On 30 August 2020, Montenegro held the 11th parliamentary election since the first multi-party election in 1990, and the fifth since Montenegro gained independence in 2006. The turnout was as high as 76.65%. The elections brought an end to the longest-running regime in Europe. After 31 ears, the citizens overcame their fears and renounced obedience to the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and its leader, the incumbent President of Montenegro Milo Đukanović.
The election was held under unfair conditions, with the ruling regime having unlimited resources for the election campaign and strong media support financed from the state budget as well as from dubious criminal-political-mafia activities.
Analysts have estimated that the election was not fully transparent, fair and free and that the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) manipulatively gained about five seats more than it should have according to the votes given by the citizens, through its full control over the election process.
The new government brings new hope for Montenegro
The new government of Montenegro was elected on 4 December 2020. It has 12 ministries led by Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapić. Satirically it is also called the apostolic government due to its twelve ministers that allude to the twelve biblical apostles, and also to the 12 stars on the EU flag.
The government consists of three coalitions: For the Future of Montenegro with 32.55% (133,267), Peace is Our Nation with 12.53% (51,297) and In Black and White with 5.53 (22,649).
It's an expert government without any representatives of minority communities, despite the fact that there are no majority ethnic communities in Montenegro. Despite the invitation of Prime Minister Krivokapić, political representatives of Bosniaks and Albanians refused to join the new government. Actually, they were not “allowed” to accept the invitation, being still controlled by Milo Đukanović whose political puppets they were all those previous years. Đukanović's regime hoped until the very last moment that the new government would not be formed and that everything would stay the same in Montenegro.
Analysts believe that Montenegrin citizens will have to become accustomed to the freedom that they did not have in the past. The new government should better reflect the ethnic structure of Montenegro as a multi-ethnic state. Nevertheless, this shortcoming may be fixed in the upcoming period, as long as the government proves that it represents and acts in the interests of all its citizens, not discriminating against any group, as was the case till now.
The revision of DPS regime
Having taken over the running of the state, the new government will inevitably have to deal with the revision of DPS regime. Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) bears the responsibility for the recent wars in former Yugoslavia. While it never proclaimed state of war, Montenegro used all forces for warfare with other states. Accounting for a half of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SRJ), it was not miniature in terms of size or in terms of its responsibility.
DPS was responsible for war crimes, deportations of Muslim Bosniaks, and the Morinj concentration camp. Đukanović's practice of laying the blame on Yugoslav People' Army (JNA) could be understood either as ignorance or supreme cynicism. Territorial Defence (TO) forces were not subordinated to JNA but to Montenegrin authorities. A member of Supreme Defence Council of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was from Montenegro. DPS is responsible for severe economic sanctions, irregular privatisation cases and 40 unresolved assassinations in Montenegro. The new authorities will have to adopt the lustration law in order to cleanse DPS from crime. ICTY/MICT Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz is currently demanding an investigation and prosecution of 15 suspects of war crimes committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, but it was Đukanović who obstructed the prosecution.
Passing the law on asset tracing and lustration is of vital importance. The healthy part of DPS should distance itself from its criminalised structures and elect a new leadership with a new president. Đukanović's autocracy introduced “serfdom” which is not inherent in the tradition of Montenegrins.
Despite being a part of NATO, Montenegro's armed forces are still a division of DPS, so with the collapse of the system they suffer staff problems. The new authorities will among other have to carry out investigations against former Montenegro Defence Minister Predrag Bošković (DPS).
The process of dismantling the security-intelligence agencies could follow the positive experience from the Czech Republic which abolished and dismantled its national security and military services (dismantling the National Security Agency, the intelligence sector of the armed forces, the Corruption Prevention Agency and the Attorney General office and their reconstruction on new professional bases). In 2016 Slovenia's Member of Parliament and Defence Minister Matej Tonin (NSi) suggested complete abolishment and reconstruction of Slovenia's intelligence and security agency (SOVA). While this is the best option for such services, it is very difficult to carry out this process as it means that for a certain period the state will not be able to obtain important information for its decision-making. A new model must be found for appointing judges and prosecutors. Practice has shown that criminals cannot exist if the state and its institutions don't allow it.
Montenegro still has UDB that was never abolished, which raises the question whether the country has the capacity to protect itself from those who threaten it. Montenegro is threatened by highly organised criminals, which calls for a well-trained and equipped police and prosecutors. Several appropriate measures must be taken to deal with those criminals. With crime and corruption deeply rooted in Montenegrin society, measures must be carried out “from head to tail” Strong police plays a vital role in states governed by rule of law. The police must be stronger and better equipped than the army, and this requires the process of “policisation of the army and militarisation of police”.
A new judicial and prosecution council should be established to defend the state of Montenegro from DPS.
Radio and Television of Montenegro (RTCG) was the public service broadcaster that served Đukanović's regime, while now it is used for attacks on Western embassies, especially the USA embassy in Podgorica.
In line with the last report on Montenegro published by the European Commission in October, the new Montenegrin Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapić's priorities will be fighting crime and corruption and reform of the judiciary, which would enable the realisation of the new government's programme and bring justice for all.
The hybrid regime ends – what now?
In the Nations in Transit report published on 6 May 2020 by Freedom House, Montenegro and Serbia fall in the category of semi-consolidated democracies and are ranked as transitional or the so-called hybrid regimes.
The new government finds the state on the brink of bankruptcy. Despite being a full NATO member since 2017, Montenegro is far from the high democratic standards set by the Alliance.
Đukanović's regime was unprepared for the Covid-19 pandemic - with only a few thousand face masks and no special medical equipment. On 26 March 2020 Montenegro officially requested NATO/EADRCC for international assistance (Montenegro requests international assistance in their response to COVID-19), asking among other for a mobile hospital with 1,000 beds and 5,688,353 surgical masks. NATO published the request on its official web site in line with its democratic standards, values and transparency. Đukanović's regime acted contrary to all democratic standards and non-transparently. Despite its unpreparedness, in terms of staff and equipment, for effective response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the regime declared victory over the pandemic, and proclaimed Montenegro as coronavirus-free country already in April 2020, covering real information from the citizens and thus endangering their lives.
The regime closed the borders with the neighbouring countries, except for the period during parliamentary elections, which resulted in the tourist season revenue falling to less than 10% in comparison with previous year.
Closed borders destroyed also the rest of the economy in the country, which confirmed in practice Đukanović's “efficient and visionary leadership”. That period was also marked with intensified campaign against Serbia and its President Aleksandar Vučić (SNS), as well as against Russia.
Analysts believe that the defeat of Đukanović's regime at the parliamentary election was the consequence of enormous growth of crime and corruption during their 31-year long government. The second reason for the defeat was the adoption of the disputable law on freedom of religion that triggered massive dissatisfaction among the Orthodox community. Accusations against Serbian Orthodox Church or Serbia's President Vučić only served the regime as an excuse for election defeat. Under the circumstances the citizens eventually stopped fearing the regime and started to disobey it.
After the regime's downfall, financial assets were massively transferred abroad, documents were destroyed and public tenders were published to pull out as much money as possible.
In order to prevent bankruptcy the new government had to issue € 750 million worth bonds for the period of seven years with a 2.8% interest rate. In March 2021 the loan installment of € 525 million is due, while the rest of the bonds money would be used for economic development. As comparison, Bosnia and Herzegovina – which has at least six times the population of Montenegro – is currently negotiating with IMF a loan of € 750 million.
Analysts believe that the issuance of € 750 million bonds is proof of the situation in which the new Montenegrin government found itself and shows all the “achievements” of Đukanović’ regime. Montenegro's national debt amounts to more than 100% of GDP. The new government's biggest short-term challenge will be dealing with Covid-19 pandemic and its consequences.
Analysts have noted that Montenegro's citizens have been deprived of development for 31 years. In order to alleviate the consequences of Đukanović' regime, a fund for illicitly acquired property should be established and used to finance development of the country.
Expulsion of Ambassador Božović – a trap for Vučić
Only a few days before Montenegro's new government was formed, Đukanović' regime decided to expel Ambassador of the Republic of Serbia Dr. Vladimir Božović for alleged interference in Montenegro's interior affairs. Such act calls for a reciprocal act from the other state, in this case Serbia's expulsion of Montenegrin ambassador. Expulsion of ambassadors is a rarely practiced measure, especially among friendly and neighbouring countries. In practice it represents a sort of pre-war state, when one country is expected to declare a war on another country or to permanently disrupt their relations.
Analysts believe that the expulsion of Ambassador Božović was actually a trap for Serbia's President Aleksandar Vučić, leading him to make the same move and expel Montenegro's Ambassador Tarzan Milošević (DPS), so that Serbia and its President would be accused of interfering into Montenegro's interior affairs and threatening regional cooperation, peace and stability. President Vučić did not fall into the trap and withdrew the decision to expel Montenegro's Ambassador from Serbia. Thus he prevented the creation of new tensions and instability which was the plan made by Đukanović's regime, which had thrived for decades at the expense of Serbia-Kosovo dispute. With the decision not to expel Montenegro's ambassador, and also not to recall its ambassador, Serbia sent a clear and unambiguous message to Montenegro as to what it expects from the new government. Demanding from Serbia to recall its ambassador and appoint a new one represents severe interference into internal affairs of a sovereign state, which would in practice mean that Serbia would be left without its highest diplomatic representative for the next 7 to 8 months during the procedure for the appointment of the new ambassador.
European Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhely has commended Serbia's government for having reversed its decision to expel Serbian ambassador and called on Montenegro to do the same. Respect for good neighbourly relations and regional cooperation are cornerstones of EU enlargement and the Association and Stabilization process, stated Varhely.
Analysts believe that the new Montenegrin government should relax relations with Serbia and other neighbouring countries and hold joint meetings with their governments. As the first step to friendly neighbourly relations Montenegrin government should take the decision to return Ambassador Božović to Montenegro and thus alleviate disturbed relations between the two states. This would truly confirm that the new government intends to discontinue Đukanović's politics.
Interestingly, Đukanović's regime did not state the exact name of the convention that was the basis for expulsion of Serbian ambassador. It incorrectly cited Article 41 on privileges and immunity. What is even more paradoxical, the diplomatic note on expulsion was never served to Ambassador Božović, who was in Belgrade at the time the expulsion decision was adopted.
Article 95 of Montenegro's Constitution states that the President of Montenegro appoints and revokes ambassadors and heads of other diplomatic missions of Montenegro abroad, while in case of foreign diplomats he or she only accepts letters of accreditation and revocation from foreign diplomatic representatives, as according to Article 100 of the Constitution it is the government's duty to manage internal and foreign policy of Montenegro.
Analysts note that it is clear that the Republic of Serbia will not recall its Ambassador to Montenegro Božović, while this case represents a test for Montenegro's Foreign Minister Đorđe Radulović who is already put under question for his connections with former Đukanović's regime and even with the National Security Agency (ANB). The decision he takes in case of Ambassador Božović will show his true political affiliation.
Expulsion of Ambassador Božović is obviously a bait set by Đukanović's regime in order to make it more difficult for the new government of Montenegro and its Western partners to deal with past anomalies, while presenting the regime to the West as promoters of peace, stability and pro-Western politics. The ultimate goal is clear: to remain in power by provoking artificial division. The OSCE/ODIR and EU observation missions to Montenegro concluded that elections were held under unequal conditions and with numerous violations. Đukanović's regime is trying to regain its power by infiltrating its staff into the new government while constantly putting spokes in their wheels.
It is of uttermost importance that the new government as well as the EU, NATO and Western partners recognise those intentions and prevent them. Otherwise we would experience a paradoxical and unprecedented situation in which a dictatorial regime would return to power after being defeated and overthrown by the citizens, thus permanently destabilizing the entire region.
It is therefore surprising to hear the first unconvincing and contradictory statements of the new Foreign Minister Đorđe Radulović who repeated the words of his predecessor Srđan Darmanović (DPS) about good neighbourly relations while continuing the previous politics which jeopardised those relations with the expulsion of Serbian ambassador. Will Radulović be able to normalise the relations with Montenegro's nearest neighbour and main foreign trade partner by reversing the wrong decision made by the previous foreign minister in the former DPS-led caretaker government which he also criticizes himself, and by acting in the spirit of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and expecting reciprocal friendly action from Serbia?
Why is American Embassy to Montenegro under attack?
Đukanović's DPS was the first political party in the Balkans to sign a cooperation agreement with United Russia led by Vladimir Putin. Montenegro gained independence after receiving direct support from Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church. This was confirmed by the testimony of Donald Trump's close associate Paul Manafort, who cut a deal with the prosecution in relation to the charges of treason against the U.S.A. and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Manafort was the head of Donald Trump's election campaign for a couple of months in 2016, but was forced to resign in August the same year, after the discovery of the extent of his consultancy and lobbying services provided to Ukrainian politicians, including the former pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. Manafort also closely cooperated with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who is very close to Montenegrin President Đukanović. After Montenegro proclaimed independence in 2006, it received the largest share of foreign investments from Russia. Oleg Deripaska, a Russian industrial tycoon with close links to the Kremlin, privatised the Aluminium Industrial Conglomerate in Podgorica (KAP), while the iron and steel works Željezara Nikšić was purchased by mysterious Russian businessmen who, among other acquisitions, purchased land and buildings throughout Montenegro at unrealistic prices, which raised many eyebrows among international organizations and investigators. Faced with many problems and accusations of corruption and crime (A2A, Telekom, the envelope affair, the custodial account, the first million, the hydroelectric plants built by Milo Đukanović’s son Blažo Đukanović, numerous unresolved murders), Đukanović lost the support and influence he had enjoyed in the region 10 years ago.
For major international players, especially in the West, Đukanović is no longer a necessary or important factor in the Balkans. He therefore decided to resort to the time-tested recipe of playing the card of manipulation with nationalism and religion and thus creating tensions and conflicts to demonstrate that he is the only one who can ensure peace and guarantee stability in the region by presenting himself as a pro-Western politician. Nevertheless, the voters recognised his intentions and eventually punished his politics at recent parliamentary election.
Why is Milo Đukanović no longer important to Western partners is illustratively explained by American political scientist Francis Fukuyama, one of the most prominent and influential contemporary political theoreticians and thinkers, who criticised Milo Đukanović and his regime.
“Montenegro hasn't done much to join the European Union. Last summer I had a long conversation with Đukanović when I was in Podgorica. I think he is en efficient politician but I don’t think he is governing a democratic country,” said Francis Fukuyama in early June 2020. To explain what he meant by Milo Đukanović being efficient, he said the following: “I think Mr Đukanović presents himself in public in a very good light and I think bad sides of his governance have been hidden very well. I meant efficiency in that context. On the other side, I think he is a very problematic leader because of the way he used political power to disable real fight for government in Montenegro.”
Montenegro is economically tied to Russia, because 20% of companies are in Russian ownership (and 20% of companies are owned by citizens of Serbia), while China has control over the public finances through the loan it gave for construction of the Bar-Boljare highway. Namely, it controls the key investment into the highway whose construction, coupled with the Covid-19 pandemic, has increased Montenegro's foreign debt by more than 100% of GDP. China seeks to gain influence in the region using the “debt diplomacy” strategy, i.e. by providing funds to financially disadvantaged countries in a way that creates political dependence.
Milo Đukanović and part of his collapsed regime are using all means to sabotage the legally elected government in Montenegro. Their first targets are Western states' ambassadors in Montenegro, who followed the instructions of their respective countries and did not provide support to Đukanović. The most open attack was directed at US Ambassador Judy Rising Reinke. The US Embassy in Montenegro even publicly reacted to the attack at their leading diplomat which was carried out through parts of the Radio and Television of Montenegro (RTCG) broadcaster. Attacks at US representatives in Montenegro are put in connection with certain information about Đukanović's renewed relations with the Russian Federation.
Western states are increasing their presence in Montenegro. The new French Ambassador to Montenegro Christian Thimonier said at the Civil Rights Defenders conference that “wealth in Montenegro is concentrated within 10 or 12 families”, wandering whether the accumulation of wealth in Montenegro indicates European values and noting that Montenegro served as an example why the EU enlargement criteria must be revised. Montenegro should focus its efforts on the rule of law in order to efficiently fight corruption, organised crime and human trafficking.
Analysts believe that Milo Đukanović is systematically sabotaging the new Montenegrin government, attacking the West and renewing ties with Russia again. The signing of recent appeals in support of Đulanović’s regime by public figures/intellectuals from the region was a deliberate manipulation and an opportunity for Đukanović to present himself as a pro-Western politician, while secretly preparing for a turn towards Russia.
It seems inexplicable how Milo Đukanović and his regime managed to animate a part of the public in the region with the apparent danger of creating a new “Greater Serbia”. It was clear to even to those with the most basic knowledge of the political situation that Đukanović had lost Western support the moment Montenegro joined NATO and that his part was over. Analysts estimate that most of the lobbying was sponsored and that only a small part of lobbyists believed the story of “Greater Serbia”. The question is whether Đukanović’s lobbyists from the region are also behind the attack on Western embassies in Podgorica and whether they support Đukanović in his conflict with the West and efforts to undermine the new pro-European government in Montenegro.
With the change of the regime that had been in power for 31 years, Montenegro expects its foreign policy to remain on the stable path promised by the new government.
“Although at first glance it seems that the paths to the EU and NATO are parallel, practice has shown that prior NATO membership speeds up the European integration process. I believe that the paths to both NATO and the EU, which Montenegro has opted for, will be faster, better and more comprehensive, and that is why I would recommend everyone to follow such a path”, said Prime Minister Krivokapić.
The new Montenegrin government must be democratic and show absolute discontinuity with the previous DPS-Đukanović regime, clearly proving that it has no staff infiltrated from the previous regime. People must see that the real authority comes from the new government and not from the defeated autocracy. The Western partners’ strong initial support is a clear signal that they also want this and that this is the end of Đukanović's political career and the beginning of his “judicial career”. The institutions have to conduct a thorough investigation based on the rule of law and search for the stolen money and property belonging to the citizens of Montenegro. The new Montenegrin Government has already gained popularity in the region, which will be further strengthened by joining the regional “mini-Schengen” initiative to boost regional cooperation. /IFIMES
Ljubljana/Brussels/Washington/Podgorica, 30 December 2020