To the final version of the Draft of Fundamental Agreement with SOC through constructive dialogue

On the occasion of the recently published Draft of the Fundamental Agreement with the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC), the Centre for Civic Education (CCE) warns of the wrong timing to re-actualize this issue, which is subject to numerous disputes in the public. The Parliament of Montenegro is currently awaiting the resolution of key issues for the unblocking of the judiciary, and thus Montenegro’s path to the EU. Opening the topic of the Fundamental Agreement like this, the Prime minister insisting on the urgency of signing it, strengthens polarization in society, and does not contribute to the reconciliation and dynamization of Europeanization that the prime minister announces as a consequence of this process.

The issue of the Fundamental Agreement with SOC must be resolved. However, for the full legitimacy of this contract, the process of harmonizing its content should, due to the sensitivity of the issues it deals with, be accompanied by wider and more transparent consultations instead of an inexplicable acceleration of procedures.

Reference experts for the relevant issues should be included in those consultations, primarily representatives of the academic and scientific community in Montenegro, as well as civic society. Thus, the definition of its content, instead of political, would be based on empirical conclusions appropriate to the civic concept of the state of Montenegro.

The Government of Montenegro has officially published the draft of this contract, thus limiting the possibility of continuing to speculate about its content in the public and the media, and that is good. But, that should only be the first stage in a truly thorough approach to this issue.

Compared to the previous unofficial versions of that contract, there are certain formulations from which it can be read that some of the earlier criticisms were recognized. However, even in this latest draft Agreement, there is room for the introduction of religious education in public schools. Namely, in the second paragraph of Article 16 it is stated: “Orthodox religious teaching in public schools can be regulated in accordance with the legal order of the state”. On the other hand, it is known that the General Law on Education prohibits religious activities in public schools. It is clear that such a provision lays the groundwork for the possibility of initiating changes to legal solutions in order to create the prerequisites for the introduction of religious education.

In a small multi-ethnic and multi-confessional society, such as Montenegro, it is important that religious education is carried out in such a way to enable children to get to know different religious traditions in order to get to know each other, get closer and understand each other. This means that schools should return and strengthen civic education that contributes to the development of critically oriented and active citizens who shape a further democratic society based on the culture of human rights. Of course, there is no obstacles even now that everyone, in their free time, outside of school, practices religious teaching in accordance with their own needs and within the framework of their religious community. So, it is time to put an end to any further consideration of the implementation of the introduction of religious education in schools, and to work dedicatedly to preserve the secularity of the work of educational institutions.

Furthermore, even though the previous contracts with other religious communities stipulated the obligation of the state authorities to inform the elders of the religious communities upon initiation of criminal procedures against the clergy, which is intended to be done with this contract, this obligation never took effect. In relation to other fundamental contracts that do not have international effect, it should be borne in mind that this is in contradiction with the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CPC). Hence, these provisions must be revised in the existing contracts and deleted from the draft contract with SOC, as CCE pointed out before.

Furthermore, the proof that the norming of this issue in the case of the SOC entered recklessly also indicates that the obligation to inform the elders is not limited to notifying the competent archbishop in case of initiation of criminal proceedings, but also in case of initiation of misdemeanor proceedings. If this provision, which does not exist in contracts with other religious communities, applied, it would mean that the authorities would be obliged to inform the elders of the SOC also about trivial cases, such as proceedings due to traffic violations, which probably does not exist as an intention.

Finally, the CCE points out that it is worrisome that political life in Montenegro continues to revolve exclusively around the issue of religion instead of democratization and Europeanization. Also, it is very dangerous, for the civil character of the society, the tendency to go to church leaders for consultations for political decisions just because someone appreciates that they can profit from it by collecting political points. Religious communities should be consulted when it comes to politics regulating the protection of religious rights and closely related issues, but other spheres of political decision-making and the regulation of relations in society should be based on objective and rational assessments of the effects for the common good, and not on dogma of any religion.

Petar Đukanović, Programme Director