Filipovic: Russia uses the Serbian Orthodox Church to spread its influence in Montenegro
In an interview with The Geopost, political analyst Ljubomir Filipovic said that Russia uses the Serbian Orthodox Church through Serbia to spread its influence in Montenegro. He also assessed that what the Russian Orthodox Church does in Ukraine, the Serbian Orthodox Church does in Montenegro.
As he said, the SPC is “playing” with the identity of Montenegrins, deepening differences and tensions in Montenegro, but also, according to Filipovic, it has a dominant position because it controls all Orthodox churches in Montenegro.
As for the signing of the Fundamental Agreement between the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Government of Montenegro led by Dritan Abazovic, Filipovic believes that this may lead to the downfall of the minority government.
You can read the entire interview below:
The Geopost: The situation in Montenegro can be said to be dramatic. How do you comment on the agreement reached between the Government of Montenegro and the Serbian Orthodox Church?
Filipovic: It is another in a series of events that indicates that in the last two years, especially, and earlier, Montenegro has shown a kind of weakness when it comes to the relationship with the Serbian Orthodox Church, or as we increasingly call it in Montenegro, the Church of Serbia, due to the fact that in Montenegro it acts as an extended arm of the Serbian state. We have a big problem that one spiritual institution, which has a long tradition in Montenegro and which has the most believers in Montenegro, the Orthodox Church, is being used for political purposes, is being used by actors who are not in the security community together with Montenegro. First of all, I mean Serbia, as I mentioned, but also Russia, which uses the Serbian Orthodox Church to spread its influence in Montenegro, both in the public space, as well as in the cultural and political space.
The Geopost: What are the problems between the Serbian Orthodox Church and what is the connection with the Russian Orthodox Church? The problems they created for Montenegro are big. Is that still the case or are there any changes?
Filipovic: Unfortunately, the symbiosis of the Orthodox Church and majority Orthodox countries is something that creates a problem, especially for those countries that have the ambition to preserve that inter-ethnic harmony, such as Montenegro. In Montenegro, we also have a large and significant number of people who belong to the Orthodox community. Both the Russian Orthodox Church and the Serbian Orthodox Church have the tragic fate of being the church of a larger state, in the case of Russia it was the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it tried to maintain dominance over the entire area over Orthodox population. The same thing happened with the Serbian Orthodox Church in the territory of the former Yugoslavia, with the fact that in Macedonia, as you saw recently, the Macedonian people showed a desire for an independent church and in the end the SOC was forced to accept it in order to preserve inter-church relations. Relations between the Russian and Serbian Orthodox Churches go back a long time, the relations between the former Autocephalous Montenegrin Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church also existed and were strong in the past.
What the Russian Orthodox Church does in Ukraine, what it did in Ukraine, the Serbian Orthodox Church does in Montenegro, it plays with our identity, it deepens differences and tensions in Montenegro, it has a dominant position because it literally controls all the Orthodox churches in Montenegro which are historically and culturally significant. And you simply have a situation where it holds a monopoly over the majority Orthodox population when it comes to church infrastructure, when it comes to temples and churches. The big problem with Montenegro is that until the 19th century, Montenegro was a type of theocracy in which there was no separation of secular and ecclesiastical power, and after that separation occurred, after Montenegro was declared a kingdom, the Montenegrin church was autocephalous. With the abolition of Montenegrin independence in 1918, the expulsion of King Nikola and the Petrovic dynasty from Montenegro, the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church was abolished, and since then the Orthodox Church in Montenegro has been structured in the way it is strategically oriented, which is to deny Montenegrin statehood and identity. Today, Montenegro does not have one territorial unit, it is not organized as one diocese, I think that in Kosovo, even Rasko-Prizren diocese respects the borders of Kosovo, the former administrative borders of the former autonomous province of Kosovo and Metohija, I even think that it respects more the territorial integrity of Kosovo Serbian Orthodox Church, maybe I am wrong, than it respects the borders of Montenegro. What I mean specifically, I mean that the Montenegrin territory is divided into four dioceses and that only one part of Montenegro is deliberately called the Metropolis of Montenegrin and Littoral.
And as the name itself tells you, “Montenegro-coastal” tells you enough that the mission of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the political sense in Montenegro is to reduce Montenegro to one small region around Cetinje. While that narrative of the disintegration of the Montenegrin national being is present, which aims to prove that only that circle around Cetinje can call itself Montenegrins, and that all the rest of the Orthodox Slavic population in Montenegro are in fact Serbs. By disintegrating the national feeling among Montenegrins, they want to prepare the ground for political changes in Montenegro, so that in the end Montenegrin independence could be called into question again in the foreseeable future.
The Geopost: Is it expected that the signing of this Agreement will lead to extraordinary elections in Montenegro?
Filipovic: That’s exactly what happened. Yesterday, the parties that formed the minority government of Prime Minister Abazovic warned that this would happen, and they launched the initiative. The session of the Assembly where the vote of confidence in the government of Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic will be taken is scheduled for August 19. For now, 36 or 37 MPs, I’m not sure, have left their signatures on that initiative, so they need 4 or 5 more MPs to have a majority to dismiss Mr. Abazovic. Certainly, if there is no change, there will be an over composition of some majority and there is probably a possibility that Mr. Abazovic will return to the arms of the Serbian nationalists with whom he formed the government in 2020.
The Geopost: How do you comment on the politics of Serbia and Vucic, who is acting very aggressively towards Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro? There were tensions in the north of Kosovo, how do you comment on that type of politics in the region?
Filipovic: That’s what it’s called, in fact the Open Balkans is also in a way, a kind of “Gifts of the Danes” with which, through some story about supposedly economic benefits, he wants to achieve political dominance in the area of the former Yugoslavia. Unfortunately, we are all a little confused because Albania is an accomplice in that process, because the government in Albania is an accomplice in that process, I think the most confused are the Kosovo Albanians, who, in my estimation, feel very strange that now they are in a situation where their aggressor, who is well known to us here as well as Bosniaks, is now suddenly a partner for some kind of stability in the future for the government in Tirana. I think that the big problem with Macedonia and Albania lies in one simple fact, which is that Albania and Macedonia have no experience of living with Serbia in the last 30 years, and with Albania a little longer. We from Montenegro, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina have had either experiences of coexistence with Serbia or experiences of conflict with Serbia, and it is natural that we do not trust the intentions of the government in Belgrade, which is apparently led by a man who advocated policies of war and genocide in the 90’s of the last century. Therefore, we do not trust even when Mr. Vucic brings us gifts, because we know very well, and some of us are less in the case of Montenegro, and you are more in Kosovo, and the Bosniaks in Bosnia felt the most and most felt all the benevolence of that policy in the 90’s of the last century.