In Focus

Vox Populi, Vox Dei
Since the Parliament of Montenegro committed open lawlessness, we have convened this largest and most beautiful National Assembly, so that its voice can also be heard. It is composed of all people of faith, both old and young. We have not allowed the brothers of the same religion and origin to get divided, nationally or politically, in the churchyard. Thus we received the great blessing of God. The people longed for reconciliation, unity and truth. It has been persistently defending its holy sanctuaries, with amazing cheerfulness, faith and harmony. Piously and creatively. The regime-poisoned tricks were overcome, they no longer have effect in the local community, let alone in the Church

By: Mišo Vujović
Photo: Mileta Ostojić, Luka Novović, Mišo Vujović,
Archive of the Diocese of Budimlje and Nikšić

When the Parliament of Montenegro endorsed discriminatory and an unconstitutional law on ”freedom of religion” at the end of December last year, well after midnight, and arrested the opposing MPs, it was clear that the ruling majority mechanism had already killed and buried justice – says His Holiness Bishop of Budim and Nikšić Joanikije, in an exclusive interview for National Review. – As this this high state institution has thus gone astray and committed lawlessness in the form of law, as it was proven that justice, truth, and morality were expelled from that institution (hopefully temporarily), we have convened the largest and most beautiful national assembly – the national procession, composed of all people of faith, both old and young, so that its voice can also be heard. It has long been said: The voice of the people is the voice of God. .:. The Montenegrin totalitarian system is now laid bare. Whether we will collapse on its own or in some other of the many possible ways, we will see.

Instead of pacifying them, the president of Montenegro call these two-thirds of the citizens crazy?
Yes, that is how the president of all citizens (?) treated his people when he returned from Miami. With it he said enough about himself and the manner of his rule.

Is it possible that the already proven people against people” happens?
The government, through public service and other media close to it, is pouring lies about greater Serbian nationalism, which allegedly threatens the statehood and independence of Montenegro. This is the rhetoric of Ante Pavelić, used to justify Ustashas’ crimes against Serbs in the Nazi Independent State of Croatia. Similar are the lies about the pressure of Russian imperialism with which President Đukanović is trying to raise his price in the West. The government that has abused the public service against the Serbian Orthodox Church for years, deceiving the public and manipulating religious and national sentiments, can be expected to carry out new rigged coup d’état, bombing affairs and the like. It has been creating an atmosphere of lynch for years, channeling the blade of hatred against Metropolitan Amfilohije. All this is being done to more easily justify incidents and conflicts on the streets that the government can cause at some point.

In your last meeting with the Prime Minister, did you have the impression that there is any good intention to overcome the problem by revoking the disputable law?
We are always open to dialogue. At the aforementioned meeting with the Prime Minister, there was no other agreement regarding the law, except the joint decision that future discussions should be held at expert level. Since then, from another important state address, from President Đukanović, the Church has been receiving only condemnations and threats. This further complicates the already bad situation. Somewhat more reconciling tones come from the Government. We get the impression that Đukanović does not want dialogue but has opted for a dictatorship. And he can hardly get away with it in the local community, let alone in the Church.


People have started from churchyards, and now citizens from state institutions are also already arriving?
It was very important that we did not allow the brothers of the same religion and origin to get divided about their nationality. We know that both these and earlier authorities have worked to create widest possible gap between those who declare themselves Serbs and those who declare themselves Montenegrins. The church never wanted to divide the brothers on this basis. Also we did not allow that party conflicts, feuds and landmarks to enter the churchyard. With this decisive attitude received the great blessing of God. Around our temples the divisions have been overcome, small and big feuds and hatreds. The people long for unity that can only be found in theChurch. A new strength in that unity and brotherly reconciliation was felt. That is why in our all-people processions we can see together peasants and workers, civil servants, police officers and soldiers, and mostly children and youth. They all unanimously want to build a better and fairer Montenegro. No one saw anything wrong with that, except the politicians in power.

With the law, the government showed that nothing was sacred to it. The masks fell off. No one’s property is safe anymore?
Legal analyses show that this law, since it is not harmonized with the Constitution of Montenegro or other important laws, undermines the entire legal order in Montenegro. It causes widespread legal uncertainty in the country and fear da that no one’s and no rights are no longer guaranteed before a government that violates the constitution of its country whenever it pleases. As Njegoš said of a Turkish judge: The law is what his heart wants, what it does not want he does not put in the Quran.

What has made the strongest impression on you in these protests?
The perseverance of the people to endure to the end with Christian calm in this peaceful resistance to injustice. The cheerfulness on the faces of all participants in the processions, from the old man to the child, is amazing and unprecedented. People go to processions like to pilgrimages, and among the tens of thousands of participants we also have an old man, Novo Marković, who is ninety-nine. People go to processions carrying church flag and Njegoš’s Montenegrin hat, straight as a candle, walking on foot from Murina to Andrijevica. We also see Dragan Gačević, an honest host from the village of Kozice, who walks barefoot to the lithium on the frozen road from Dubočica Monastery to Pljevlja. Five year old children walk thirty kilometers, nobody can stop them, they want to be part of these magnificent national events...


In addition to the insults the president has repeatedly said at the expense of the people, there are also various other pressures. You have been searched several times. What now?
Mr. President, after thirty years of rule, shows his understanding of democracy. He regularly honors all those who do not share his opinions, citizens of his country, by insulting them by calling them lunatics, enemies and traitors of Montenegro. In the past month, I have been routinely searched on the ramp to Serbia or when returning to Montenegro, until a Muslim police officer refused to do that even though he had an order. Still, the most shameful move of the authorities was to prohibit the people of Herzegovina from coming to worship the relics of Saint Vasilije of Ostrog in Nikšić on 21 December 2019. This is not only a shame, but also a grave sin before God and Saint Vasilije. Despite these insults and pressures, we will patiently fight for the freedom of our religion, for the equality of all religions in Montenegro and for the improvement of legal certainty in it for all and for everyone.

Regardless of the Vatican’s support for the Metropolitanate, there is still an attempt to create a Ukrainian model?
There are certain parallels between Montenegro and Ukraine. Ukraine is being turned into an anti-Russian state, and Montenegro anti-Serbian. There has been a great deal of pro-Nazi rhetoric in Ukraine over the last ten years, and in Montenegro pro-Ustasha, which is actually the same story. As for the church schism, a great disparity is evident. In the Ukrainian case, the schism led to twenty percent of the Orthodox population being split from the church and the schismatics were acknowledged by the Ecumenical Patriarchate (although this recognition was not based on canons). In Montenegro, however, the schismatics do not have believers, do not function as a church, nor are they recognized by any canonical church. The unification with the Roman Catholic Church in Montenegro began on a quasi-political plane, through the ideology of Duklja, with the aim of changing the identity of Montenegrins, so that the change of national would lead to change of religious identity. In this respect, the route from the Montenegrins, through Dukljans, to the Red Croats is traced.

Let us eliminate the dilemmas: have the authorities offered the Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Littoral secession from the Serbian Orthodox Church and the creation of an autocephalous church following the Macedonian model?
No, they have not. But the publicly demonstrated animosity towards the Serbian Orthodox Church by the authorities, and on the other Đukanovic’s story of the ”restoration” of the autocephalous church, shows that the government does not want a church of God, free and canonical, but some creation which they would call an autocephalous church and which would function as an authority, submitting to the worldly lord. A strange story: the government has already made one such ”church” and called it autocephalic, and when it saw that there was no us from it, now they want to make another one and who knows how many more.

It turned out that by perfidious maneuvers, the regime had succeeded in obtaining logistical support from the church on several occasions. Could it be that this time around, the lifeline is thrown right out of the hands of the person that has been criticized the most?
I think too much importance was given to some contacts between Metropolitan Amfilohije and Đukanović prior to the 1997 elections, only to blame Amfilohije for all the negative consequences of Đukanovic’s rule. This has crossed all lines. Now Đukanović will not ask lifeline from any bishop but only from NATO structures, if they still care about him. However, resolving the political crisis in Montenegro will depend on the politicians, but also on how determined the citizens of Montenegro are in their demand for change.


And Later about Other Rights
The position of the people is clear: if the church stops, will the people continue?
Nјegoš says: The people are the defenders of the Church and the tribe. This shows how important religious rights have always been to our people and how loyal they have been to their Church. Now the struggle for religious rights and freedoms has come to the fore. To what extent the people will be empowered through this to also fight for their other rights that they are entitled to, we will see.


Free, Chaste, Brave
Can the church create some kind of Montenegrin Makarios?
The church gives birth to free, honest, courageous people and patriots. Such people can help their country the most. We hope there will be no need to look for some new Montenegrin Makarios, or to return to the theocratic structure from the era of the old Montenegro.


Like Ante Pavelić
President of Montenegro says that Serbs in his country can have the same fate like Serbs in Croatia?
He generously offered all citizens in Montenegro who were dissatisfied with his rule to leave Montenegro and threatened the Serbs with persecution. Every citizen of Montenegro who is ready to publicly oppose his rule, fighting for their rights, are labeled as enemy of the state. Our national assemblies have shown that the story of the enemies of the state, the traitors, the so-called Greater Serbian nationalism and Russian imperialism has long been a matter of the past and that Đukanović no longer sell it to anyone.


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