Ethnic tensions soar in Montenegro ahead of religious ceremony | National / Global News
PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) – Hundreds of riot police were deployed to the former capital of Montenegro on Saturday ahead of the inauguration of the new head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the small Balkan nation.
The ceremony scheduled for Sunday in Cetinje angered opponents of the Serbian Church in Montenegro, which declared independence from neighboring Serbia in 2006.
On Saturday, hundreds of protesters clashed with police in Cetinje and briefly removed some of the protective metal fences around the monastery where the inauguration of Mitropolitan Joanikije is supposed to take place.
Montenegrins remain deeply divided over their country’s ties with neighboring Serbia and the Serbian Orthodox Church, which is the country’s dominant religious institution. About 30% of the 620,000 inhabitants of Montenegro consider themselves Serbs.
Thousands of people demonstrated in Cetinje last month to demand that the inauguration take place elsewhere. The church refused to change its plans.
Since Montenegro separated from Serbia, the pro-independence Montenegrins have pleaded for a recognized Orthodox Christian church, separate from the Serbian church.
Montenegrin authorities have called for calm during the weekend ceremonies that will begin with the arrival on Saturday evening of the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Porfirije, in Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro.
Porfirije is expected to attend the inauguration of Joanikije on Sunday, whose predecessor at the head of the church in Montenegro, Amfilohije, died in October after contracting the coronavirus.
The Serbian Orthodox Church played a key role in last year’s protests that helped topple a long-ruling pro-Western government in Montenegro. The new government now includes resolutely pro-Serbian and pro-Russian parties.
Previous authorities in Montenegro led the country to independence from Serbia and challenged Russia to join NATO in 2017. Montenegro is also seeking membership in the European Union.
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