Montenegro has criticized Serbia after thousands of ultranationalists in Belgrade attacked the Montenegrin Embassy in protest over a law that could target Serbian Orthodox Church property.
The ultranationalists, many of them characterized by authorities as soccer hooligans, targeted the embassy in the Serbian capital in the evening on January 2, setting off fireworks that burned Montenegro’s flag outside.
In a Twitter post, Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic called the embassy attack an “uncivilized” act and that it was “stunning” Serbian police did not protect the embassy during the incident, as well as at other recent protests. Montenegro also summoned the Serbian ambassador on January 3 to lodge an official protest.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said the embassy was protected and accused Markovic of “telling notorious falsehoods,” though he did not appear to comment on the flag burning itself.
Last week, Montenegro’s parliament passed a law under which religious communities must prove property ownership from before 1918, the year when predominantly Orthodox Christian Montenegro joined the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes.
In 2006, Montenegro split from much larger Serbia following a referendum. About one-third of the small Balkan country’s 620,000 citizens declare themselves as Serbs and want close ties with Belgrade.
U.S. Ambassador to Montenegro Judy Rising Reinke expressed shock over the attack.
“Shocked at the image of the desecrated #Montenegro flag at the country’s Belgrade Embassy," she said on Twitter. “Attack on a diplomatic mission is absolutely unacceptable. Difference of opinions must be resolved through dialogue, not violence or acts of vandalism."
The embassy attack in Belgrade followed a basketball match between Serbia’s Red Star and Germany’s Bayern Munich.
Many of those taking part were members of the Serbian soccer fan group known as “delije.”
Members of delije, Serbian for “tough boys,” are known for their close ties with current Serbia’s ruling nationalist party and the secret police.
Members of delije were behind attacks against Western embassies in Belgrade in 2008, when the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade was set on fire as police stood close by. The group was protesting against Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia.