European Commissioner Olive Varhelyi told the European Parliament Foreign Policy Committee on Tuesday that a peaceful, European solution needs to be found in Montenegro.
“A state cannot function without respect for freedom of confession and the important thing is to find a peaceful, European solution in Montenegro,” he said.
Varhelyi said the problem is not new. “This is the current problem but it is also a problem that repeats itself. I was in Montenegro when the crisis escalated and I tried to mediate between the state and the church to find a solution acceptable for all sides,” he said.
He said that the church held a religious service despite the measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic and the state sanctioned that behavior by arresting the priests. He called the church to respect the measures and the authorities to secure freedom of confession during the crisis. Varhelyi said he would continue trying to calm the situation and help find a European solution for church-state relations in Montenegro.
Serbian Orthodox Church Bishop Joanikije and a group of priests were arrested in the northern town of Niksic following a saint’s day religious service which was attended by a large group of the faithful. The church and the Montenegrin authorities have been at odds since the law on freedom of confession was adopted late last year. The church claims that the intention of the law is to seize church properties.