Montenegro to fine people who don’t stand during national anthem

Posted at 7:49 AM, Oct 09, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-09 10:02:14-04

People who don’t stand during Montenegro’s national anthem could be fined up to 2,000 euros ($2,290), according to new legislation proposed by the government.

Authorities want to amend the existing Law on State Symbols and the Statehood Day of Montenegro to include penalties ranging from 300 to 2,000 euros “imposed on a natural person if they do not rise during the performance of the anthem.” The draft amendment was passed by the country’s Cabinet last week.

Asked by CNN if the law would be imposed on foreign nationals, Montenegro’s government spokesperson said the regulation would apply to everyone present during the anthem’s performance. People with disabilities would be exempt and allowed to pay their respects in “other ways” that have not been defined in the legislation.

The small Balkan nation gained independence from the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro after a referendum in 2006, and it was previously one of the five countries making up the former Yugoslavia. The anthem — called “Oj Svijetla Majska Zoro,” meaning “Oh, Bright Dawn of May,” was introduced in 2004.

Some opposition pro-Serbian members of parliament reject the anthem because several verses were written by Sekula Drljevic, a Montenegrin politician whom they accuse of collaborating with the Italian military occupation during World War Two. They often boycott it by staying seated when it is played in the parliament.

The proposals were condemned as “anachronistic” by Human Rights Action — a nongovernmental organization based in Montenegro’s capital, Podgorica, which appealed to the government to protect the freedom of expression.

“Ordering respect of state symbols in a certain way and intimidation by punishment for the opposite acts is inappropriate for a democratic society that must be open to the expression of different opinion and debate,” the NGO said in a statement, adding that no other country in the region has similar laws.

Montenegro became NATO’s newest member in June 2017 and is in the middle of lengthy talks to join the European Union. Civil society activists in the country warn that new proposals don’t chime with the democratic values the country is working toward in hope of joining the EU.

The new amendments also include requiring public institutions founded by the state to keep the flag permanently displayed on buildings, with fines ranging from 1,000 to 20,000 euros for violations.

Minister of Culture Aleksandar Bogdanovic told reporters that “by defining the content and form of state symbols, dominant and authentic motives are marked that are equally recognizable to all inhabitants of Montenegro and do not undermine their national or religious feelings.”