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It’s not oppression if a ‘pro-Western democrat’ does it? Montenegro’s ‘religious freedom’ law is a vile, lawless travesty

Nebojsa Malic
Nebojsa Malic

is a Serbian-American journalist, blogger and translator, who wrote a regular column for Antiwar.com from 2000 to 2015, and is now senior writer at RT. Follow him on Twitter @NebojsaMalic

is a Serbian-American journalist, blogger and translator, who wrote a regular column for Antiwar.com from 2000 to 2015, and is now senior writer at RT. Follow him on Twitter @NebojsaMalic

It’s not oppression if a ‘pro-Western democrat’ does it? Montenegro’s ‘religious freedom’ law is a vile, lawless travesty
Adopting a ‘religious freedom’ law that opens the door to persecuting a particular faith would normally be seen as a horrifying breach of human rights, but when done to Orthodox Serbs in Montenegro, the West doesn’t seem to mind.

Montenegro’s ruling regime rammed the controversial law through the parliament in the dead of night between Thursday and Friday. Every single amendment of the opposition Democratic Front (DF) – proposed to alleviate concerns that the bill was deliberately targeting the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) – was rejected. When some DF members disrupted the session in protest, all of them were arrested and jailed.

The bell tolls for the Serbs

Even though the law, as written, could be used to go after the Roman Catholic Church or the Islamic community, members of the Bosniak (Muslim) and Croat (Catholic) ethnic parties supported it, further demonstrating that its real purpose was to go after the SOC.

The government in Podgorica has waved off criticism, saying that the law is in line with the highest EU and international human rights standards. Most journalists have been happy to take that at face value. Not being most journalists, I actually read its text.

Article 11 mandates that any religious community in Montenegro must be headquartered there and cannot extend outside its borders. That’s absurd for a country that’s about the size of Connecticut, with a population estimated at around 620,000.

Article 16 says that no religious community may have in its name “an official name of another country or its emblems.” Article 7 bans “abuse of religious feelings for political ends,” whatever that may mean. And Article 24 says that the state can seize the property of any religious community that is determined by police to have violated the terms of its registration and been stricken from the rolls, without appeal. Need one go on?

Now consider that President Milo Djukanovic has recently accused the SOC of “promoting pro-Serb policies that are aimed at undermining Montenegrin statehood,” as Reuters phrased it, and it becomes blindingly obvious for whom the bell tolls.

‘Pro-Western democrat’ rewriting history

What makes this situation particularly egregious is that a mere 20 years ago, it would have been considered absurd. For over 150 years (1696-1851), Serbian Orthodox bishop-princes ruled Montenegro, which took pride in its Serb identity and defiance of the Ottoman Empire. Even during the 1999 NATO bombing, Montenegro and Serbia stood together. 

Since then, however, Djukanovic has reinvented both himself and the Montenegrin ethnic identity as anti-Serb. Long before the party-line vote and roundup of opposition MPs, he showed what he thought of democracy by the shady 2006 referendum, in which he barely got enough votes to approve separation from Serbia; and by refusing to hold a referendum before joining NATO in 2017. Being a ‘pro-Western democrat’ in mainstream media shorthand means one can be a dictator with impunity, after all.

Absent that support, Djukanovic would have long ago been declared an oligarch or a corrupt autocrat, who has clung to power since 1991 by putting on the coats of Communism, nationalism and liberal democracy as circumstances required. 

This, then, is the man whose government wishes to erase all of Montenegro’s history and replace it with another, falsified one. They’ve already imposed a “new” language, and a national anthem that originated during the WWII Axis occupation. Ruled by craven quislings itself, Serbia has done nothing to stop it, much less protest this blatant theft of its history and culture.

Serbs rise up, but West sees no evil

Not so the Serbs of Montenegro. On Thursday, thousands of them took to the streets of cities and major roads across the country, protesting the proposed law. Orthodox monks, priests, and nuns joined them.

Metropolitan Amfilohije, the archbishop of Montenegro, blasted Djukanovic as continuing the persecution of the church by both the Nazis and the Communists – but also called for peace and unity.

It was not to be, as Montenegrin police used force to arrest the demonstrators at several locations. No doubt, if the Serbs continue to resist, Djukanovic will claim “aggression from Serbia” and maybe even accuse Russia of instigating a coup, as he did in February 2017. It’s a familiar playbook by now.

What is very instructive is that Western moral crusaders have ignored the Montenegro situation entirely. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently proclaimed that London would stand up against the persecution of Christians. Has there been word from the Foreign Office? Of course not.

Same with the State Department and its transnational busybody, the US Commission for International Religious Freedom, which recently managed to unite India and Pakistan in condemnation of its meddling. On Montenegro, not a peep.

Also on rt.com What happens when US ‘religious freedom’ watchdog goes to India in search of ‘monsters to destroy’

What is one to make of this? That once again, the noble concepts of human rights and religious liberty are nothing more than “lethal arrows” in the Western quiver, to be used for political ends. Also, what’s happening in Montenegro today amounts to a monstrous in vivo experiment in changing the ethnic, religious, and cultural identity of a people – through lies whenever possible, but brute force when necessary.

Today it is the Serbs and their church. Tomorrow, it may well be you. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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