Montenegro marks 15 years of independence

On May 21st 2006, the referendum results marked the Montenegro’s devotion to break the chains of past and to finally reach the Euro-Atlantic dream

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg greets Montenegro's President Milo Dukanovic prior to a meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, May 18, 2021. Virginia Mayo/Pool via REUTERS

On May 21st, 2006 the referendum results marked the Montenegro’s devotion to break the chains of past, which has long-held back its development and looks at Euro-Atlantic membership as the reference point of its future ambitions.

Fifteen years ago, regardless of whether they have voted for independence or not, the Montenegrin citizenry did believe that the country would move forward on its path of socio-economic emancipation, thereby dismantling the remains of the communist system and heavily rooted polarization. This sentiment resonated powerfully and in a way made it conceivable that the Montenegrin “end of history” has finally arrived and the dream about parliamentary-based democracy was attainable.

Although it is true that it takes time to build democracy – and such a project becomes even more burdensome if carried out in the area of historically seismic Western Balkans (many would argue that this young country’s transition from captured state to democracy has not yielded expected results). Unfortunately, it would be incorrect to claim that Montenegro has experimented a resounding democratization during this period, especially after the Freedom House has categorized it as a hybrid regime in 2020. The latter assessment – though in a more diplomatic language, is also contained in the last few European Commission’s Progress Reports – is based on empirical evidence of decreasing standards in governance and the rule of law.

Another date that will be long-remembered as a turning point in Montenegrin history was the 2020 Parliamentary Elections Day when the long-standing regime of the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) was defeated after thirty years of unwavering power. For the second time, in the midst of an unprecedented health and economic crisis, the people dared to hope for the “end of history” and freedom. The so-called “pen victory” mostly owed its success to Serbian Orthodox Church’s engagement in the electoral race rather that political virtuosity of parties which have formed the new Government.

Yet again, the newly restored freedom and prospects for democratization of society did not revolve around standardized but rather theocratic principles and ties which, in opinion of many, were the underlying criteria for selection of the new political leadership. The technocrat Government has made audacious promises that it would put to an end political employment, initiate institutional building based on meritocracy, prosecute the actors of countless political affairs which have shook the Montenegrin society and would, finally, pave the path for enhancement of the rule of law, good governance and sustainable development.

Five months into its mandate, the Government has shown not to be as technocrat as promised, and insufficiently strong to cope with inherited problems. With the fading factor of unity, i.e. overthrowing of the previous regime, the parliamentary majority, composed of rather diverse and conflicting fractions, has continually failed to find a common ground in terms of passing the legislation and/or to provide the necessary support to the Government.

In this regard, perhaps the most emblematic example of the ultimatum-based relationship between the ruling coalition and the Government as well as a proof of poorly-functioning cohabitation are the amendments to the Prosecution Law. Under the pretext of a more determined fight against organized crime and corruption, the pro-Serbian Democratic Front, one of three blocks forming the majority, has conditioned the adoption of any legislation before the changes related to the prosecution are passed in the Parliament. The initial version of amendments encountered criticism of the Venice Commission and the EU which considered the proposed termination of mandate of all current Prosecutorial Council members as unjustified and as platform for potential increase of political bias rather than independence of judiciary. Following the disapproval of the President of Montenegro and DPS, who has assessed it as a way for the parliamentary majority and the Government to establish control over the judiciary, the Law was returned to the Parliament for a second vote.

In the meanwhile, the citizenry marches in support of the Minister of Justice and Human Rights who publically relativizes the Srebrenica genocide, protests against the signing of curious Fundamental Agreement with the Serbian Orthodox Church – but both fractions, regardless of their political affiliations, elevate anti-fascism and liberty-loving spirit as the foundation of their street-based struggle. Convinced they are on the right side of the history and their ideals are righteous, the Montenegrin plebs march and do not care to reflect on the five months-delayed adoption of the Budget Law which concerns and conditions the quality of life of all of them.

In the course of last fifteen years, Montenegro has become a NATO member and has managed to position itself as the regional front-runner in EU integration, which hopefully will first obtain the membership despite the enduring underachievement in the field of required reforms. Montenegro is a picturesque and luxurious tourist destination and a promising investment opportunity. Montenegro is no longer held back by any other country and has no one to blame for its failures or thank for its success.

But most of all, after all this time, Montenegro is still a captured and isolated state in which, regardless of who is in power, the private is always put before the public interest. It is a sum of antonyms and idolatry that still welcomes revival of obsolete ideologies, marches in protection of a certain heraldry and vexillology but is too afraid to speak up for its own socio-economic wellbeing. As a state and a nation, Montenegro still needs to comprehend that the “unity” is not only a lightly sung verse of the anthem but a moral duty of the society as a whole and the underlying principle of any civil state based on social justice and the rule of law. The unity, in the name of multiculturalism, equity and progress, is also the only way for the country to finally evolve from pre-political society and reach the Euro-Atlantic dream.

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