Will Zdravko Krivokapić betray the Serbian Orthodox Church?

The Prime Minister of Montenegro is in no hurry to sign an agreement with the SOC. Photo UOJ

The Prime Minister of Montenegro, who came to power largely thanks to the Church, now refuses to sign an agreement with the SOC. Why is this happening?

On June 2, 2021, the Prime Minister of Montenegro Zdravko Krivokapić solemnly met the newly elected Metropolitan Joanikije (Mićović) of Montenegro and the Littoral of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and just a few days before that he made a scandal by refusing to sign an agreement with the Serbian Orthodox Church at a meeting with Patriarch Porfirije. Is it betrayal or skillful diplomacy? And are there parallels here with Ukraine?

How the Serbian Church helped Krivokapić become the Prime Minister of Montenegro

The story of the premiership of Zdravko Krivokapić should begin with the history of the presidency of Milo Đukanović, who still holds this post. M. Đukanović is a hereditary official of the Union of Communists of Yugoslavia (an analogue of the CPSU). As the leader of Montenegro, he has proved himself, as many media write, "the most loyal NATO soldier" in the region. His political credo is the failure-free fulfillment of any wishes of his Western curators. And these wishes were simple: the maximum opposition to Serbia and Russia in all spheres: politics, economy, culture, religion, and so on. Moreover, M. Đukanović, fulfilling these wishes, showed himself to be an "effective manager" and a successful (albeit cynical) politician.

Just one example: when in 2015-2016 a powerful wave of protests against the country's accession to NATO swept across Montenegro, M. Đukanović nnounced the preparation of an attempt on his life and the organization of a coup d'etat. Certain Russians and their local associates were declared the organizers and found guilty. True, in 2021, the Court of Appeal of Montenegro overturned this verdict and called the charges unproven, but this no longer interested anyone. The main thing is that the topic of the failed coup d'etat allowed M. Đukanović to utterly defeat his political opponents inside the country. M. Đukanović would rest on the laurels of his political luck, but in the heat of his anti-Serb policy, he set out, no less, to destroy the Serbian Orthodox Church on the territory of Montenegro.

M. Đukanović took under his wing the so-called Montenegrin Orthodox Church (MOC), a typical schismatic organization created in 1993 (which was in "Eucharistic" communion with the UOC-KP), and decided, firstly, to request for a "tomos" for it from Patriarch Bartholomew, and secondly, to transfer to it all the property of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC). Regarding the "tomos", the Phanar sent contradictory signals to M. Đukanović, obviously waiting for how the Orthodox Churches would react to the Tomos for Ukrainian schismatics. The solution of the second issue was entirely in the hands of the Montenegrin authorities, and M. Đukanović initiated a law according to which the land under the temples and monasteries built before December 1, 1918, when Montenegro joined the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, should be transferred to the state. The state, in turn, was supposed to transfer them to the schismatic MOC. This fate awaited more than 600 temples and monasteries.

And here the people, as they say, rebelled, the country was engulfed in mass protests. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets, and special committees for the protection of shrines were created at each SOC church.

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Protests against the anti-church law in Montenegro

Protests against the persecution of the SOC continued almost constantly until the introduction of quarantine in connection with the coronavirus. Twice a week, Montenegrins gathered for mass cross processions in defence of their Church. On some days, up to 300 thousand people took to the streets in all cities of Montenegro, which is almost half of the total population of the country. But M. Đukanović did not even think to retreat and abolish the anti-church law. Instead, he repressed active protesters, subjecting them to administrative penalties and opening criminal cases (including against the Metropolitan Amfilohije (Radović) of Montenegro and the Littoral). In this situation, the episcopate of the Montenegrin-Littoral Metropolitanate stated that the current authorities of Montenegro discredited themselves with their anti-church policy and could no longer enjoy the confidence of the people. On the eve of the parliamentary elections, which took place on August 30, 2020, Metropolitan Amfilohije (Radović) of Montenegro and the Littoral recorded a video message and urged all citizens to go to the polls to vote "in defence of God's shrines".

Up to 300 thousand people participated in religious processions in the cities of Montenegro, which is almost half of the total population of the country.

As a result, the people voted for those political parties that declared their disagreement with the anti-church law and promised to abolish it when they came to power. The Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro, whose leader is M. Đukanović, showed the worst result and was unable to form the government. This was done by the then opposition parties “For the Future of Montenegro”, “Peace is Our Nation” and “United Reform Action”, which formed a coalition government and elected Zdravko Krivokapić as Prime Minister. Immediately after the announcement of the election results, he said that after the formation of the ruling coalition "the first step, of course, will be the abolition of the Law on Freedom of Religion ..."

Did Krivokapić keep his promise?

Yes and no ... The anti-church law was never cancelled, although the most odious articles, which suggested the confiscation of almost all the property from the Serbian Church, were excluded from it. In general, the law continues to operate, and there are many anti-church provisions in it, albeit not so clearly expressed. For example, one of the articles requires churches and religious organizations, whose centre is located outside Montenegro, to bring the division and boundaries of their dioceses in line with the state borders of Montenegro. And the dioceses of the SOC in Montenegro do not coincide partially with such a division and borders.

Firstly, this provision of the law is gross interference in the internal affairs of religious organizations, which have the right to independently determine their organizational structures and establish boundaries for them. Secondly, this rule is another step on the path of separating the Montenegrin-Littoral Metropolis from the SOC, because the coincidence of the administrative division and borders with the diocesan ones gives more opportunities for the secular authorities to impose their will on church structures. And thirdly, the very consolidation in the legislation of the concept "a religious organization, the centre of which is located abroad" allows in the future to accept various restrictions and repressions against such an organization.

Explaining why the anti-church law was not cancelled but changed, Z. Krivokapić said that the existence of the law in this form is an intermediate stage on the way of adopting a completely new law, which is being developed by the ruling coalition, and which, according to him, "will have to take into account the interests of all religious communities in Montenegro and comply with the highest international standards in this area". Again, a hint that the authorities will not forget the interests of the schismatic MOC.

Scandal with Krivokapić in the Serbian Patriarchate

Even during the omnipotence of M. Đukanović, a paradoxical situation developed in Montenegro when the government of Montenegro had the so-called "basic agreement on legal status" with all major religious organizations operating in the country. And only with the largest Serbian Church in the country, there was no such agreement. Naturally, one of Krivokapić 's promises was to sign such an agreement. It took almost a year to make it up, and on May 27, 2021, at the very moment when Z. Krivokapić arrived at the Serbian Patriarchate to sign it, he suddenly refused to do so and said that the signing will be postponed at least until autumn "for a number of reasons". In addition, Krivokapić was late for a meeting with the Serbian Patriarch Porfirije for half a day, which, according to the rules of diplomatic etiquette, is a gesture of extreme disrespect.

After the meeting with Patriarch Porfirije, Zdravko said that there was no scandal, and the visit itself took place in a friendly and confidential atmosphere. But this was clearly an attempt to put on a brave face for a bad game. The Montenegrin newspaper “Pravda” published the material from which it follows that the Prime Minister of Montenegro refused to sign an agreement with the SOC after representatives of the embassies of the two "Western countries", whose names were not disclosed, had a conversation with him. With reference to its sources, the newspaper wrote that allegedly during this talk, Krivokapić was threatened with a vote of no confidence in his government. By the way, this is quite easy to do since the ruling coalition in the Parliament of Montenegro, Skupština, has only one (!) vote more than its opponents.

The Prime Minister of Montenegro refused to sign an agreement with the SOC after having a conversation with the representatives of the embassies of the two "Western countries".

Also, the Office of Patriarch Porfirije characterized the visit of Krivokapić as follows: “His Holiness listened to these reasons with attention and great patience, and even more with surprise, not in the least understanding the validity and justification of Prime Minister Krivokapić 's intentions not to sign the agreement, which was the only reason for his visit to the Patriarchal Metochion in Belgrade. His Holiness Patriarch and the bishops present expressed their deepest regret and concern about the further position of the Serbian Orthodox Church and its faithful people, given the fact that only with it, although the absolute majority of the inhabitants of Montenegro belong to it, an agreement guaranteeing it legal status and thus the most religious and civil rights of the people has not been signed, which is an act of open discrimination."

Meeting the new Metropolitan

On June 2, 2021, Metropolitan Joanikije (Micovic), who was elected to the throne of the Montenegrin-Littoral Metropolis of the Serbian Orthodox Church after Metropolitan Amfilohije (Radović) passed away to the Lord, arrived in the capital of Montenegro, Podgorica.

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Z. Krivokapić and Metropolitan Joanikije in Podgorica. Photo: Facebook page of the Orthodox Митрополија Црногорско-Приморска

Near the cathedral, he was met by thousands of believers, as well as by Prime Minister Z. Krivokapić, some other politicians and government officials. And now Krivokapić said the words befitting the faithful child of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which he considers himself to be. He promised the new Metropolitan that he would not do anything to the detriment of the Serbian Orthodox Church, that he would nevertheless sign a basic agreement with the Serbian Patriarchate and asked for forgiveness if he did something wrong.

It is quite possible that the feelings and intentions of Z. Krivokapić towards the Serbian Church are really sincere, and he will really try not to harm it. It is quite possible that the refusal to abolish the anti-church law and the refusal to sign an agreement with the SOC is explained by the fact that Krivokapić was held hostage to the political situation in Montenegro, and that he is objectively unable to fulfill all his promises. Perhaps the anti-church forces take advantage of his inexperience in politics (Z. Krivokapić is not a politician but a scientist, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, the author of 16 books and textbooks and 250 scientific articles). But it is quite possible that with all this, Krivokapić 's actions will be somewhat different. And here an analogy with Ukrainian realities suggests itself.

Ukrainian analogies

The religious situations in Montenegro and Ukraine are very similar to each other. In both countries, in the 90s, the authorities created a schismatic religious organization for their own political needs, both internal and external. In both countries, the presidents turned to the Phanar for a "tomos" and the legalization of their home-grown schismatics. In both cases, the presidents tried to destroy the canonical Church. In both cases, the powers that be were defeated in the elections, largely due to their anti-church policy.

And here is the next stage. More than two years have passed since V. Zelensky took over as President of Ukraine and almost six months since Z. Krivokapić was appointed Prime Minister of Montenegro. Let us recall the policy of the "early" Zelensky in the religious field. It was emphatically neutral. The President advocated for the non-interference of the state in the affairs of religious denominations and the observance of legislation in this area. It is possible that he sincerely wanted to implement such a policy. But the reality turned out to be somewhat different. Today, V. Zelensky has completely revived the religious policy of his predecessor, he makes visits to Phanar, assures Patriarch Bartholomew of support, invites him to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Ukraine's Independence. And all this against the background of the active growth of the seizures of UOC churches, the submission of a number of anti-church bills to the Parliament and the intensified anti-church propaganda in the media.

Will Zdravko Krivokapić follow a similar path? We would very much like to believe that he won’t. But the forces that push him on this path can make him have no other choice. Of course, there is always a choice, but politicians do not always have the strength to act according to their conscience. In any case, both Ukrainian and Montenegrin history, and many others teach the Church that She can rely only on God and on Her inner strength, and not on politicians who today swear allegiance to Her, and tomorrow turn their backs, explaining this by beautiful, but empty words. Again, we see with our own eyes the truth of the words of the Holy Scripture: “Do not put your trust in princes, in the sons of man, in them there is no salvation” (Psalm 145: 3).

Certainly, in the situation that developed two years ago in Montenegro, the Church was forced to actually enter into a political struggle and urge citizens to refuse confidence in the authorities who decided to destroy the Church. Nevertheless, the bet on certain political forces may turn out to be no-win in the end.

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