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Europe’s first ‘COVID-free’ country Montenegro to open borders, but not to Serbia

PTI, May 26, 2020, 5:26 PM IST

Podgorica: Montenegro, the first European country to declare itself free of the coronavirus infection, plans to open its borders to citizens of several European countries except for former ally Serbia, drawing an angry reaction from Serbian officials Tuesday, May 26.

Announcing the decision, Montenegro’s prime minister said on Monday that the borders will be opened as of June 1 for nationals of the countries that meet the entry criteria of the small country’s health authorities: to currently have at most 25 COVID-19 patients per 100.000 inhabitants.

Premier Dusko Markovic said the states which meet the criteria are Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Albania, and Greece.

“We will open the borders to the countries that have a similar epidemiological status,” he said. “We will not ask for special tests, everyone will receive clear instructions on what awaits them in the country and what regulations they must respect.”

Markovic didn’t mention neighboring Serbia, triggering an angry rebuke from Belgrade even though Serbia isn’t saying it meets Montenegro”s entry criteria. Serbs traditionally are the most frequent visitors to Montenegro, which depends highly on tourism revenue.

Serbia’s foreign minister, Ivica Dacic, said Tuesday that Montenegro’s decision is “ridiculous” and politically motivated. Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said it shows that Serbs are unwelcome in the Adriatic state. Both said Serbia, for now, won’t introduce reciprocal measures.

The last recorded case of the coronavirus in Montenegro was about three weeks ago. The country declared itself free of COVID-19 on Sunday.

A country of 620,000, Montenegro split from much larger Serbia in 2006, but many in Montenegro and Serbia still remain opposed to the separation. Serbs represent about 30% of Montenegro’s population.

Tensions between Serbia and Montenegro have escalated over a religious law adopted by the Montenegrin parliament last year that the Serbian Orthodox Church says would strip it of its property. Belgrade has openly supported mostly peaceful protests by Serbs in Montenegro who want the law to be revoked.

Montenegrin officials have accused Belgrade along with Moscow of trying to destabilize the small state’s pro-Western government. Montenegro joined NATO in 2017 despite strong opposition from historic Slavic ally Russia.

Montenegro, the last European country to record its first coronavirus case over two months ago, imposed strict lockdown measures to curb the outbreak. A total of 324 cases have been recorded and nine people have died. Serbia has recorded over 11,000 cases and nearly 240 deaths.

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