Eurasia Review: Montenegro: Vandalizing Of Church Raises Ethnic Tensions

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By Samir Kajosevic

A local dispute has turned into became a much larger inter-ethnic row
after unknown perpetrators removed a wooden cross from the foundations
of St. Vasilije Ostroski church in the village of Martinaj and threw it
into a nearby stream.

The incident was reported by Montenegrin
media on Tuesday but escalated when former Albanian Prime Minister Sali
Berisha wrote on Facebook that “Montenegro-Serbian extremists are
restoring the church to provoke Albanian residents”.

“I call on
local and state authorities in Montenegro to intervene and prevent the
illegal activities of extremist groups that cause inter-ethnic and
religious tensions,” Berisha wrote on Thursday.Since 2001, the Serbian
Orthodox Church has been trying to restore the church, of which only the
foundations remain, but the ethnic Albanian majority in the village has
consistently opposed the initiative.

Martinaj is situated in the
mainly Bosniak and Albanian municipality of Gusinje, where locals have
previously asked ethnic Albanian politicians to demand that the
restoration work on the church be halted, calling it a ‘provocation’.

During
a gathering of priests and Orthodox believers at the church foundations
in 2013, a conflict erupted with local villagers, and police arrested
22 people.Orthodox Christians and priests set up a wooden cross at the
site at end of April, but it was removed two weeks afterwards

Local Serbian Orthodox Church parish priest Bojan Radunovic appealed to ethnic Albanians in the village to show restraint.

“Orthodoxy
is a religion of peace, love and forgiveness, but we also expect
citizens of other religions to behave in such a way and not to try to
deny anyone the freedom of religion, as we do not do that,” Radunovic
told daily newspaper on Vijesti on Wednesday.

The Serbian
Orthodox Church meanwhile called on the Montenegrin authorities to deal
“with people who spread religious and national [ethnic] hatred”.

At
a meeting on Thursday with the vice-president of the Montenegrin
parliament, Genci Nimanbegu, ethnic Albanians from Gusinje said that the
church was being rebuilt in a village which has no members of the
Orthodox faith.“We do not object to the construction of a religious
building, but only Albanians live in this village, and the church is
being restored on the property of the Prelvukaj family.

The state
should respond,” one of them, Arber Vukaj, told Montenegro’s public
broadcaster.The Prelvukaj family sued the Serbian Orthodox Church in
2011, but a court in the Plav municipality concluded that the land on
which the church is located doesn’t belong to the family.

The
verdict was confirmed by the High Court in Bijelo Polje and the Supreme
Court of Montenegro.St. Vasilije Ostroski church was built in 1928, but
was destroyed in 1941 during World War II.According to the last census,
the population of the Gusinje municipality is 54 per cent Bosniaks and
Muslims, 22 per cent Albanians and 5.5 per cent Orthodox Christians.

Eurasia Review


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