Montenegro at the Turning Point

The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. It has analysed current events in Montenegro following the exit of Social Democratic Party (SDP) from the leading coalition and the launch of negotiations for NATO membership and in view of the regular parliamentary election scheduled for October 2016. The most relevant and interesting parts from the analysis entitled “Montenegro at the Turning Point”are published below. 



Montenegro at the Turning Point


In December 2015 Montenegro received invitation for NATO full membership. The period before and after the invitation was marked with protests organised by the opponents of NATO membership. The fact that protestors invoked Serbia and Russia reveals the involvement of those countries in current events in Montenegro.


The iconography used at protests reminds of the events in 1990s. The so called pro-Serbian block of political parties that has been formed expressed its rejection of NATO membership through the rhetoric and iconography of (non)extinct ideologies of WW2 and the 1990s wars that raged through former Yugoslav republics. This stirred up memories, especially among (numerous) minority communities that were the victims of such politics in early 1990s. The demonstrations were financed from abroad. The attempt to overthrow Milo Đukanović (DPS) and the incumbent Montenegrin government by a part of pro-Serbian opposition was based on a completely false concept.  In order to achieve this support should be obtained from minority communities instead of pushing them away by using such nationalistic approach. What are the reasons for the political crisis in Montenegro and what is the solution? The political scene and its actors in Montenegro will find it difficult to reach appropriate common solution without some kind of interference by the international community.


Friction between Đukanović and Krivokapić


Strong friction has been present in recent years between Prime Minister Milo Đukanović (Democratic Party of Socialists - DPS) and Speaker of the Parliament Ranko Krivokapić (Social Democratic Party - SDP). This insecure atmosphere has stopped several important foreign investments that are crucial for Montenegrin economy and consequently for maintaining and preserving the social peace. Krivokapić's behaviour led to the disintegration of his Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the formation of new Social Democrats (SD) party led by Ivan Brajović that was joined by most of SDP functionaries and members.


This friction and unreliability within the coalition was finally cut by Prime Minister Đukanović who called on parliament to take a vote of (no)confidence in his government in January 2016, which he survived although without the support of deputies who joined Krivokapić after disintegration of SDP. The key votes for stability were cast by three deputies from Positive Montenegro led by Darko Pajović.


Montenegro is the country with one of the beset macroeconomic indices in the region (economic growth was 3% in 2015 and is expected to grow to 4% in 2016). It has made good progress in EU accession negotiations and received the invitation for NATO membership. It has also made considerable progress in fighting corruption after several important persons were arrested. Nevertheless, it still needs to further strengthen its fight against crime and corruption, as has been noted also by the EU.


For the past 18 years the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), which has been constantly in power since the first multiparty election, has built coalition in cooperation with the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and some minority parties. Although all this time Krivokapić's party has received low public support in opinion polls, it has gained much stronger role in the government structure. Their integration was mainly based on promoting sovereignty and Euro-Atlantic integration, SDP being regarded as the most sovereignty-oriented party and at times even showing nationalistic and anti-Serbian tendencies. Constant pressure has been exerted by SDP which had disproportionately more power than it would have received through its voters. Certain individuals from SDP have used this “situation” to their benefit.


An attempt of foreign forces to influence Montenegrin political scene


Why did Ranko Krivokapić break this alliance which enabled him such visible political career, and why has he in recent years turned his political activities to pro-Serbian forces that still deny Montenegro's sovereignty? The only reason seems to be his ambition to become Montenegro's prime minister, although he lacks sufficient support in the electorate and on the political scene. His ambition has been fuelled by certain foreign forces led by German embassy and assisted by Head of EU Delegation to Montenegro Mitja Drobnič who is actively involved in the country's political scene and directly supports certain opposition forces.


The first step in realising that ambition was the formation of local coalition in the municipality of Kolašin where SDP allied with its recent political opponents from the pro-Serbian block with the aim to take over power at the local level. As the next step Krivokapić attempted to apply the “Kolašin scenario” to the parliament in the capital Podgorica. The plan failed, which led to disintegration of his SDP party. Due to lack of transparency at the party's congress last year when Ranko Krivokapić defeated his competitor Ivan Brajović with a difference of only a few votes, the majority of functionaries and members left the party and founded new Social Democrats (SD) led by Brajović. Local election in the municipality of Tivat scheduled for 17 April 2016 will be a test for all the actors on the Montenegrin political scene.


Who has blocked foreign investments?


Continued undermining of the leading coalition has led to the blockade of some foreign investments into coastal tourism what are of key importance for Montenegro's economic stability. Prime Minister Đukanović stressed that he insisted on staying in the coalition merely with the view to pursue the strategic goal of NATO membership and to receive the official invitation to join the Alliance. After the invitation was received he called on parliament to take a vote of confidence in order to stop the insecurity that was harmful for the country.


The forthcoming election in Montenegro that will be held in October this year will be even more tense in view of interference by foreign forces. What can be expected?


DPS still convincingly ahead


According to public opinion polls Milo Đukanović still has the best chances to win the election, his DPS alone winning 45% support in the polls. He may also count on national minority representatives as well as the pro-European SD and Montenegrin Democratic Union (CDU), while support is increasingly expected also from Positive Montenegro which also favours Euro-Atlantic integration. On the other hand the aggressive opposition block is being formed, led by the Democratic Front (DF) which advocates pro-Serbian and anti-Euro-Atlantic politics. This block enjoys strong support from Russia which has directly financed and supported street demonstrations and the boycott of parliamentary activities. Between the two blocks there is a moderate urban opposition comprising the rest of SDP, URA and Demos which is strongly supported by Germany with the aim to destabilise the power of Prime Minister Đukanović. Other opposition political parties will run independently or join one of the two blocks.


A fierce election campaign may be expected due to involvement of foreign forces in the country's political situation and bearing in mind that Montenegro is facing a new wave of foreign investments and entering the final stage of Euro-Atlantic integration. Continuation of Milo Đukanović's government will depend on how successful Ivan Brajović's new SD will be. Besides most of the members and voters of former SDP the new SD has attracted also the citizens which had abstained from previous elections. Its success may be critical for the formation of stable majority in the next government.


SD's innovative approach


Ivan Brajović's SD has brought an innovative approach into the political scene, based on content and programmes instead of personal clashes that are typical for Montenegrin politics. Once the state regains sovereignty and statehood and enters the Euro-Atlantic integration processes, SD's initiative “Partnership for the third step” aims to unite the political forces in order to set the third major strategic goal, i.e. the vision of strong economic growth for Montenegro. Many transitional countries which gained independence in 1990s and then entered Euro-Atlantic integration processes were subsequently lost in the political instability and cleavage because they did not have a common strategic framework. It would be crucial for stability of Montenegrin politics that the leading block, perhaps together with the moderate opposition block, determines the vision of economic development and lays down the precise programme for modernisation of the state.


Montenegrin citizens will obviously have a wide choice at the autumn election. The interference of foreign forces jeopardises Đukanović's position whose success will depend mostly on the success of minor coalition partners in the very narrow election results.


European Parliament keeps a close eye on events in Montenegro


In its report on Montenegro the European Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs pointed to the small number of final convictions in the field of organised crime as well as to insufficient seizure of illegally gained assets and property, and expressed concern regarding corruption, organised crime and media freedom in this country. Corruption is present in the fields of public procurement, spatial planning, health and education. The report commends Montenegro for having instituted criminal proceedings against several officials and politicians.


EP recommended better protection of whistle-blowers (protected witnesses), closer cooperation with the civil society in fighting corruption and a substantial increase in the number of investigations and convictions in the field of money laundering.


The report expresses concern over the deeply polarised political climate and the decision of certain political actors to boycott certain parliamentary activities.  It shares concerns over the politicisation of public administration and calls upon public authorities to investigate the cases of violence and excessive use of force by police during opposition protests in October 2015. It welcomes the progress made in the accession negotiations and in foreign policy activities. European institutions obviously keep a very close eye on system deficiencies and current events in Montenegro.


Fighting for Montenegro or somebody else?


TheIFIMES International Institute believes it is vital for Montenegro as a multiethnic country to preserve peace and stability and to ensure its future through NATO and EU full membership. In order to achieve those goals and ensure harmonious coexistence of all the citizens, internal consensus should be reached by most political actors. Certain individuals or political parties led by foreign forces and interests may bring instability not only to Montenegro but to the whole region. The position of official Belgrade is of crucial importance – unlike previous Serbia's governments it has not explicitly interfered in Montenegrin affairs yet, although it still has not distanced itself from the protestors.


The forthcoming parliamentary election taking place in October 2016 will show whether individual politicians and political parties are fighting for Montenegro or for some other country. The election will represent a historical turning point for Montenegro. The main task will be to regain trust in politics and political parties as the holders of political activities and to ensure free media.      


Ljubljana, March 18, 2016

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