2023 Montenegro: Spajić's dual citizenship a serious problem for NATO?

The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES)[1] from Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyzes developments in the Middle East, the Balkans and around the world.  Following the publication of official results of the recently held early parliamentary elections, IFIMES made an analysis of the situation in Montenegro. We bring the most important and interesting parts of the extensive analysis “2023 Montenegro: Spajić's dual citizenship a serious problem for NATO?” 

2023 Montenegro:


Spajić's dual citizenship a serious problem for NATO?


Landslide victory of anti-Đukanović block

Early parliamentary elections in Montenegro were held on 11 June 2023. However, the official election results were publicized only on 14 July 2023. 

The parties that won the largest number of votes from the voters for the Parliament of Montenegro, which has 81 representatives, include the Europe Now Movement /Pokret Evropa sad/ which won 25.53% of votes (24 representatives),  the Together Coalition /Zajedno/ (DPS, SD, LP, DUA) 23.22% (21 representatives), the For the Future of Montenegro coalition /Za budućnost Crne Gore/ (NSD, DNP, RP) 14.74% (13 representatives), the Bravery Counts coalition /Hrabro se broji/ (Democrats and URA) 12.48% (11 representatives), Bosniak Party 7.08% (6 representatives), Albanian Forum 1.91% (2 representatives),  the For You coalition /Za tebe/ (SNP and Demos) 3.13% (2 representatives), the Croat minority list  On the Right Side of the World /Na pravoj strani svijeta –HGI/ 0.74% (1 representative) and the Albanian minority Albanian Alliance coalition  /Albanska alijansa/ 1.49%  (1 representative).

The election results show a landslide victory of the so-called anti-Đukanović block (anti-DPS block) of political parties. The turnout at the elections amounted to only 56.4% of the voters, which is the lowest turnout since the introduction of a multiparty system. 

Montenegro has still not resolved the problem of holding of local elections, as in specific municipalities local elections are held every several months. Therefore, it is necessary to modify the law to have local elections held in all municipalities on the same day. This would require a two-third majority for modification of the Law on Election of Councilors and Representatives, which implies a broad consensus among parliamentary parties. Such modifications would allow for avoidance of a constant political campaign, as well as facilitate relaxation of the tense political climate in Montenegro. 

Montenegro’s membership in NATO is indisputable 

The recently held NATO summit in Vilnius reaffirmed the righteousness of the decision to coopt Montenegro as the 29th full-fledged member of NATO. This is particularly important bearing in mind the new security circumstances caused by the Russian military invasion on Ukraine and the hybrid war Russia is waging in Montenegro. Bearing in mind the overall population of the country, Montenegro is, proportion wise, the country with the largest number of Ukrainian refugees in Europe. Namely, Ukrainians make no less than 5% of the population in Montenegro. One third of Montenegro’s economy is owned by Russians, while the public finances are dependent on China because Đukanović’s government had brokered an unfavorable loan agreement with the China’s Exim Bank for the funding of the Bar – Boljare highway. Of all NATO member countries, Montenegro is, proportion wise, the country that is most exposed to Russian and Chinese influence.  

It is necessary to conduct dismantling of Milo Đukanović’s regime, because Montenegro is a full-fledged NATO member, which means that the highest democratic standards apply to it. Namely, although it should substantively cultivate and promote the standards of democracy, Montenegro is still far away from them. 

The new government shall be responsible for any possible deviation from the NATO and EU path, which ultimately could trigger, inter alia, internal conflicts in Montenegro. 

Success of the Bosniak party not a coincidence 

Many were surprised by the success the Bosniak Party (BS) led by Ervin Ibrahimović had achieved at the last elections. Namely, the Bosniak Party won 7.08% of the votes, that is six mandates. The success of the Bosniak Party is based on serious and systematic work over a number of years. Following the arrival of Ibrahimović to the helm of the party, the Bosniak Party embraced the concept that the Bosniaks themselves should decide on their faith and then embarked on political renaissance. It transpired that serious approach yields serious results. The Bosniaks have finally understood that they had been tricked by Mil0 Đukanović’s and DPS regime. As a moderate conservative party the Bosniak Party belongs to the European People’s Party (EPP) group, which is the largest political group in the European Parliament. At the recently held parliamentary elections the Bosniaks gave their stamp to the democratic changes, ceased giving their trust and support to the DPS and its satellites, the SD and SDP parties, as well as expressed readiness to build their future with democratic political forces which have no “mortgage of the past.” A new era is opening, the Bosniaks will move from the social margins and finally be adequately representative in the institutions and all segments of social life. As a result, they will ensure themselves sustainable economic growth in the areas in which they live and in such a way stop the noticeable outflow of the population and provide for a better standard of living. 

Analysts believe that thanks to Ervin Ibrahimović, Bosniaks in Montenegro have experienced a political renaissance at the last elections, while Ibrahimović personally has managed to develop and evolve into one of the leading Bosniak politicians in the Balkans committed to Euro-Atlantic integration processes. The Bosniak Party is one of the guarantors of the Euro-Atlantic orientation of Montenegro. It also has potential for further political growth, which could secure it up to ten mandates in the Montenegro’s Parliament in the future. 

Montenegro between the West and Russia’s-China’s influence

Milo Đukanović (DPS) and his cartel often emphasized that they are the advocators of European values, while according to precise indicators they had systematically developed strong relations with Russia and China. The Russians have become owners of around 30% of Montenegro’s economy, while China has control over public finances through the loan awarded for the Bar-Boljare highway through which it controls key national investments and thus endangers public finances (800 million dollars of loan remains to be paid).  No other NATO member country has, proportion-wise, been so directly exposed to Russian-Chinese influence as Montenegro. 

Analysts believe that there is a real threat of expansion of Russian and Chinese influence in Montenegro in the comping period, as well as cementing of the already existing Russian- Chinese influence. Therefore, strong assistance and support of partners and allies of Montenegro is required to combat that influence. 

Spajić’s dual citizenship a serious problem for NATO?

NATO is the leading military-political alliance in the world. It abides by the highest democratic standards that need to be implemented and promoted. NATO has global relevance, and its member countries are bound to solidarity and increasing defense appropriations to least 2% of the GDP. Nevertheless, NATO is also not immune to infiltration of adversary’s agents in its ranks or even having its staff members work in favor of foreign that is adversary’s interests. Therefore, it is important that all NATO member countries are reliable partners. 

The issue of trust and security is institutionally regulated through issuing of security clearances obtained through the security screening process. Nevertheless, despite all the measures undertaken intrusions into the security-intelligence and defense system of NATO occur. In example, at the recently held NATO summit in Vilnius, Bosnia and Herzegovina was represented by the BiH Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, because the BiH Defense Minister and some other members of the delegation had not passed the security screening and did not get NATO security clearances. 

NATO expressed concerns over the information that the President of the Europe Now Movement (PES) Milojko Spajić in addition to holding Montenegrin citizenship also has citizenship of the Republic of Serbia and has a place of residence in Belgrade. In the countries of developed democracy it is inconceivable that in addition to citizenship of their respective country top state officials also hold citizenship of some other country. A hypothetical comparison was offered as an illustration of the issue – would it be acceptable for NATO if in addition to the Norwegian citizenship the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg would also hold Russian citizenship, or, in example, if the German Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz would in addition to German citizenship also hold Swiss citizenship. This is particularly important when it comes to officials who deal with state matters, including issues of national security, defense, internal affairs and use of high-level classified intelligence. Therefore it is justifiable to ask to which of the two respective countries is a person with two citizenships more loyal? NATO holds that it would be inconceivable to have a possible Montenegro’s Prime Minister Milojko Spajić, as a citizen of Serbia, participate in the work of a NATO summit and have access to top-level classified information. The Spajić case will also open the issue of holding of dual citizenships for other top officials of countries in the region, and particularly Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

Analysts believe that NATO and western allies already see an impediment for Milojko Spajić (PES), a holder of Serbian citizenship, to actively participate at NATO summits and have access that is use high-level security-intelligence data. Furthermore, the unclear nature of the relations between Milojko Spajić and crypto-billionaire Do Kwon (Kwon Do-Hyung), after whom the United States and South Korea have issued an international arrest warrant for alleged embezzlement of dozens of billions of dollars, push Spajić away from the position of Prime Minister. Kwon is currently in prison in Montenegro for entering the country with forged travel documents. Another element that needs to be added to the picture includes other business activities of Spajić, which should also be investigated (in example, the possible funding of the PES’s campaign) because he is a rather dubious politician, disputed on numerous grounds. 

Vetting of Montenegrin institutions and individuals 

key characteristic of rulers such as Milo Đukanović is derogation of institution, as, in example, Montenegro was reduced to a “one man company” concept. Strong institutions are key for any country, particularly for the rule of law and exercise of constitutional rights and obligations of citizens.  Đukanović was the personification of one party (DPS), which is infected with and involved in corruption and crime. This resulted in establishment of a private-state system in which the institutions of the system were actually held hostage by the monopoly of one political party in which there was no possibility for some other people to distinguish and position themselves to offer a new perspective for Montenegro.   

It is necessary to conduct “vetting”/purge of the personnel in the judicial, security-defense and intelligence system of Montenegro who are connected with organized crime or corrupted. 

“Vetting” entails an investigation of the property of judges and prosecutors and their family members for possible connection with crimes and assessment of their professional qualifications. 

The Montenegrin Ministry of Justice has established a team for analysis of possible introduction of the “vetting” process for the system and individuals in line with international standards and respecting the autonomy and independence of the judiciary. The team was established after the arrest of several senior officials of the Montenegrin judiciary: former President of the Supreme Court of Montenegro Vesna Medenica, former President of the Commercial Court Blažo Jovanić and Saša Čađenović, former Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime. Furthermore, there is also the case of the former Assistant Director of the Police Administration of Montenegro Zoran Lazović and investigation into his alleged involvement and affiliation with organized crime and drug-mafia, his role as the persecutor and torturer of the Bosniak population during the wars in the nineties of the last century, as well as how he has moved through the ranks of the state hierarchy. 

Montenegro currently has 271 judges and around 100 prosecutors. Introduction of the vetting procedure would require establishment of an expert body that would deal with the screening of judges and prosecutors and would include politically independent and qualified persons, with the possible engagement of EU experts. Another option would be to have international patronage of the work of such an expert body. 

Attempt to euthanize the fight against crime and corruption

Over the past three years Montenegro has been in the center of regional and European developments. The successfully implemented democratic changes, reforms and integration into the regional and European space as a reliable partner and ally have created opportunities for so-far unimaginable economic and political development of this smallest country in the region with excellent geostrategic position. 

Montenegro has elected the new president of the state Jakov Milatović (PES), whose first trip after the inauguration was to Brussels. Specifically, the institutions of the EU and NATO. His second visit was to Serbia, where he had meetings with the leadership of the country. It is commendable that Milatović has visited Serbia and started a new era in the relations between Montenegro and Serbia. President Milatović is under the radar of partners and allies, because questions are being raised about those who had supported him and helped him be elected the President of Montenegro. Namely, he has to be cautious about every step he makes in order to gain the trust of foreign partners and allies of Montenegro. So far, Milatović is accepted with a major reservation. Furthermore, he also must make sure to be an inclusive president –as judging by the composition of his office, which does not reflect the multiethnic character of Montenegro, he does not appear to be one. 

The Government of Montenegro headed by Prime Minister Dritan Abazović (URA) has reposition the role of Montenegro in regional and international relations. It is also the most transparent government in the region and has the lead with its policy of “Zero problems” with the neighboring countries.

Analysts believe it is important that Montenegro gets an inclusive and stable government with broad support in the Parliament and a government that will initiate a relentless showdown with organized crime and corruption. However, the initial information about establishment of the new government indicate an attempt to euthanize the fight against crime and corruption, which would take Montenegro to a very uncertain period.  Not one political party should become the new DPS, just like not one political leader should become the new Milo Đukanović. 

Intensification of the EU enlargement policy in the Western Balkans would lead to strengthening of security, development of resilience of institutions to foreign interference, as well as resolution of challenges posed by migrations, fight against terrorism, organized crime and corruption. If the EU does not speedily start to enlarge to the Western Balkans, Russia and other countries will. 

Ljubljana/Brussels/Washington/Podgorica, 21 July 2023       

[1] IFIMES - The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, has a special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)/UN since 2018. It is also the publisher of the international scientific journal European Perspectives.