Montenegro’s Political Maze: The Danger of Entrances that Lead Nowhere

BUDVA – The danger for Montenegro lies in entrances into a maze that lead nowhere; therefore, the country needs a government that knows where it’s going and what it’s doing. This is the assessment of participants in the panel discussion titled Montenegro’s Political Maze: Navigating Through Struggles and Challenges.

Radoje Cerović, a communication expert and clinical psychologist, stated that Russia effectively utilizes the psychological specificity of the region and historical narratives. Cerović spoke in the context of emotional narratives prevalent in Montenegrin society, stating that there is a cultural pattern in Montenegro and the region that demonstrates loyalty to identity.

For hundreds of years, the battle for supremacy has been waged continuously in these regions. This indicates that the emotional narrative is linked to identity issues, creating a vast space in Montenegro, which, I would say, is not fully understood by Western partners, said Cerović.

He believes that if the psychological specificity of the region is overlooked, the strategy and reaction will be inadequate.

On the other hand, Russia very effectively uses historical narratives and stories that span generations. We are witnessing a hybrid war in the context of the battle for emotions, Cerović noted during the first panel of the 2BS Forum.

As he put it, it is important to understand that in the Balkans, politicians attempt to ride on the (translator’s note: horse’s) backs of strong emotions.

Those emotions are easily sparked. The illusion that someone in the West might be able to turn that horse in another direction, like Aleksandar Vučić, is highly improbable and unrealistic, Cerović believes.

Regarding the path that the country should take, Cerović says that the solution for Montenegro is its affiliation with the European cultural sphere. Everything else is a descent into a rift that can be deep and painful. We are facing a battle for the hearts of the people. This is a crucial battle and it must be won in a more intensive way than before. There is little time left for this battle. I hope we understand that it is in the interest not only of Montenegro but of all of Europe, Cerović concluded.

Daliborka Uljarević, the Program Director of the Center for Civic Education, emphasizes that she believes Montenegro, despite its potential, has never been a true leader in EU integration. We received that epithet more in the context of broader relations because we did not have the capacity to address regional issues, and because we had a stable government with which, despite all its flaws, communication could be maintained, Uljarević noted, reminding that the first integration setbacks occurred in 2014 when the balance clause was mentioned.

At that time, we received messages mentioning the possibility of introducing a balance clause if there were no results. This kind of message was not utilized by the EU, and the government then perceived the simulation of reforms as actual reform and continued on the same path, Uljarević stated.

She added that EU integration is not a priority for the new government despite being mentioned in election campaigns. Today, 11 years after the start of negotiations, we do not have a chief negotiator with the EU. The negotiation structure has changed, and today it does not exist in a functional sense, as can be confirmed by our counterparts in the Union, who often have no one to talk to, Uljarević said.

She believes that the novelty in Montenegro is the lack of resistance from political leaders.

We have a clear intention from neighboring Serbia not to allow Montenegro to be one step ahead of them at any moment. We have had situations where windows of opportunity were opened and consciously closed from within Montenegro. The most striking example is the signing of the Fundamental Agreement, which was an automatic closure of a window that had been opened. This began to lead Montenegro not towards stagnation, but regression, Uljarević assessed.

She said that in the case of Montenegro, it’s often unclear what the mazes are. In our society, there is enormous support for joining the EU, but one-fifth of the citizens believe that recognition of Kosovo should be withdrawn. In this society, we have a third who believe that the Serbian Orthodox Church should have a privileged status. We also have a quarter who believe that our foreign policy backers are Russia and Serbia. These are indicators that are concerning and need to be analyzed, Uljarević said.

Uljarević, citing research results, mentioned that 50% of people believe that politicians are to blame for the failures in society. The reason for this, as she stated, is that the quality of the political structures in Montenegro is very limited in capacity and lacks the ability for strategic thinking.

Jakov Devčić, the director of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation for Montenegro and Serbia, expressed the impression that Montenegro is wandering and doesn’t know where it’s going. He stated, Montenegro has all the prerequisites it needs to quickly progress towards the EU. What is crucial is that there is a new government that is clear and vocal about what it wants and where it wants to go, but I have the impression that these actors are playing games because they don’t want to make progress in terms of integration.

When asked about the reasons for this, Devčić said that it’s easiest to blame external factors. I think these are still the particular interests of those who only declaratively support progress. If everyone were united, the external factor would not play such a significant role. I believe that politicians should be responsible and take responsibility and come to an agreement in the shortest possible time to show that they are not just declaratively in favor of the EU. New elections will not bring any good to anyone, nor will they advance the country by a single millimeter. We appeal to all those negotiating to make decisions and be responsible and mature, because the longer we wait, the more it will cost the citizens, Devčić concluded.

Aleksandar Musić, a political and media consultant, stated that when discussing the Montenegrin maze, the danger lies in entrances that lead nowhere. These are red lines or minefields. I have identified several of them, and one of them relates to the false ethnic assessment that one ethnic group is threatened in relation to another. This is accompanied by discourse suggesting that one ethnic community is prohibited from entering the government, which is untrue. It’s not about Serbs or Montenegrins; it’s about the fact that the government is not being entered by a group that is under the remote control of someone else, Musić said.

He pointed out that in Montenegro, in recent years, memorial services have been held for war criminals, which, he believes, is not such a big problem because extremists exist everywhere, but the problem is when the mainstream community remains silent about it.

Musić also talked about what he called fake sovereignty. An example of this, Musić sees in the recent dispute between Croatia and Montenegro over the Jadran ship.

You have people who fail to answer a hundred questions about the state, society, and Montenegroin interests, but then they argue on the 101st question because of an old ship’s stern, and that is against a state that, in many ways, has turned a blind eye to Montenegro for the last 30 years. This is not about Montenegro’s sovereign question; it’s about muddying the waters to slow down the European path. You have a perverse inversion where you’re declaratively full of EU rhetoric, but in practice, through media support, you undermine that EU path and do everything to prevent it, Musić concluded, saying that the antidote to this poison lies in the person who can design and demonstrate a sound idea.

Chair of the Delegation to the EU-Montenegro Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee, Vladimir Bilčik, expressed concern about the lack of functional institutions in Montenegro.

Montenegro has had elections with clear results. Now is the time to form institutions, parliament, and the government. We are ready to collaborate with the parliament, but before that, it must be formed with leadership and a dedicated approach. This is an obligation to Montenegrin voters, said Bilčik.

He emphasized the need for strong leadership in Montenegro.

We need parliamentary committees and a connection with the voters, with the people in the country through them. I hope that things will move forward, and that you will have a parliament and a government that talks about the EU but also implements tasks in that regard, and I hope that the composition of the government reflects such a spirit, emphasized Bilčik.

He reminded that the European Commission will release a report on Montenegro in November. I hope we can add some positive information to that report. To do that, we need to move from words to actions. EU institutions are ready to engage, but we need to be cautious – Russia’s brutal aggression continues, tensions in the region are rising, and Montenegro must secure its position, Bilčik concluded, adding that institutions are the key to a strong democracy.