“The Serb nationalist minority in Montenegrin politics is large and well-funded. The Russians will try to use it to destabilize NATO and poison the relationship with the EU. The all too necessary corruption investigations will cast doubt on many in the former governing coalition and damage its prospects.”
By Daniel Serwer
Washington/Podgorica, 03 April 2023, dtt-net.com / peacefare.net – Last time I talked with Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, maybe 7 or 8 years ago, I told him he lacked only one thing: a pro-European opposition that could alternate with his own coalition in power. Yesterday’s election will determine whether Montenegro has in the interim acquired it. A recently elected candidate for mayor of Podgorica, Jakov Milatovic, won with 60% of the vote, defeating Djukanovic after he had dominated politics in Montenegro for more than a generation.
There are serious doubts
Milatovic leads a party with the right name, “Europe Now!,” and the right professional career. He has been Economy Minister, after a stint in various private banks as well as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. He holds an Oxford MPhil in economics and has spent time in the US and Austria as well.
But there is good reason for doubt. Milatovic’s supporters include the pro-Russian and pro-Serbian segment of Montenegrin politics. Many opposed independence and NATO membership. Some celebrated with Serbian flags, not Montenegrin ones. Those are Serb ethnic nationalists and resent Montenegro’s minorities, who have long supported Djukanovic. Even if Milatovic is seriously pro-Europe, it is not clear whether that will be the direction he can lead the country in.
Parliamentary elections are scheduled for June 11. The outcome will likely determine whether Europe Now can deliver. Dritan Abazovic, the current caretaker prime minister, is hoping to lead a centrist coalition thereafter. But Abazovic himself has been beholden to the pro-Serbian political parties in the past. He signed an agreement that privileged the Serbian Orthodox Church and has cozied up to Belgrade, while offering himself to Washington and Brussels as a sincere, Western-oriented reformist.
Keep the pressure on
Montenegro was until recently the Balkans front-runner for EU accession. Now Western pressure and incentives will be vital to ensuring a pro-European outcome. The Serb nationalist minority in Montenegrin politics is large and well-funded. The Russians will try to use it to destabilize NATO and poison the relationship with the EU. The all too necessary corruption investigations will cast doubt on many in the former governing coalition and damage its prospects.
Alternation in power is the ultimate test of any democracy. Montenegro has so far passed, ironically due to Djukanovic. He managed the transitional governments of the past two years skilfully. Now that Djukanovic will be out of the picture, Milatovic should aim to do as well, while keeping the country moving in the European direction. It won’t be easy.
————————————————————————————————————————————————————-Daniel Serwer is a Professor of the Practice of Conflict Management as well as director of the Conflict Management and American Foreign Policy Programs at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. This opinion of his was originally published at his peacefare.net website.
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