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Geopolitics of Montenegrin Serbs

Slavisha Batko Milacic

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In Montenegro, since 1945 and the beginning of the rule of the Yugoslav Communists, the process of assimilation of Serbs into Montenegrins is implemented. But, in this process, it is important to highlight the geopolitical turning point in 1997, when the current regime began to implement openly anti-Serb policy. Because under communism, although almost everyone had to declare themselves nationally as Montenegrins, they were nonetheless Montenegrins who were in the Serbian/Slavic cultural and historical circle. However, since 1997, the current government in Montenegro has started the project of independent Montenegro, with the ultimate goal that ethnic Montenegrins no longer belong to the Serbian/Slavic cultural and historical circle. No less important is the task of keeping the number of Serbs in Montenegro at the level of statistical error. The entire policy of the ruling party in Montenegro comes down to the fact that Serbia, and now Russia, are external enemies, while Serbs in Montenegro are internal enemies.

However, it turned out that Serbs were a harder nut than expected, so the assimilation process did not go as quickly as expected. Although the independence referendum was held in 2006, the current government has failed to impose a Montenegrin identity on Serbs. And if all post-war censuses from 1948 to 2011 were fictitious and did not reflect the real situation, and on such census in 2011 there were “too many” Serbs. According to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), 42.9 percent of Montenegrin people speak Serbian, and another two percent speak Serbo-Croatian, while Montenegrin speak 37 percent. Also interesting is the survey of CEDEM agency, which is close to the ruling party, according to which 46.6 percent of respondents believe that in Montenegro should only exist Serbian Orthodox Church, while only 4.9 percent believe that there should be only the Montenegrin Orthodox church

The final assimilation phase

The main objective of the current government is not only to build new generations through a purely Montenegrin identity, but through an anti-Serb identity. This process cannot be performed overnight, it takes time. In accordance with that, there was a Serbian writer expulsion from school textbooks, the introduction of two new characters, which even president of Montenegro Milo Djukanovic does not use.

Revision of history, recognition of Kosovo, the presence of a Montenegrin officer at the celebration of the Croatian military operation “Storm” (which carried out the largest ethnic cleansing since World War II), Montenegro’s entry into NATO and open attack on the Serbian Orthodox Church, clearly indicate that the authorities are entering to the final phase of Serb assimilation. The system of work of the Democratic Party of Socialists and its political partners is simple. Authorities carry out assimilation, and encourages Serbs to emigrate. Serbs who cannot withstand social pressure are forced to leave Montenegro. However, those who are unable to leave Montenegro are forced to assimilate and become national Montenegrins. The Montenegrin national project is implemented primarily through economic pressure, that is the main lever for the assimilation of Serbs. And besides, there is strong pressure in the media, education system, cultural institutions… And as time goes regime is becoming more violent.

Warning of US hawk

Why Milo Djukanovic and Democratic Party of Socialists have Western support, explains openly one of the main American hawks for the Balkan – Daniel Serwer. In his statements, Serwer clearly states that there is no good opposition in Montenegro, because the opposition in Montenegro is not pro-NATO and pro-European, and it is not for an independent Montenegro.

“There is now no room for President Milo Djukanovic to step down because opposition forces in Montenegro are not only questioning NATO membership and joining the EU, but also Montenegrin independence. Government changeability is necessary and I would like to see it, better sooner rather than later. I also told that directly to the president, “explains Server.

Serwer also added that any change in government must offer an alternative.

“That is my point: without serious opposition, which is not tied to Moscow, it will be impossible for Djukanovic or his party to leave power. But that day should come. No one should stay in power forever. It’s been a long time, though recognition must be given to the President for leaving office several times, “he stated.

Serwer “explained” that creating a serious opposition that is not influenced by the Kremlin is a long process.

“I do not think that the process of creating a pro-European opposition should wait for membership in the European Union. Already then, Montenegro should be a serious democracy. Of course, this process of creating opposition forces that will not rely on Moscow will take years. The time to begin this process is now. It is important to emphasize that those who oppose (Montenegrin) independence and NATO membership cannot form that serious pro-European opposition,” stated Server.

The Machine can work without Djukanovic

However, the process of creating a pro-NATO and pro-European opposition has already begun, and gives excellent results. Political party Democratic Montenegro is today the strongest opposition party in Montenegro. And things will only get worse for Serbs and pro-Russian parties unless their policies, which have been catastrophic so far, change. At present, the main focus of the ruling party – apart from winning the next parliamentary elections – is the census, which will be held in 2021. The Government’s goal is to make ethnic Montenegrins a majority nation, with less than 20 percent of Serbs. That is why the activity of the Montenegrin institutions, which  is visibly intensified, will in future only be more brutal.

The striking brigade for the implementation of this plan is administration under Government control, that does strong economic pressure on Serbs. In addition to strong economic pressure, there is also media pressure in which an open revision of history is performed. However, some analysts think that it is enough that Milo Djukanovic leave the power, and that the Serbs after that will once again be the majority in Montenegro. But, they are wrong! Because, we could see that even when Djukanovic was withdrawing, the anti-Serb machine was working excellent. The reason for this is that the seat of the anti-Serb machine is not in Montenegro, but outside. Behind the anti-Serb machine in Montenegro are liberals from the West. It is reasonable to suspect that the forthcoming census will be adjusted by the Government of Montenegro according to their interests, intentions and goals. Recent data on the number of Serbs working in Montenegrin institutions – presented by journalist Gojko Raicevic – was just another confirmation of discrimination against Serbs in that country. According to a document published by the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights in 2015, it is clear that Serbs have been expelled from the Montenegrin system.  Without a doubt, now the situation is even worse.

In light of the above, an urgent change in Serbian politics in Montenegro is needed. If Serbs want to survive in Montenegro, it is necessary to pursue a Serb policy, not a civic one. It is simply unbelievable that Serbs who make up a third of Montenegro’s population do not have a serious national party. How is it possible that New Serbian Democracy, a party that was founded to fight for Serbian interests in Montenegro, becomes part of civic party Democratic Front?! And now it can be seen that New Serbian Democracy is more concerned with the summer tourist season in Montenegro than about the position and rights of Serbs in Montenegro. The conclusion is clear, If there is no will and desire in New Serbian Democracy to return to the policy of protecting Serbian national interests, then it is necessary to form a new Serbian party, with strong infrastructure. A party that would predominantly work on the protection of Serbian national interests in Montenegro. And that means the establishment of new pillars of Serbian politics in Montenegro.

Five pillars of new Serbian Policy in Montenegro

1. The presence in every government of Montenegro. The New Serbian Democracy, which is now pursuing civic policies within the Democratic Front, is not interested to become a part of Montenegrin government as long as the Democratic Party of Socialists is in Government. Therefore, Serbs are the only ethnic group in Montenegro that is not represented in the Government of Montenegro. This needs to be changed, as Serbs must be part of the Government of Montenegro. Serbs need to take care of their interest only, which is why equal representation of Serbs in the institutions of Montenegro is needed. In principle, that means three to four ministries in the Government of Montenegro, as well as the position of Deputy Prime Minister of Montenegro, would belong to the Serbs. And in the future, support for that Serbian party would only increase. Because in that case, the Serbs would no longer be forced to vote for the Democratic Party of Socialists, but since the institutions of the system would be opened to them, they could decide for themselves who they would vote for. So that Serbian party would in future probably be the strongest political party in Montenegro.

2. Equal media representation. This is primarily related to the fact that the first or second Program of Radio Television of Montenegro broadcasts contents in Cyrillic and to have shows about Serbian history, art, culture…

3. Lifting of sanctions against Russia, and the establishment of strong cooperation with the institutions of Russia. There is no doubt that in Montenegrin government pro-Montenegrin option will oppose to cooperation with Russia, but Serb representatives in the Montenegrin government could, within their competencies, establish strong cooperation with the institutions of the Russian state.

4. Work on the formation of pro-Serbian and pro-Russian television that would have national frequency. Considering that Montenegro is a small country with a population of about 600,000, it would not require much money to set up such a television.

5. Formation of historical and economic region, which would also have partial autonomy. The municipalities of Niksic, Pljevlja, Zabljak, Pluzine, Savnik and Herceg Novi can thus constitute the economic region of Old Herzegovina. Such a region, which is also a historical region (Old Herzegovina belonged to Montenegro after the Berlin Congress) is important because it would make political balance. Old Herzegovina is predominantly populated by Orthodox Christians and is not pro-Montenegrin and pro-NATO oriented., but pro-Serbian and pro-Russian. In that region, the pro-Serb and pro-Russian parties would have power. More autonomy is also needed in places where Serbs are the majority population. Recently, the city municipality of Tuzi (predominantly Albanian-populated) became an independent municipality, having separated from Podgorica (the capital of Montenegro). At the same time, the pro-Serb settlement Zlatica (which is almost twice the size of Tuzi) does not even have the status of a city municipality. Perhaps the example of Zlatica and Tuzi is the best indicator of the disastrous policy of Serb political representatives in Montenegro. Because unlike Albanian political representatives who are predominantly concerned with Albanian national interests, Serb political representatives do almost nothing that is in Serbian national interest.

Only with such a policy can Serbs in Montenegro survive, and expect to be the main political factor in Montenegro again. What is important to point out is that as much as Serbian influence in Montenegro strengthens, so much will strengthen Russian influence in Montenegro. That is why Russia should more strongly and directly support the improvement of the position of Serbs in Montenegro.

 From our partner International Affairs

Slavisha Batko Milacic is an analyst at a Moscow journal "International Affairs", which is the official journal of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Slavisa Batko Milacic can be contacted at email: varjag5[at]outlook.com

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U.S. President Trump to meet Bulgaria’s Prime Minister at the White House: What to expect?

Iveta Cherneva

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Next Monday, 25 November, President Trump will welcome Bulgarian Prime Minister Borissov at the White House for a bilateral meeting.

This is not the first White House visit for Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borissov who previously met President Obama at the White House in 2012.

The White House press secretary has announced that Trump and Borissov plan to discuss security in the Black Sea region, energy and countering malign influence – all Russia-related topics, as one would expect.

The real reason for the White House treat, however, is Bulgaria’s substantial purchase of US aircraft this year.

In August, Bulgaria bought eight F-16 airplanes from the US for the hefty price of USD 1.2bln. White House meetings with foreign leaders represent special thanks for something a foreign country has done for the United States and the F-16 airplanes purchase seems to be what we are looking at here. The US is a happy seller and Bulgaria is a happy customer.

In the area of energy, Bulgaria is looking towards the US while trying to reach energy diversification and gain independence from Russian natural gas. On this, there is a clear intersection with US interests. Bulgaria agreed in May to purchase natural gas from the US for the first time. Bulgarian Prime Minister Borissov met last week with the US Ambassador to Greece to explore the possibility of purchases of American liquid gas down the line.

What is not mentioned by the official White House position is that visa restrictions will be a topic of the meeting, too. The Bulgarian Prime Minister will likely request that President Trump dropped the visa requirements for Bulgarians – an issue the Bulgarian government has been chasing for a while now and something which Bulgarian President Radev had raised with President Trump also on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September. Visa restrictions were removed for Polish citizens last month. The Bulgarian Prime Minister will seek the same outcome. On this point, it is unlikely that President Trump would give the green light though.

What we won’t hear about publicly is the issue of the return of ISIS fighters to Europe. No one in Bulgaria really talks about this but one can imagine this is an issue for the US government. Bulgaria doesn’t have a problem with ISIS fighters itself but, as an EU external border country, it is Turkey’s neighbor and the closest to the Middle East EU ground entry point. Last week, Turkey began returning ISIS fighters back to Europe and President Trump has been adamant that European nations with ISIS fighters need to take responsibility for them. Western European EU countries do not want their ISIS fighters back to try them in court or to reintegrate them, which is understandable but also irritating because Europeans have had the unfounded expectation that the US would somehow take care of this. How Bulgaria as an EU country at the crossroads between Turkey, the EU and the US handles that is key. No one in Bulgaria really talks about it, and the various EU, US and Turkish pressures on Bulgaria are not really known, but one can imagine the situation is that of being between a rock and a hard place. So, the return of ISIS fighters is another issue to look out for, although it will not come through in public.

In the past, NATO ally Bulgaria has aided the US with criminal and law enforcement investigations in the areas of terrorism, drug trafficking and human trafficking. This is another area to look out for.

President Trump’s impeachment is not really a topic in Bulgaria, as no one here seems to be concerned with that. It will be interesting whether Prime Minister Borissov would mention this at all to issue words of support to President Trump. This is something that President Trump would appreciate, although protocol says Prime Minister Borissov would be smart to steer away from impeachment comments.

Direct, to the point and simple words can be expected from President Trump. Prime Minister Borissov, on the other hand, is learning English so the meeting will necessarily have a Bulgarian interpreter. Expect one or two jokes by President Trump about simultaneous Bulgarian interpretation. The meeting will not pass without that.

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EU chief prosecutor Laura Kovesi needs media freedom to do her job

Iveta Cherneva

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Last month, Laura Codruta Kovesi, the former chief prosecutor of Romania’s National Anti-corruption Directorate, was officially confirmed as the first ever EU chief prosecutor to head the newly created European Public Prosecutor’s Office. Her team will start work in the end of 2020. 

Kovesi will shake things up. She has a lot of hurdles to overcome. Among the main ones is the silencing and stifling of journalists across Europe, including in Bulgaria. The lack of media freedom will make it exceptionally difficult for Kovesi to do her job and uncover crimes involving EU funding.

As soon as the news hit that Kovesi was to become EU’s top prosecutor, anti-corruption activists across Europe applauded loudly. One could hear the applause also in Bulgaria where we face issues with EU funds misappropriation and theft but also complaints regarding the freedom of the press – a place where Kovesi’s work is much needed.

Defined institutionally, Kovesi’s mandate is “to investigate, prosecute and bring to judgment crimes against the EU budget, such as fraud, corruption or serious cross-border VAT fraud”. The EU’s top prosecutor is tasked with the tough job of going after crimes involving EU money. 

It might sound as a disappointment to many, but Kovesi will not have the institutional competence to address everything that is wrong with a country or a sector. Corruption and fraud are covered by the EU prosecutor’s mandate only as long as they are related to EU funds.

So if Kovesi won’t be a see-it-all, do-it-all messiah, where does this leave media freedom then and why am I talking about it in the context of her job?

Well, bringing to justice crimes related to EU funds is almost impossible without the leads on the ground – work often done by a functioning free media and hard-hitting  investigative journalism that uncovers fishy deals and contracts. It is journalists that sometimes lead the way. Often media investigations chart a course for criminal investigations. The media is a key ally in uncovering crimes involving EU funds. This is particularly true of a service such as the EU’s prosecutor office that will operate from EU headquarters and will rely on leads and allies on the ground.

We can’t expect that an EU service will get all the intricate, hidden local information on its own or through cooperation with the state authorities in question. This is where media and journalists come in. 

Bulgaria – as sad I am to say this – gives a clear illustration of why Kovesi’s job could prove to be especially tough. The country ranks 111th in the world in terms of media freedom, according to Reporters without Borders. 

To illustrate the situation, one should look no further than the current scandal involving the nomination of Bulgaria’s own chief prosecutor and the simultaneous firing of a seasoned journalist who has been critical of the only candidate for Bulgaria’s top prosecutor post.

As reported by Reuters, the national radio journalist Silvia Velikova was fired for allegedly being critical of the work of the deputy chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev, who has already been selected to become Bulgaria’s next chief prosecutor. Bulgaria’s President Rumen Radev vetoed the appointment last week, so now the country is facing judicial uncertainty and protests such as the ones from today. 

Among the reasons why the chief prosecutor’s appointment has been controversial – to say the least – is the sacking of the Bulgarian Radio journalist Silvia Velikova. Her ousting caused protests by Bulgarian journalists which I have been attending, while the capital Sofia saw thousands of protesters marching in the streets against Geshev’s nomination in September, October and now, after the presidential veto.

Where the story gets interesting or horrific – or both – is that as many as four unnamed individuals made phone calls in September to the Director of the National Radio, allegedly asking for the journalist critical of the prosecutor candidate to be fired, or at least to be silenced until Geshev’s selection as chief prosecutor. The journalist Velikova was subsequently fired. She was reinstated to her post after Prime Minister Boyko Borisov spoke in her defence. And the Director of the National Radio was himself fired for stepping over by a media oversight organ.  

In Bulgaria, a persistent complaint is that journalists who ask the inconvenient questions can be removed in a heartbeat, after so much as a phone call. The suspicion remains that shady dealings – not merit – continue to play a significant role in the firings and hirings of Bulgarian journalists.

One should look no further than the stories of investigative journalists Miroluba Benatova and Genka Shikerova. They are both known as hard-hitting investigative journalists that ask the tough questions and uncover corruption and mismanagement. They are both out of job after being pressured to quit a mainstream media. 

Genka Shikerova faced severe intimidation over the years, as her car was set on fire not once but twice, in 2013 and 2014, in relation to her work on Bulgaria’s significant anti-government protests during these years.

Miroluba Benatova, on the other hand, caused massive waves with her recent revelation that she has become a taxi driver – only to surprise foreign tourists about how politically astute and knowledgeable Bulgarian taxi drivers are. “The service in Bulgaria has improved greatly”, told her a German tourist assuming he was being driven by just a regular taxi driver.

So, how is this related to Kovesi?

It is unlikely that by driving a taxi Benatova will be coming across many leads about EU funds theft, to assist Kovesi. Such a waste of talent, and also funds.

The media across Europe has a key role to play in supporting the work of the new EU prosecutor. As long as journalists in countries like Bulgaria lack the freedom to do their jobs, crimes involving EU funding will go uncovered. If Laura Kovesi wants to succeed in her new job, she will have to take context into account and recognize that in many EU states, including Bulgaria, journalists are often not allowed to do their jobs and ask the hard questions. And that’s a shame because Kovesi will not be able to do it alone. 

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Why German car giant Volkswagen should drop Turkey

Iveta Cherneva

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War and aggression are not only questions of ethics and humanitarian disaster. They are bad news for business.

The German car giant Volkwagen whose business model is built on consumer appeal had to stop and pause when Turkey attacked the Kurds in Syria. A USD 1.4bln Volkswagen investment in a new plant in Turkey is being put on hold by the management, and rightly so.

Unlike business areas more or less immune from consumer pressure – like some financial sectors, for example – car buying is a people thing. It is done by regular people who follow the news and don’t want to stimulate and associate themselves with crimes against humanity and war crimes through their purchases. Investing in a militarily aggressive country simply is bad for an international brand.

As soon as the news hit that Turkey would be starting their military invasion against the Kurds, questions about plans for genocide appeared in the public discourse space. Investing over a billion in such a political climate does not make sense.

By investing into a new plant next to Turkish city Izmir, Volkswagen is not risking security so much. Izmir itself is far removed from Turkey’s southern border — although terrorist attacks in the current environment are generally not out of the question.

The risk question rather lies elsewhere. Business likes stability and predictability. Aggressive economic sanctions which are likely to be imposed on Turkey by the EU and the US would affect many economic and business aspects which the company has to factor in. Two weeks ago the US House of Representatives already voted to impose sanctions on Turkey, which now leaves the Senate to vote on an identical resolution.

Economic sanctions affect negatively the purchasing power of the population. And Volkswagen’s new business would rely greatly on the Turkish client in a market of over 80mln people.

Sanctions also have a psychological “buckle-up” effect on customers in economies “under siege”, whereby clients are less likely to want to splurge on a new car in strenuous times.

Volkswagen is a German but also a European company. Its decision will signal clearly if it lives by the EU values of support for human rights, or it decides to look the other way and put business first.

But is not only about reputational damage, which Volkswagen seems to be concerned with. There are real business counter-arguments which coincide with anti-war concerns.

Dogus Otomotiv, the Turkish distributor of VW vehicles, fell as much as 6.5% in Istanbul trading after the news for the Turkish offensive.

Apart from their effects on the Turkish consumer, economic sanctions will also likely keep Turkey away from international capital markets.

There is also the question of an EU company investing outside the EU, which has raised eyebrows. It is up to the European Commission now to decide whether the Volkswagen deal in Turkey can go forward after a complaint was filed. Turkey offered the German conglomerate a generous 400mln euro subsidy which is a problem when it comes to the EU rules and regulations on competition.

The Chairman of the EPP Group in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber filed a complaint with the EU competition Commissioner about the deal, on the basis of non-compliance with EU competition rules. Turkey’s plans to subsidize Volkswagen clearly run counter EU rules and the EU Commission can stop the 1bln deal, if it so decides.

In a context where Turkey takes care of 4mln refugees — subject to an agreement with the EU — and often threatens the EU that it would “open the gates”, it is not clear if the Commission would muster the guts to say no, however. In that sense, the German company’s own decision to pull from the deal would be welcome because the Commission itself wouldn’t have to pronounce on the issue and risk angering Turkey.

While some commentators do not believe that Volkswagen would scrap altogether the investment and is only delaying the decision, it is worth remembering that the Syria conflict is a complex, multi-player conflict which has gone on for more than 8 years. Turkey’s entry in Syria is unlikely to end in a month. Erdogan has communicated his intention to stay in Syria until the Kurds back down.

In October it was reported that the Turkish forces are already using chemical weapons on the Kurdish population which potentially makes Turkish President Erdogan a war criminal. For a corporate giant like Volkswagen, giving an economic boost for such a state would mean indirectly supporting war crimes.

As Kurdish forces struck a deal for protection with the Syrian Assad forces, this seems to be anything but a slow-down. Turkey has just thrown a whole lot of wood into the fire.

Volkswagen will find itself “monitoring” the situation for a long time. There is a case for making the sustainable business decision to drop the risky deal altogether, soon.

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