Politikon Network’s Director Jovana Marovic Podgorica Lesson

“The Albanian prime minister has openly sided with Djukanovic ahead of the elections, but I do not expect this to affect relations between the two countries. Gambling with good relations is not something that Montenegro can afford and in that sense it is to be expected that two moderate members of the coalition will show maturity and continue to maintain and strengthen good relations with Albania. This is another must for the new government,” said Executive Director of Politikon Network Jovana Marovic

By Genc Mlloja

Senior Diplomatic Editor

The winners and losers in August 30 Montenegro parliamentary elections, the causes which led to the fall of the 3 decade- governance of Djukanovic, the big test of the current opposition, which is now in a position to form the new government, the course of the foreign policy under the new ruling coalition and other related issues have been the main topics of an exclusive interview that Albanian Daily News has had with Jovana Marovic, PhD, Executive Director of the Politikon Network, member of the Working Group on Chapter 23 under Montenegro’s EU accession negotiations, and member of the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG), Podgorica.

“Since the government in Montenegro was removed after thirty years by democratic means, regardless of the shortcomings of the legislation and the institutional advantage that the ruling party had from the very beginning, this can only be an incentive for all citizens of the region that such a scenario is possible, as well as well as for understanding that change depends only on them. Citizens must fight all undemocratic practices and rulers,” said Dr. Marovic, who worked as a Counselor for the European Union with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ multilateral department from 2004 until 2016.

Politikon Network’s Director sees a reason for optimism, at least for now, as the leaders of the three coalitions in Montenegro have already agreed on commitment to international contracts signed by the previous government including on NATO membership, commitment to country’s European path, establishment of an expert government, respect for the rule of law and change of discriminatory laws on which the new government should be based.

In the meantime, according to her, turning to non-Western actors who are interested in Montenegro, would not bring anything good in the political sphere. “These countries do not offer a framework for democratization, so their "mentoring" would mean moving away from the principles of liberal democracy, and Montenegro is already significantly behind the European Union’s members.”

Asked if the change of power on Podgorica’s political scene will have any impact on the status of minorities like Albanians, who have traditionally backed Djukanovic since Montenegro’s independence, Dr. Marovic noted that one of the principles on which the civic movement URA (White on Black), led by Dritan Abazovic, born in Ulcinj to an Albanian family, which is now a part of the majority that should form an expert government, insists is full respect for the Constitution, and it guarantees the rights of minorities. “In this sense, the future of the coalition depends on respect for the rights of minorities, and any deviation from that would mean its end. Leaders of the three coalition parties have invited the national minority parties to join the new government.”

As the interview was held right after the Washington event related to the US sponsored Pristina-Belgrade negotiations on economic cooperation, the Director of Politicon Network was of the opinion that the Kosovo-Serbia agreement (or rather: agreements, as the versions signed by Vucic and Hoti are slightly different) signed in DC are very flashy, containing a great number of points.

“But there is no real news in terms of the economic cooperation measures pledged by Kosovo and Serbia, which are made of rehashed deals already concluded in the past. The pledges that go against the interests of China (an allusion to ban Huawei), Russia (diversification of energy) and Turkey (the ‘gift’ to the Isreaelis) are also hard to believe; it is difficult to see how Vucic will implement the measures against China, for instance,” said Dr. Marovic. She considered the move to Jerusalem of the embassy of Serbia and the establishment of a Kosovan embassy in Jerusalem as a slap in the face of the EU. “This leaves the EU in an uneasy place: it will be interesting to see what will be the next move by Lajcak and his team.”

According to her opinion, all in all, the Washington episode was a tale of parallel media spectacles: an internal audience show for Trump and Vucic, and the attempt at an international one projecting decorum and gravits to the outside world. “This later attempt failed.”

Ms. Marovic was explicit on the perspective of future relations of Montenegro with Albania saying no one could afford gambling with the existing good relations: “The Albanian prime minister has openly sided with Djukanovic ahead of the elections, but I do not expect this to affect relations between the two countries. Gambling with good relations is not something that Montenegro can afford and in that sense it is to be expected that two moderate members of the coalition will show maturity and continue to maintain and strengthen good relations with Albania. This is another must for the new government,” said Dr. Jovana Marovic, the Executive Director of the Politikon Network in the following interview:

Albanian Daily News: Ms. Director, first of all thank you for this interview Albanian Daily News and its readers’ interest is great in your opinions as we are talking against the backdrop of a crucial development in Montenegro- the ‘earthquake election’ as you called the poll in a recent analysis. So, who are the great winners and losers from the 30 August people’s vote?

Politikon Network Director Jovana Marovic: The real winners of the last week’s election are the citizens. In the country where one party has formed all the governments since the establishment of the multi-party system, with their institutional advantage in all previous elections, with constant abuses and lack of responsibility, many doubted that a democratic change of the government would ever happen. And precisely this realization, that power can be changed, is the key achievement I would take from this election.

As for the current opposition, which is now in a position to form the new government, the next period will be a big test. It will be a test for its capacities, ability to take responsibility and manage processes, with imperative not to disrupt what the previous government achieved. Here I am primarily thinking of the foreign policy course and, mostly, good neighborly relations. However, the new government has to accelerate fulfilling of the obligations from the EU accession talks.

Moving to the opposition benches should be beneficial for Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and the structural changes that this party has to go through, primarily changes in the governing structure. Since the Democratic Front emerged as the second strongest power in Montenegro, nationalism is often mentioned as one of the "winners" of the elections, but with two more moderate coalition partners in power, it is to be expected that this will not be the case.

- The spirit of change has been felt since long in Montenegro, and it occurred. First, please, which are some of the main reasons for the loss of Djukanovic, and secondly, will this change bring about what citizens really opted for, particularly when COVID-19 crisis is aggravating?

-There are two key factors that influenced such outcome of the elections. One is the great dissatisfaction of the citizens with the extremely poor political and economic situation in the country, and the other refers to the disagreement of a large number of supporters of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) with the solutions from the Law on Freedom of Religion, and active engagement of the church on the ground.

-As a follow up, Ms. Marovic, can this development be seen as an emancipation of the people not only in Montenegro but in other WB countries to say ‘Stop!’ to the rule of ‘monarchs’?

-Since the government in Montenegro was removed after thirty years by democratic means, regardless of the shortcomings of the legislation and the institutional advantage that the ruling party had from the very beginning, this can only be an incentive for all citizens of the region that such a scenario is possible, as well as well as for understanding that change depends only on them. Citizens must fight all undemocratic practices and rulers.

- The significant winner in the election is the Democratic Front (DF) with an outspoken pro-Serbian and pro-Russian outlook, which leads the coalition ‘For the Future of Montenegro’ having the largest number of seats in the new 81-parliament. In the meantime it has been obvious a strong engagement of the Serbian Orthodox Church on the ground contributing to DF’s electoral success. Is there ground for the worry of pro-European segments of the local society as well as of Euro-Atlantic partners for a change of foreign policy course of the country?

-The leaders of the three coalitions already agreed on the principles (commitment to international contracts signed by the previous government including on NATO membership; commitment to Montenegro’s European path; establishment of an expert government; respect for the rule of law and change of discriminatory laws) on which the new government should be based, and that is a reason for optimism, at least for now.

However, the coalition agreement should be more comprehensive and precise, and still be based on the agreed principles. Montenegro must meet the obligations arising from NATO membership and respect all international obligations and signed agreements. Montenegro needs to step up its efforts to become a full member of the European Union. There are non-Western, actors who are interested in Montenegro, and while in the economic sense one could talk about a certain interest, turning to these countries would not bring anything good in the political sphere. These countries do not offer a framework for democratization, so their "mentoring" would mean moving away from the principles of liberal democracy, and Montenegro is already significantly behind the European Union’s members.

-Despite losing the control of parliament Mr. Djukanovic remains the incumbent president as his mandate expires in 2023. Given the new political landscape with the deep abyss between him and the new expected ruling executive, how do you assess their future ‘co-existence’?

-Djukanovic could, in line with his constitutional powers, obstruct the work of the new government. He represents a party that ideologically disagrees with the Democratic front as the strongest member of the coalition which should be in power in the coming period, so this may affect e.g. refusal to sign certain laws, delays and the like. I expect that Djukanovic will use his position to work on strengthening the DPS and preparing the ground for its potential return to power in the next early or regular elections.

-Please let me touch on the issue of minorities like, for example, Albanians, which have traditionally backed Djukanovic since Montenegro’s independence? Will this change of power and balance on Podgorica’s political scene have any impact on them, their status?

-One of the principles on which the civic movement URA, and the coalition it heads which is now a part of the majority that should form an expert government, insists is full respect for the Constitution, and it guarantees the rights of minorities. In this sense, the future of the coalition depends on respect for the rights of minorities, and any deviation from that would mean its end. Leaders of the three coalition parties have invited the national minority parties to join the new government.

-Seeing the election development in a regional perspective when some countries like Albania backed Djukanovic can it have any impact on the region and concretely on its EU path and initiatives like the Berlin Process promoting such a spirit?

-Regional co-operation is one of the preconditions for EU membership and also an imperative for the countries of the Western Balkans if they want to prosper and build their economies, exchange experiences and strengthen networking. The region is the first stop for all this. Again, the principle here is the same as for all the previous ones, the fulfillment of obligations depends on whether the existing foreign policy course will be maintained, which should be ensured by the coalition agreement and agreed principles.

-The deadlocked Pristina-Belgrade talks have taken a new twist after the signing of an economic cooperation agreement between Kosovo and Serbia brokered by the US which was announced by President Donald Trump himself on September 4. In the meantime, the EU-facilitated dialogue between them, launched in 2011 and suspended in 2018, will continue at the EU Headquarters on September 7. How do you assess the latest development in the frame of this dual - track dialogue, and the perspective of a final solution to this conflict in the new circumstances?

-Although the EU and the US have repeatedly stated that the two strands of the dialogue they lead (supposedly: the economic dialogue led by the US and the political by the EU) are not in contradiction one with another, the recent events in Washington DC have proved otherwise. In particular, the stunt pulled by Trump about the move to Jerusalem of the embassy of Serbia and the establishment of a Kosovan embassy in Jerusalem are a slap in the face of the EU. This leaves the EU in an uneasy place: it will be interesting to see what will be the next move by Lajcak and his team.

The Kosovo-Serbia agreement (or rather: agreements, as the versions signed by Vucic and Hoti are slightly different) signed in DC are very flashy, containing a great number of points. But there is no real news in terms of the economic cooperation measures pledged by Kosovo and Serbia, which are made of rehashed deals already concluded in the past. The pledges that go against the interests of China (an allusion to ban Huawei), Russia (diversification of energy) and Turkey (the ‘gift’ to the Isreaelis) are also hard to believe; it is difficult to see how Vucic will implement the measures against China, for instance.

All in all, the Washington episode was a tale of parallel media spectacles: an internal audience show for Trump and Vucic, and the attempt at an international one projecting decorum and gravits to the outside world. This later attempt failed.

-To conclude, Ms. Marovic my interest is in the bilateral relations between Albania and Montenegro considered as an example of ‘good neighborliness’ in the region. What can you say on their perspective?

-The Albanian prime minister has openly sided with Djukanovic ahead of the elections, but I do not expect this to affect relations between the two countries. Gambling with good relations is not something that Montenegro can afford and in that sense it is to be expected that two moderate members of the coalition will show maturity and continue to maintain and strengthen good relations with Albania. This is another must for the new government.