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Forum18 – While a Serbian Orthodox church is being built in Lovcenac in northern Vojvodina, the local authority’s allocation of land in the same village to build a Montenegrin Orthodox church sparked an immediate response from Serbia ‘s religion minister, Milan Radulovic. He claimed that as an unregistered religious community, the Montenegrin Church does not exist, adding that the government has a duty to stop it and the Macedonian Orthodox Church building any places of worship in Serbia. The head of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church, Archbishop Mihailo, condemned what he called “arrogant behaviour on the part of Serbia”, pointing out to Forum 18 News Service that the Serbian Orthodox Church operates unhindered in Montenegro. The Serbian government has tried to exclude or restrict all other Orthodox communities, including the Romanian Orthodox, the Old Calendarist Orthodox, the Macedonian Orthodox and the Montenegrin Orthodox.

The head of the local administration in Mali Idjos in northern Vojvodina, Pal Karolj, has told Forum 18 News Service his administration is prepared to allow a community of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church to build a church in the mainly Montenegrin-populated village of Lovcenac, despite public comments by Serbia’s religion minister Milan Radulovic in August that it should not do so as the Montenegrin Church does not exist. “We have still not received a building application for a Montenegrin Orthodox church,” Karolj told Forum 18 News Service from Mali Idjos on 6 September, “but when we receive it we will give permission, as we find no legal reason not to do so.”

He said he supported the right of every nation to its own church. “If the Montenegrins are a nation and the government recognises them as such,” he explained to Forum 18, “then they have the right to have their church.” He said the local administration will “from our limited resources” equally support building Montenegrin and Serbian Orthodox churches in Lovcenac, as well as helping to maintain and renovate Catholic and Hungarian Reformed churches.

The head of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church, Archbishop Mihailo (Dedeic) of Cetinje and Metropolitan of Montenegro, condemned Radulovic’s comments, describing them as “arrogant behaviour on the part of Serbia ” which, he claimed, is not prepared to grant Montenegrins the right to practice their faith in what he regards as their national Church. “The explicit prohibition on building Montenegrin and Macedonian Orthodox churches in Serbia reveals the true side of official Serbia which officially fights for democracy,” he told Forum 18 from the Montenegrin town of Cetinje on 11 September. “We are witnesses that one standard holds for the Serbian Orthodox Church and another for the Montenegrin and Macedonian Orthodox Churches . We do not deny the rights of Serbs and the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro . Why then do Serbian officials, the minister of religion and the Serbian Orthodox Church deviate from the Christian principle of love?”

Of the 14,500 inhabitants of Mali Idjos (Kishegyes in Hungarian), nearly sixty per cent are ethnic Hungarians, while a third are Montenegrins and Serbs. In Lovcenac itself, about sixty per cent of the villagers are Montenegrins, though at the beginning of the 1950s they made up more than ninety per cent of the population. The village currently has no Orthodox church.

On 5 August Karolj, as head of the local administration, and Nenad Stevovic, president of the Krstash (Cross-Bearer) Association of Montenegrins in Serbia , signed an agreement about the long-term use of a 488-square-metre (5,250 sq. foot) building plot in Lovcenac. This plot was given to the Mali Idjos authorities with a request that it should be handed to the Krstash Association for its needs. The agreement was signed for the period of 200 years with no charge for the use of the land. When built, this will be the first Montenegrin Orthodox church in Serbia .

Karolj reported that the local administration had also allocated land in Lovcenac to the Serbian Orthodox church to build its own church and the foundation stone was laid in November 2004.

News of the agreement with the Montenegrins – and of the purchase by the Association of Macedonians of Vojvodina of a plot of land in Novi Sad to build a Macedonian Orthodox church – provoked an immediate reaction from minister Radulovic. “If new churches in Lovcenac and Novi Sad are going to be built without the permission of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the government has the duty to prevent it,” he told the Belgrade daily Danas on 10 August. “The local authorities should not give the necessary building permissions and other documents and should prevent building.”…[Go To Full Story]