Tuesday, June 30, 2020
Brussels, June 27, 2020- On December 27, 2019, the Parliament of Montenegro adopted a law titled “Freedom of Religion or Belief and Legal Status of Religious Communities”, which came into effect on January 8, 2020.
The law regulates two aspects: the registration and legal recognition of all religious communities in Montenegro and the estate and possessions of a church. The new registration system is rather complicated and contradictory, and in some of its provisions seems to discriminate against the Serbian Orthodox Church, while favoring the Montenegrin Orthodox Church. The second point of contention is church property. Unless clear evidence of ownership is supplied, the State will claim it. The Serbian Orthodox Church claims that this stipulation targets them as well and that the government of Montenegro intends to nationalize its property.
This law was also criticized on two points regarding religious education. Firstly, while the right of parents to educate their children according to their beliefs is recognized, it has to be done with respect for the “psychological integrity of the child”(Art.52) and only up to age eleven. Once the child is twelve years old, the child decides for him/herself. Secondly, no religious community or group is allowed to establish a religious primary school.
The law was examined by the European Commission for Democracy Through Law of the Council of Europe (the Venice Commission). The Commission continuously emphasized the need for the government to hold public consultations with all religious groups in Montenegro, a process which was limited in practice. Also, the obligation to register goes against the principle enshrined in the Venice Commission’s guidelines on the legal personality of religious communities.
The law was finally voted in a contentious atmosphere: during the night, while opposition members and religious figures were arrested and protesters rioted in the streets on the day of the vote.
We, the ECPM MEPs, call on the government of Montenegro to abide by and implement the recommendations of the Venice Commission, especially regarding the use of church property and registration of religious communities. If amending the current law is required, we urge the government to do so following an adequate and transparent consultation process with all stakeholders involved, without showing any bias.
We also ask the Montenegrin government to refrain from using violence against its own citizens and to cultivate a climate of inclusivity and mutual respect in its interaction with the religious groups and especially with the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Lastly, the European Commission needs to closely monitor the performance of the government of Montenegro regarding freedom of religion, as it constitutes an essential element of the EU Accession process.