Signing this Fundamental Agreement irresponsible state act

Centre for Civic Education (CCE), following the publication of the new unofficial version of the draft Fundamental Agreement between the Government of Montenegro and the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC), expresses concern again over certain provisions that violate the secular character of the state of Montenegro, the Constitution and certain laws.

CCE also points out the non-transparency of the Government in the process of drafting the Fundamental Agreement with the SOC. Despite the expressed and justified public interest for the content of this document, the Government has not yet published it on its website. However, it should be noted that the Government is not denying the unofficial published version.

It is worrying that the Prime Minister privatizes such an important issue, hiding the content of the document, but rushes to sign it in a situation of limited legitimacy, when the procedure of declaring (no) confidence in the Government he leads begins.

CCE considers particularly dangerous Article 16, paragraph 2 of the published version, which stipulates that “Orthodox religious teaching in public schools will be regulated by a special agreement between the contracting parties.” Such a formulation does not exist in similar agreements with other religious communities, and practically means the introduction of religious education in the Montenegrin formal educational system. This provision represents a direct violation of the General Law on Education.

The latest version of the  Agreement with the SOC brings an unknown attempt to regulate the media and media reporting by one religious community, under state protection. Namely, Article 14, paragraph 3 states that “the church has access to the media which are obliged to inform the public about the views and activities of the Church in a credible, objective and non-discriminatory manner.” Montenegro has media laws and the Code of Journalists and it is not up to any religious community to regulate the work of the media through other documents with the Government. CCE expresses hope that journalists associations and the media will react to this, as well as Minister Tamara Srzentić, whose portfolio covers the media field.

As in other agreements with religious communities in Montenegro, there is a controversial formulation by which religious communities, through this Agreement specifically the SOC, are set above the Criminal Procedure Code because they impose inappropriate restrictions on investigative bodies.

Also, in the entire unofficial draft of the Fundamental Agreement, there are unclear and incomplete legal formulations that leave room for discretionary interpretation that could have harmful consequences for the states of Montenegro. Thus, several important places in the agreement fail to bind provisions with Montenegrin laws. Particularly problematic are the formulations concerning the restitution of church (im)movable property, i.e. the return of property or compensation for it and financial support for the Church.

Finally, the controversial articles of the agreement are further worrying given that Patriarch Porfirije had previously stated that “the Fundamental Agreement, when the two parties conclude it, will be legally superior to local laws.” This would mean that it annuls everything that conflicts with the Montenegrin legal order, which is inadmissible, and it would be irresponsible state act for the Prime Minister to sign such an agreement.

Petar Đukanović, Programme Director