Fundamental agreement should not lead to the harmful fundamental reforms of the education system

Centre for Civic Education (CCE) expresses concern due to the increasing inappropriate pressure on the institutions of the education system, as well as their announcements, which have recently been expressed several times through the activities of various socio-political structures. Such pressures do not contribute to the preservation of the autonomy and secular character of education, but directly challenge the efforts of democratisation of Montenegrin society.

Cases of religious activity in schools have been a focus of public attention, and the CCE also pointed out some of them to the competent authorities. Some of these cases resulted in the determination of the misuse of school and school resources for religious activity, which is contrary to the provisions of the Law. However, despite the established responsibility, the competent Ministry has not decided to take appropriate sanctions, and thus adequately treat such cases, but also prevent similar ones.

Unofficial information on the content of the Fundamental Agreement, which the Government of Montenegro intends to conclude with the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC), has brought this issue to the fore. The media reported that the draft of that Agreement, in Article 16, also contains a provision stipulating that Orthodox religious education in public schools will be regulated by a special agreement between the contracting parties. The CCE also warned that such an intention of the contracting parties, given the lack of information on the legal nature of this Agreement, could be contrary to domestic legislation, including the provisions of the General Law on Education, which prohibit religious activities in public education institutions.

CCE expresses doubt that this article of the Fundamental Agreement would open the door to the religious education in schools, which would jeopardize the continuity of secular education in Montenegro, that should be a factor of preserving diversity, not a factor of polarization among children and youth arising from their religious affiliation.

Religious education of children and youth is already provided through the possibility of religious organizations to conduct such education within their community. This is based on the principle of the optionality of such education, i.e. children and their parents can choose between attending or not-attending such programmes, in accordance with the interests for this type of education.

Also, CCE emphasizes that religious study is already enabled through the existing school curricula, primarily through the teaching of history, literature, philosophy, sociology, but also elective subjects, such as civic education or the history of religion. Through these subjects, children can, from an objective aspect and a scientific point of view, and to the extent necessary to acquire a general culture, gain knowledge about segments of religions important for understanding certain issues. Unlike the concept that religious education as a subject could have, instead of one – several religions, their basic characteristics, differences, but also similarities are studied through existing subjects. Moreover, teaching in these subjects is conducted by persons who have relevant pedagogical knowledge and experience for working with children and youth, and whose work is accordingly subject to intensive control of the authorities.

An attempt to introduce religious education in schools, particularly through agreement with only one of the religious communities in Montenegro, would create space for misuse, primarily because other religious communities represented in the state are not involved in this process. The provision that practically announces the introduction of religious education was not prescribed in the fundamental agreements that the state concluded with other religious communities, therefore, the tendency to do so for the first time with this contract is unclear.

This also stands out because there is a similar provision in the Fundamental Agreement that Montenegro concluded with the Holy See, but not so indicative. Namely, that agreement, concluded in 2012, envisages only the possibility of studying the Catholic faith in public schools, in line with the current process of legal reforms and the multi-religious structure of the state, which would be regulated by an individual agreement.

In that formulation, the provision from the draft of this Fundamental Agreement is disputable because it would give to the SOC the exclusive right to conduct Orthodox religious education, which negatively affects the position of a significant part of Orthodox in Montenegro who do not belong to that community – both those who are members of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church (MOC) and those who declare themselves as Orthodox, but do not want to define their belief through belonging to one of these two religious communities.

CCE emphasizes that it is crucial for Montenegro, as a multi-ethnic society and a state defined as civil, to maintain the full secularity of the formal education system. Any deviation from this would cause serious and unforeseeable consequences for the stability of society. Therefore, we call on the Government to be more sensitive on this issue, as well as to advocate for deletion or amendment of this provision through an assessment of its adverse effect.

Petar Đukanović, Programme Director