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Open Letter Accuses Serbs Of 'Threatening Peace' In Montenegro, Region

The new Montenegrin law has sparked angry demonstrations among Serbs, and a heated confrontation in the Serbian parliament.
The new Montenegrin law has sparked angry demonstrations among Serbs, and a heated confrontation in the Serbian parliament.

Dozens of prominent current and former officials, academics, and cultural figures in the Balkans have joined an online petition warning of regional "threats to peace" from Belgrade amid ongoing fallout from a new law on religion in neighboring Montenegro.

The 120 initial signatories of the "Appeal Against Belgrade’s Threats To Peace In Montenegro And The Region" include former presidents of Croatia and Slovenia, as well as former Yugoslav leaders, three current Serbian lawmakers, and tens of journalists, among others.

"We felt the need to remind ourselves of some of the things that happened in the 1990s and to point out that they are now happening in a similar scenario," Sonja Biserko, a signatory of the December 30 appeal and a founder and president of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, told RFE/RL's Balkan Service, in a reference to the bloodshed that accompanied the breakup of Yugoslavia.

The passage last week in Montenegro's parliament of a new law on religion and faith that could result in the nationalization of church property has been bitterly opposed by the Serbian Orthodox Church, which still has a leading position among Montenegro's Orthodox believers and controls hundreds of churches and other sites.

It also sparked sometimes violent protests by pro-Serbian Montenegrins, angry demonstrations among Serbs, and a heated confrontation in the Serbian parliament, where some lawmakers argued that the Serbian government was doing too little to defend the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro.

The Serbian Orthodox Church's Montenegrin arm, officially the Orthodox Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral, has called the bill "discriminatory and unconstitutional" and said it clears a path to the "hijacking" of its property.

After the open letter appeared on December 30, Serbian President Aleskandar Vucic responded on Serbian TV by encouraging calm and saying Belgrade was not to blame since it didn't have anything to do with the new law.

Serbs, he said, have merely expressed concern for the position of Serbs and the Serbian church in Montenegro.

A fellow former Yugoslav republic, Montenegro shared a unified state with Serbia until an independence referendum in 2006.

"The Republic of Montenegro is a target of attempted destabilization by violent means: its peace, territorial integrity, constitutional order, the rule of law, citizens' equality, and equal status of all churches and religious communities are under threat," the public appeal argues.

It went on to accuse "Serbian extreme nationalists" of "using [the new law] as yet another attempt at a coup d'etat."

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