The Government of Montenegro adopted the amended bill on Freedom of Religion, which fully incorporates all the recommendations of the Venice Commission of June 2019, Deputy Prime Minister Zoran Pažin told the press on Thursday.
“In line with the highest international legal standards in this area, first and foremost the European Convention on Human Rights, the 2004 and 2014 guidelines of the OSCE/ODIHR and the Venice Commission and, now, all the recommendations of the Venice Commission’s opinion of June this year, we have produced a modern and, by regional standards, very liberal legal text. It allows every citizen to be or not to be a follower of a religious community, while the state protects the property and cultural heritage belonging to all citizens of Montenegro and at the same time, ensures that the laws of the state of Montenegro apply throughout its territory.
As we know, the Constitution regulates the exercise of this right. However, at the sub – constitutional level, the Law of 1977, from a half a century ago, is still in force. Therefore, by today’s act, the Government is fulfilling its constitutional duty when it comes to the adoption of this bill, which is of vital importance for democracy in general”, the Deputy Prime Minister stressed.
Answering a journalist’s question about the dialogue with the Serbian Orthodox Church, Deputy Prime Minister Pažin stated: “It was our intention, in a very open dialogue with all religious communities and, of course, the representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church, to find a solution that would be the least divisive for Montenegro and the one that would uphold the highest international legal standards in this area. We met with representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Unfortunately, representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church did not accept a dialogue on how to fulfil the Venice Commission recommendations, at the same time making that dialogue contingent on the adoption of the Law on Restitution of Church Property, while also demanding that all other issues regulated by this Law be reopened, which was not acceptable for the Government, because it meant a step back in the process of passing the law itself”.
On the question about the rules and the procedures for determining the ownership of the property used by religious communities, the Deputy Prime Minister said: “When it comes to the legal safeguards for religious communities that are the users of the property, temples, land and other immovable property that is of significance as a cultural asset, with a view to meeting the recommendations of the Venice Commission, we have stipulated that all the rules of evidence and evidence standards required by the Law on Administrative Procedure and the Law on Civil Procedure shall be guaranteed. Therefore, legal certainty is guaranteed to every religious community. The speculations that the Government intends to evict someone from temples or to take temples away from someone are completely unfounded and unsubstantiated. On the contrary, the new Article 64 of this Draft Law, explicitly says that religious communities that are the users of temples or other such immovable property shall continue to use those facilities pending a decision of the state body that is authorized to decide on the issues of occupancy, use and disposal of state property. Therefore, nothing is happening that could prevent the believers from exercising their right to freedom of religion. Instead, only the legal system in this area is being regulated in accordance with the highest international legal standards. The Law prescribes a deadline by which the Property Administration is required to make an inventory of all these facilities, which is followed by the application process or the filing of requests for conducting relevant administrative proceedings before the Real Estate Administration, of which the Real Estate Administration is required to notify the religious community concerned, without any delay, in order to provide it with an opportunity to exercise all its procedural rights”.
Asked about the possible reaction of the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral to the adoption of the Bill, Deputy Prime Minister Pažin stated: “The Metropolitanate has no one to defend the temples from, because the Government has no intention of entering those temples, nor does the Government intend to prevent anyone from exercising their religious rights in those temples. Of course, the Mertopolitanate has every right to discuss those issues freely in public and I am sure that their position on these issues will not remain undisclosed. I must say that my dialogue with the Mertopolitanate was very candid and very professional, with mutual respect”./ibna