Authorities in Montenegro have announced charges against the organisers of two recent concerts over their use of Albanian and Serbian national flags, fuelling debate over the rights of ethnic minorities.
Last week, the Ministry of Culture reported the Serbian church organisers of a charity concert to raise money for the reconstruction of religious sites in the former Serbian province of Kosovo.
The ministry complained that the concert on August 13, organised by the Church Municipality of Herceg Novi, featured Serbian national flags and played an abridged version of the Montenegrin national anthem as well as the popular Serbian folk song Tamo Daleko.
Then on Saturday, the ministry announced charges against the organisers of a traditional concert on the banks of the Cijevna River, near the predominantly Albanian town of Tuzi southeast of the capital Podgorica, over the use of the Albanian national flag.
While Montenegro does not forbid national minorities from displaying their own national symbols, it requires that they also display the Montenegrin national flag alongside them or face fines of between 100 and 500 euros.
Last year, a group of Albanian tourists was fined 230 euros for waving an Albanian flag in the coastal city of Budva.“The highlighting of other countries’ symbols, the desecration of the official anthem of Montenegro with the inevitable political and nationalist messages, are just part of the basis for charges,” the ministry said on Thursday last week following the church charity concert in Herceg Novi.
In its statement on Saturday, the ministry said: “Cultural manifestations must not be a front for nationalism, nor for violations of laws clearly defined in Montenegro’s legal regulations.”
‘Flag of all Albanians’
With some 630,000 people, Montenegro is a multi-ethnic state unusual in having no one community that makes up over half of its population.
About 45 per cent identify as Montenegro, about 29 per cent as Serbs and five per cent are Albanians.Ethnic Albanians from across the region straddling Montenegro and Albania visited the traditional celebration of the Assumption of Mary on the Cijevna River every August, featuring Albanian folk singers and ensembles.
The Albanian Forum Coalition, which is part of Montenegro’s ruling government and which took in power in Tuzi this year after authorities restored its status as a municipality, said the flag displayed was the “flag of all Albanians, not a foreign state.
”The Forum’s Genci Nimanbegu, deputy speaker of the Montenegrin parliament, said the ministry’s decision was discriminatory.
“The Ministry of Culture must know that Albanians are native in their territories and that they have a Constitutional right to use national symbols,” he told the public broadcaster.
“Everything else is just the initiation of a quarrel with our people.”Reacting to the charges over the Herceg Novi concert, Serbia’s foreign minister, Ivica Dacic, told Radio Television Serbia: “We have no closer people than the Montenegrin people, but it takes two to love.
I don’t know what’s wrong with a humanitarian concert for Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija. I don’t know what’s wrong with Serbian songs. There are so many Montenegrin songs in Serbia, and no one has reacted.”