Western Balkans and EU News
19.08.20 | Opinions

[Opinion] In Montenegro Déjà Vu all over again

By Miodrag Vlahovic

Podgorica, 18 August 2020, dtt-net.com - Campaigning for the August 30 parliamentary elections campaign in Montenegro is entering its final stage. A déjà vu impression is inevitable. The main-stream political battle has remained in the same trenches from 1997 until this day. Political differences and distinctions have been defined along the same lines in both presidential or parliamentary elections. Even most local elections follow the same pattern and reflect the same issues.

Milo Djukanovic won his second term in 1997 on the basic question of whether Montenegro should follow Milosevic’s Serbia by any means and in any situation. Montenegro opted not to follow, by a tiny margin. That result had a direct and decisive influence on the position of Montenegro as a country during the NATO 1999 intervention and afterwards.

This led to the peaceful and democratic referendum on independence in May 2006, as well as to Montenegrin accession to NATO in 2017. The opponents of this strategic orientation and political course remain the same: political parties and para-political structures commonly known as “pro-Serbian.” Their internal divisions and constellation have evolved from the late 1990s, and especially after their “grand defeat” in 2006, but the core content of their political agenda has been changed only slightly.

The pattern of their ideology is still the same: Montenegro should not be independent, or, at least, it should not exercise its independence in a way that conflicts with the positions and interests of Serbia and/or Russia. Montenegro’s membership in NATO should be abolished, not only because “the Alliance is dead” and “criminal” - but also because NATO remains the strongest Montenegrin bond with the Atlantic community and the best insurance against border and other Balkan-type changes.

Representatives of the opposition political block (now represented by two main “pillars” - Democratic Front and Democrats - together with one “auxiliary” smaller group - “URA” coalition) formally accept EU membership as an option, but it is very distant and unlikely for years to come. At the same time, they are reluctant to make any statement or action that would defend Montenegrin interests when opposed to those of Vucic’s Serbia or Putin’s Russia.

The same applies to the whole range of important issues concerning the origins, responsibilities, and consequences of the last Yugoslav war. The Srebrenica genocide is a non-issue for them: not “a genocide” at all. This pro-Serbian opposition regards Montenegro's recognition of Kosovo independence as "treason." In the sphere of cultural and identity issues, they think Montenegro cannot have an identity and history outside “Serbdom” (“srpstvo”). That is at the bottom of all “pro-Serbian” political programs in Montenegro. Montenegrins, Muslims/Bosniaks, Albanians, and other citizens should comply and obey.

The new element is open involvement of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the electoral campaign. Or, to be more precise: its dramatic and aggressive involvement.

The Serbian church as an “umbrella organization” for the opposition

Not only do the leaders of Democratic Front publicly express their subordination and servitude to Serbian priests, but both Democrats (fully supporting the Serbian Church in the matter of the new Law of Religious and Freedom of Opinion) and URA (“non-interference” position; “the Law is controversial”) have also acknowledged the Serbian Church as their political leader and political partner. The latest expression of that mixture of “faith” and politics are the so-called “religion processions” organized in cars and boats, where Serbian and Serbian Church flags are the dominant insignia. Difficult to describe to those who have not seen that charade ever.

So, elections in Montenegro are déjà vu all over again, in Yogi Berra's immortal phrase. Same runners, same result. An opposition not loyal to its own country makes this inevitable. It should not be so hard to understand, even if the country is hidden away in the Balkans.

(The author is Montenegrin ambassador to the Holy See and a former foreign minister of Montenegro. This opinion of his was first published at peacefare.net website )

19.08.20 | Opinions