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South Slavic: September 1, 2005


1 September 2005, Volume 7, Number 25

POPULISM AND THE CHURCH IN MONTENEGRO

Part I.

A program of RFE/RL's Radio Most (Bridge) by Omer Karabeg

RFE/RL: Today we will discuss the role and status of the Serbian Orthodox Church [SPC] in Montenegro with our guests: Budimir Dubak, spokesman of Montenegro's opposition People's Party and former Montenegrin minister of religious affairs, and Branislav Radulovic, spokesman of the Social Democratic Party [SDP] of Montenegro, a member of the ruling coalition.

Mr. Radulovic, the governing coalition in Montenegro has repeatedly accused the Serbian Orthodox Church there of acting like a political party, not like a religious community [see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 August 2005]. What are your claims based on?

Radulovic: This is not a new phenomenon. In the early 1990s, from the very beginning of the so-called antibureaucratic revolution [of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic against his rivals in Serbia and Montenegro], when the [pre-Milosevic] communist regime was ousted and life was thereby made easier for the church, the SPC did not simply return to its traditional role in society. Instead, it became involved in a very dangerous form of populism and later even nationalism with a distinctly clerical streak.

Dubak: Before we start talking about the church, I would like to ask my colleague Radulovic what he thinks about a statement by his party leader -- and, unfortunately, speaker of the parliament of Montenegro [Ranko Krivokapic] -- in which [Krivokapic] showered abuse on the Serbian Orthodox Church. He said that it smells of tobacco and blood, adding that there is no chance the church can win [its] war against Montenegro.

Radulovic: I would like to ask Mr. Dubak whether he is acting as a spokesman of a political organization or the church. Unfortunately, the church in Montenegro is not what it used to be in the 19th or 18th century, when it brought the people together, had a special mission in Montenegro, and when [the ruling] prince-bishops considered themselves above the people [and petty conflict]. Unfortunately, the current bishop [Amfilohije] seeks to divide Montenegro and Montenegrins.

It all started [in an unspecified year] when we Montenegrins came to our most sacred place, the Monastery of Cetinje. But inside, instead of Montenegrin saints and priests, stood [Zeljko Raznatovic] Arkan and his mercenaries. I would like to ask Mr. Dubak: are Arkan and his gang -- who were then in the monastery -- saints, and doesn't the conflict between the Orthodox in Montenegro date from that incident?

Dubak: I do not know what happened that day. The history of the church is much older than that event, and I do not want to pass any judgment on it.

Mr. Radulovic, let me remind you that your [communist] ideological predecessors...tore down the chapel on Mount Lovcen, which was a votive church of St. Peter of Cetinje.... You, the Communists, first demolished the tomb of [the 19th-century prince-bishop and Montenegrin national writer, Petar Petrovic] Njegos, and then continued by persecuting the church. I am talking about the Communists and I mean you, since you are a Communist and a follower of the militant atheism that regards any mention of the church, Christ, or the cross as a threat to its own being.

Forget about Arkan. Arkan is not the issue here. What we are here to discuss is the persecution of the Orthodox Church and [Amfilohije] by the present government in Montenegro. You are in the forefront of it, I mean your boss Krivokapic, at the command of his boss, [Prime Minister Milo] Djukanovic.

Radulovic: Mr. Dubak, let me correct you. I am not a Communist, I am a Social Democrat, and I have never been a member of the [League of Communists of Yugoslavia], unlike you.

Dubak: That is not true. You are referring to informers and rogues, [who are the] official ideologists of [today's] Montenegro.

Radulovic: The fact is that the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, personified by its bishop, has a political mission, especially regarding the question of the status of the Montenegrin state. The church tries to call the tune for the political parties, yours in particular. Every single speech by [Amfilohije] has a strong political undercurrent.

Let me just recall two of them. First, the scandalous speech at the funeral [in 2003] of Mr. [Zoran] Djindjic, the murdered Serbian prime minister. Mr. Djindjic's family distanced itself from it, which is something that had never happened before in all of Montenegrin history. Amfilohije also held a political speech at the funeral of the mother of Radovan Karadzic [this year]. One would have to be blind not to see that the Serbian Orthodox Church has a political mission in Montenegro.

Dubak: You say that the church is involved in politics. But Montenegro is a state made by the church, since its prince-bishops were both spiritual and secular rulers of Montenegro, when it belonged to the family of European and world nations. You claim that Amfilohije made an inappropriate speech at the funeral of the prime minister of Serbia and that the family distanced itself from it. Mr. Radulovic, that is an awful thing to say, and it is not true. You might not have read the speech. It was a profoundly Christian one.

Then you mentioned Radovan Karadzic's mother, just like you previously mentioned Arkan. Your tendency is to reduce the mission and history of the church, as well as its very essence and being, into what is most useful for your political marketing.

Instead of waging war against the church and Bishop Amfilohije, you'd better think about your boss Krivokapic, who has been making statements no parliamentary speaker has ever made before, not even during the Nazi era. He used the term "Terazije Montenegrins" [after the square in downtown Belgrade where Montenegrins living there usually meet] for those who demand their constitutional and basic human right to vote [as citizens of Montenegro, even if they live in Serbia]. They want to vote in the referendum [on independence, widely expected in 2006, but which the Podgorica government wants to limit to those who live in Montenegro].

This is why your big democrat, the president of your party, and unfortunately speaker of the parliament of Montenegro said that they are not worthy of consideration. Recently, when [Serbia and Montenegro] won a gold medal in water polo and those great medal winners were hugging each other in the pool -- just like brothers, since they are brothers -- the president of your party and speaker of parliament sent a telegram congratulating only the players from Montenegro, and not those from Serbia. This behavior requires no comment.

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