Montenegro’s Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic accused some of his coalition partners of blocking a “fundamental agreement” with the Serbian Orthodox Church that would regulate its status in the country.
During a government session on Friday, Social Democratic Party ministers said they had not been informed about the Ministry of Justice’s negotiations with the Serbian Church.
“This government was formed to promote reconciliation and reforms, but some of us have a problem with that,” Abazovic said, “the problem is not the attitude toward the Serbian Orthodox Church, but someone’s desire to encourage ethnic and religious divisions in Montenegro.”
“Whoever cannot promote reconciliation but seeks strife can exit from this government,” he continued, “I will not agree to political blackmails.”
Montenegro has signed a number of “fundamental agreements” with minority religious communities. The government signed a fundamental agreement with the Catholic Church in 2011, and with the country’s Islamic and Jewish communities in 2012. No equivalent agreement has been reached with the Serbian Orthodox Church.
The previous government failed to sign a fundamental agreement with the Serbian Orthodox Church, the largest faith group in the country by far, despite the fact that a final draft had been sent to the Church.
On 15 January, the Patriarch of the Serbian Orthdox Church, Porfirije, said the Church’s legal experts saw room to improve the agreement.
Montenegro’s new ruling majority is divided over the issue of relations with the Church. Abazovic’s Black on White bloc, as well as the pro-Serbian Socialist People’s Party, both insist on the signing of the fundamental agreement with the Church.
President Milo Djukanovic’s former ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), however, and the Social Democratic Party have both expressed concern about the deal. They accuse the Church of simultaneously promoting Serbian nationalism and undermining Montenegrin statehood.
Similar concerns and divisions are linked to the Open Balkans regional free trade initiative, which the DPS and other coalition members are against.
Last month, Abazovic said the government would decide with a two-thirds majority on sensitive issues, such as the fundamental agreement with the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Foreign Minister and SDP official Ranko Krivokapic said the fundamental agreements can only be signed once a political consensus within the government has been achieved.
“Our international partners don’t expect this government to favour the Serbian Orthodox Church, but to bring it into law and order,” Krivokapic said, “We need to resolve this issue, but easy promises will not bring anything. We need to agree before we promise.”