Serbia president cancels Montenegro visit amid church spat
The nationalist crowd targeted the embassy on January 2, setting off fireworks that burned Montenegro’s flag.
Montenegro’s prime minister, Dusko Markovic, tweeted that the attack was an “uncivilised” act and it was “stunning” that Belgrade’s police did not protect the embassy. Montenegro has summoned the Serb ambassador to lodge an official protest, which it called “an unhindered nationalist spree” against the flag and embassy.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said the embassy was protected and accused Markovic of spreading “notorious falsehoods”.
Marking a low point in the former Yugoslav republics’ relations, Vucic this week announced a “private visit” to Montenegrin Serbs churches to mark the Orthodox Christmas on January 7.
But yesterday (Saturday) Vucic said he would not visit Montenegro because of concerns his presence might be seen as fuelling ethnic tensions and jeopardising Montenegrin independence.
Vucic accused Montenegro and the west of launching “a hysteric campaign of lies” over his planned visit on Tuesday.
He said he had cancelled the trip because of possible “clashes” that could “hurt the Serb people in Montenegro”.
“We are not threatening Montenegro’s independence, you are threatening sacred monuments that don’t belong to you,” Vucic added.
The Montenegrin parliament passed a law calling on religious groups to prove property ownership from before 1918 when Montenegro joined the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.
The bill could allow the seizure of church property.
Led by Orthodox priests and fuelled by the Serbian authorities, thousands of Serbs in Montenegro have been staging daily protests, demanding that the law be scrapped.
In 2006, Montenegro split amicably from Serbia following a referendum. Approximately a third of the 620,000 Montenegrin citizens identify as Serbs.
The US ambassador to Montenegro, Judy Rising Reinke, condemned the protest.
“Shocked at the image of the desecrated #Montenegro flag at the country’s Belgrade Embassy,” she tweeted. “Attack on a diplomatic mission is absolutely unacceptable. Difference of opinions must be resolved through dialogue, not violence or acts of vandalism.”
The Belgrade attack followed a basketball match and many of those involved were members of the Serbian football fan organisation known as “Delije” (tough boys). The group has links to Serbia’s ruling nationalist party and the country’s secret police.
Delije was behind attacks against western embassies in 2008, after Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia, when the US mission was set on fire and Belgrade’s police failed to intervene.
Delije’s members. Picture credit: PXHere