Montenegro Takes Minorities to Task over National Flags

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."

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