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Open letter on the coming Montenegran election

by Julie Ward and Jason Gold

Serbian Orthodox Church in Kotor, Montenegro. Photo: Marcin Szala. Source: Wikimedia Commons

As two members of the British Labour Party who believe in the democratic sovereignty of a “State” and in the power of liberal internationalism to promote peace, we are extremely concerned at the situation Montenegro finds itself in during its present General Election period and, in fact, for some considerable time previously. Our concern focuses on the level of interference in the due democratic processes of the “State” of Montenegro by the Serb Orthodox Church (SOC), which is being conducted by Patriarch Irenej of Serbia and the Serbian Orthodox most senior Bishop in Montenegro Metropolitanate, Amfilohije Radović.


While many in the international community may be aware of the dispute between the state and the SOC vis the “Freedom of Religion" law that was passed by the Montenegro Government last year and which came into force on January 8th 2020, the debate has now shifted to an extremely dangerous level during this election period.


We are both acutely aware of the SOC behaviour throughout the region historically and see great parallels between the SOC behaviour in the 1990s (as one of the main protagonists in the entire region), and its behaviour now in Montenegro. This is not to exaggerate what is happening in Montenegro but simply to point out that the SOC has now assumed a totally political position during this election period. 


Our careful observation of the international media reveals that there is very strong lobbying by supporters of the SOC and Serb nationalists, with two examples in mainstream media that are particularly concerning. The authors of a Newsweek article entitled NATO, Britain Must Stand on the Side of Montenegrin Christians (July 1st 2020) are Tim Farron and Steve Baker, both British parliamentarians. 


Meanwhile the authors of a Newsweek article Jews, Muslims and Christians are All Persecuted in Europe. It Must STOP Right Now (June 25th 2020) are Rev Johnnie Moore and Nury Turkel, commissioners of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom appointed by President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 


The authors of these articles are not just regular journalists, but they are Parliamentarians and Commissioners representing the highest-ranking institutions of the United Kingdom and the United States. However, the content of these, and especially the first of the mentioned articles, is almost word for word composed of standard phrases that opposition figures and church leaders in Montenegro constantly repeat in their public announcements and speeches in relation to the newly adopted Law on Freedom of Religion. 


This leads us to the conclusion that it is very likely these magazine articles are in fact largely influenced by the work of some opposition and church lobbyists, and that it was statemements from these sources that formed the basis of the articles themselves as neither British politician had been to Montenegro on a fact finding mission themselves, nor had the American commissioners to our knowledge.


However, the texts mentioned here are only the most recent examples through which we can detect the significant scope and perfidious character of the propaganda that the SOC and its political supporters are conducting, apparently trying to win the sympathy of Euro-Atlantic institutions and Western democracies. In reality, however, such narratives have the opposite effect in the region, promoting retrograde forces directed against the democratic achievements of Western civilization, and cultivating a special intolerance towards NATO which is the strongest foothold against Russian influence in the Balkans. 


The extent of the problem is easily observed in mainstream media whereby Serb nationalist opposition parties refer to the DPS (present party of Government) as INFIDELS; whilst other opposition parties, such as URA and the coalition opposition Democratic Front (DF), ally themselves with the SOC for political advantage.


This is an extremely dangerous time for the stability of not only Montenegro but for the entire region. We therefore ask that serious consideration is not only taken during the Election itself on August 30th as to the legitimacy or otherwise of the result but we ask that serious, close monitoring of the process leading up to the Election is made, in order that a repeat of the tragedy of the 1990s does not happen. 


We have in our possession a great deal of press and video material that leads us to believe that further scrutiny by the international community, and in particular European and British Members of Parliament, is essential as nearly all of the English language media reporting from Montenegro is from Balkan Insight, Sputnik and so-called NGOs which are often financed by outside dubious sources.


We remain at your service in the pursuit of maintaining peace in the Balkans, on the borders of the European Union, and look forward to your reply."

Julie Ward is a former MEP 2014-2020 (BIH & Kosovo delegation), Labour Party member, member of Goldsmiths University, Britain in Europe think-tank and National Committee member of Another Europe Is Possible, UK

Jason Gold is a British Journalist/Photographer who has lived in Montenegro for over 25 years. He covered thw Yugoslav Wars from 1992-97, is Founder and Chair of Labour International Central Eastern Europe Branch and a Labour International Executive delegate, 2018-present time

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