On 27 December 2019, the Assembly of Montenegro adopted the Law on the Freedom of Religion or Believes and the Legal Status of Religious Communities. The adoption of this law led to strong reactions and protests by the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) and opposition parties in the country.
Affected by many years of internal struggles among factions, the Serbian Orthodox Church could not find adequate answers as to how and in what way to adapt its work following the fall of Slobodan Milošević (SPS), the signing of the peace agreements for Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo (the Dayton and Kumanovo agreements), the declaration of independence of Montenegro in 2006, and especially following the direct military confrontation of Serbia with the United States and NATO in 1999. It is evident that the most influential part of the SOC remains on the political positions of Slobodan Milošević. The most significant rift in the SOC actually happened after the declaration of independence of Kosovo in 2008.
Keeping in mind that the then Yugoslav and Serbian political nomenclature supported the separation and later the independence and sovereignty of Montenegro, along with a part of the SOC to include the SOC’s Metropolitan Bishop of Montenegro and the Littoral Amfilohije Radović, it seems that the current protests and lamentations coming from the SOC are one in the series of the SOC’s failed policies. It should not be forgotten that the SOC in Montenegro publicly opposed the country’s membership in NATO and imposing sanctions on Russia, and it attacked Montenegrin politics because of the recognition of Kosovo.
Analysts believe that the SOC’s actions in Montenegro and in general have been determined by two-sided politics – condemnation of the current politics in Montenegro and, at the same time, protection of material and other properties of the SOC, believing that the President of Montenegro and the Democratic party of Socialists, socialist Milo Đukanović (DPS), would not reach for the Law on the Freedom of Religion, by which he would ultimately deprive them of enormous wealth. Analysts also believe that Metropolitan Amfilohije and President Đukanović will reach a compromise, either via court settlements and rulings or through direct negotiation. It would not be an exception or an outcome without a precedent in their decades-long relations.
It needs to be said that Metropolitan Bishop Amfilohije Radović gave his support to Milo Đukanović in 1997 when a conflict within the DPS unfolded between the then president Momir Bulatović and Milo Đukanović. At that time, under rather strange circumstances, Milo Đukanović removed Momir Bulatović and took over as the leader of the DPS. Amfilohije Radović played a major role in 2006 after the referendum by which Montenegro restored its independence. Many believe that he was in fact pivotal in achieving de-escalation after the declaration of independence and blunting the edge of the opposition at the time. Also, on the day of parliamentary elections 16 October 2016, when Milo Đukanović announced that a coup d’état and his assassination were in preparation, Metropolitan Amfilohije Radović stepped on the stage once again. His ensuing statements and actions were of exceptional importance for Milo Đukanović’s regime.
SOC still stuck in Milošević’s time, Montenegro in NATO
The biggest part of the SOC, analysts believe, still think they live in the times of Milošević, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), the Yugoslav People’s Army – the Army of Yugoslavia (JNA-VJ), without taking into consideration the facts such as the independence of Kosovo, the independent Montenegro in NATO, Bosnia and Herzegovina en route to the EU and NATO, and the Republic of Croatia as a member of both the EU and NATO, which to a large degree tries to influence the path of Serbia, and therefore the SOC, to the EU, as well as the fact that Serbia is surrounded by NATO member states, i.e. NATO surrounds Serbia.
Metropolitan Amfilohije Radović, once Milo Đukanović’s „comrade from the trenches“, and now allegedly his arch-enemy, is also the leader of the most influential fraction within the SOC who has been directly and openly agitating against Serbian Patriarch Irinej for years, but also against Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić (SNS). After Đukanović enacted the Law on the Freedom of Religion in the Montenegrin Assembly, the question arose as to who exactly was represented by Amfilohije Radović and to what extent Amfilohije Radović himself and some parts of the SOC with their inner struggles and (in)actions had contributed to the adoption of the Law on the Freedom of Religion.
The whole narrative surrounding the Law on the Freedom of Religion is not a recent one. It started way back in 2015, when all the religious communities attending the public debate, bar the Montenegrin Orthodox Church and the Jewish Community, opposed the adoption of the law. The advent of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church happened at the beginning of this millennium and it was transparent that the MOC would certainly seek independence. Interestingly, Metropolitan Amfilohije Radović and the SOC did not take a negative stance with regard to the independence of Montenegro. Quite the opposite happened: following the declaration of independence Metropolitan Amfilohije and Đukanović had a fruitful cooperation, and it was perfectly clear that the new Montenegrin state with its institutions, armed forces, domestic and foreign policies, and without the patronage of Belgrade and the Yugoslav Army, would reach the peak of its independence by attempting to revitalize (restore) the MOC and trying to win its autocephaly.
The SOC in Montenegro led by Metropolitan Amfilohije Radović is something similar to the renegade “Serbian Government in the Fatherland” after World War II, while Josip Broz Titowas establishing first the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia and then the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, according to International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia.