More than twenty people were injured this Sunday in Montenegro in clashes between the police and protesters against the enthronement of the new head of the Serbian Orthodox church in the small Balkan state, in a context of identity tensions.
Violence marred the brief enthronement ceremony held in Cetiña, a historic city in the south of the country. The police announced eight arrests.
The bishop Joanikije was transported by helicopter from the capital, Podgorica, to the monastery of the city, seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church, to avoid the barricades that have blocked the surrounding roads since the day before.
Thousands of Montenegrins flocked to that town to protest against the enthronement of the new bishop in this 15th century monastery, considered by Montenegrins as a sign of identity.
This issue has raised strong tensions in Montenegro, where power swung at the end of 2020 at the hands of a government considered close to the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Independence of Serbia
After almost 90 years of life together, Montenegro became independent in 2006 from Serbia, with whom it maintains complex relationships.
A third of their 620,000 inhabitants identify as Serbs and the Serbian Orthodox Church is dominant in the country, although its adversaries accuse it of serving the interests of Belgrade.
According to images released by the church, the helicopter carrying Bishop Joanikije and the patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Porfirio, landed on the lawn in front of the monastery as the bells tolled.
The police had established a security perimeter around the building to protect the ceremony, after which the clerics returned to the country’s capital.
The security forces fired tear gas and deafening grenades to drive the protesters out of the vicinity of the monastery.
According to the deputy director of police, Dragan Gorovic, quoted by national television, a score of policemen were injured. Several protesters would join that balance, according to the media.
Night in barricades
The day before, thousands of people erected barricades to prevent access to this city and spent the night by bonfires to warm themselves, said an AFP correspondent. Some were armed and fired into the air, others set tires on fire.
“We don’t ask anyone for anything, but we are denied by the occupying Serbian church. Here we defend our dignity, “he told AFP Saska Brajovic, a 50-year-old civil servant who spent the night on a barricade.
They had come summoned by organizations that call themselves “patriotic” and by the DPS party of the Montenegrin president. Milo Djukanovic, defeated a year ago in the legislative elections by a coalition close to the Serbian Orthodox Church.
The president, who had announced his presence in Cetiña, “where the dignity of the State is defended” has accused the authorities of neighboring Serbia and the Orthodox Church of “denying Montenegro and the Montenegrins, as well as the integrity” of his country .
The city’s monastery was the seat of Montenegrin rulers for centuries until the end of the First World War.
Opponents of the Serbian Orthodox Church consider the monastery to be the property of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church, a very minority and not recognized by the orthodox world.
Both the new government and the Serbian church accuse the Montenegrin president of fueling religious tensions with political fines, after the latest legislation left his party out of power, which he controlled for three decades.
While the Serbian president, Aleksandar Vucic, was pleased that the Montenegrin government had succeeded in having the ceremony held, the embassy of USA and the delegation of the European Union (EU) called on political leaders to defuse the situation and reduce tensions.