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Montenegro: Threat to the right to survival of the Churches and religious communities

Holy Orthodoxy is the largest religious faith in Montenegro, with 460,383 Orthodox Christians comprising 74% of the Christian population. Nonetheless, the Government of Montenegro has adopted a Draft Law threatening the large-scale confiscation of church property. This has led the Legal Council of the Orthodox Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral – Serbian Orthodox Church to appeal against the law at the UN Human Rights Council. And this is a human rights issue, although few in the international media regard it as such: shall Christians in Montenegro actually be deprived of churches and other properties that have existed for centuries? The Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, urgently requests the UN Human Rights Council to heed this appeal, and the Government of Montenegro to scrap this law and protect the religious freedom of the Christians of the nation.

“MONTENEGRO: The threat to the right to survival of the Churches and religious communities,” HRWF, August 26, 2019:

The Case of the Draft Law on Freedom of Religion adopted by the Government of Montenegro on May 16, 2019

Written statement made by The Legal Council of the Orthodox Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral – Serbian Orthodox Church at the UN Human Rights Council, published by Human Rights Without Frontiers on 26 August 2019.

At its 121st session held on 16 May 2019, the Government of Montenegro has determined the Draft Law on Freedom of Religion or Beliefs and Legal Status of Religious Communities in Montenegro. Before the Draft Law was determined, and even after this stage up to now, the Government of Montenegro has never initiated a public, continuous and institutional dialogue with churches and religious communities in Montenegro. The Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral and the Dioceses of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro submitted their objections within a 50-page report, to which we received no response, and these objections were obviously not taken into consideration.

The Article 62, paragraph 1 of the Draft Law contains the following provision: Religious buildings and land used by the religious communities in the territory of Montenegro which were built or obtained from public revenues of the state or were owned by the state until 1 December 1918, and for which there is no evidence of ownership by the religious communities, as cultural heritage of Montenegro, shall constitute state property. Paragraph 2 of the same Article states that Religious buildings constructed in the territory of Montenegro based on joint investment of the citizens by 1 December 1918, for which there is no evidence of ownership rights, as cultural heritage of Montenegro, shall constitute state property.

This provision, although unprecedented in the modern legislative practice of European states, is a classic example of confiscation (nationalization) of property held by the religious communities. The consequences of the possible adoption and implementation of the Draft Law which confiscates the religious facilities that were never under the ownership of the state – leaving the believers and priests without their prayer facilities, inciting religious violence and hatred and hindering the right to the freedom of religion or beliefs – in the complex Montenegrin society may be catastrophic….

To conclude, the most alarming issues regarding Montenegrin Draft Law on Freedom of Religion are:

(1) confiscation (nationalization) of religious property,
(2) annihilation of the previously obtained legal status of religious communities,
(3) systematic discrimination between the churches and religious communities,
(4) narrowing the scope of freedom of religion and belief and disenabling the equal status and rights of priests and religious officers, including the prohibition of the religious teaching within the elementary schools, and
(5) unilateral drafting procedure cleansed from every kind of public, institutional and/or inclusive dialogue.

It should be emphasized that in recent years, the priesthood of the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral and other Dioceses of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro has been subject to various acts of discrimination, hate speech, and even individual attacks. State authorities have not only failed to take measures to protect the priests and sanction the perpetrators, they have begun labeling the clergy of the Orthodox Metropolitan as enemies of the state. This characterization is unacceptable because it is completely untrue and, even more so, because it is extremely degrading and dangerous….

Read the full document here.

Photo by Hugo Ideler – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38535172

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