The new Montenegrin constitution was adopted on Monday after 55 of 76 members of parliament voted in its favour, much to the consternation of Serbs.
By Igor Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade - 26/10/07
Two-thirds of parliament approved the constitution. [AFP]
Montenegro's first constitution -- since its independence last year -- was passed by parliament on Monday (October 22nd). After long, heated talks between the government and the opposition, the constitution won support from two-thirds of parliament, avoiding a referendum.
"The new constitution protects the rule of law as well as minority and human rights," Parliament Speaker Ranko Krivokapic said. He also noted the importance of a constitutional provision that will allow parliament to vote with a two-thirds majority on whether the country should join the EU.
The new constitution fulfils one criterion in Montenegro's bid for Union membership. The country signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement on October 15th.
However, instead of a political consensus, the new constitution has widened the gap between the ruling parties and the opposition, which advocated closer relations with Serbia.
The Serbian Orthodox Church opposes the new constitution because it labels the church as a religious community, without stating its full name and historical role. The Serbian Orthodox Church representative in Montenegro, Archbishop Amfilohije Radovic, said the new constitution "spits" on the church.
Albanian parties also object to the new constitution because their demand for granting municipal status to Malesija, a region with a majority Albanian population, was not approved.
Pro-Serbian parties are opposed to the new constitution in large part because they claim that the approximately 200,000 Serbs, who account for roughly 30% of the Montenegrin population, now have minority status.
Fueling their criticism of the constitution is the fact that Montenegrin has replaced Serbian as the official language, whereas the Cyrillic and Latin letters are equally in use and in the last census, most Montenegrin citizens said they speak Serbian. An additional concern of the opposition is that Serbs no longer have the right to dual citizenship.
Adopting the document has also created cracks within the opposition. Other parties reproached Nebojsa Medojevic's Movement for Change for supporting the constitution and enabling its adoption. The opposition Bosniak Party also voted for the constitution.
The ruling parties, on the other hand, have voiced satisfaction with the new constitution. Former prime minister and leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists, Milo Djukanovic, said it completes the restoration of Montenegro's statehood. He added that this would accelerate Euro-Atlantic integration.
OSCE Mission to Montenegro chief Paraskeva Badescu said the new constitution is "in line with the Council of Europe's recommendations". Badescu told the media that with the new constitution, "Montenegro has taken one more important step in its effort to strengthen democratic reforms and the rule of law."
The opposition Serb Ticket has urged the public not to abide by the new constitution, as it "discriminates against Serbs". "From now on, we will fight for the equality of Serbs in Montenegro," a press release vows.