Fierce clashes broke out in Montenegro during the enthronement of the newly elected head of the Serbian Orthodox Church’s local metropolis. The police applied tear gas against protesters who were throwing stones and bottles in the city of Cetinje.
Montenegro gained independence from Serbia in 2006, while its church remains under the Serbian Orthodox Church. Some, including the Montenegrin president, see it as a symbol of Serbian influence.
President Milo Djukanovic called on protesters to disrupt the enthronement of Joanikije II to the top clerical position known as the Metropolitan of Montenegro and Archbishop of Cetinje.
Hundreds of protesters set up barricades on Saturday to block access to Cetinje, and the demonstrations spilled into Sunday when the ceremony was held.
“We are at the barricades because we are tired of Belgrade denying our nation and telling us what our religious rights are,” one of the protesters, Angela Ivanovic said, referring to the Serbian capital.
“All religious buildings [churches] erected in Montenegro belong to the people here and the state of Montenegro.”
Joanikije II and Serbian Patriarch Porfirije were flown to the ceremony on a helicopter.
The division over Serb influence extends to the top of Montenegro’s political leadership, and pro-Serbian Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapic branded the protests “terrorist acts.”
President Djukanovic still feels the bitterness of his Democratic Party of Socialists’ (DPS) defeat in last year’s parliamentary elections after it voted for legislation that would allow the government to claim church property.
The move was a turning point when the Church campaigned for the opposition, ousting the DPS from power for the first time in three decades.
According to the latest census data, Montenegrins who identify as ethnic Serbs make up about a third of the country’s 630,000 population. Most Montenegrins are members of the Serbian Orthodox Church, regardless of nationality.