“[W]e are just fighting for this country to be a safe home for all its citizens, regardless of religious, national, ethnic affiliation. That is why every help is precious to us, especially from those people and organizations with whom we share a commitment to freedom, justice and equality.” (Mirna Nikcevic, email to author)
Montenegro is in trouble. A pro-Serb, pro-Russian government took power (by election but with Russia’s inteference) in August 2020, ending the 30 year rule of President Milo Djukanovic’s party. The electorate was reportedly tired of corruption and cronyism and voted for an alternative that turned out much worse. While Djukanovic’s party wasn’t perfect, it was an aspiring multi-ethnic democracy, the only state in the former Yugoslavia to not base citizenship on ethnicity. The new government is changing that. Their aspiration is “Serbia World,” formerly known as “Greater Serbia.”
[In a half hour interview, Mike Haltzell (Joe Biden’s foreign policy advisor when he was in the Senate) provides a thorough overview of the situation. https:youtu.be/sM5u1I8tIfI]
Greater Serbia was the call to arms that set off the Balkan wars of the 1990s. It was the reason for ethnic cleansing and genocide. It is more than a little disturbing to hear it again as a political aspiration 30 years after a hundred thousand people plus were killed and far more lives destroyed.
Montenegro is currently a multi-ethnic state, made up of Montenegrins, Serbs, Albanians, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims. Multi-ethnicity is provided for in the constitution and something they are justifiably proud of. Given the nationalisms sweeping the world, it is a precious example that we need to preserve.
Montenegro has also been secular, in that no one religion is favored over another. That, too, is changing as the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) is reportedly behind much of the political change.
After several years in Montenegro and other parts of the Balkans, I left in 2000 and have only been back once. I fell in love with the country of the Black Mountains (Crna Gora/Montenegro) and the passion of its people for democratic change. What a joy they were to work with on law reform! When I left, I left part of my heart with them. The future looked bright and hopeful. I’m terribly saddened and worried over the current situation.
Recently, a Montenegrin colleague and former diplomat, Mirna Nikcevic, contacted me, knowing I will always be a friend of Montenegro. She asked me to expose what is happening and told me that my friend and former co-attorney, Aleksa Ivanovic, who is head of the State Election Commission, is in danger of being fired for his pro-Montenegro stance. Other pro-democracy officials in the bureaucracy have been replaced or demoted.
Mirna started an NGO called “Montenegro International” to fight for the country’s democracy (montenegrointernational.org). MI has contacted numerous officials and organizations in Europe and the U.S., as well as in the United Nations. MI has also given interviews, produced videos and press statements, taken legal action, among other efforts. (You can read about them on MI’s website.) The European Union is aware of the situation — and is “monitoring” it. Because someone in the new pro-Serb government leaked a confidential NATO document, NATO is also watching. While President Biden is a longtime friend of Montenegro and Antony Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State, is knowledgeable on the Balkans, as are others in the administration and several Congresspeople, the U.S. has remained mostly silent.
It is vital that information about the situation in Montenegro be widely publicized. While local people are doing everything they can, they’re up against not only Serb extremists, but also Russia, which attempted a coup (including the attempted assassination of President Djukanovic) three years ago. Montenegro has joined NATO and is well on its way to become a member of the European Union. The mountainous country (population: 620,000) gained independence in 2006 following a vote of the people. Russia (and Serbia) opposed independence and Russia especially opposes Montenegro’s membership in NATO. While two people involved in the coup attempt were convicted, the new government released them.
Montenegro’s independence and multi-ethnicity are in danger. The pro-Serb forces passed a law that allows the Serb diaspora in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosova to vote in Montenegrin elections, but prohibits Montenegrins working abroad from doing so. Obviously, it is designed to shift power to Serb Montenegrins and Serbia proper.
Janusz Bugojski, Senior Fellow at the Jamestown Foundation in Washington, D.C., writes: “[T]he Biden administration must become more active to undercut [Serbia’s President Aleksandar] Vucic’s Greater Serbia goals through a three-pronged approach. [emphasis added]
1. “[T]he Serbia-Kosova dialogue has to be given teeth in line with Biden’s recent letter to Vucic calling for mutual state recognition.
2. “[A] multi-national initiative must be launched to implement necessary constitutional changes in Bosnia-Herzegovina and develop a fully functioning state.
3. “Vucic must be warned that political interference in Montenegro’s politics will rebound negatively against a government with destabilizing foreign connections. The tentacles of Kremlin influence in Belgrade and Podgorica need to be unearthed and amputated. [emphasis added]”
Your help is needed. You can contact your congresspeople and the Biden administration, post on Facebook, write a blog. While the U.S. and the world are preoccupied with Covid-19 and the Middle East conflict, Russia has nearly a free hand to undermine Montenegro’s independence, promote a Greater Serbia, and place Montenegro in its orbit, contributing to the extreme right nationalism that is rising up throughout the world, including in the United States. The world looked away when Milosevic initiated his Greater Serbia campaign in the 1990s with wars in Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. More than 100,000 people died. His subsequent attempt to establish Serb hegemony in Kosovo caused another 10,000 deaths. The wars of the 90s ended former President Tito’s dream of “Brotherhood and Unity” and a multi-ethnic society, except in Montenegro. Please help save her and keep the dream alive.
Thank you for what you’re able to do. It will be gratefully appreciated here and in the Black Mountain.