The fundamental human right bodily autonomy that includes the right to safe and legal abortion, protected by numerous international and regional legal acts on human rights and freedoms, as well as the constitutions of only a few countries around the world, has recently been called into question in many of them, starting from Poland, through Hungary, Croatia, all the way to the USA, which recently launched this topic high into the focus of the global public, including Montenegro.
How did we even come to this in the 21st century? The reason seems to be that progressive policies have lost the battle with populist ones, which are growing worldwide.
What is the common denominator of such policies is the mantra of endangering "traditional values", as well as the "freedom of speech" of neoconservatives? Using the achievements of the so-called "free world", they actually want to overthrow such a society from within, considering many of the freedoms that have been won "decadent" and preventing people to have "livable life" (Judith Butler). By abolishing the right to safe and legal abortion, not only the health and rights of women and their position in society are endangered, but the entire society and the issue of freedom for all.
Populist policies are usually closely linked to religion, which is increasingly moving from the position of soft power to the real power of political decision-making, as is the case everywhere with the abolition of the right to abortion and where it has already been done.
Religious values, especially in the case of the three main monotheistic religions, are deeply patriarchal, with a male model of god, which can often be misogynistic. All three religions, from the moment of their origin to the present day, have done immeasurable damage to the entire female being and have been the main leaders of organized repression of women throughout history. They continue to be the basis of collective identities, thus generating all potential crises, which are mainly based on the polarization of "We" and "They".
According to the Constitution, Montenegro is a secular state, but the issue of religion within it remains extremely complex.
Church in Montenegro
Although multi-confessional, the majority of the population (approximately 72%) is the Orthodox, which for the most part supports and belongs to the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC). In addition to the Serbian Orthodox Church, which is canonically recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1922, after the founding of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929), there is also a Montenegrin Orthodox Church (MOC). It was founded in 1993 in Cetinje (royal capital of Montenegro), in a desire to restore its former autocephaly, which was officially recognized in 1883, while its independence dates back to 1766. There is no reliable data on how many believers support the MOC, because in the last census data (2011) the question of belonging to a certain (Serbian or Montenegrin) church wasn’t included.
The Orthodox Church is organized on territorial (administrative) basis, regarding the state and its status must be confirmed by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. King Aleksandar Karađorđević sent a request to the Patriarchate for the founding of the Serbian Orthodox Church after the founding of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenians in 1918. In this first Yugoslavia, Montenegro was abolished, forcibly annexed to Serbia, with unconstitutional decision in the illegal Assembly (commonly known as the Podgorica Assembly), supported by the Serbian military in Montenegro. Montenegrin Church, which was defined as the official church by the Montenegrin Constitution of 1903, became part of the SOC, along with other churches in surrounding (Macedonian who recently gained autonomy, Croatian etc.)
SOC will remain the official church during the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia (FPRY, second Yugoslavija, 1945-1992). The federation dissolved along the borders of federated republics, hastened by the start of the Yugoslav Wars. SOP took an active part in this war, through war-mongering, blessing weapons and paramilitary units who would later commit genocide against non-Serbs. After the war, the SOP provided shelter and hid war criminals such as Ratko Mladic, Radovan Karadzic and others.
Serbia and Montenegro remained within a reconstituted state known as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. At that time there were serious conflicts in Montenegro, which fortunately did not escalate. In an attempt to bring the Montenegrin flag into the Cetinje monastery, several citizens were brutally beaten, which caused a great revolt of the people of Cetinje. Due to these events, the Metropolitan of the SOC in that time in Montenegro, Amfilohije, asked protection from war criminal Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan with his paramilitary units.
To this day, the official Montenegrin flag will remain unwanted in the churches which manage SOP, as well as the clergy of the CPC. Because of this, every big religious holiday and church service will be held in the presence of the police.
The most controversial case occurred on September 4 and 5, 2021, during the enthronement of the new Metropolitan Joanikije II in the Cetinje Monastery. This act was opposed by many citizens who demanded that the ceremony take place in the temple built by the SOC in Podgorica, not allowing the act to take place in the Cetinje Monastery, founded by Montenegrin dynasty Crnojevic. The citizens set up barricades, but with the use of excessive police force, the citizens were dispersed and Metropolitan Joanikije II, accompanied by SOC Patriarch Porfirie and special police units, came to the Cetinje Monastery with military helicopter.
All this was preceded by the vote on the Law on Freedom of Religion and Legal Status of Religious Communities at the end of 2019 in the Parliament of Montenegro, which would also regulate the issue of ownership of religious sites. The SOC opposed this law and initiated the protest so-called “litije”, urging believers to take to the streets to support them. The protests were massive and lasted until the parliamentary elections at the end of August 2020, when the change of government took place. The new government was formed in the monastery and the first task it had to perform was to amend the Law on Religion, which kept the SOC in its superior position and property, but also gained much greater political power, even gaining seats in many committees for its representatives. Even Jakov Milatovic, the Minister of Economic Development of the Government, which was recently overthrown by the Parliament, consulted with the Metropolitan of the SOC in Montenegro Joanikije II on the issue of demographic policy, emphasizing "I presented him with additional measures that the Government will take to improve birth rates. Religious communities are our strong partners on this path".
When representatives of religious communities influence decision-making processes, public unrest is justified, especially by women. Reacting to the initiative of the Supreme Court in the United States, which in June 2022 annulled the constitutionality of the right to abortion, Metropolitan Jaonikije II also stated that "the annulment of the right to abortion is the voice of human reason and conscience."
Given that the SOC directly influenced the democratic elections in Montenegro in 2020 and democratic processes, such statements arouse justified fears that the SOC's influence will become an even more serious threat to democratic values.
The law regulating the right to abortion in Montenegro is liberal and good. In fact, the right to abortion would not be a topic in Montenegro, if the SOC did not occasionally include it in the public discourse.
Legal regulations in Montenegro regarding abortion (Law on Conditions and Procedure for Abortion of the Government of Montenegro)
Women in Montenegro, actually in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (first Yugoslavia), have been able to perform abortions only since 1929, when the right to abortion was legally regulated for the first time, and only in the case of medical reasons. Due to the increased number of illegal abortions, this problem was warned at the 17th Medical Congress of Yugoslav in 1935, and a decision was made to demand its legalization.
After the Second World War, the Federative People’s Republic of Yugoslavia (FPRY) was constituted, in which Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Montenegro, that until then was part of (Great) Serbia, regained their status as republics. In addition to the fact that the FPRY was constituted as a state union of equal peoples, in 1946 women were constitutionally equated with men, who then won the right to vote.
First with the law of 1951 and then officially with the additional decree of 1952, abortion was finally decriminalized. The provision that the right to abortion at personal request on the basis of "difficult personal, family or material situation" was added in 1960.
When representatives of religious communities influence decision-making processes, public unrest is justified, especially by women.
In the 1974 Constitution, the right to freedom of birth is also constitutionally protected by Article 191, which defines "the human right to freely decide on the birth of children".
The current law in Montenegro, as an independent state since 2006, is quite similar in its provisions to the laws in force in other former Yugoslav republics, as well as in most former socialist countries (except Poland), and is quite liberal.
The law define that abortion can be done with a written request up to the tenth week, without additional procedures, which include commissions, mandatory counseling or a deadline that must pass between counseling and abortion. After a time limit of 10 weeks, abortion is provided by law in case it is determined on the basis of medical indications that there is no other way to save a life or eliminate severe damage to a woman's health during pregnancy, childbirth, or after childbirth; that on the basis of medical indications it can be expected that a child will be born with severe physical or mental disabilities; that the conception took place in connection with the commission of a criminal offense; as well as in the event that a woman could get into difficult personal or family circumstances during pregnancy or after childbirth.
It is important to point out that the Law on Conditions and Procedure for Abortion does not prescribe or protect the right of doctors to appeal to conscience. The few gynecologists who file a conscientious objection do so mainly on the basis of a free interpretation of the constitutional provision in Article 48, which reads: “Everyone has the right to a conscientious objection. No one is obliged to fulfill a military or other obligation that involves the use of weapons, contrary to his religion or belief. "
According to the latest available data from the Institute of Public Health of Montenegro, the total number of intentional abortions in 2020 was 359 (O04-medical abortion according to ICD-10), and the number of intentional abortions among girls under 20 is 7, representing a share of 1 , 95% in the total number of intentional abortions.
Statistically speaking, according to the data available to The Institute of Public Health of Montenegro and the Clinical Center of Montenegro, the records of abortions in state are declining, both in terms of the number of registered abortions (the records state that in 2015 a 1601 abortion was performed, while in 2021 the number is 714), as well as according to the methodology of comparing the number of abortions in relation to 1000 parturition. In the previous year, it amounted to 142 abortions, while in 2000 it was 301 per 1000 parturition. In the region, the lowest rate last year was in Croatia 85, and the highest in Serbia 302, while that rate in the EU is 210.
But what has put Montenegro at the top of the list of countries for years, along with Albania, Azerbaijan and Armenia, according to the 2012 United Nations Population Fund, is the biggest imbalance among male and female newborns. The Montenegrin health authorities acknowledged that there was a serious problem only after a warning from the Council of Europe, which in 2012, following a study by the UN Population Fund, requested an investigation in Montenegro over selective abortions.
The Law on Conditions and Procedure for Abortion does not prescribe or protect the right of doctors to appeal to conscience.
Selective abortions in Montenegro
In Montenegro, an average of 110 boys are born per 100 newborn girls, while 100 out of a maximum of 106 corresponds to the natural average. The consequences of selective abortions are already reflected in the demographics of the entire Montenegrin society, so today Montenegro lacks thousands of women of reproductive age.
Laws in Montenegro to prevent selective abortions are quite good, from those in the field of health care and abortion, which prohibits the divulgation of the child's gender until the tenth week, to the moment when legal termination of pregnancy is possible, to laws in the field of gender equality and discrimination law, but it is always a matter of law enforcement, especially when it comes to controlling prenatal tests, which are available outside public health institutions as well as outside the country, which is the most common choice of those wishing to perform selective abortion.
The data and the warning issued by the Council of Europe in 2012 stirred up the Montenegrin public. The Center for Women's Rights, civil organization from Podgorica, organized an action on that occasion and handed over a petition with over 6,000 signatures in the "Unwanted" campaign to solve the problem of prenatal sex selection. As part of the campaign, they placed a pink memorial plaque in the University Park in Podgorica in 2017, which symbolizes the "Unwanted" and unborn girl, with a disquieting text that talks about the consequences and scale of selective abortions in Montenegro.
The "Unwanted" campaign also had a great impact on social networks. Maja Raicevic the activist of the Center for Women's Rights said that campaign goal “is to initiate a social dialogue that will question and overcome value systems in which female children do not enjoy the same rights as male ones. It should influence those negative, patriarchal values which, due to the tradition of the male heir, put girls in an unequal position". Despite the initiative of this organization and its call for cooperation of official institutions for a action plan, which would reduce this problem, there was no understanding and results.
Experts warn that countries with disproportionately more men than women, such as China and India, will face far-reaching consequences. In addition to the "epidemic" of loneliness, gender imbalances are collapsing the labor market, artificially raising the value of real estate, increasing the savings rate and reducing consumption, while increasing crime, human trafficking and violence against women.
While Montenegro is still waiting to face the consequences of selective abortion, stemming from patriarchal discourse, official institutions still have a big task to deal with uncontrolled selective abortions. However, the statement of political officials such as Dragan Ivanovic in the Montenegrin Parliament in May 2021, a member of the SNP (Socialist People's Party), which works closely with the church and is currently part of the newly formed minority government, does not inspire confidence - so far. He stated:
"A colleague from this parliament stated that fewer and fewer female children are being born in Montenegro. It is a project that I sincerely condemn, but it is the right of every citizen to influence the reproduction and gender of their children. Today in Montenegro and in the world, the technology is such that it can happen."
Apparently, the biggest problem in Montenegro - where crime, collapsed labor market and violence against women are already present - is patriarchy, and one of the most influential and important promoters of patriarchal (conservative, traditional...) values in Montenegrin society is without a doubt the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Fighters for traditional values
One of the most powerful personality cults in Montenegro is certainly the late SOC Metropolitan Amfilohije, who led the religious protest rally so-called “litije” and participated in the formation of the government after the 2020 elections.
He said that every year women kill more children in their wombs than Hitler and Mussolini ever killed, in whose company he even included Josip Broz Tito. For some strange reason, he always liked to mention his name, especially when he would refute the Montenegrin identity, believing that it originated, as he said, in "Tito's Jajce" (Jajce is a city in BiH where the second conference of AVNOJ was held on November 29, 1943, when was decided that the FPRY would be built on a democratic principle as a state union of equal peoples, including Montenegro, which is why the SOP considers Montenegro a "communist" or artificial creation. In a pejorative sense, the word "jajce" means testicles). He went even further than that, calling Montenegrins "communist bastards."
His successor Joanikije II followed this narrative, calling on Montenegro, in the midst of Russian aggression against Ukraine, "Little Ukraine" (In 2019, the Ecumenical Patriarchate recognized the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Church in relation to the Moscow Patriarchate, to which SOC is inclined. The term "little Ukraine" refers to the term "little Russians", which Russia describes Ukrainians, denying their identity and sovereignty) and the Montenegrin people “mushrooms”, which appear after the rain, so they are, in his words, "short of breath", quickly disappear.
It sounds paradoxical, but the Montenegrin identity is one of the most endangered in Montenegro. The writer Milutin Mićović, the brother of Metropolitan Joanikije II, went the furthest in disputing the Montenegrin identity in his book "Lights in the Darkness of Montenegro" (Luče u tami Crne Gore), for which he received the largest literary award in Montenegro "Miroslav's Gospel" (Miroslavljevo jevanđelje) this year, in which he states:
"From the Serbian people came Serbian Muslims, Serbian Croats, and even Serbian Albanians. This is the theme of “Gorski vijenac” and “Luča” (literary works of the Montenegrin ruler and poet Petar Petrović Njegoš 1813-1851; note of the author) - apostasy from its origin, apostasy from the truth, apostasy from the light, fall into insolence, deadly oblivion and betrayal "..."And when Montenegrins empty their spiritual content, which holds national-cultural Serb’s matrix, become - nobody, or zero-people. This is ontologically and mathematically correct, and empirically very verifiable. Zero from mans, zero from people.”
A strong cult of tradition is represented in Montenegro through the influence of the church. Followed by a deep socio-economic crisis, identity reaction to globalization and the trend of cultural hegemony, war traumas, such a society strongly influenced by tradition is fertile ground for shaping fascist social consciousness, which will give its creators and ideologues the opportunity to act from the position of democratic legality. When that happens, the "excluded" usually suffer first, among whom are members of "disputed identities", such as the Montenegrin ones.
Women in such a society would lose their hard-earned status, would be returned to past "traditional" values that do not guarantee her identity, which would be at the disposal of husbands, fathers or brothers, like was in the past. It is necessary to be able to recognize a reality that can exclude in that way and to think about what that reality produces, especially in the form of violence against those who are "excluded". Only by understanding and recognizing concrete cultural and historical manifestations of antagonism, such as class struggle, sexism, racism, nationalism, homophobia, misogyny, can we concretely oppose such tendencies.
Is the status of the right to abortion endangered in Montenegro today?
For now, the right to abortion in Montenegro is not endangered, but female children are still born in significantly smaller numbers than male children.
Education, sensitization and emancipation of society are solutions that give long-term results, and the responsibility for implementing such measures lies with official institutions. However, so far there is still no adequate program and response to initiatives coming from the civil sector on this occasion, especially when it comes to school programs such as "Healthy Lifestyles", which would include sexual and reproductive health among others. The introduction of religious education in schools was considered by officials much more seriously.
With the lack of an adequate reaction from the state and the presence of the church in all fields of society, there are certainly reasons for concern.
Even in the recently broadcast show of the public service of Montenegro on May 16, 2022, on the topic of the right to abortion (controversial announcement that preceded it "The right to abortion - YES or NO?", which was soon changed to " Abortion - from constitutional law to taboo topics" due to public reactions), among the interlocutors who were invited to speak on that topic was the representative of the SOP Gojko Perović. Representatives from the profession of medicine, law and feminist activism justifiably participated in this show, but the presence of a priest caused a revolt, so there was a protest in front of the television, in which groups of activists participated.
In their official statement, they stated:
"Opposing the ignorance, arrogance, rudeness and lack of culture inherent in those who are convinced to decide on behalf of others, we Montenegrin women draw attention to the fact that in the story of depriving women of their right to decide on their bodies, men are the loudest, among whom the loudest are those who have vowed celibacy. Who would know more about pregnancy, abortion and childbirth than those who have never experienced it, chauvinists, those who blessed weapons, concealed pedophilia in their ranks, ready to ban abortion but not to condemn the suffering of innocent victims, most of whom are women and children!” (referring to the SOC's non-condemnation of Russian aggression against Ukraine).
Activists said every person has the right to their own body and the church will not decide on behalf of them. They warned that the slogan "You are not for life, you are for control and power" has never been more important for the struggle to legalize abortion so that Montenegro would not turn into a novel by Margaret Atwood and women into obedient maids.
Their protest provoked numerous of misogynistic insults on social networks by neoconservatives and such a campaign continues. A comment sent to one of the activists from the protest launched an initiative on social networks to draw attention to the Council of Europe, whose responsibility the signatories call for supporting Montenegro's European path, but also because of knowledge that the author of comment is employed in that institution as Montenegro's representative.
In addition to humiliating women, the author of the comment also humiliated the state of Montenegro by placing it in a subordinate position to the Serbian church, in a comment in which he wrote:
"... you are very uneducated or insolent. If the Serbian Orthodox Church is the CHURCH OF SERBIA, then Montenegro is SERBIA. You sow how many of us are on religious protest rally. More than you. MONTENEGRO IS THE COUNTRY OF SRBS - we have proved it to you. And if the church or some of us tells you to give birth, you have to give birth... You are not in a position to decide anything. You are a woman. You are a tool."
The protest in front of the television building also provoked the reaction of the member of the Montenegrin Parliament Goran Danilović, the president of the conservative party United Montenegro, who on that occasion announced himself on May 17 with a column on the pro-serb’s portal IN4S. It seeks to justify the church's presence in debates on than issue and challenge women's right to make decisions about their bodies and abortions, as the exclusive right of women who are not alone in the universe, citing the metaphysical presence of Jesus and the physical presence of men and fetuses. He stated:
"Rare public debates, such as the one from last night on the public service are, however, tried to be made meaningless in advance by insulting and chanting by a shrewish, or denying the right to discuss about abortion to anyone who does not have a uterus and does not belong to the established matrix. And the matrix is clear - the alleged cry of freedom is skillfully packaged in the right to decide about our body.”
If we are able to recognize a reality that excludes and reconsiders the freedoms that have been won and clearly defined, the matrix is certainly clear and it is skillfully hidden behind the right to freedom of expression and religion. In the case of Montenegro, there is a clear example of the abuse of these rights and their "selective" application by the defenders of traditional, patriarchal values, led by church. Although Montenegrin laws are good, their implementation remains an issue. When we see that this is also happening in the American judicial system, which has much stronger protective mechanisms, especially in the case of the right to abortion, we certainly have reason to be upset.
We live in a world of constant crises, which are always overflowing and lately they are increasingly showing the potential for greater escalation. Thus, the right to abortion as one of the basic human rights, although in the shadow of war, environmental and energy crisis, economic recession and the problem of potential famine in the world, has become relevant again with increasing challenge and questioning of this right, which actually calls into question freedom as such. The fight for it has never ended, especially when it comes to women's rights, as well as the existence of Montenegro itself. Over the centuries, Montenegro has fought for its freedom, but it has also always been tested on its responsibility to preserve it, as it is now. Does it, as a state, have the right to sovereignty and to make decisions independently, as well as Montenegrin women regarding their bodies and choice - certainly there is! But they are always forced to defend it.
As the Montenegrin poet Mladen Lompar beautifully described it, in his verses: “there is no last battle when you are an eternal target.”
Click here to read the Montenegrin version of the article.