The Montenegrin parliament voted in favour of an initiative demanding that the Constitutional Court rule on whether President Milo Djukanovic was in violation of his constitutional responsibilities when he backed protests earlier this month against the inauguration of the new head of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
“By calling for conflict on the day of the enthronement of the Serbian Orthodox Church’s Metropolitan and announcing his attendance at the protests, the Montenegrin president directly violated the constitution,” reads the initiative, drafted by the parliamentary constitutional council.
“By his own example and contrary to the constitution, Djukanovic called on citizens to protest and obstruct the Serbian Orthodox Church religious ceremony in Cetinje,” it continued, referring to the protests.
On 4 September, riot police fired tear gas on hundreds of protesters opposed to the inauguration of Metropolitan Joanikije. Those opposed to the Serbian church in Montenegro largely viewed the event as evidence of an attempt to pull Montenegro into the so-called “Serb world”.
During the incident, police were forced to remove roadblocks erected in the former Montenegrin capital of Cetinje, designed to block clerics from entering the town for the ceremony. The Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Porfirije and the new Metropolitan Joanikije travelled to the Cetinje monastery by army helicopter, protected by police armed with bullet proof shields.
As the protests unfolded, President Djukanovic and his opposition Democratic Party of Socialists MPs arrived in Cetinje to show their support for the protests. They called on authorities to cancel the ceremony, warning that it may lead to violence.
Days later, on 7 September, Metropolitan Joanikije accused Djukanovic of providing his direct support for the protests. Democratic Party of Socialists MP Predrag Sekulic defended Djukanovic and his MPs, arguing they were protecting the constitutional principle separating church from state.
“This initiative is part of the evidence that the government is under the strong influence of the Serbian Orthodox Church and also undermining the civic character of Montenegrin state,” Sekulic argued.
Montenegrins are deeply divided over ties with Serbia and the Serbian Orthodox Church. The latter is the country’s dominant religious institution, and close to one-third of Montenegro’s 620,000 people identify as Serb.
Despite long-standing opposition to the institution, the Serbian Orthodox Church played a key role in demonstrations in 2020 that helped overturn a long-ruling pro-Western government in the country. The new government of Montenegro is now made up of pro-Serb and pro-Russian parties.
Montenegro is currently in the final stage of talks to join the EU.