Interview with the Coordinator of the Legal Council of of the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral about open and systematic discrimination of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro
November 5, 2018 – The oldest daily newspaper in Serbia and Balkans Politika published the interview with father Velibor Džomić, PhD, a priest of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Podgorica, Montenegro, and coordinator of the Legal Council of of the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral.
“It has been for years now that the Serbian Orthodox Church is being depicted as being ‘outside the legal order in Montenegro’, and as a ‘political and supra-state institution’ .”, father Velibor started.
In his words, there is a legal order in Montenegro, but the problem is that it has been abused, that the law has been wrongfully applied at the expenses of the church,which is being proved by many court decisions.
It has been a while that the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral is asking for adoption of the new Law on the Legal Status of the Church and Religious Communities which would regulate exercise, practice, and effective protection of individual and collective right to freedom of religion – all in the spirit of the legal and historical tradition of Montenegro, internationally binding norms regarding the freedom of religion, and, finally, social reality. Yet, there are “ideological structures” which are satisfied with the present status quo situation.
Father Velibor then said that Montenegro has regulated its relations with the Catholic Church, Muslim and Jewish Communities, by signing special agreements with each of them, but not with the Serbian Orthodox Church, which is discriminatory and selective approach, and in direct violation to the equality of the religious communities guaranteed by the Montenegrin Constitution.
“For the time being there is no agreement with our church, not for legal, but for political reasons, because once the Government conditioned us with the reform of our internal order and autonomous canonical law of our church. We did not accept it. Huge disorder has been made in this important sphere of human rights and freedoms. It is obvious today that there are ‘governmental’ and ‘non-governmental’ churches and religious communities. The so-called Montenegrin Orthodox Church1 is almost 100% state funded. It was recently discovered that it has been granted funds from the state budget by secret decisions, as well. Verbal violence against our church is not only tolerated, but is also encouraged in the media, whereas public calls for violent seizure of the churches and monasteries from the Serbian Orthodox Church are still not being sanctioned. It is not rare that the services are being prevented by the administrative decisions of the Police in places such as Ivanova korita, Svach or Ulcinj. You could also see a chaos about the St Trinity’s Church on Rumija.”, concluded father Velibor.
On 23 July this year patriarch Irinej’s publicly said that the Montenegrin Government had been treating ethnic Serbs as they were treated by the Independent State of Croatia in the Second World War. As from then 25 priests, monks, nuns, even priests’ vives and minor children have been rejected for extension of their residence permits, and father Velibor expects few more dozen to receive the same response from authorities.
“There is no religious education in Montenegro in public schools. Cetinje Seminary “Saint Peter of Cetinje” is not recognized by the Montenegrin education system, whereas Medresa “Mehmed the Conqueror” is within the education system and is being funded by 600 000 Euros per year. There is no religious service in the army, even though Montenegro is member of NATO. There is no sign that the law on restitution of property seized by the Communist regime and compensation will be drafted and adopted anytime soon. Church and religious communities do not have proper treatment on the Radio and Television of Montenegro, which is a public service. Labour status of the priests and other servants is not properly regulated either.”
Father Velibor also said that some state officials do not understand that the right to freedom of religion is one of fundamental human rights and that believers cannot be second-grade citizens because of their religious beliefs. But, he added, it had not been always like this, and that there was good cooperation between the church and the state before, without any conditioning.
In the end,father Velibor said:“I think that it is necessary to establish permanent and constructive institutional dialogue between the state and representatives of the church and religious communities for common good. Only on these grounds a multi-confessional society, with religious tolerance as an important social element, can be built and maintained.”