Montenegro government faces no-confidence vote on church deal

The signing of the Basic Agreement between the Government of Montenegro and the Serbian Orthodox Church. Photo: Government of Montenegro

A number of government coalition parties on Wednesday announced a no-confidence motion in Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic’s government after signing a ‘fundamental agreement’ with the Serbian Orthodox Church, SPC, the largest religious community in the country.

Abazovic signed the agreement with the Patriarch of the Porfirije Church on Wednesday in Podgorica, stressing that all religious communities should have equal rights.

“The process of negotiating a fundamental agreement has taken too long, but now this issue is finally settled in a civilized manner. The government is doing everything with the desire to build a society of justice and equality,” Abazovic said in a press release.

“In this way, we send a message of peace and tolerance and the country should turn a new page,” he added.

Montenegro has signed similar “fundamental agreements” with smaller religious communities: with the Catholic Church in 2011, and with the Islamic and Jewish communities in 2012. But no agreement has been reached with the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Patriarch Porfirije said both Montenegro and the CPS need the agreement, stressing that it is in line with the Montenegrin constitution.

“The Church wanted nothing more than any citizen of Montenegro related to the subject of religion, nor did we have the ambition to achieve more than any other religious community. I believe that all citizens are happy because of this agreement,” Patriarch Porfirije told the media.

According to the agreement, the Serbian Church does not need permission from the government to move the cultural heritage belonging to it, but must obey the law on the protection of cultural heritage.

The government is obliged to register all Orthodox churches and monasteries as belonging to the CPS and also to begin the process of restitution of Church property nationalized or confiscated by the Communist authorities after the Second World War.

According to the agreement, the state cannot authorize the construction of Orthodox churches without the approval of the CPS, while Orthodox religious education can be regulated in public schools.

While pro-Serb parties hailed the signing of the agreement, the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS and Social Democratic Party called for snap elections, saying the document was signed without broad consensus .

“We will launch a motion of no confidence in parliament and call for early elections. This agreement is against the constitution of Montenegro and will be suspended immediately after the election of a new government,” the DPS said.

The signing of the agreement was also criticized by some NGOs, who accused the government of failing to engage in dialogue during the preparation of the agreement.

“The government started with non-transparency and went on to feign dialogue and ignore different opinions. [It was] the grand finale of the clericalization of Montenegro,” the Center for Democratic Transition, CDT, an NGO, said in a press release.

On July 21, the government formed a six-member team of experts to analyze the draft basic agreement, but some members of the civic sector resigned, because they opposed one of the members proposed by the government. On August 1, the government announced that it would sign the agreement without any changes.

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