Orthodox Church at the centre of elections Montenegro

In Montenegro people go to the polls today for the fifth parliamentary elections since the proclamation of independence in 2006. The central question is whether the socialist president Milo Djukanovic will add another four years to his term of office. He has been in power for three decades.

Djukanovic promises new investments and membership of the European Union, while opposition parties warn, inter alia, against corruption and undesirable political interference in social institutions. An important issue is the position of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the country. The government has poor relations with the Montenegrin branch of the church.

Medieval dogmas

President Djukanovic is fiercely opposed to the Church and said at a party meeting this week that he is convinced that the Church in Montenegro has evil intentions. “They want to apply their medieval dogmas. I don’t believe we should go down that road.” A large part of the Montenegrins are adherents of the Orthodox Church.

A controversial law was passed in December, requiring religious organisations to prove that they already owned real estate before 1918. Many believers say that the government uses the law to take hundreds of properties from churches, monasteries and estates.

The parliamentary session where the law was put to the vote got out of hand:

The DPS, Djukanovic’s party, accuses the church of supporting the pro-Serb block in the opposition and promises to protect Montenegro from what he calls “the danger of increasing nationalism.” The Orthodox Church is mainly supported by the alliance “For the Future of Montenegro” led by Zdravko Krivokapic.

He’s waving away Djukanovic’s worries. “I’m a believer, but I see my country as a secular state large enough for all our ethnicities and religions.” The alliance seeks rapprochement with Serbia and Russia.

In the polls, the DPS’ lead has shrunk recently. Analysts expect Djukanovic to win the elections, but to seek support from other parties to form a government. The ballot is also dominated by the coronavirus. Measures have been taken to prevent contamination at polling stations, but voter turnout is expected to be lower than in normal election years.