Tuesday 18 January 2000

by Branko Bjelajac, Keston News Service

Calls for greater recognition of the so-called Montegegrin Orthodox Church
(MOC) are gathering momentum in the aftermath of disputes surrounding the
traditional tree burning at Christmas Eve in Montenegro (see 12 January KNS
�Continuing Church Conflicts in Montenegro�). After the police prevented
representatives and supporters of the so-called MOC from burning its own tree,
whilst allowing the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) in Podgorica (the capital
of Montenegro) to burn one, representatives of some political parties and
NGO's were calling for a 'scapegoat'.

The Montenegrin Society of Independent Writers has accused the SOC of
conducting a 'systematic campaign of militant Greater-Serbia nationalism'. The
Movement for Independent Montenegro stated that the Speaker of Parliament
should not send Christmas greetings using the pronoun 'our' for the SOC, and
called for his resignation. SVETOZAR MAROVIC, Speaker of Parliament, in
his Christmas message to the SOC METROPOLITAN AMFILOHIJE, stated
'The Montenegro Metropolitanate [of the SOC] was and is the only Orthodox
Church in Montenegro'. The Montenegrin PEN Centre President, SRETEN
PEROVIC, stated: 'The issue here is one of universal human rights...The
Montenegrins desire their own church, and the government cannot prevent

ZARKO RAKCEVIC, President of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the
smallest member of the ruling coalition with three positions in the Montenegrin
government, speaking of the Christmas Eve events, stated 'This was a
humiliation for believers. All conflicts between the MOC and the SOC arose
because the SOC wants to maintain its monopolistic position in Montenegro
and to diminish the MOC and its leader, METROPOLITAN MIHAILO'.

The SDP has asked the coalition government to act after the Christmas Eve
events, and Prime Minister FILIP VUJANOVIC has announced that the
Montenegrin Parliament will discuss new appointments in government. The
next session of Parliament is scheduled for 26 January and it is expected that
Dr SLOBODAN TOMOVIC, the Minister of Religion, and the only member of
the government who is not a member of a political party, will be asked to
resign, as Dr Tomovic was among the guests present at the Christmas Eve
event organised by the SOC. The SDP is 'not happy' with his 'attitude toward
the MOC'. However the MOC has not yet been registered by the police.

The MOC applied for registration with the Police Registrar of Religious
Communities on 29 September 1999. They questioned the 'silence of the
administration' on 11 November 1999. Since no response has been received
from the government, their legal representatives recently announced that they
would file a complaint with the Constitutional Court, the highest ranking court
in Montenegro, asking for registration. In the meantime the MOC is operating
without it.

Whether Minister of Religion Tomovic keeps his post or not, it is not likely
that the issue will be quickly resolved. Religious public holidays in
Montenegro are likely to be the occasion for politically orchestrated conflict.
At present representatives of the SOC are making occasional statements, which
mainly call for the government to protect the rights and property of the SOC,
and accuse the so-called MOC of attempting to obtain SOC church property.
The SOC has approximately 650 churches and monasteries in Montenegro.

Supporters of the MOC consider that Montenegran nationality does not have
the same status as Serbian nationality. This has become a widely held view in
recent years. In 1920, at the creation of the state of Yugoslavia, several
Orthodox Metropolitanates of the Serbian people (Karlovci, Belgrade,
Montenegro, Dabro-Bosnian), who prior to the First World War belonged to
three different kingdoms, joined together to re-establish the Serbian
Patriarchate, which was recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate and granted
autocephalous status. In recent years, with the spreading of a secessionist
movement in Montenegro, there has been a rising sentiment that the
Montenegrins are not Serbs. Thus the SOC is seen as a foreign church, and
some have called for the foundation of the MOC as the only representative of
Orthodoxy amongst Montenegrins. Although the MOC of itself does not
represent a significant factor in Montenegrin religious life, the involvement of
political parties is giving it a high profile in this conflict. (END)

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(c) Keston Institute 2000