Tensions in Montenegro

Photo source: New York Times

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe UpFront

Protests in Montenegro have turned ugly after its citizens took onto the streets in February 2019, triggering yet another unrest in the Balkans.

Montenegrins want President Milo Đukanović to resign over alleged corruption and abuse of office. Several protestors, not having any affiliation with political parties, marched through the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica, chanting slogans such as ‘Milo Theif’.

The protestors are also demanding the resignations of their prime minister, Duško Marković, the Supreme State Prosecutor Ivica Stanković, and the Montenegrin chief prosecutor for organised crime, Milivoje Katnić.

A local journalist and activist told Antonela Rajcevic: “They want to turn this place into the next Monte Carlo. It is great if you are a billionaire or a millionaire, but it is not a good place for the common citizens of Montenegro.”

To continue being part of the government, the political leaders have rejected these protests that included opposition leaders, although they had initially supported these demonstrations. In March 2019, around ten thousand demonstrators had marched the streets. It was one among many such protests happening, continuing in the beginning of 2019. At the peak, an attendance of around twenty-five thousand protests has been recorded.

The rallies started after Dusko Knezevic, a former ally of Đukanović, accused him, and his ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), of fraud and misconduct, mainly involving questionable financial deals. He has now fled the country, and is now in Britain, as Dukanovic accused him of money laundering and fraud.

In December 2018, Montenegro’s central bank placed the small Atlas Banka, governed by Knezevic, under temporary administration, as bank’s capital flunked in providing minimum risk requirements. In January 2019, Atlas Banka tried to increase its capital again, after hiking it in October 2018 by 1.37 million euros ($1.56 million) to 32.03 million euros.

According to Reuters, both Đukanović and the DPS have denied the allegations from Dusko Knezevic.

In the public, these demonstrations are seen under legal norms, unless and until they turn violent. Marija Backovic, a teacher from Podgorica, amidst the demonstrations, said: “We are not the danger for this country, those that are destroying it for 30 years are the real danger.”

Đukanovic has been associated with Montenegrin politics for over thirty years, either serving as a prime minister or president, since country’s independence in 1991. He might be Europe’s longest standing leader. He also defied Russian perspectives and joined the NATO in 2007. In 2016, Dukanovic had survived an assassination attempt, and a coup, that was designed to bring a pro-Russian party in power. Two Russian intelligence officers and two opposition politicians, among thirteen people, were eventually convicted by the country’s federal court over a 2016 election day plot aimed at toppling Montenegro's government. At that time, countries such as the United Kingdom had expressed solidarity, during post-plot Montenegro.

However, his critics say that he has effectively turned Montenegro, into a one-party state, almost like a fiefdom, insisting of having  complete control. He is also believed to have undermined the rule of law, and given more power to himself, and his scions.

In 1996, Đukanović turned against Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević, as he was favouring an independent Montenegro. He was the man who oversaw the division of Yugoslavia into Serbia and Montenegro. Montenegro eventually started to have an increasing separation from Serbia, under his leadership. He emerged victorious in the May 2006 independence referendum.

The populist reaction coming from Balkan countries, including Montenegro, is that the governments have failed to provide an adequate roadmap, particularly a composite European future. Earlier, Berlin Summit had happened, where Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, tried to find a consensus between Balkan leaders, ahead of sixth annual Western Balkans Summit in Poland. All this is happening at a difficult time, because of an existing trade row between Kosovo and Serbia. At the same time, EU countries loathe about the ties of Balkan countries, with China and Russia. However, they fail to realise that it is due to their own isolation that Balkan countries want an economic or political alliance, with China and Russia.

In 2018, a Chinese bank funded Montenegro 85 per cent of the cost of a 180 km highway, country’s biggest infrastructure till date, linking its south port, Bar with northern Serbia.

Montenegro is seeking to join the European Union, but in order to gain membership, it requires, to deracinate organised crime, corruption, nepotism, and reduce red tape of bureaucracy, before it can become member of the bloc. Joining NATO has also deeply divided Montenegro. In a 2017 report, the US state department criticised Montenegro’s lack of judicial independence, police corruption and recognised a threat to press freedom.

Johannes Hahn, one of the EU's most senior figures, had recently made a statement about countries in the Balkans that accepted Chinese aid. He called these Balkan countries as “Trojan horses” within the bloc. This is an odious statement to say about European nations willing to join the European Union. Statements like these make the people of these countries seem like ‘lesser Europeans’. As of now, the reactionary measures coming from the EU bloc is that they are cutting funding to western Balkan countries, from the World Bank and IMF, leaving China and Russia to fill that gap.

In fact, it was pro European leader Dukanovic, who once said, in an interview, to Reuters: “Moscow, through politics, and Beijing, via loans, aims to prevent NATO and EU expansion in the Balkans. Unless the EU realises that, I am afraid its future might be in jeopardy.”


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