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Expert says US trying to impose religious freedom law on Montenegro

The pundit pointed to the fact that the former US senator who was "very active" in deepening the church rift in Ukraine visited Montenegro prior to the bill being endorsed

BELGRADE, December 26. /TASS/. The law on religious freedom, which envisages the seizure of religious property from the Serbian Orthodox Church, is being imposed on Montenegro by the United States, Montenegrin journalist and political commentator Igor Damjanovic told TASS.

"In addition to internal motives, there is an external motive, which imposes the approval of that law. The US is interested in that, because this law can set a precedent for using that mechanism in Kosovo and Metohija. The government of the unrecognized republic of Kosovo may call for passing such a law and seizing monasteries and churches, medieval Serbian cultural treasures in Kosovo," the expert stressed.

"It is noteworthy that Sam Brownback, former senator and Governor of Kansas, who has served as US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom since February 1, 2018, visited Montenegro a month ago," he went on to say. "It is no secret that this person was very active in deepening the church rift in Ukraine. I believe that, despite his conciliatory public statements, that visit has accelerated the approval of the law on religious freedom."

According to the expert, the religious freedom bill is aimed at making churches, monasteries and other religious facilities built before 1920 state property with their subsequent transfer to the "Montenegrin Orthodox Church," which is not canonically recognized. "The law will provide the legal framework for seizing the property of the Serbian Orthodox Church, to be more precise, its Montenegro-Littoral Metropolis, that is, the only canonical church that has believers and make it state property," he said. "The so-called Montenegrin church is schismatic, it has neither authority among people, nor believers, nor serious clergy."

Damjanovic presumed that the authorities would not begin to apply the law immediately but would wait for the election results. "I believe that in the event of winning the elections, the authorities will begin to apply the law no earlier than a year later," the expert said. However, in the future, the law will be one of the key tools for an onslaught against the church, he added.

Situation in Montenegro

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic earlier accused the Serbian Orthodox Church of trying to maintain a religious monopoly in the country. He also said that he would seek autocephaly for the "Montenegrin church" based on Ukraine’s model. For his part, a Serbian Orthodox Church bishop, Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro and the Littoral, noted, commenting on Djukanovic’s remarks, that the president was "trying to be the head of the church himself," adding that "this is the first time in history when an atheist is creating a church."

Montenegro’s cabinet is trying to push a law through the parliament on religious freedom in the country, providing for the seizure of church property from the Serbian Orthodox Church. The issue at hand is more than 650 holy sites, including the well-known Ostrog Monastery.

Despite believers’ protests, the legislative committee of the Montenegrin parliament earlier endorsed the bill on the freedom of religion. On Thursday, the legislation will be considered at a meeting in Montenegro’s unicameral parliament. A simple majority of votes is required to approve the document.