September 9, 2020 - The leaders of the three opposition coalitions, which won a majority in the August 30th parliamentary elections, presented today the Agreement on the principles on which the future government will rest, including cooperation with NATO, unquestionable recognition of Kosovo, and excluding changes to Montenegrin state symbols.
September 1, 2020 - After the people decided in Sunday's elections that Milo Djukanovic's DPS should go into opposition, the first phase of the transition towards a government change is underway in Montenegro, marked by images that are not new when it comes to Montenegrin society, which has long been ruled by divisions on various grounds. It seems that now the people have united to remove the DPS, which has ruled the country for 30 years. Despite calls from political leaders to refrain from celebrations and provocations on any grounds and celebrate the election success with family and friends, some people have shown readiness to continue to emphasize their differences in the streets.
The outgoing Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), which rulled the country since 1991, links the electoral defeat to the Serbian Orthodox Church's influence and the Republic of Serbia, expressing fears that Montenegro could change its foreign policy course under the new government. At the same time, representatives of the three winning coalitions say their basic common principles are the rule of law, expert government, and continuing the EU accession process.
The winning coalitions that will form the new government have begun talks, informing citizens of the basic principles on which the future state administration will rest.
On the other hand, Montenegrin President and DPS leader Milo Djukanovic conceded defeat in the election. Still, he placed Montenegrin citizens' electoral will in a foreign policy context, implying a possible turn from the West to Russia.
Celebration after the victory of the opposition in the elections, Photo: Savo Prelević, Radio Free Europe
Rallies were organized in several cities last night to celebrate the election victory, which in places escalated into riots and clashes. While the outgoing government characterized those incidents as the expressions of Serbian nationalism, the new parliamentary majority called on their supporters to postpone the celebrations and stay in their homes, refraining from any outbursts. As they said, possible incidents help only the DPS in its intention to provoke street clashes that would delay its departure from power.
Today, on its official pages on social networks, the DPS invited its supporters to a rally planned September 6 on Independence Square in Podgorica under the slogan "Montenegro first of all". Later it was announced that the DPS distanced itself from the organization of the gathering, saying that the meeting was organized by so-called "patriotic organizations".
Printscreen Youtube, Source: Vijesti
According to preliminary data from the State Election Commission (SEC), based on 100 percent of votes counted, the current opposition, defined through three electoral coalitions, will have 41 seats in the Parliament of Montenegro. On the other hand, the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) with its traditional partners will have 40 seats. Representatives of the three winning electoral lists also called on representatives of minority nations to join the new parliamentary majority.
According to the State Election Commission data, the DPS won 35.06 percent, i.e., 143,548 votes, in Sunday's elections, and the coalition "For the Future of Montenegro" 32.55 percent (133,267). "Peace is our nation" won 12.53 percent (51,297), and "Black On White" 5.53% (22,649).
The Social Democrats won 4.10 percent (16,769), the Bosniak Party 3.98 percent (16,286), the SDP - Strong Montenegro 3.14 percent (12,839), the Albanian List 1.58 percent (6,488), and the Albanian Coalition Unanimously 1,14 percent (4,675)", as published on the SEC website.
The Croatian Civic Initiative did not pass the census, winning 0.27 (1,115), and the Croatian Reform Party 0.13 percent, or 532 votes, leaving the Croatian people in Montenegro without their representative in the new assembly.
76.65 percent of registered voters voted in the elections, i.e., 413,954, of which 409,451 were valid ballots.
Yesterday, a meeting was held between the leaders of the winning coalitions, "For the future of Montenegro," "Peace is our nation," and "Black On White" - Zdravko Krivokapic, Aleksa Becic, and Dritan Abazovic. They will constitute the future Montenegrin government and deliver the electoral will of the citizens.
The three leaders are extending their hands to representatives of minorities with the desire to together build a more beautiful and prosperous future of Montenegro, came the announcement after the meeting of the new parliamentary majority's leaders.
"Due to verified information that a significant number of paid provocateurs are trying to provoke incidents and unpleasant events, both in Podgorica and in other cities in Montenegro, we invite citizens to return to their homes and continue celebrating there. We must not allow any excuse for the outgoing regime to refute the undeniable results of the elections and the people's will," said the leader of the coalition For the Future of Montenegro, Zdravko Krivokapic.
Krivokapić said that peace has no price and that no one should be afraid that Montenegro will disappear. On his official Facebook page, he again asked people not to take to the streets, and announced that he would form a government in three weeks.
On the occasion of last night's events in several Montenegrin cities, the Black on White coalition leader, Dritan Abazovic, also reacted. "Every kind of violence or provocation from any side casts a shadow over the election victory in which corruption and organized crime are defeated. That is why I ask you to refrain from that and celebrate in your homes in a dignified way," Abazovic said.
"As never before, it is necessary to preserve peace, interethnic, and interreligious harmony. Please do not allow us to jeopardize the historical victory through our irresponsibility or that of planted individuals. Montenegro is the land of us all, so let's protect each other. Civic Montenegro has no alternative! Now we need wisdom; there will be time to celebrate,"- concluded Abazović, emphasizing that there are no compromises with Montenegro's national interests. "Montenegro will not become either Serbian Sparta or Greater Albania," he said.
He said that Montenegro will develop as a civil state and that the condition of the platform around which the Black On White coalition has gathered is an expert government.
"Black on White" Coalition Leader, Dr. Dritan Abazović, Source: Civic Movement URA
"The announcement of the Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro, which has so far arrested children, the elderly and priests for allegedly violating the NKT measures, to organize a rally on September 6, is a transparent attempt to raise tensions and cause riots that only benefit them as the outgoing government. They are trying to deepen the divisions, hatred, and quarrels they have generated in the last 30 years, said the representative of the coalition "Peace is our nation" and the leader of the Democrats, Aleksa Becic.
"Gentlemen from the top of the DPS, the NKT you lead has banned public gatherings. But, since you are known as people who trample on Montenegro, its laws and its Constitution for personal interests, and now for personal frustrations, we must remind you that the votes have been counted. The election results are official, and that there is no need for a new count at any party rallies. Show that you have at least a shred of dignity towards the honorable people who voted for you and accept you scored well below the previous opposition's election result," stated Bečić.
He called on the Police Directorate to ban mass gatherings directed by the DPS and required by any party, "so that we can immediately start working on reconciliation of all. In Montenegro, there must be no winners or losers among the citizens. Corruption, crime, quarrels, and the mafia are defeated in Montenegro, not the voters."
People in Montenegro want peace; they want harmony, unity, and progress, said Aleksa Bečić.
"Peace is Our Nation" Coalition Leader, Aleksa Becic, Source: mondo.me
The President of Montenegro and the DPS, Milo Đukanović, said for "Newsmax Adria" that in Montenegro and the region, two approaches were opposed - a pro-Western course on the one hand and a backward nationalist one on the other, now awakened in Montenegro.
"The incidents did not surprise anyone, the celebration even less. There is always a reason to celebrate, but that celebration implies a civilized attitude towards other citizens and the need to preserve Montenegro's stability. Last night we witnessed an outburst of intolerance, aggression, primitivism who think differently, "Djukanovic said.
When it comes to forming a government, Djukanovic said, "we will soon expect the outcome and that we will receive an offer to form a government from those who will have 41 seats in parliament."
Djukanovic sees the reasons for his party's failure to retain power partly in the dissatisfaction of citizens with some policies and the manipulations of the church and official Belgrade over the Law on Freedom of Religion.
"President Vučić and the current policy of Serbia have shown very problematic intentions. The first is that they want to interfere in another state's internal political life, and the second is to try to revitalize the policy of Greater Serbian nationalism in the region. Both are very wrong and very destructive," said Djukanovic.
He said that the assumptions that the DPS would defend the government by all means, were not correct.
"Even today, the DPS is a force that will try to keep Montenegro on the European path. I believe that in the bloc for Europe that will be formed in the parliament, we will stand for our government's political heritage," said Djukanovic.
He said that Montenegro has a European future and that he hopes that Montenegro will reach it.
DPS Leader, Milo Đukanović, President of Montenegro, Photo by Savo Prelević, Vijesti
"On August 30, Montenegro held parliamentary elections and local elections in five municipalities, according to an electoral, legislative framework that is mostly unchanged from previous elections, in the challenging context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The elections were peaceful and competitive, with a high turnout, monitored by local and international observers accredited by the State Election Commission, European Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Oliver Varhelj, and EU High Representative Josep Borel said in a statement by the EU delegation to Montenegro.
Preliminary findings and conclusions from international observers from the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly emphasize that the elections were conducted transparently and efficiently. They also note the highly polarized debate on church and national identity issues and some concerns for the ruling party's inappropriate advantage and unbalanced media coverage.
Following the publication of the final OSCE / ODIHR report and recommendations, all political actors and relevant institutions should engage in a transparent, determined, and inclusive dialogue on implementing these recommendations to overcome long-standing electoral shortcomings well before the next elections.
"We now expect the Constitution of a new parliament and the formation of a new government that will continue Montenegro's stable path towards the EU. Montenegro has made significant progress in its EU accession process. The months ahead must be used to deepen and accelerate political and economic reforms, especially the rule of law, with the next key milestone being meeting the provisional criteria for Chapters 23 and 24 in the rule of law," Varhelji said.
The European Union is fully committed to providing further support to Montenegro in the EU integration process and economic recovery after the crisis caused by the COVID-19 virus, including through the forthcoming Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans.
"Freedom of assembly, association and expression are fundamental rights of the European Union (EU), which should be exercised without disturbing public health and with full respect for the rule of law and public order and peace," the European Commission (EC) said, commenting on the announced gathering "Montenegro First of All."
"We are closely following the political developments towards the announcement of the final results of the elections held on August 30 in Montenegro. In that context, we expect the Constitution of a new parliament and the formation of a new government that will continue Montenegro's stable path to the EU." A European Commission spokeswoman Ana Pisonero Hernandez told Vijesti, answering questions regarding the DPS' invitation to gather on Sunday, in high health and safety risk conditions.
In Podgorica today, the US Embassy welcomed the conclusions of the OSCE / ODIHR International Election Observation Mission on the parliamentary elections in Montenegro.
"We congratulate Montenegro's citizens on holding peaceful, participatory elections with the participation of more than 76% of the electorate, despite the COVID-19 pandemic," reads the message published on the FB page of the US Embassy.
The US Ambassador to Montenegro warned that all parties must act peacefully and avoid violence in the post-election days.
"I am concerned about reports of violence in Montenegro," said HPP Judy Rising Reinke.
"Montenegro is recognized for its tolerance and inclusiveness. The calm we saw on election day should prevail. All sides must act peacefully and avoid violence. Dialogue and the protection of minorities are the keys to democracy," Rising Reinke said on Twitter.
Meeting between Krivokapić, Bečić and Abazović: "These are the four principles of the future Government"
In addition, they stated that they extend their hand to representatives of minorities with a desire to together build a more beautiful and prosperous future for Montenegro.
August 31, 2020 - A meeting was held today between coalition leaders Zdravko Krivokapić, Aleksa Bečić i Dritan Abazović, representing "For the Future of Montenegro", "Peace is Our Nation" and "Black and White", which will constitute the future Government of Montenegro and deliver the electoral will of citizens.
According to the three leaders, they very quickly agreed on several principles which will serve as the basis for the future government.
"The first principle that has been agreed is that the new democratic government will responsibly implement all international obligations. Second, that the new democratic government will implement all necessary reforms in order for Montenegro to join the European Union as soon as possible. Third, that the new democratic government be highly skilled, constituted of experts in specific fields, regardless of their political, religious, national or any other characteristics. Fourth, the new government will be fully committed to respecting the Constitution and law enforcement, with amendments, supplements and revision of all discriminatory laws and bylaws, including the Law on Freedom of Religion," the statement said.
They said that, in addition, they extend their hand to representatives of minorities with a desire to together build a more beautiful and prosperous future for Montenegro.
August 7, 2020 - The Center for Civic Education (CGO-CCE) has expressed great concern over the Technical Recommendations for the Epidemiological Protection of Voters During Elections, adopted by the State Election Commission (SEC) yesterday, reports CGO-CCE program assistant, Damir Šuljević.
As explained by the CCE, the SEC has not passed legal provisions that enable citizens to exercise the right to vote guaranteed by the Constitution and, at the same time, ensure explicit election norms so that the election day passes with minimal epidemiological risk.
"It is devastating that the SEC worked for almost a month on a document containing only three pages of text that include many technical and spelling errors. This document remains inherently vague and, most importantly, unconstitutional. This document indicates in the title that it is a technical. However, the first part prescribes obligations, yet there are no apparent sanctions for violations, which is contrary to the letter of the law. Such a stunt makes the legal nature of this act unclear because it is not known whether they are recommendations or obligations," explains Šuljevic.
The proposed voting by post for persons in self-isolation or quarantine does not follow the provisions of the Law on Election of Councilors and Deputies and the SEC Rules on Postal Voting.
"More precisely, the specific position of persons in quarantine and self-isolation cannot be subsumed under the situations described by the law and the rules, even when under home or hospital treatment, which the SEC members presumably had in mind. Specifically, these persons are in a situation that is not given a medical diagnosis, neither do they show the presence of any disease. Still, (their situation) is a consequence of the competent state authority's decision as a measure to combat infectious diseases. Also, the planned postal voting for quarantined persons is technically tricky. The SEC Rules provide that one person may be authorized to apply for a maximum of one voter, except in the case of voters from the same household. That means that the number of people placed in quarantine requires almost or an equal amount of authorized persons to apply on their behalf, which, due to the limited contact between quarantined persons and their families, makes this idea absurd," the statement goes on to explain.
As Suljević points out, the epidemiological recommendations are also contradictory, unclear, and incomplete, and they do not respond to the generally known challenges that arice when calling elections.
"For example, it is recommended that a minimum distance of two meters be provided in front of the voter identification station. It neglects to mention that the voter must hand over the ID card to the polling station committee members, sign the excerpt from the voter list, and separate the control ballot from the ballot paper, etc. Also, it is prescribed that hand disinfection is performed before and after voting. In one paragraph of the document, it is prescribed that the voter disinfects hands after identification and then returns their mask to the face. In the second paragraph, hand disinfection is performed after the mask is replaced. Due to this unclear style, it remains very vague as to whether the voter disinfects their hands two, three, or four times at the polling station," they add.
As Šuljević mentions, these technical recommendations make it impossible for persons in quarantine outside the area of the municipality where they reside to vote. He points out that this restriction is contrary to other general acts passed by the SEC. It also brings an "unprecedented situation" of denying the right to vote guaranteed by the Constitution by technical recommendations because the Constitution prescribes the right to vote as general and equal to all citizens.
"CGO-CCE will submit to the Constitutional Court an initiative to review the constitutionality of the SEC's technical recommendations, and the latter must react promptly, bearing in mind that the election day is approaching. Also, the CCE calls on the SEC to continue work on this document and use the time until the elections to adopt constitutional, precise, and concrete instructions to enable the safe conduct of elections," the CGO-CCE statement concluded.
August 1, 2020 - Montenegro's power games between church and state may be about to create a Balkan explosion - this was the title given to Gawain Towler's comment published on July 31 in the UK broadsheet The Telegraph. Towler visited Montenegro last month, and his general conclusion is that "the state-sponsored persecution of the Serbian church in this scrap of Adriatic paradise could soon see mass civil unrest."
Gawain Towler served as Director of Communications for the Brexit Party until December 2019, and was previously Head of Press for the Europe of Freedom and Democracy Group in the European Parliament (UKIP). A former journalist, he has had papers and articles published on European and International Development by the Centre for Policy Studies and elsewhere.
The email arrived in my inbox, breathlessly claiming that the tiny Balkan nation of Montenegro is facing a, “state-sponsored campaign of persecution of Christians in the country and the demolition of their Church, one of the oldest in Europe”.
My interest piqued, partly because the very name is redolent of Ruritania; partly because the founder of my school in 1897, one Lex Devine, was half Montenegrin, whose habit of hiding in trees when the creditors came round populated my schoolboy imagination. Mostly, because it highlighted an article from Newsweek from June, co-authored by Steve Baker and Tim Farron, calling for Nato sanctions on the tiny ex-principality for the reasons above.
That these two, diametric opposite MPs were singing from the same song-sheet raised an eyebrow. In recent days negotiations between the Government and the Serbian Orthodox Church have broken down completely. These centre on a row between the Government of 30 years, led by former communist leader, hardman Milo Dukanovic and the church.
Today it is the only civil society focus of opposition to the Government. The epicentre of the dispute is the legal status of property owned by the church within December’s Religious Toleration legislation. The split is bluntly visible.
The leader of the church is the Metropolitan bishop of Montenegro and the Littoral, Amfilohije Radovic. A Serbian nationalist with a fine line in bloodcurdling curses who flings out excommunications with added malice and an interesting view of people to entertain, including Radovan Karadic, and the notorious warlord Arkan. His views on homosexual rights would raise hairs in Tunbridge Wells, let alone Soho.
What’s happening in this scrap of Adriatic paradise? And why are two decent men, on utterly different ends of the UK political spectrum, adding their weight to a cause backed by someone described to me by a former senior director of the Montenegrin secret service, who is no supporter of the Government, as “the most evil and dangerous man in the country”?
Hold on, Montenegro is peaceful, didn’t get involved in the awful bloodletting of the Yugoslav civil war, and most importantly is over 70% Christian, is a member of Nato and wants to join the EU. It would be madness for it to either persecute Christians or demolish churches. What’s going on?
At a loose end, Covid’s grip loosening and with friends who have been trying to get me to visit the place for years, I went. That my flight went via Milan and Warsaw gives an idea that the country, only 1100 miles away, is better reached by boat; the super yachts gleaming in its main marina, testify to this.
Montenegro has a cultural mix that puts any London suburb to shame, though it is almost entirely ethnically Slavic. History has left it with a huge variety of religions, Catholic, Serbian and Montenegrin Orthodox, Muslim, Jewish and the rest. Just over 50% are Serbian Orthodox, about 20% Montenegrin Orthodox, 20% Muslim, 5% Catholic and smaller numbers atheist – a hangover from communism, and other faith groups.
National borders cut right through cultural borders creating a multilayered patchwork, a three-dimensional powder keg. The current row centers on the Religious Toleration bill, which amongst other things requires all faith groups to register as such (or they cannot access state funding and so on, though they can still continue their religious activities), and this is the key point, that they must prove ownership of property built before 1918 or they will be sequestered by the state.
That date is significant, as it was when Montenegro was annexed by the Kingdom of Serbia. This was disputed by the national assembly despite it being convened by the Serbian authorities but was encouraged in its decision by a large detachment of Serbian troops that surrounded the building until the correct decision was reached.
Everybody I spoke to, historians, political activists, representatives of the Government, the various churches and ordinary citizens had one thing in common. Though the legislation was passed in 2019, and the election is next month, at least three quarters of every conversation about politics majors on 1918.
For added spice and comprehension, a variety of dates from 1200 through to the 1860s mostly involving brave Montenegrin warriors, taking on all comers would be included.
All this history produces a heady and volatile mix. The Government is not above criticism. The President has been accused of a series of issues - all of which he would deny - like election fixing and corruption. There has been intimidation and murder of journalists attributed to mafia and gangsters. His Government is regularly likened to a criminal enterprise and financial scandals involving his family are rife.
After 30 years, many, including some in his own governing Party of Democratic Socialists, wish for him to stand down. The opposition is weak, and the only institution that has the wealth and scope to oppose him is the Serbian Orthodox church. It is in the Government’s crosshairs, being accused of being in the pocket of Serbian, and thus Russian interests. But it too is no pin up boy for progressive values.
In Orthodoxy, the normal situation is that the church is part of the construction of the state, ‘autocephalic’, or whose hierarchy is independent of any other. But, claims Father Mihail Backovic, “We made Montenegro”.
Backovic, a man of God who served in Serbia’s pre-2006 paratroop special forces, is the Metropolitan’s right-hand man. He represents a church whose primary loyalty is to a different state, Serbia. He regards himself as having loyalty to, 'God, Serbian and Montenegro", just as I am English and British.
The Montenegrin Orthodox church was wound up in 1918, as without a state, it had no function. Now it has reformed and wants access to the churches that it claims are its own patrimony. Their non-canonical leader, Archbishop Mihailo Dedeic, wants access to these old churches, “we fear the disappearance of Montenegro itself if we do not do this,” citing the importance of independent national churches.
Today he sits in his garden, drinking shots of rakia, a couple of hundred yards from the Monastery of Cetinje, the seat of his archopponent. It was rigged to explode when the Turks took it in 1692, rather spoiling their party and killing dozens. A fact everybody repeats with relish.
The row between church and state is not about faith at all, but about power and money. The Government wants it and the church has it.
The monastery of Ostrog alone, an impossibly romantic place halfway up a cliff, raises tens of millions a year. The church is prepared,
I’m told, to put “250,000 on the streets after the election”, which, given the population is 600,000 is significant. Negotiations have broken down completely, despite the Government offering the concession that it would not be up to the Church to prove ownership, but that the onus would be on the state.
The church walked out, muttering darkly. A meeting of Serbian Orthodox bishops and senior clergy was summoned in Podgorica and has been followed up by meetings in dioceses in Serbia, Bosnia and elsewhere, beyond Montenegro’s borders.
The working assumption is that these meetings are to co-ordinate non-Montenegrin aspects of the post electoral protests. They claim to be of the country, but their actions suggest that their loyalties and capabilities are elsewhere. This allows the government to portray them as an asset of a hostile foreign power, Serbia (with the Russian bear just out of sight in the shadows). They do not see why they should be treated like other faith groups given they are the largest. They do not see why they should provide full title to their property, despite others, such as the Catholic church, being happy and willing to do so – because the transfer of property in 1918 was by fiat.
Supporters of the church believe that if property is transferred, a range of stunning monasteries will, in short order, become luxury hotels for cash rich guests, with the profits finding their way into the pockets of government officials and their friends. And all this is the lead up to fiercely contested elections at the end of August.
Many roadside restaurants boast a specialty, “Fish on Fire”. The fear of pretty much everybody in the country is that come September, it will be the country, not the fish that are on the barbeque.