President of Montenegro rejects changes to controversial religion law
Montenegrin President Milo Dukanovic refused to approve amendments to a controversial law on religion which has been strongly criticized by ethnic Serbs and the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Dukanovic sent the amendments back to parliament along with six other laws passed by the ruling coalition, his office said on January 2.
A total of 41 deputies from the ruling coalition, which is made up of pro-Serbian parties and closely aligned with the Serbian Orthodox Church, in the 81-seat Legislative Assembly supported amendments to the law on freedom of religion during a vote on December 29 which was boycotted by the opposition.
The president’s office said it was not clear whether the required number of lawmakers were present in parliament during the vote.
Dukanovic heads the long-ruling Democratic Socialist Party (DPS) which is now in opposition.
If lawmakers vote for the amendments again, the president is obligated 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, which came to power after the August elections, said it would rewrite the law to ensure that property remains in the hands of the church, 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.