Processions, frankincense and coronavirus

COVID-19 cases in Montenegro and the regional countries have pushed the question of the church and processions into the background, with the negotiations between the experts’ teams of the Government and the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral postponed and the Law on Freedom of Religion and Belief placed in isolation.

With the tensions raising in the region over the increased number of infected, and in Montenegro over expecting of the first cases, social media started spreading the theory that the processions and the frankincense made citizens be protected over coronavirus. However, the theory came to nothing on March 17 when the first cases positive to coronavirus were registered in Montenegro.

Narrative – Ban on processions due to coronavirus

Just before that and the introduction of measures to control the outbreak in Montenegro, the Serbian and pro-Serbian news portals published texts suggesting the government’s alleged plan to use pandemic to declare state of emergency and to put a ban on processions.

Thus, on February 26 Serbian news portal Nacionalist claims that the activities of the Armed Forces of Montenegro (AFM) have been initiated with the aim of establishing quarantine areas because of the outbreak danger, and, according to the claims, that is an introduction to declaring of state of emergency and a ban on processions.

The next day, Velimir Erakovic writes for Serbian news portal Pravda that President Djukanovic, advised by the West and having no trust in the loyalty of the Armed Forces and the police, decided to declare state of emergency due to coronavirus. With that end, he added, the pressure was on the head of the Clinical Center of Montenegro (KBC) to order the declaration of state of emergency.

The narrative was supported by Kurir on March 10 stating that the President of Montenegro does not choose means to stop the processions, hiding behind coronavirus, even though there is not a single case officially registered. The Government decided to use the virus to face the people who protest against the Law on Freedom of Religion and Belief.

The narrative was also supported on Facebook by one of the DF’s leaders, Nebojsa Medojevic, who estimated that Djukanovic will use coronavirus to prevent bigger gatherings in MNE.

Disinformation against the Church

At the beginning of February, Montenegrin news portal Aktuelno published fake news about two priests from the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral (MCP) placed in quarantine, on the grounds of suspicion that they could be infected with the coronavirus. Referring to reliable sources, they stated that this was kept in top secret because of concerns of causing panic during the season of processions and special prayers (moleban).

The text was also published by Portal Analitika (a news portal stated afterward that it was fake news), Avaz, Alo, bosanske Vijesti, Hayat, Espreso and Happy TV, and the MCP and the Ministry of Health reacted quickly denying such claims.

Corrected – news portal Portal Analitika

Holy Communion with a shared spoon

The Srbin info news portal claimed in its text on March 24 that the Serbin media, such as N1 and Vecernje novosti blamed the Serbian Orthodox Church for not observing the Serbian Government’s measures, providing videos from Holy Communion held in Novi Sad and a large number of the faithful present at Divine Liturgy in Kraljevo.

Simultaneously, they stated that the campaign has also been carried out in Montenegro, where the regime has forbidden people to attend holy services because they allegedly posed a threat to the spreading of the epidemic.

The Serbin Orthodox Church responded to such claims with a communique that the state does not deal with, nor can it deal with the content and manner of conducting the Divine Liturgy and other church services. That is the sole matter of internal or autonomous church order and legislation, which the state accepts as valid, legitimate and legal in the sphere of public law. They also added that it is both unreasonable and malicious to expect that the Church itself would deny to its believers that which they deem most important and sacred – Holy Communion.

On the other hand, the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral stated that the liturgical gatherings following Holy Communion have never inflected anyone, but they will respect the Government’s measures. On March 22, the Government has adopted another measure referring to holy services being held without citizens, as more than a thousand people were attending Holy Communion and services around Montenegro. The Greek National Commission for Public Health responded on March 9 to the claim of the Standing Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church that none disease can be transmitted through Holy Communion. They stated that the virus spreads through droplets of salvia and by spoon, and therefore by Holy Communion, adding that they cannot involve in the affairs of religious freedoms and beliefs.

As the coronavirus pandemic reduced and even stopped vital activities of the society and individuals, it also shelved the dialogue between the Government and the Church on the Law on Freedom of Religion and Belief, inciting the two, until recently, confronted institutions to work together on controlling the epidemic.