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Milan Nikolic
Re: URGENT! Montenegro churches desecrated!

The south European region, almost derogatorily called Balkan, for the last ten years, has been used in Western media mainly to put across various propagandistic agendas, experiments, and at times justification of sheer tragic stupidities. After the so-called "Kosovan humanitarian war" Western public is generally saturated with the Balkan topics. In order to revive interest in the region, T.V. Weber & Alida Weber" <jatich@mcs.com and the Rockford Institute are among those who tend to run very controversial stories. While controversy may have a role in stimulating intellectual debates, the last story about the “Metropolitanate of Montenegro” or “desecration of Montenegrin churches” is a bizarre attempt to jump, unwittingly or not, on a bandwagon of a dark Greater Serbian propaganda, which has inflicted so much misery to so many, including the Serbs, in the last decade. The Director of The Rockford Institute seems to have given a new meaning not only to malpractice of dark propaganda but also to the “Dr” title. I will address all of his 7 points in turn.

1. Contrary to the Dr. Fleming’s claim, the Autocephalous Montenegrin Orthodox Church (MOC) is the legal, historical and canonical Orthodox Church in Montenegro. The Legal and constitutional foundations of the MOC are engraved in the Constitution of Montenegro and the Holy Charter of Principality of Montenegro at the beginning of the last century (1904). Canonical matters of the MOC were formulated by the renown historian and Orthodox canonist Dr Nikodin Milas. Accordingly, the MOC is “an autocephalous and independent eparchy that has no other legal relations with other autocephalous churches except peace and love”. No serious historian will object to the actual independence of the MOC since 1603, and formal independence since 1766. At latter date, the independence of the MOC has been recognized by the Holy Synod of Russian Orthodox Church and the Patriarchy of Constantinople soon after. The formal independence of the MOC is also verified in the catalog called Sinagma, issued by the Patriarchy of Constatinople, which lists all known Orthodox Churches of the time. The MOC is listed under number 9.

In 1920, after forcing the Montenegrin King, Nicholas I, to exile and annexing Montenegro to Serbia, Regent Alexander, who ruled the newly created Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, in an unconstitutional, uncanonical and illegal manner abolished the MOC by a decree. Property of the MOC was usurped by the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) embodied in, what dr. Fleming calls, the “Metropolitanate of Montenegro”. Despite attempts to restore the MOC during the socialist era and the official view that "enlargement of the SOC in Montenegro was and remained the act of violence”, actual restoration took place only after collapse of socialism in Yugoslavia. Following the centuries-old tradition of popular election of Montenegrin Metropolitans, on October 31, 1993, in the capital Cetinje, ‘the General Montenegrin People's Assembly’ elected their own Metropolitan, His Grace Antonije Abramovic. For many Montenegrins the election of the new spiritual leader signified the renovation of Montenegrin Autocephalous Orthodox Church.

2. Dr. Flemings’s claim that "Montenegrins are Serbs as much as people in Shropshire are English" is so absurd that hardly deserves a comment. That is rather as if someone claims that people from Scotland are English.

In contrast to the next dr. Hamilton’s claim, it was his Grace Anfilohije (called Amphilochios by dr. Fleming) who, as the Metropolitan of the Serbian Orthodox Metropoly in Montenegro,  enjoyed a full support of the governing parties in Montenegro. So much so that, to dismay of many citizens of the multiconfessional Montenegro, the Minister for Religious Affair was practically the minister of the SOC in Montenegro. His Grace Amfilohije enjoyed unrestricted access to all state media, and even was granted the license for his own radio station (Svetigora). In contrast, the Metropolitan of the MOC could not, as far as I know, appear on TV or have access to other state media until the last Christmas. Not to mention that the authorities did not allow the MOC to add its name to the register of religious institution until this year.

3. The MOC is an authentic church of Montenegro that has been a strong cohesive force of Montenegrin society for centuries, shaping it and integrating together religious and secular consciousness. Contrary to dr. Fleming’s claim, the MOC is led by archimandrite Mihailo (Miras Dedeic), who was canonically ordained into a bishop by the Patriarch Pimen, following an approval by the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. The claim that followers of His Grace Mihailo include communist, is perhaps flattering since a considerable number of Montenegrins used to be members of the Communist Party, given that it was the only party in Montenegro until 1989. I am not aware that among the followers of the MOC there are Muslims and Albanians, but I guess every church leader would be trilled to see that his appeal is so strong that is able to attract followers of other religions. I can’t help thinking, if only His Grace Amfilohije commanded any respect among Albanians, his appeal might have saved many Serbian and Montenegrin lives in Kosovo. His Grace in turn might become a saint in Kosovo and justify his name of "The Exarchos of the Holy Patriarchal Throne of Pec". 

4. I do share dr. Fleming’s notion, that despite misdeeds of some, the Serbian Orthodox Christians have been having a particularly bad and unjust coverage in the front-page news and the media altogether. However, it is nonsense to claim that the Metropolinate of the SOC in Montenegro is subjected to persecutation of any kind. On the contrary, any objective observer is bound to find it astonishing that the church whose flock makes only 9% of population, can be allowed to wield unlimited power and impose itself as the main and only religious institution openly supported by of the authorities. In asking to “imagine what would happen if a group of homosexual activists, atheists, and Buddhists started taking over Catholic churches in Illinois or Episcopalian parishes in Virginia” dr. Fleming got to the crux of the matter. This is precisely how Montenegrins have been feeling since 1920, that is, from the time when their church was unconstitutionally and uncanonically abolished, the church property (650 churches and monasteries and other valuables) taken over by the SOC, and the clergy humiliated, imprisoned or in worse cases killed. I wander, if dr. Fleming knew that since 1920, the Orthodox Christians in Montenegro could not be baptized as Montenegrins but only as Serbs since the SOC did not recognize Montenegrin nation. To my knowledge this practice of the SOC prevails even today. 

5. Since Montenegrins, who comprise about 66% of population according to the last census, were the only nation in modern times who could not practice their own religion in their own church in their own country, dr. Fleming must be unwittingly right to be critical of those who have ignorantly condone outrages of the SOC over Montenegrins for the last 8 decades.

6. Dr. Fleming is right to note that his Grace Anfilohije has been critical of Mr. Milosevic and his regime. However, that critic can only stretch a few years back, and only after supporting Mr. Milosevic in his quest for power, and only after Mr. Milosevic failed to materialize the dream of Greater Serbia. Most of the citizens of former Yugoslavia would certify that dr. Fleming’s claim that His Grace Anfilohije, as a representative of the SOC, “has been in the forefront of the struggle for democratization of Yugoslavia” is a cynical tirade. 

It appears that His Grace Anfilohije had some kind of a marriage of convenience with Mr. Djukanovic for the last few years. The former, on his part, landed the support of his powerful church to the latter and in return got unrestricted coverage in the state media together with a sizable financial and political support for the SOC. As I recall, it was last year that His Grace compared Mr. Djukanovic with St. Peter of Cetinje, who is one of the 4 Montenegrin saints. Nowadays, His Grace has a nerve to claim that Mr. Djukanovic's government is the one that has "infantile and short-sighted political maneuvering". 

7. Dr. Fleming is again unwittingly right to note that the “seizure of the church's property is also a gross violation of the rule of law and of the rights of private property” but he is apparently ill informed whose property is seized. He is also ill informed that Montenegrin Serbs have no love for Milosevic. They apparently do. About 56 000 Serbs who live in Montenegro, helped by a Milosevic’s fifth colon as well as those indoctrinated and naïve Christian Orthodox Montenegrins, make a formidable political and potentially military force. Dr. Fleming, as well as their leaders, claim “they will refuse to be bullied into a fake independence that divides them from their cousins to the East”. They openly proclaim that they do not intend to accept the loss on any future referendum on independence and they are ready to start a war if necessary. One wanders, if this may be the result of His Grace Amfilohije’s role “in the forefront of the struggle for democratization of Yugoslavia”. After all, can anybody serious imagine if a truly independent Montenegro could separate Montenegrins from their keens to the East? Why should it? Relation between an independent Serbia and an independent Montenegro could hardly be worse than it is now in the common state. However, as much as Serbian meddling in Montenegro is unwelcome,  so should be a meddling of foreign powers in Montenegro too. Those powers that may try to use Montenegro as a springboard for settling the scores in the region are as dangerous to Montenegro as is Milosevic’s war mania. 

We welcome dr. Fleming’s inadvertent initiative “to rally faithful Christians and all those who uphold the rule of law and the right of private property”. If they are faithful Christians they will no doubt support restitution of the property to the MOC so that majority of Orthodox Christians in Montenegro can finally enjoy the rights of the minority of their Serbian keens in Montenegro. Dr. Fleming is also inadvertently right in claiming that Montenegrin “struggle is the struggle of all people who revere the name of Christ and respect property”.

As for the Statement by the Orthodox Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral, the whole cry, clouded by the populist rhetoric so charachteristic of the SOC, reverts around an omitted crucial detail. Namely, on Sunday 9th July 2000 mentioned in the statement of His Grace Amfilohije, people of the village Njegusi near Cetinje, petitioned and adopted motion according to which they presented the keys of all their 15 village churches to the archimandrite of the MOC, His Grace Mihailo, and declared that they only recognise the MOC as its own church (see declaration). In the event both sides tried to enter the church and police seems to have upset both sides but did prevent a serious conflict (see reaction). It appears that His Grace Anfilohije is upset that the police has not openly sided with his church against the MOC, as indeed has been the case for the last 10 years or so. The action of Njegusi clan is momentous since it includes Petrovics, the most famous Montenegrin family.  The Petrovic dinasty has laid the foundation to the modern Montenegrin state and it was the longest ruling dinasty in Europe after Romanovs. 

His Grace Anfilohije can not hide his anger aimed at authorities for allowing the MOC to be formally added to the list of the religious institution in Montenegro. Similarly, even though His Grace Anfilohije is claimed to be in the “forefront of the struggle for democratization of Yugoslavia”, he cannot forgive Mr. Djukanovic for this year Christmas greetings to all Orthodox Christians in Montenegro. Namely, in the previous years the Christmas greetings were addressed only to the adherers of the SOC. His Grace Anfilohije also seems to find difficult coping with a loss of not only influence but also of the repressive apparatus on his side. So unpopular His Grace Anfilohije and his clergy have been with the involvement in current political intrigues, that police used to give them protection in Cetinje, the capital and the cradle of Montenegrin state. On occasions, police force has been replaced by seemingly more trusty protection of late Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan, an ally of Mr. Milosevic, notorious criminal and the man associated with the worst war atrocities in Croatia and Bosnia. Arkan used to guard His Grace Anfilohije even in Cetinje Monastery, the most sacred religious place of the Orthodox Christians in Montenegro. 

Since the tide of support seems to be edging towards the MOC, and Mr. Djukanovic seems to have won the critical phase of opposition to the Milosevic’s hegemony, the governing political forces slowly seem to be distancing themselves from the controversial Metropolitan Anfilohije. Given that his other guardian Arkan is killed in an assassination atack, and Mr. Milosevic is now a foe, the word of oppressive forces seems to have tumbled around His Grace Anfilohije. Consistent in his inconsistency, seemingly cornered Metropolitan turns into a crying wolf, appealing among others to the international public, of which he spoke in very derogatory terms until very recently. Thus, dr. Fleming and T.V. Weber & Alida Weber appear to have been fooled by a wolf in sheep’s clothing and both have been used in a dirty propaganda war against Montenegro and its authentic church.

I derive no satisfaction noticing that His Grace Anfilohije shares the destiny of a prominent Serb of the last decade of 20th century. After a noticeable populist and war mongering rhetoric, His Grace prays in the misery of the ruins of ill-fated dream of Greater Serbia. His Grace is despised and needs a protection from his own flock in Montenegro and the Littoral, and cannot put a foot on the land of which he calls himself as the Exarchos. God help him and let no other follow his footsteps. 

Milan Nikolic


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