BRUSSELS/PODGORICA (EJP)---The summit of EU leaders last Friday agreed to hold immediate accession negotiations with Montenegro to discuss endorsing the southeastern European country as an EU member state.
In a statement, the EU Council issued a statement confirming that “Montenegro has achieved the necessary degree of compliance with EU membership criteria, and in particular the political criteria, to start accession negotiations,” further specifying these criteria included “judiciary and fundamental rights and justice, freedom and security”.
Montenegro has notably made increased moves towards religious freedom in recent months, leading up to accession talks.
In February, the country’s Prime Minister Igor Luksic signed an agreement with Jewish community leaders recognising Judaism as the country’s fourth official religion. Before that, the country only had three officially recognised religions: Roman Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity and Islam.
The decision was powered largely by the efforts of the Rabbinical Council of Europe (RCE) in association with the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, both of whom met with the country’s premier as part of an official ceremony to recognise the historic document. It also comes despite the RCE’s estimation that only “around 1,000 Jews” live in Montenegro today.
Luksic called the signing “an historic day and an important milestone for the future of Montenegro Jewry”.
Jewish Community president Jasha Alfandri, meanwhile claimed knowledge of only 200 Montenegrin Jews, adding that “it’s a long process to activate all (of) them.”
“Our community today has about 80 active members,” he said”.
Speaking at a subsequent meeting with RCE representatives and Alfrandri in Podgorica in May, Luksic further committed to closer ties with the Jewish community, pledging Montenegro’s aims “to build not only a modern society committed to European values, but to cherish traditions and protect the wealth that is the common life of all peoples and faiths. This is precisely the quality Montenegro brings to Europe and its citizens”.
Another potential such milestone was overseen by the accession delegation team leading talks, which consisted of, from the EU, Nicolai Wammen, Minister for European Affairs of Denmark and, from the European Commission, Stefa Fule, Commissioner for enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy, as well as Montenegrin Minister for Foreign Affairs and European Integration Milan Rocen.
The council statement also encouraged Montenegro to “tackle the issues of concern identified by the Commission”, naming those as “the independence of the judiciary, the fight against corruption and organised crime”.
When Germany and its allies invaded the Former Soviet Republic of Yugoslavia in April 1941, Hitler divided up the state as a political entity, handing possession of Montenegro to Italy.
The Jewish population of Montenegro was regarded as lucky amongst other former Yugoslavian Jewry. The Italian government, army and foreign ministry colluded to protect the Jewish community from the Germans to preserve its reputation in Yugoslavia and once they saw Germany were destined to lose WWII.
Approximately 5,000 Jews were saved from the Holocaust by the Italians, which claimed the lives of about 66,000 Yugoslav Jews in all.
“During WWII, over 300 Jews with families were hiding in Montenegro and in safeness reached the end of the war,” Alfandri said in a statement.
“Our community is made [up of] the children of those refugees.”