Agreement with Serbian Orthodox church leads to fall of the government, prompting political instability
SPC agreement spells political instability
On 4th July 2022, people gathered in front of the government of Montenegro building to protest Prime Minister Dritan Abazović's announcement of the government’s fundamental agreement with the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC), saying that it is harmful to Montenegrin people. The protests against the agreement, which aims to regulate relations between the state of Montenegro and the SPC, continued for several days. Protesters claimed that the protests are not against the Serbs or the Church, but rather they are asking the government to focus on its EU accession to ensure better social cohesion and mutual understanding.
The Center for Civic Education (CGO) warned that, in a society that is increasingly polarised around such a sensitive issue, solving the agreement with the SPC must be accompanied by wider and more transparent consultations instead of an inexplicable acceleration of procedures.
At the beginning of August 2022, the two parties signed the agreement which enables the SPC to take ownership over what it claims is its property in Montenegro, including valuable plots of land but also churches and monasteries that ethnic Montenegrins believe belong to the canonically unrecognised Montenegrin Orthodox Church. The signing of the agreement sparked further protests and demands by the opposition for an immediate parliamentary vote of no confidence.
Later in August 2022, a no-confidence vote took place in the parliament, ending the tenure of Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic. With this development, the government of Abazovic fell on 19th August 2022, just six months after being sworn in, worsening the country’s political instability.
On 13th July 2022, on the occasion of Montenegrin Statehood Day, a celebration with Montenegrin national symbols was organised by the Forum of Free Citizens of Luča at the town square, while another group of citizens gathered nearby at Šak Petrović Square with tricolours, Serbian national symbols and symbols of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The celebration ended with the intervention of the police, who threw tear gas to prevent a wider conflict between the two groups. The actions of the police provoked different reactions from the public, with some debating the police response to the group of extremists present versus the way they dealt with anti-fascists. Along with a few injured policemen, journalists were threatened and verbally attacked and obstructed from doing their work, and several protesters were detained.
On 30th July 2022, the committee of the initiative “Save Zeta”/"Za spas Zeta" blocked the regional road in Golubovci as a sign of protest against the announced adoption of the law creating conditions for Zeta to become an independent municipality. Protesters claimed that such a decision would result in reducing Zeta’s territory and curb its potential for development.
On 2nd August 2022, educators from Budvaprotested in front of the Budva Municipal building after they had received no response from the Government of Montenegro to their requests to move into the apartments intended for them in the Dubovica settlement. Tents were set up on the plateau in the administrative centre of Budva, and about thirty educators were present, ten of whom went on a hunger strike. At the end of the month, 74 of the educators got their keys to the apartments, but many of them were in a bad condition, without electricity and water, sparking further protest announcements.
The Coalition for the Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons ‘EQUALLY – RAVNOPRAVNO’ reacted to the repeated public misogyny of attorney Velibor Marković. On 22nd July 2022, attorney Marković publicly incited hatred and spread misogyny in a Facebook post reacting to Professor Aneta Spajić. Earlier the same day, he reacted extremely inappropriately and tried to discredit Tea Gorjanc Prelević, the Executive Director of the NGO Human Rights Action (HRA), because she left the Commission to which Marković was appointed, in defence of her own principles. The Coalition RAVNOPRAVNO also expressed its disappointment over the support that Prime Minister Dritan Abazović expressed to Marković, as he characterised Marković's views and hate speech as "personal animosity" and thereby completely negated the attacks. According to the Coalition, such reactions directly contribute to the radicalisation of public discourse.
Another statement by Prime Minister Abazovic prompted a reaction by the Media Union of Montenegro, who strongly condemned Abazović after he threatened to shut down City Television. In an informal conversation with a journalist, Abazović said that, in the same way that Sputnik was blocked, that television channel could be blocked as well. According to the Media Union, such threats are unacceptable in any context of formal or informal conversation, and especially not from the level of the highest state officials. This is a clear indication that Montenegrin officials still lack sensibility for media freedom.
The Media Union of Montenegro also strongly condemned the attacks on Nikšić Television cameraman Zoran Ivanović and Duško Mihailović, a journalist from the "Pobjeda" daily newspaper, which took place during the July riots in Nikšić on the occasion of the National Statehood Day of Montenegro. According to the Union, these are the latest in a series of attacks on media workers while they were doing their job, which is the result of sharp and dangerous divisions in society. After the events in Niksic, Mihailovic was a target of hate speech on Twitter, to which the Ministry of Culture and Media also reacted.
In August, Tea Gorjanc Prelević, the executive director Human Rights Action (HRA), was the target of a coordinated and primitive smear campaign by the Serbian tabloid Informer and the accompanying Montenegrin portals IN4S, Press, Borba and Adria due to legal arguments which HRA sent to the Government of Montenegro in order to harmonise the agreement between Montenegro and the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) with the legal order of the state. Gorjanc Prelević , herself a Serbian national, was labelled a hater of Serbia, Serbs and the Serbian Orthodox Church, “Milo’s expert” and a hypocrite. The business affairs of her husband involving the SOC have been used against her. On 4th August 2002, Gorjanc Prelević filed a lawsuit against Informer, the first in a series of lawsuits in which she will defend the integrity of HRA and the right to freedom of expression.
Civic Space Developments