Controversial advice on the law on religion Election in Montenegro …… | News and reports


For the first time in his life, Bishop Amfilohije, 82, voted in an election.

His example led a record number of citizens of Montenegro to do the same last Sunday.

Spurred on by what he saw as government attacks on his beloved Serbian Orthodox Church, he launched an “everyone but them” campaign against the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), which held power in that country. Eastern Europe for 30 years.

“[Vote] for the saints and against the lawless, ”Amfilohije said a week before the August 30 elections, according to at Balkan Insight. Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic is accused of running a corrupt government.

Preliminary results indicate a reassuring victory for the bishop.

The opposition coalition won 41 of 81 seats in parliament.

The DPS claimed the largest solo share with 30, but will return to power for the first time in Montenegro’s 14-year history if all coalitions hold.

“This is the freedom so many have longed for,” Pastor Sinisa Nadazdin told CT. Its Gospel of Jesus Christ Church is located in the capital of Podgorica and is one of the five registered evangelical churches in the country.

“The myth of Djukanovic’s invincibility is finally shattered.

Montenegro is the sixth least evangelical country in Europe, according to to the Joshua Project. Believers were not united behind any particular party, but many welcomed the democratic message.

“This is an opportunity to inject new blood into the system, to reduce corruption and cronyism,” said Stanisa Surbatovich, pastor of a small church in the country’s second largest city, Niksic.

“Personally, I don’t see the results as a win or a loss,” he told CT.

But many Serbian Orthodox Christians are celebrating.

The turnout was 77%, with many motivated to vote by the same controversial “religious freedom” law that primarily animated the bishop.

CT reported last February how the parliament of Montenegro passed a bill guaranteeing the right to change religion. But he also demanded that churches provide proof of ownership of all churches and monasteries built before 1918, lest they be incorporated as part of state-owned cultural heritage.

Orthodox roots run deep in the Balkan nation roughly the size of Connecticut. Its first diocese in what is now Montenegro was established in 1219.

Three quarters of the country’s 620,000 inhabitants identify as Orthodox Christians; 70 percent of them belong to the traditional Serbian church.

The government has repeatedly denied plans to seize church property, but Amfilohije fears politicians will remove Serbian Orthodox jurisdiction in favor of the newly established Montenegrin Orthodox Church, which claims 30 percent of local Orthodox believers .

But among Montenegro’s population, roughly equal to that of Vermont, only 3 in 10 are ethnic Serbs. And when parliament passed the religion law by 45-0, lawmakers from the Serbian-led Democratic Front boycotted the vote.

“The church does not have its own electoral list”, Amfilohije noted, “But rejoices in those who are against this lawless law.”

Since February, leaders of the Serbian Orthodox Church have led massive protests, stopped only by the COVID-19 pandemic. But they resumed before the election, drawing the ire of politicians.

“The Serbian Orthodox Church is not a religious organization but a parapolitical one,” said DPS official Caslav Vesovic, according to at Balkan Insight. “The church interferes in the electoral process by telling believers how to vote. “

Prime Minister Dusko Markovic upped the ante, predicting an election victory.

“After the elections, the church and its priests will return to the churches,” he said. “They will no longer be at political rallies, where they curse our ancestors, us and our children.”

But President Djukanovic called it an existential crisis.

A former Yugoslav communist leader before Montenegro’s independence in 2006, he is currently serving his eighth term. But he is now asking for the nation’s membership of the European Union (EU), having joined NATO in 2017.

“These elections are the most important in the history of Montenegro,” Djukanovic said.

“We have to choose whether Montenegro should continue its integration into the EU or become a theocratic state.”

Djukanovic wanted the law on religion cement the nation’s unique civic and cultural identity. United with Yugoslavia and then Serbia for 88 years, many Montenegrins simply considered themselves Orthodox Slavs.

The president accuses religious leaders, including Amfilohije, of undermining national independence, in favor of Serbian and Russian alignment.

Although Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, recently agreed to grant the Ukrainian Orthodox Church a tomos (decree) of spiritual independence of Moscow, it does not not to recognize Montenegrin has separated from its Serbian patriarchate. Any seizure of a church would be an illegitimate expropriation.

“During hundreds of years of Ottoman (Turkish Muslim) occupation, the Serbian Orthodox Church – and its metropolis of Montenegro – kept the flame of Christianity alive in the Western Balkans,” adviser Vladimir Leposavic told CT. legal form of the Montenegrin church.

“This heritage and our identity should not be sacrificed to satisfy a president’s desire for a national church.”

But some evangelicals believe that the local Serbian Orthodox Church is sacrificing Montenegrin identity.

The native Montenegrin Orthodox Church believes it was independent during the Ottoman Empire, said Surbatovich, the nation’s only Montenegrin evangelical pastor.

He thinks the president aims to treat all churches equally. But Serbian Orthodox want a privileged position, even though so few regularly practice their faith.

In Niksic’s population of 35,000, he estimates that his 25-member congregation represents 10 percent of Sunday worshipers.

“It is not appropriate that the church is political,” Surbatovich said. “I would like them to talk about the gospel and not about politics.

But if Nadazdin, the evangelical pastor of the capital, rejoices, he wants the majority Orthodox church to rally the faithful beyond the elections.

“They should have been much more vocal on family issues, abortion and other social issues on which churches around the world are mobilizing,” he said.

“My objection to the behavior of the church is that it should be more active in social affairs, not less.”

Surbatovich hopes that the evangelical community can move in this direction, in particular against the idea that “secularism is good”.

Nothing prevents the church from speaking in the public square, he said, except limited resources.

For now, believers will watch the coalitions come together. Surbatovich notes that in order to govern, Serbian-led parties will have to include pro-Montenegrin and pro-European parties. It is unlikely that there will be a “radical departure” from the general course of the nation.

The winners have called for reconciliation, to join hands with the DPS. Djukanovic promised respect the election results.

But Nadazdin is not so sure. Rumors suggest that radical elements in the ruling party may attempt to provoke violence and undermine the winning coalition.

Either way, the two evangelical leaders in Montenegro offer the same advice.

“We demanded justice,” Nadazdin said. “Now we have to pray hard for this country. “

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