Serbia has promised to react “in the strongest possible way” if neighbouring Montenegro goes through with a “hostile” attempt to expropriate church properties.

Driving the news

A draft law in Montenegro aims to bring under State ownership properties acquired by the Serbian Orthodox Church after 1918, the year in which Montenegro lost its independence and became part of the Serb-dominated Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.

Both the Serbian Government and the Serbian Orthodox Church accuse Montenegro of wanting to illegally expropriate hundreds of churches and monasteries. Montenegro says it merely seeks to regulate the property and financial interests of the country’s religious groups.

For the record

“In case this bill passes in the Montenegrin parliament, Serbia will certainly react in the strongest possible way,” Minister without Portfolio of Serbia Nenad Popović said on state-owned television.

Popović has in the past raised the prospect of economic and diplomatic sanctions against Montenegro, which may provide a hint as to the kind of “fierce” response being considered by Serbia to what it considers to be a “criminal” takeover bid.

For his part, Montenegrin President Milo Đukanović said he wouldn’t respond to Serbia’s “provocations”, adding that the country with regard to the church law “will defend its interests without compromise”.

Why it matters

The church conflict between Serbia and Montenegro is, at least in the eyes of Popović, another proxy war between Russia and the West.

The Serbian minister – known for his pro-Russian views – took aim at Đukanović and said, with regard to the church bill, the president “has to fulfill the tasks put forward by his Western mentors”.