otherwise, the properties were threatened with expropriation. This provision primarily had an impact on the sites of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The majority of believers in Montenegro are members of the SOC.

The Serbian Orthodox Church would have a hard time providing evidence of ownership of many old properties, as modern cadastres were largely introduced in the region after 1918. Although international bodies such as the Council of Europe have explicitly urged the Montenegrin government to structure the law in constructive dialogue with all those affected, the controversial provision remained part of the law adopted in December last year.

Critics of the law, both in Montenegro and Serbia, accused Montenegrin authorities at the time of trying to carry out nationalization and violating the country’s constitution. On the other hand, some public intellectuals in Serbia blamed official Belgrade for the situation in Montenegro, accusing it of interfering in the internal affairs of Montenegro and causing a „violent destabilization, endangering peace, territorial integrity, constitutional order, equality of citizens and equality of religious communities.“

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