PODGORICA – European Parliament Rapporteur for Montenegro, Tonino Picula (S&D) called for a constructive dialogue and a calm approach regarding the tensions between Montenegrin authorities and Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC), which came after SPC continued holding prayer services despite the ban on gatherings imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in a temporary arrest of a SPC bishop and priests. The event caused protests across the country.
“All political and social actors must be aware that their actions represent at the same time a level of responsibility towards Montenegrin citizens. And they certainly do not support the renewal and escalation of tensions, instability and further polarization of society,” Picula stressed for European Western Balkans, adding that this is especially important due to the upcoming economic problems that will be felt in tourism and the entire Montenegrin economy.
EP Rapporteur for Montenegro explained that the effective fight against the COVID-19 pandemic pointed to the need for greater understanding among citizens.
“As well as the need to work together to solve problems that unite, not separate, the traditionally divided Montenegrin society”, Picula pointed out.
Tensions in Montenegro rose after the parliament passed the Law on Religious Freedom at the end of December, directly affecting the property of the SPC and inciting daily protests of its supporters.
Várhelyi: Montenegro to find a peaceful and European solution
European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi, pointed out this week that it is important to find a peaceful and European solution in Montenegro when it comes to freedom of religion, Al Jazeera Balkans report.
“I think that the state cannot function without respecting the freedom of religion. I call on the church to respect the measures introduced to protect against the coronavirus because it concerns both the safety and the lives of believers. At the same time, I call on the country’s authorities to ensure freedom of religion during the COVID-19 crisis as well,” Várhelyi said.
The commissioner added that he will continue his engagement in an attempt to calm the situation and find a European solution for the relations between Montenegro and the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro.
The Chair of the EP Delegation for Serbia, Tanja Fajon also expressed concerns over developments in Montenegro.
“I am really worried about [religious] gatherings [of Serbian Orthodox Church] in Montenegro. I call on everyone to refrain from violence and even greater escalation of tensions. Both countries, Serbia and Montenegro, should build bridges, not tear them down”, Fajon pointed out in an interview for Radio Free Europe.
Fajon added that the European Parliament is closely following the development of events, and that the competent committee of the EP will discuss the situation in the coming days.