Montenegro’s President Djukanovic threatened with impeachment over vow to stop inauguration of Serbian Orthodox cleric

Montenegro’s President Djukanovic threatened with impeachment over vow to stop inauguration of Serbian Orthodox cleric
By Denista Koseva in Sofia August 29, 2021

A member of Montenegro’s ruling coalition has called for President Milo Djukanovic to be impeached after the president announce he would travel to the town of Cetinje to prevent the inauguration of the new head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro. 

Djukanovic called on the Serbian Orthodox Church to give up plans to inaugurate its new head in the Adriatic country at a monastery in the former capital Cetinje. 

His words added to the already highly tense situation in the small country, where Metropolitan Bishop Joanikije II is due to be inaugurated on September 5 in Cetinje Monastery, which is seen as the historic cradle of Montenegrin statehood.

“I think it would be wise to move the inauguration and do it in one of the many other monasteries of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro. That would only be a responsible attitude towards Montenegro and its national interests, all in order to achieve multiethnic harmony and good interstate relations,” Djukanovic said at a speech in Cetinje on August 28, which was live broadcasted by RTCG.

He added that this is important for preserving the peace in the country.

“I hope that I shall not find myself in a situation, and I will be [in such a situation] if my appeal is not respected, to come to Cetinje on September 5 … where the honour and dignity of our state is being defended,” Djukanovic said.

His statement provoked outrage and the Socialist People’s Party (SNP), a member of the ruling coalition, said it will file request at parliament on initiating a procedure for Djukanovic’s impeachment.

“After the scandalous statement of Milo Djukanović, his call for new divisions and conflicts, the Socialist People's Party is sending an initiative to the parliamentary majority to launch a procedure for removing a man who shows he has no qualities to perform his function. The obvious violation of the constitution by the current president of Montenegro is a solid reason to finally end the policy of division, hatred and conflict in Montenegro, personified by Milo Djukanovic,” the SNP said in a statement.

It added that the authorities are able to secure all the necessary conditions for the Serbian Orthodox Church to exercise its constitutionally guaranteed rights, referring to the planned inauguration. So far, all heads of the church in Montenegro have been inaugurated in Cetinje Monastery.

However, the ruling coalition does not have a single stance on the issue. The URA party, which is also a member of the ruling coalition, called on the church to give up the ceremony in Cetinje.

URA noted that the church should take into consideration the current context of the event, as well as the current epidemic situation.

Montenegro peacefully seceded from its loose union with Serbia in 2006. Two-thirds of its population of around 620,000 is Orthodox Christian and the main church is the Serbian Orthodox Church.

A separate Montenegrin Orthodox Church was set up in 1993 but has not been recognised by other Orthodox Christian communities to date. The local branch of the Serbian Orthodox Church controls most holy sites, some of which are popular among tourists and bring in significant revenue.

The role of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro is a contentious political issue. The former ruling party, President Milo Djukanovic’s Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) tried to rein in the powers of the church with the controversial church law adopted in December 2019. The law also sparked protests from adherents of the church, as according to its critics it aimed to strip the Serbian Orthodox Church of hundreds of religious sites in Montenegro, including medieval monasteries and churches.

The situation escalated in August 2020, when a convoy of Serbian Orthodox Church clerics headed from Belgrade to the Jabuka monastery on the border with Montenegro in protest against the law.