Global Independent Analytics
Giuseppe Zaccaria
Giuseppe Zaccaria

Location: Italy

Specialization: Balkans, Yugoslavia

Montenegro: end of the one man era?

In modern history, there are few politicians who have remained in power for two decades and most of them shared a ruinous end. Montenegrin PM, Milo Djukanovic, has reigned over the smallest former Yugoslav country (Montenegro) for more than twenty years.

Last week, after a year of political turmoil, a Parliamentary session was interrupted after opposition parties shouted insults at the prime minister, who they accused of corruption. Djukanovic was supposed to address lawmakers on Friday when deputies from the opposition Democratic Front party stood up from their seats and started shouting "Milo, thief!" The prime minister responded by shouting back "Bravo, you idiots!", and minor scuffles followed. The parliament session was focused on how to overhaul the government to include some opposition parties ahead of the general election later this year (October).

The Parliamentary incident’s aftermath is still blurred since the PM refuses to attend the session that was postponed for this week. This quite shocking political event within Parliament is rare to witness in this small country, and recent political history has showed instability caused by several reasons. But, the strongest one could be the NATO membership process that triggered the frustration of hard living to rise to the surface.

Thinking about the economy and social conditions is pretty much the same in more or less all former Yugoslav countries: unemployment is rather high, foreign investment, though proclaimed by the political elites, brought questionable economic results, and rule of law and corruption connected to weak state institutions are the biggest problems that actually leads to political, and above all social divisions and instability.

But, one could ask if this state has been working for decades, why are Balkan countries now going through turmoil, which in this case, in the soft belly of Europe, could lead to unrest or even to possible civil wars, as was being announced for a year. What is really going on in the Balkans, and especially in Montenegro?

The rude behavior demonstrated by the Democratic Front in Parliament was not done in opposition to the Government, but in opposition to the State, said former representative and Professor Novak Kilibarda to Montenegrin daily “Pobjeda”. He said that the incident is not what is dangerous for Montenegro, but the dangerous forces that stand behind such behavior.

But, it is still unclear what ‘forces’, as Professor Kilibarda said, stand behind Montenegrin political unrest. During last year’s opposition rallies and clashes, the political power elite blamed ‘forces’ from Serbia that had their hands in ‘what’s going on the streets in the Montenegrin capital - Podgorica’. At the same time, some pointed out that Russia stands behind the opposition trying to undermine the accession process for Montenegro acquiring NATO membership later next year. This leads us to some facts that must be addressed to clear some clouds over the Montenegrin political arena: A lot has happened in the past year, and the strong opposition coalition Democratic Front (DF) left Parliament, choosing street protests as a political methodology. Social Democratic Party, for almost two decades the strong political ally of ruling Mr. Djukanovic’s Democratic Party of Socialist (DPS), split into two parties and broke away from the coalition. This led to a vote of confidence in the Parliament that surfaced a strange coalition between “Positive Montenegro”, the once promising opposition party, and DPS. This alliance saved Mr. Djukanovic from a vote of no confidence. Meanwhile, three parties that didn’t even exist at the previous parliamentary elections have gained significant support. DF as a coalition has split - their once-leader Mr. Miodrag Lekic left them and formed DEMOS due to DF’s lack of clear political agenda. This once strong coalition left Parliament and went to the streets, but without strong political demands and agenda, it started to loose it’s ‘rallying’ power. This led to the agreement reached on April 26th before the October election. Though several political parties signed the agreement, “Positive Montenegro”, SDP, “Demos”, the civic movement URA, and Socialist People Party (SNP) didn’t seal an arrangement with the ruling DPS before, and after the elections leaders of DF refused it and announced protests. According to some polls, those three parties, especially “DEMOS” and URA, have rising support, while DF’s is declining. DPS’ support, after the invitation to join NATO, has slightly declined and now has around 40% - almost identical to the opposition’s support. The outcome is that the Montenegrin electoral body is divided in half, as it is almost the same from Croatia to Macedonia, resulting in the dangerous polarization of societies.

It seems NATO will be an electoral, almost referendum question at the October election, which will gave a space for some analysts to claim that Russia is behind the political turmoil in Montenegro. But, is this true? Traditionally these two countries had a close relationship, and from 2000 to 2013, Russia invested $1.1 billion in Montenegro, even though in 2006 Montenegro split from Serbia and gained independence without any turmoil, which was logical to foresee. For Russian interests, these two countries together mean a stronger influence in the region. It is quite true that the Russia Federation reacted fiercely on Montenegro’s intention to become a NATO member, but the target with priority was the US and its provocative move towards Russia, after the Ukraine and Syria ‘situations’. And Russia wasn’t alone in this protest. Germany, France, and Italy together were against this provocation, since there is no valid argument that NATO will gain something from this membership.

Is it strong enough evidence if we only remind that Montenegro is a small country with around 650,000 citizens and around 2,000 soldiers (and its best not to mention GDP)? So, the only reason left to understand this event is to provoke Russia - nothing more and nothing less.

On the other side, Russia was deeply disappointed since it felt betrayed after so many years of close relationship and money was pumped into Montenegro through various investments. In this way, each country will feel the same. Let us remind what happened to Ukraine when the country decided to freeze the agreement with the EU because the harsh condition made it impossible to fulfill it without civic rebellion. And, this goes for the rest of Europe: the US stepped in with both feet, easily flaming the “soft belly” of the Old Continent, The Balkans, as a firewall to ‘get things in order’ in the center of the EU. Only one day after the Montenegrin incident in Parliament, Republika Srpska staged two highly tensed rallies in the capital, Banja Luka, when the opposition claimed early elections; Ramus Haradinai organized a big rally in Kosovo demanding the government to step down; Croatia is heading towards new elections; Macedonia is trembling over conditions to run elections - and each Balkan country has the same diagnosis: a weak state and a deeply divided society. Not to mention a super fuel for rocketing this part of Europe as the activation of an anti-missile system in Romania. On what will happen in the near Balkan future, the outcome of the much bigger geopolitical picture will decide: when the going among the big ones gets tough, is the Balkans tough enough to get going, or will there be a repetition of the bloody 90’s? 

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