MONTENEGRO VOTES IN TENSE ELECTION DOMINATED BY CHURCH LAND ROW

Montenegro

On Sunday 30 August, Montenegrins voted in a tight election, testing the three-decade domination of a pro-West ruling party which has faced a year of protests and high tension with supporters of the influential Serbian-dominated Orthodox church. The 58-year-old president, Milo Djukanovic, has led the Adriatic nation almost continuously since the end of communism in the 1990s, making him one of Europe’s longest-serving leaders. He is seen as a dynamic reformist by some, and a corrupt autocrat by others. His Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) has never lost an election. According to state election authorities, the Democratic Party of Socialists took around 35.06% of the ballots, followed by the main pro-Serb and pro-Russia rivals, For the future of Montenegro, with nearly 32.55%. Two other opposition groups came next with around 12.53% and 5% respectively. While Mr Djukanovic faces accusations of corruption, state capture and organised crime links, his campaign focused instead on a row with the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC), highlighting sensitive identity issues. The conflict erupted in December 2019 when the government passed a law that could turn hundreds of monasteries run by the SPC in Montenegro into state property. While Montenegro declared independence from Serbia in 2006, a third of its 620,000 population identify as Serb and the SPC remains the largest religious institution in the country.

From a Christian perspective, more than 70% of Montenegrin society is Orthodox Christian. However, this community is divided into two camps: about 70% follow the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC), whereas 30% follow the Montenegrin Orthodox Church (MOC), founded in 1993 after the breakup of Yugoslavia. Although other Orthodox Churches do not recognise the MOC, it considers itself as the sole representative of Orthodox Christianity in Montenegro. As with many Slavic Orthodox countries, religion and politics are closely intertwined. Montenegro is Europe’s 6th-least evangelical country, with only five registered evangelical churches. Sinisa Nadazdin, the evangelical pastor of Gospel of Jesus Christ Church located in the capital city of Podgorica, says of the recent religious freedom laws: “The law is a step forward, as it helps us ‘small religious communities’ have a legal basis to operate.” However, he goes on to explain: “But none of us wants to enjoy this benefit if it will create in Montenegro a divided population, political instability, or potential violence.”

Pray with us for the following:

  • For peace amidst the close election results
  • For the Orthodox church to be an instrument of peace and unity rather than division
  • For believers to demonstrate a Christ-centred faith which transcends culture and politics

 

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Image: REUTERS/Stevo Vasiljevic

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