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Serbian question in Montenegro

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On August 5, 1999 the government of Montenegro announced a platform for new relations between Serbia and Montenegro, in order to review the status of Montenegro and electoral law. The Constitutional Court rejected this revision as being illegal. A little later, the question of Montenegrin independence was again raised – this time with the support of the European Union and the US administration. Montenegrin government has pursued a policy that has encouraged pro-independence policy, which resulted in the separation of Montenegro from Serbia in 2006. Montenegrin Serbs have been strong advocates of a joint state with Serbia, however, they were outvoted. And then at the referendum, the majority of the Orthodox population was for a common state with Serbia, but ruling Democratic Party of Socialists, along with national minorities, managed to win majority.

Many analysts expected that in future the absolute majority of citizens will be loyal to independent Montenegro, and that ethnic Montenegrins would make more than half of the population. However, the situation is completely different. Montenegro today is a deeply divided state. Montenegrin Serbs still do not accept the results of the referendum. They consider and publicly point out that the referendum was undemocratic with many irregularities. According to the 2011 census, Montenegrins make 44.98% of the population, Serbs 28.73%, Bosnians 8.65%, Albanians 4.91%, Muslims 3.31%, Roma 1.01%, and Croats 0.97%. It is important to point out that the citizens were pressured to declare themselves as Montenegrins. Otherwise, the Serbs would be an absolute majority in Montenegro.

The goal of the Montenegrin government is that Montenegrins are an absolute majority in the state, and this plan is implemented even before separation from Serbia. According to the census of 2003 year, 63.49% of the population said that they speak Serbian language, but Montenegrin government decided in 2004 to rename Serbian language. To that end, Montenegro has copmletely changed school programs. The Cyrillic alphabet is almost completely out of use, and almost all state correspondence is in Latin alphabet , Serbian poets were thrown out of school textbooks. Already on the 2011 census 42.88% of the population said that they speak Serbian language. Serbian National Council of Montenegro, in September this year, stated:

“The authority in Montenegro, in a coalition with minority nations, has stopped every prospect for citizens who declare themselves nationally as Serbs. In all spheres of social and political life she opposed, especially Bosniaks and Albanians, to the Serbs, discriminating all Serbs who are not ready to change their own identity in the already obvious project of the assimilation of the Serbian people in the national Montenegrins”. Discrimination against Serbs, is best illustrated by the statistics. In the last four years, in Montenegro, on average, only 13 Serbs received a state job annually. This is 37 times less than the number of Montenegrins, since the state institutions annually employed on average 486 citizens who declared themselves as Montenegrins.

The average number of employed Serbs is smaller even when compared with Bosniaks. According to official statistics, 82.11% of Montenegrins work in public administration, and only 7% of Serbs. All this is done with the aim that the Montenegrin Serbs are no longer a significant demographic and political factor in Montenegro. Basically, Montenegrin Serbs are the main opponents of Milo Djukanovic and the Democratic Party of Socialists. It is important to note that the Democratic Party of Socialists is the ruling political party in Montenegro since the introduction of multy – party system in 1990. The main political goals of Montenegrin Serbs are, one state with Serbia and brotherly relations with Russia. It is precisely for this reason that the West is silent on the discrimination of the Serbs.

Montenegrin Serbs were the main opponents of Montenegro’s entry into NATO. One of the main reasons for that is NATO’s aggression against Serbia and Montenegro, as well as Russia’s position that NATO expansion is dangerous and unnecessary. NATO aggression on Serbia and Montenegro, began 19 years ago. Aggression started without the approval of the UN Security Council. The attacks that lasted without interruption for 78 days severly damaged infratucture, commercial buildings, schools, health facilities, media houses, cultural monuments. The cost of the damage is estimated between 30 and 100 billion dollars. The final number of victims has not been officially declared, but Serbian estimates range between 1, 200 and 2, 500 dead and about 5, 000 injured.

From the above reasons and facts, Montenegrin government avoided the referendum on NATO, because most of the population was against the entry into NATO. The decision on entry into NATO was taken in the Parliament. By entering Montenegro into NATO, the West achieved a significant geopolitical victory. The territory of Montenegro has important geo – strategic signifance. It has access to the Adriatic Sea, controls the Strait of Otranto. From Montenegro, NATO will have an even stronger impact on the Raska (Sandzak) region in Serbia, northern Kosovo, as well as in eastern Republic of Srpska.

In Montenegro, for years there is a project of changing the traditional Serbian/Slavic – Orthodox identity into Montenegrin, Roman Catholic and Western identity. That is why Russia is also the target of the Montenegrin authorities.

“The Serbian Orthodox Church remains the main frontman of Greater Serbian nationalism towards the region and Montenegro, the striking fist of what ideologues of “big Serbia” and imperial Russia in the Balkans want, and must remain the subject of Montenegro‘s state policy in the coming period”, stated Milo Djukanovic, president of Montenegro. Djukanovic publicly also stated that Montenegro wants to change its “ civilization circle”. And in new” civilization circle”, except Serbia, there is no place neither for Russia. On this statement every analyst who deals with situation in Montenegro should pay attention. Under the rule of Milo Djukanovic and his Democratic Party of Socialists, began an open revision of official history. And among the revision are also the relations between Russia and Montenegro throughout history. Regarding Russian-Montenegrin relations, history is clear.

The first instance of official Russian – Montenegrin diplomatic contact was made in 1711, when Russian Tsar Peter the Great sent his envoys to “duke of Serb land” Metropolitan Danilo. Since then, Russia has always helped Montenegro and the Serbs. It is precisely because of this help through centuries that  in Montenegro there is a pro – Russian cult. Russia has for centuries been the protector of Montenegro, and played a key role in helping Montenegro remove the Ottoman Empire. The people of Montenegro remember that and are very grateful to Russia. As a result of that, there is the term  in Montenegro ”Mother Russia”. However, today Montenegro’s foreign policy is being adapted to the private interests of Milo Djukanovic and his Democratic Party of Socialists. This could be seen on the marking of the establishment of 140th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Montenegro and the United Kingdom, in June this year. Than, in old royal capital Cetinje,  president of Montenegro Milo Djukanovic stated:

“We do not forget that London was among the first to support twenty years ago the democratic turn and the European course of Montenegro. At that time, the British Know How Fund and the British Council played a particularly important role. But also the Government of Great Britain, with its decisive and comprehensive support … Time has shown that the struggle of our English admirers and friends for Montenegro in the twenties of the last century was not futile. The United Kingdom has strongly supported Montenegro in the process of joining NATO, where we again are allies.” When it comes to Montenegrin-British relations, history is clear. Within the so-called Eastern Question, which stretched from the end of the 18th century to the beginning of the First World War, and which in essence signified the global conflict of the West against Russia, the essence was not to allow Russia to get out to the warm sea. First via the Bosporus and Dardanelles Straits, and later at any point in the Mediterranean that would be available to Russia. At the same time, Britain and the West always considered Serbs (and under the Serbs should not only be regarded the Serbs from Serbia) as the “Balkan Russians” or “little Russians”. Knowing that besides Bosphorus, Russia could only get to the Mediterranean via the Serbian-Adriatic Sea, Britain in the wish to neutralize Russia’s aspirations, from the late 18th century practically conserved the Ottoman state and did not allow her ruin almost to the beginning of the 20th century, which significantly prolonged the occupation of the Balkans by Ottomans. The current British policy towards Montenegro is based on the disabling of any Russian influence. Britain will help Djukanovic until this regime carry out unquestionably anti-Russian policy. That’s what is happening now.

Serbia and Russia should jointly respond to this policy, and stand in protection of Serbian Orthodox Church and Serbs in Montenegro. This is primarily reflected in the insistence on the recognition of fundamental rights, which are guaranteed by the Constitution of Montenegro. Russia has all the preconditions for the development of soft power in Montenegro. Regarding the soft power of Russia in Montenegro, progress is notable but not enough. A special accent should be placed on the Russian – Montenegrin historical links, and in this regard, scientific conferences should be organized in which Russian and Montenegrin historians would remind the people of Montenegro, as well as the intellectual community, for all the assistance Russia has provided to Montenegro over the centuries. And  therefore send a clear message that it will not allow revision of history. Also, it would be wisely that serious Russian investments come to Montenegro.

The largest number of foreign tourists in Montenegro are Russians. In accordance with that, Russian investments in Montenegrin tourism should be significantly increased. In Montenegro, all TV news stations are pro – Western, as well as almost all daily newspapers. Brainwashing in Montenegro is performed on a daily basis. Montenegro urgently needs pro – Russian television, which would make the media scene of Montenegro more balanced. In this way, Russia would clearly position itself in Montenegro and help resolve the Serbian question, but also would satisfied its interests in this small, but strategically important Balkan country.

First published in our partner International Affairs

Slavisha Batko Milacic is a historian and independent analyst. He has been doing analytics for years, writing in Serbian and English about the situation in the Balkans and Europe. Slavisha Batko Milacic can be contacted at email: varjag5[at]outlook.com

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Iceland’s Historic(al) Elections

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The morning of September, 26 was a good one for Lenya Run Karim of the Pirate Party. Once the preliminary results were announced, things were clear: the 21-year-old law student of the University of Iceland, originating from a Kurdish immigrant family, had become the youngest MP in the country’s history.

In historical significance, however, this event was second to another. Iceland, the world champion in terms of gender equality, became the first country in Europe to have more women MPs than men, 33 versus 30. The news immediately made world headlines: only five countries in the world have achieved such impressive results. Remarkably, all are non-European: Rwanda, Nicaragua and Cuba have a majority of women in parliament, while Mexico and the UAE have an equal number of male and female MPs.

Nine hours later, news agencies around the world had to edit their headlines. The recount in the Northwest constituency affected the outcome across the country to delay the ‘triumph for women’ for another four years.

Small numbers, big changes

The Icelandic electoral system is designed so that 54 out of the 63 seats in the Althingi, the national parliament, are primary or constituency seats, while another nine are equalization seats. Only parties passing the 5 per cent threshold are allowed to distribute equalisation seats that go to the candidates who failed to win constituency mandates and received the most votes in their constituency. However, the number of equalisation mandates in each of the 6 constituencies is legislated. In theory, this could lead to a situation in which the leading party candidate in one constituency may simply lack an equalisation mandate, so the leading candidate of the same party—but in another constituency—receives it.

This is what happened this year. Because of a difference of only ten votes between the Reform Party and the Pirate Party, both vying for the only equalisation mandate in the Northwest, the constituency’s electoral commission announced a recount on its own initiative. There were also questions concerning the counting procedure as such: the ballots were not sealed but simply locked in a Borgarnes hotel room. The updated results hardly affected the distribution of seats between the parties, bringing in five new MPs, none of whom were women, with the 21-year-old Lenya Run Karim replaced by her 52-year-old party colleague.

In the afternoon of September, 27, at the request of the Left-Green Movement, supported by the Independence Party, the Pirates and the Reform Party, the commission in the South announced a recount of their own—the difference between the Left-Greens and the Centrists was only seven votes. There was no ‘domino effect’, as in the case of the Northwest, as the five-hour recount showed the same result. Recounts in other districts are unlikely, nor is it likely that Althingi—vested with the power to declare the elections valid—would invalidate the results in the Northwest. Nevertheless, the ‘replaced’ candidates have already announced their intention to appeal against the results, citing violations of ballot storage procedures. Under the Icelandic law, this is quite enough to invalidate the results and call a re-election in the Northwest, as the Supreme Court of Iceland invalidated the Constitutional Council elections due to a breach of procedure 10 years ago. Be that as it may, the current score remains 33:30, in favor of men.

Progressives’ progress and threshold for socialists

On the whole, there were no surprises: the provisional allocation of mandates resembles, if with minor changes, the opinion polls on the eve of the election.

The ruling three-party coalition has rejuvenated its position, winning 37 out of the 63 Althingi seats. The centrist Progressive Party saw a real electoral triumph, improving its 2017 result by five seats. Prime-minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s Left-Green Movement, albeit with a slight loss, won eight seats, surpassing all pre-election expectations. Although the centre-right Independence Party outperformed everyone again to win almost a quarter of all votes, 16 seats are one of the worst results of the Icelandic ‘Grand Old Party’ ever.

The results of the Social-Democrats, almost 10% versus 12.1% in 2017, and of the Pirates, 8.6% versus 9.2%, have deteriorated. Support for the Centre Party of Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, former prime-minister and victim of the Panama Papers, has halved from 10.9% to 5.4%. The centrists have seen a steady decline in recent years, largely due to a sexist scandal involving party MPs. The populist People’s Party and the pro-European Reform Party have seen gains of 8.8% and 8.3%, as compared to 6.9% and 6.7% in the previous elections.

Of the leading Icelandic parties, only the Socialist Party failed to pass the 5 per cent threshold: despite a rating above 7% in August, the Socialists received only 4.1% of the vote.

Coronavirus, climate & economy

Healthcare and the fight against COVID-19 was, expectedly, on top of the agenda of the elections: 72% of voters ranked it as the defining issue, according to a Fréttablaðið poll. Thanks to swift and stringent measures, the Icelandic government brought the coronavirus under control from day one, and the country has enjoyed one of the lowest infection rates in the world for most of the time. At the same time, the pandemic exposed a number of problems in the national healthcare system: staff shortages, low salaries and long waiting lists for emergency surgery.

Climate change, which Icelanders are already experiencing, was an equally important topic. This summer, the temperature has not dropped below 20°C for 59 days, an anomaly for a North-Atlantic island. However, Icelanders’ concerns never converted into increased support for the four left-leaning parties advocating greater reductions in CO2 emission than the country has committed to under the Paris Agreement: their combined result fell by 0.5%.

The economy and employment were also among the main issues in this election. The pandemic has severely damaged the island nation’s economy, which is heavily tourism-reliant—perhaps, unsurprisingly, many Icelanders are in favor of reviving the tourism sector as well as diversifying the economy further.

The EU membership, by far a ‘traditional’ issue in Icelandic politics, is unlikely to be featured on the agenda of the newly-elected parliament as the combined result of the Eurosceptics, despite a loss of 4%, still exceeds half of the overall votes. The new Althingi will probably face the issue of constitutional reform once again, which is only becoming more topical in the light of the pandemic and the equalization mandates story.

New (old) government?

The parties are to negotiate coalition formation. The most likely scenario now is that the ruling coalition of the Independence Party, the Left-Greens and the Progressives continues. It has been the most ideologically diverse and the first three-party coalition in Iceland’s history to last a full term. A successful fight against the pandemic has only strengthened its positions and helped it secure additional votes. Independence Party leader and finance minister Bjarni Benediktsson has earlier said he would be prepared to keep the ruling coalition if it holds the majority. President Guðni Jóhannesson announced immediately after the elections that he would confirm the mandate of the ruling coalition to form a new government if the three parties could strike a deal.

Other developments are possible but unlikely. Should the Left-Greens decide to leave the coalition, they could be replaced by the Reform Party or the People’s Party, while any coalition without the Independence Party can only be a four-party or larger coalition.

Who will become the new prime-minister still remains to be seen—but if the ruling coalition remains in place, the current prime-minister and leader of the Left-Greens, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, stands a good chance of keeping her post: she is still the most popular politician in Iceland with a 40 per cent approval rate.

The 2021 Althingi election, with one of the lowest turnouts in history at 80.1%, has not produced a clear winner. The election results reflect a Europe-wide trend in which traditional “major” parties are losing support. The electorate is fragmenting and their votes are pulled by smaller new parties. The coronavirus pandemic has only reinforced this trend.

The 2021 campaign did not foreshadow a sensation. Although Iceland has not become the first European country with a women’s majority in parliament, these elections will certainly go down in history as a test of Icelanders’ trust to their own democracy.

From our partner RIAC

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EU-Balkan Summit: No Set Timeframe for Western Balkans Accession

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From left to right: Janez JANŠA (Prime Minister, Slovenia), Charles MICHEL (President of the European Council), Ursula VON DER LEYEN (President of the European Commission) Copyright: European Union

On October 6, Slovenia hosted a summit between the EU and the Western Balkans states. The EU-27 met with their counterparts (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo) in the sumptuous Renaissance setting of Brdo Castle, 30 kilometers north of the capital, Ljubljana. Despite calls from a minority of heads of state and government, there were no sign of a breakthrough on the sensitive issue of enlargement. The accession of these countries to the European Union is still not unanimous among the 27 EU member states.

During her final tour of the Balkans three weeks ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the peninsula’s integration was of “geostrategic” importance. On the eve of the summit, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz backed Slovenia’s goal of integrating this zone’s countries into the EU by 2030.

However, the unanimity required to begin the hard negotiations is still a long way off, even for the most advanced countries in the accession process, Albania and North Macedonia. Bulgaria, which is already a member of the EU, is opposing North Macedonia’s admission due to linguistic and cultural differences. Since Yugoslavia’s demise, Sofia has rejected the concept of Macedonian language, insisting that it is a Bulgarian dialect, and has condemned the artificial construction of a distinct national identity.

Other countries’ reluctance to join quickly is of a different nature. France and the Netherlands believe that previous enlargements (Bulgaria and Romania in 2007) have resulted in changes that must first be digested before the next round of enlargement. The EU-27 also demand that all necessary prior guarantees be provided regarding the independence of the judiciary and the fight against corruption in these countries. Despite the fact that press freedom is a requirement for membership, the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged the EU to make “support for investigative and professional journalism” a key issue at the summit.”

While the EU-27 have not met since June, the topic of Western Balkans integration is competing with other top priorities in the run-up to France’s presidency of the EU in the first half of 2022. On the eve of the summit, a working dinner will be held, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, called for “a strategic discussion on the role of the Union on the international scene” in his letter of invitation to the EU-Balkans Summit, citing “recent developments in Afghanistan,” the announcement of the AUKUS pact between the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, which has enraged Paris.

The Western Balkans remain the focal point of an international game of influence in which the Europeans seek to maintain their dominance. As a result, the importance of reaffirming a “European perspective” at the summit was not an overstatement. Faced with the more frequent incursion of China, Russia, and Turkey in that European region, the EU has pledged a 30 billion euro Economic and Investment Plan for 2021-2027, as well as increased cooperation, particularly to deal with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Opening the borders, however, is out of the question. In the absence of progress on this issue, Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia have decided to establish their own zone of free movement (The Balkans are Open”) beginning January 1, 2023. “We are starting today to do in the region what we will do tomorrow in the EU,” said Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama when the agreement was signed last July.

This initiative, launched in 2019 under the name “Mini-Schengen” and based on a 1990s idea, does not have the support of the entire peninsular region, which remains deeply divided over this project. While Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro are not refusing to be a part of it and are open to discussions, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, who took office in 2020, for his part accuses Serbia of relying on this project to recreate “a fourth Yugoslavia”

Tensions between Balkan countries continue to be an impediment to European integration. The issue of movement between Kosovo and Serbia has been a source of concern since the end of September. Two weeks of escalation followed Kosovo’s decision to prohibit cars with Serbian license plates from entering its territory, in response to Serbia’s long-standing prohibition on allowing vehicles to pass in the opposite direction.

In response to the mobilization of Kosovar police to block the road, Serbs in Kosovo blocked roads to their towns and villages, and Serbia deployed tanks and the air force near the border. On Sunday, October 3, the conflict seemed to be over, and the roads were reopened. However, the tone had been set three days before the EU-Balkans summit.

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German Election: Ramifications for the US Foreign Policy

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Image source: twitter @OlafScholz

In the recent German election, foreign policy was scarcely an issue. But Germany is an important element in the US foreign policy. There is a number of cases where Germany and the US can cooperate, but all of these dynamics are going to change very soon.

The Germans’ strategic culture makes it hard to be aligned perfectly with the US and disagreements can easily damage the relations. After the tension between the two countries over the Iraq war, in 2003, Henry Kissinger said that he could not imagine the relations between Germany and the US could be aggravated so quickly, so easily, which might end up being the “permanent temptation of German politics”. For a long time, the US used to provide security for Germany during the Cold War and beyond, so, several generations are used to take peace for granted. But recently, there is a growing demand on them to carry more burden, not just for their own security, but for international peace and stability. This demand was not well-received in Berlin.

Then, the environment around Germany changed and new threats loomed up in front of them. The great powers’ competition became the main theme in international relations. Still, Germany was not and is not ready for shouldering more responsibility. Politicians know this very well. Ursula von der Leyen, who was German defense minister, asked terms like “nuclear weapons” and “deterrence” be removed from her speeches.

Although on paper, all major parties appreciate the importance of Germany’s relations with the US, the Greens and SPD ask for a reset in the relations. The Greens insist on the European way in transatlantic relations and SPD seeks more multilateralism. Therefore, alignment may be harder to maintain in the future. However, If the tensions between the US and China heat up to melting degrees, then external pressure can overrule the internal pressure and Germany may accede to its transatlantic partners, just like when Helmut Schmid let NATO install medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe after the Soviet Union attacked Afghanistan and the Cold War heated up.

According to the election results, now three coalitions are possible: grand coalition with CDU/CSU and SPD, traffic lights coalition with SPD, FDP, and Greens, Jamaica coalition with CDU/CSU, FDP, and Greens. Jamaica coalition will more likely form the most favorable government for the US because it has both CDU and FDP, and traffic lights will be the least favorite as it has SPD. The grand coalition can maintain the status quo at best, because contrary to the current government, SPD will dominate CDU.

To understand nuances, we need to go over security issues to see how these coalitions will react to them. As far as Russia is concerned, none of them will recognize the annexation of Crimea and they all support related sanctions. However, if tensions heat up, any coalition government with SPD will be less likely assertive. On the other hand, as the Greens stress the importance of European values like democracy and human rights, they tend to be more assertive if the US formulates its foreign policy by these common values and describe US-China rivalry as a clash between democracy and authoritarianism. Moreover, the Greens disapprove of the Nordstream project, of course not for its geopolitics. FDP has also sided against it for a different reason. So, the US must follow closely the negotiations which have already started between anti-Russian smaller parties versus major parties.

For relations with China, pro-business FDP is less assertive. They are seeking for developing EU-China relations and deepening economic ties and civil society relations. While CDU/CSU and Greens see China as a competitor, partner, and systemic rival, SPD and FDP have still hopes that they can bring change through the exchange. Thus, the US might have bigger problems with the traffic lights coalition than the Jamaica coalition in this regard.

As for NATO and its 2 percent of GDP, the division is wider. CDU/CSU and FDP are the only parties who support it. So, in the next government, it might be harder to persuade them to pay more. Finally, for nuclear participation, the situation is the same. CDU/CSU is the only party that argues for it. This makes it an alarming situation because the next government has to decide on replacing Germany’s tornados until 2024, otherwise Germany will drop out of the NATO nuclear participation.

The below table gives a brief review of these three coalitions. 1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism and 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism. As it shows, the most anti-Russia coalition is Jamaica, while the most anti-China coalition is Trafic light. Meanwhile, Grand Coalition is the most pro-NATO coalition. If the US adopts a more normative foreign policy against China and Russia, then the Greens and FDP will be more assertive in their anti-Russian and anti-Chinese policies and Germany will align more firmly with the US if traffic light or Jamaica coalition rise to power.

Issues CoalitionsTrafic LightGrand CoalitionJamaica
Russia213 
China312 
NATO132 

1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism. 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism.

In conclusion, this election should not make Americans any happier. The US has already been frustrated with the current government led by Angela Merkel who gave Germany’s trade with China the first priority, and now that the left-wing will have more say in any imaginable coalition in the future, the Americans should become less pleased. But, still, there are hopes that Germany can be a partner for the US in great power competition if the US could articulate its foreign policy with common values, like democracy and human rights. More normative foreign policy can make a reliable partner out of Germany. Foreign policy rarely became a topic in this election, but observers should expect many ramifications for it.

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