The Sunday enthronement (elevation of the newly elected hierarch to his chair) of the Metropolitan of Montenegro-Primorsky Serbian Orthodox Church Ioanniky in the Cetinje monastery led to serious political destabilization in the country. Thousands of protests against this church ceremony taking place in the ancient Montenegrin capital were suppressed by the police force. And to Cetinje, blocked by protesters, Metropolitan Ioannikiy and Serbian Patriarch Porfiry were delivered by special forces on military helicopters. Montenegrin Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapich called the incident “an attempt at terrorist acts.” The opposition, however, promised to “airborne enthronement” “the response of civil, multinational and European Montenegro.” Gennady Sysoev, Kommersant’s correspondent in the Balkans, gives details from Podgorica .
The day before
Tear gas began to cloud the ancient Cetinje at six on Sunday morning. At the same time, the first explosions of light-noise grena-des were heard. Having surrounded the Cetinje Monastery with a dense multi-layer ring, the special forces and the police began to disperse the crowd of thousands gathered on the adjacent Palace Square. At eight o’clock in the morning in Cetinje, the enthronement of Metropolitan of the Montenegrin-Primorsky Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) Ioanniky was scheduled in the presence of the Serbian Patriarch Porfiry, who had arrived in Monte-negro the day before, and a large group of SOC hierarchs.
Protests against the enthronement of the Metropolitan of the SOC in the Cetinje Monastery, which Montenegrins consider their historical and spiritual cradle, began on Saturday. In the morning, the inhabitants of Cetinje began to gather at the walls of the monastery. It turned out that it was surrounded by a metal fence, behind which reinforced police squads were located. Peaceful confrontation continued for some time.
The protesters tried to persuade the police “not to go against the people”, handed the guards roses and soft drinks.
When it turned out that the fence around the monastery was installed without the approval of the local authorities, the protesters demolished it – without much resistance from the police. Moreover, according to eyewitnesses, several police officers demonstratively took off their helmets and went over to the side of the protesters.
On the same day, colum-ns of cars with state Mon-tenegrin flags began to fl-ock to Cetinje from all over the country – thousands of people rushed to help the inhabitants of the ancient capital. However, not ever-yone made it to Cetinje. In the afternoon, the police blocked the two main roads leading there, one from the seaside and the other from the administrative capital of Podgorica. And within a couple of hours these roads were filled with many kilometers of columns of standing cars.
The protesters also set up their own barricades on the outskirts of Cetinje, blocking the highways with mountains of car tires and large boulders. It became almost impossible to get to the ancient capital.
The nighttime confrontation from Saturday to Sunday was relatively calm. Both sides remained in their positions throughout the night. Late in the evening, the President of Montenegro, Milo Djukanovic, arrived in Cetinje. The day before, he promised to join the residents of the capital, if the executive power and the SOC do not heed their demands and do not transfer the enthronement to another church. Moreover, 90% of the deputies of the Cetinje parliament, whose authorities own the Cetinje Monastery used by the SOC, supported the transfer of the church rite, and only eleven of its inhabitants signed a petition in support of enthronement in the ancient capital.
The President and his wife walked along the main street of the city, the crowd greeted him with applause and cheers. And through the gathered journalists, Milo Djukanovic once again appealed to the government of the country and the SOC with an appeal not to provoke people and to carry out enthronement in any other church, for example, in the largest Orthodox monastery in the region – the Church of the Resurrection of Christ in Podgorica.
Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapich and his first deputy in charge of security issues, Dritan Abazovich, also promised to arrive in Cetinje (and even without security) to help stabilize the situation there. However, they never appeared in the ancient capital. Not with security, not without.
To the monastery by helicopter
The police went into action at exactly 6:00 on Sunday. How it all happened, said the deputy of the Montenegrin parliament Draginia Vuksanovic-Stankovic from the Social Democratic Party: “We stood literally half a meter from the police cordon, talked to them, some of them even lowered their shields. When the police officers who were stationed next to them saw this, a tear gas grenade flew at us, then another. Panic set in, for the gas concentration was enormous. “
After some time, people gathered again at the Palace Square. This time, the police used not only gas, but also flash and noise grenades, as well as rubber bullets.
The first victims appeared: someone was hit by a rubber bullet, someone was burned by a grenade. In Cetinje, sirens of an ambulance sounded.
The former speaker of the Montenegrin parliament Ranko Krivokapic was also wounded: the police threw a flash and noise grenade at him when he was standing at the palace of King Nikola. Closer to seven o’clock, the grouped police detachments began to displace those who had gathered from Palace Square to the outskirts of the city, away from the Cetinsky Monastery.
Fuel was added to the fire by a message sent to the Montenegrin media close to the authorities by the Prime Minister’s administration that the protesters had thrown a Molotov cocktail at the police. The message turned out to be false, but after it the police began to act even more harshly.
At the same time, in Podgorica, located 30 km from Cetinje, four large buses with tinted windows were filled with the clergy of the SOC, who, together with the Serbian Patriarch, were heading to the Cetinje Monastery for the enthronement of Metropolitan Ioannikiy.
Buses with priests left for Cetina at half past seven. However, they stopped halfway and turned back. It turned out that the protesters set fire to tire barricades on the highway and refused to let anyone through. To clear the passage, the authorities had to send bulldozers and reinforced police squads to the barricades.
Metropolitan Ioannikiy and Patriarch Porfiry were delivered to Cetinje by special forces in two military helicopters. While one of them hovered over the Cetinje Monastery, the other landed at 8:30 on the site behind the church.
The patriarch and the metropolitan emerged from it, and armed commandos in gas masks immediately surrounded them with bulletproof black screens – so they got to the monastery, where the enthronement procedure took place.
The patriarch assured that he came to Montenegro not to take something away or threaten someone, but to perform a holy act. The Metropolitan called the existing split between people in Montenegro “artificial”, promised to overcome it, but said that it would take time.
Exactly at 10:00 the enthronement ended. And at 11:00 the patriarch and the metropolitan left Cetinje – on the same military helicopters.
The Montenegrin authorities and parties of the ruling coalition unequivocally supported the “decisive actions of the police”. And Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapich called the events in Cetinje “an attempt at terrorist acts,” the “customers and organizers” of which are the top leadership of the pro-presidential Socialist Democratic Party and organized crime groups. He announced the arrest of the presidential adviser on national security Veselin Velevich – for countering the police.
President Milo Djukanovic also addressed the nation: “Grossly abusing the army and the police, using disproportionate force against the civilian population, the government ensured the forcible enthronement of Metropolitan Ioanniky against the will of the vast majority of the inhabitants of Cetinje and a significant number of citizens of Montenegro …
This is a Pyrrhic victory of the government, which serves the great-power interests and the SOC as the striking force of the Great-Serb nationalism against Montenegro. “
The leaders of the 21 May opposition movement, which is gaining strength in the republic, also condemned the violence. To the “landing enthronement” they promised “the answer of civil, multinational and European Montenegro.”
In any case, now experts predict a period of destabilization for Montenegro, which, according to them, could have been avoided if enthronement had taken place not in the Cetinje monastery, but in any other temple. Such a decision could be made by the SOC itself, or the government of Montenegro would have banned all events in Cetinje. According to Kommersant’s sources close to the country’s presidential administration, the latter was also approached by the leadership of the Montenegrin Ministry of Internal Affairs, which admitted the day before that it could not guarantee the complete safety of citizens in Cetinje on September 5. However, according to the interlocutors of Kommersant, “the SOC, and after it the prime minister and the deputy prime minister, opposed the transfer of enthronement and the prohibition of protest.”
Many regional experts see the reason for this in the fact that both the current government of Montenegro and the TWS are under the strong influence of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who may be interested in instability in his neighbors in order to divert attention from the problems in his country.
It is safe to say that all decisions around the Cetinian crisis were made by the President of Serbia, “Serbian historian and political scientist Milivo Beshlin told Kommersant.
He is echoed by the head of the Montenegrin Center for Monitoring and Research Zlatko Vujovic: “To insist on carrying out what can lead to conflicts is, first of all, a political step by the SOC to please Vucic.”
A similar situation with the recent enthronement of the Serbian Patriarch Porfiry speaks in favor of the thesis that the transfer of the place of enthronement of Metropolitan Ioanniky could remove many problems. It was supposed to take place on May 23 in the Pecs Patriarchy, which is located on the territory of Kosovo. But the Kosovar authorities did not give the go-ahead, citing the coronavirus pandemic , and Porfiry ascended the patriarchal throne in Belgrade. Although in Kosovo at the end of May there were only 169 active cases of the disease, and in Montenegro on Sunday – about 8.5 thousand.
A serious split among its Orthodox believers also speaks of the danger of destabilization in Montenegro. According to a recent study by Professor Oliver Komar of the University of Podgorica, although the majority of Orthodox Christians in Montenegro are supporters of the SOC (43%), it does not have a spiritual monopoly. 21% support the non-canonical Montenegrin Orthodox Church, and 35% would prefer not to choose between them and have a single Orthodox Church. However, as Metropolitan Ioanniky himself admitted during his enthronement, it will take time to overcome the schism.