Police clash with opponents of Serbian church in Montenegro

Protesters at one of the blockades near Cetinje (Risto Bozovic/AP) (AP)
16:16pm, Sun 05 Sep 2021
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The new head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro was inaugurated on Sunday amid clashes between police and protesters who oppose continued Serb influence in the tiny Balkan state.

Police and media reports said at least seven police officers and several protesters were injured in the clashes, which saw police launch tear gas against the demonstrators, who hurled rocks and bottles at them and fired gunshots into the air.

At least 15 people were arrested.

Sunday’s ceremony in Cetinje, a former capital of the small Balkan nation, has angered opponents of the Serbian church in Montenegro, which declared independence from neighbouring Serbia in 2006.

Patriarch Porfirije, centre, and Metropolitan Joanikije, left, at the arrival ceremony in front of the Serbian Orthodox Church of Christ’s Resurrection in Podgorica, Montenegro (Risto Bozovic/AP) (AP)

Evading road blockades set up by the demonstrators, the new head of the Serbian church in Montenegro, Metropolitan Joanikije, arrived in Cetinje by helicopter along with the Serbian patriarch.

TV footage showed the priests being led into the Cetinje monastery by heavily armed riot police holding a bulletproof blanket to shield their bodies.

The demonstrators set up barriers with rubbish bins, tyres and large rocks to try to prevent church and state dignitaries from attending the inauguration.

Chanting “This is not Serbia!” and “This is Montenegro!” many of the protesters spent the night at the barriers amid reports that police were sending reinforcements to break through the blockade.

Tyres at one blockade were set on fire.

Protesters with a Montenegro flag at one of the blockades near Cetinje (Risto Bozovic/AP) (AP)

Montenegrins remain deeply divided over their country’s ties with neighbouring Serbia and the Serbian Orthodox Church, which is the country’s dominant religious institution.

About 30% of Montenegro’s 620,000 people consider themselves Serb.

Since Montenegro split from Serbia, pro-independence Montenegrins have advocated for a recognised Orthodox Christian church that is separate from the Serbian one.

Metropolitan Joanikije said after the ceremony that “the divisions have been artificially created and we have done all in our power to help remove them, but that will take a lot of time”.

In a clear demonstration of the sharp political and social divide in Montenegro, President Milo Djukanovic, the architect of the state’s independence from Serbia, visited Cetinje, while the current pro-Serb prime minister Zdravko Krivokapic went to Podgorica to welcome the Serbian Patriarch .

Mr Krivokapic called protests “an attempted terrorist act,” while Mr Djukanovic said the the protesters in Cetinje guarded national interests against the alleged bid by Serbia to impose its influence in Montenegro through the church.

Montenegro’s previous authorities led the country to independence from Serbia and defied Russia to join Nato in 2017. Montenegro is also seeking to become a European Union member.

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