Montenegro lawmakers back changes to contentious religion law amid protests
PODGORICA, Montenegro – The parliament of Montenegro has approved changes to a controversial law on religion that had been heavily criticized by ethnic Serbs and the Serbian Orthodox Church.
A total of 41 deputies from the ruling coalition, made up of pro-Serbian parties and closely aligned with the Serbian Orthodox Church, in the 81-seat Legislative Assembly supported the amendments to the law on freedom of religion during the meeting. a vote in early December 29 which was boycotted by the opposition.
On December 28, several thousand people demonstrated outside the parliament building in the capital, Podgorica, against the changes proposed by the new government, waving Montenegrin flags and chanting slogans such as “Treason” and “This is not Serbia ”. No clashes were reported.
The rally was the first major demonstration in the Balkan country against the coalition government of Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapic, which came to power after the opposition won a narrow majority over the ruling Democratic Socialist Party (DPS) during legislative elections in August.
Krivokapic greeted the vote in parliament as “a victory for the rule of law”.
Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, who now heads the opposition DPS, has seven days to sign the amendments or send them back to parliament. If the deputies vote again for the amendments, the president is obliged to sign them.
Under Montenegro’s religion law adopted a year ago, religious communities must prove ownership before 1918.
This is the year that Orthodox Christian majority Montenegro joined the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes – and the Montenegrin Orthodox Church was subsumed by the Serbian Orthodox Church, losing all of its assets in the process.
The Serbian Orthodox Church, its supporters and pro-Serbian parties have claimed the law could allow the Montenegrin government to seize Church property, although officials deny any intention to do so.
The new government has proposed to rewrite the law to ensure that property remains in the hands of the church, which is based in neighboring Serbia.
Serbia and Montenegro were part of a federation until 2006, when Montenegro declared its independence.
Montenegro is a member of NATO and aspires to join the European Union.