Croatian and Slovak members of the European Parliament, Tonino Picula and Vladimir Bilcik, issued a joint statement on Monday "categorically condemning" the violence during the inauguration of Serbian Orthodox Church Metropolitan Joanikije in Montenegro this weekend.
Picula is the European Parliament’s standing rapporteur for Montenegro, while Bilcik chairs the Delegation to the EU-Montenegro Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee.
“Montenegro should uphold fully its obligations to defend the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of speech, while also respecting a variety of religious rights of its citizens,” the two MEPs said in the joint statement.
Metropolitan Joanikije was inaugurated in Montenegro’s historical capital Cetinje on Sunday as several thousand protesters blocked the access roads to the city for two days. According to official reports, seven police officers were injured in incidents, a dozen protesters requested medical assistance and 14 were detained by the police.
“Montenegro is an EU candidate country where political and religious leaders have a particular responsibility to reflect in their decisions overwhelming support that Montenegro’s citizens give to EU accession,” the joint statement said.
Picula and Bilcik urged all stakeholders to help defuse tensions and uphold Montenegro’s commitment to a modern, democratic, multi-confessional and multi-ethnic society.
“Political instrumentalisation of one’s religious beliefs is not compatible with Montenegro’s ongoing reform process and successful EU accession. It reflects poorly on Montenegro’s international standing and long history of peaceful co-existence among people of many faiths and ethnic backgrounds,” they concluded.