PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) — Montenegro’s prime minister on Friday met with the top Serbian Orthodox Church bishop in the country in a bid to defuse tensions over a contentious law on religious rights.
The Serbian Church in Montenegro opposes the law, saying it enables the state to take over its property, including monasteries, churches and other assets. The government has denied it plans to do so.
Thousands of people have attended church-led protests, which have been held throughout Montenegro since the law was adopted late last year.
Prime Minister Dusko Markovic and Bishop Amfilohije, who heads the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, held talks at a state villa in the capital, Podgorica.
The delegations at the meeting also included other state and church officials.
“Today’s meeting ended in a spirit of mutual respect and with a view that it passed in a constructive and open atmosphere,” according to a government statement issued after the meeting.
The statement added that the church insisted that the law should be amended, while the government believes its implementation should be based on mutual trust and additional guarantees.
The law says religious communities with property need to produce evidence of ownership from before 1918, when Montenegro joined a Serb-led Balkan kingdom and lost its independence.
About 30% of Montenegro’s 620,000 people declare themselves as Serbs. Montenegro split from much larger Serbia in 2006. It joined NATO in 2017 and is now seeking European Union entry.
The Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro is recognized by other Orthodox Christian churches, while the self-proclaimed Montenegrin Orthodox Church hasn’t been accepted.
This story has been corrected to show that it was a law, not a bill, in the second paragraph.