Belgrade, 5 September 2021 (dpa/MIA) — Dozens of Montenegrins worried about creeping Serbian influence in their country blockaded an access road to the city of Cetinje on Saturday as tempers flare ahead of the inauguration of a new Serbian Orthodox Church leader.
Metropolitan Joanikije is set to be inaugurated on Sunday, but supporters of Montenegro’s state identity vehemently oppose the ceremony being allowed to take place in Cetinje, the country’s historic capital, and see it as a demonstration of power by the pro-Serbian camp.
According to a report by the website vijesti.me, demonstrators have stacked tyres and bricks on the road, in an attempt to keep Joanikije and Porfirije — the patriarch of the church, who is coming from Belgrade — from reaching Cetinje.
Joanikije has been serving as metropolitan of Montenegro since last year, after the previous holder, Amfilohije, died of Covid-19 complications. Sunday’s ceremony will formalize his role.
But the decision to have the ceremony in a city Montenegrins associate closely with their national identity has drawn ire. Additionally, many patriots are suspicious of the church, which denies Montenegro’s state identity and regards the Balkan nation as part of Serbia.
The church has tried to defuse the situation by promising there will only be a ceremony for invited guests inside the cloister with no public church service.
But the overture seems to be failing. Even Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic has announced he plans to join the protesters. Djukanovic was key to the 2006 referendum that led to Montenegro claiming independence from Serbia. However, he has been hobbled politically since his party lost control of parliament last year.
The new government includes members of pro-Serbian parties, but also members of pro-Montenegrin liberal and green parties. The governing coalition accuses Djukanovic of corruption and ties to organized crime.