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Is There Any Hope for Montenegro’s New Government?

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Like for many countries in the Western Balkans, the last few years have been a rollercoaster for Montenegro. The year 2020 started in uproar with protests against the new Law on Freedom of Religion, seeing tens of thousands of people march in protest in support of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the largest religious community in the country (Kajosevic, 2020). This was then followed by even more protests in late December 2020 by those who opposed the new governments amendments to the Law, as well as fresh protests in April against a new Citizenship Law with calls that it could “erase the Montenegrin state and national identity” (Kajosevic, 2021A). All of this occurring in the background of the coronavirus pandemic which has left the country in a dire economic situation, with estimates from the OECD (2021) suggesting that country’s GDP has fallen by -12 to -14.9%. The new government, which came to power in 2020 defeating the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) for the first time in 30 years, has much on its plate; and many doubts have arisen concerning the government’s intended path and whether it will be able to release Montenegro from its current state of intrinsic stagnation in areas such as corruption and speed up the process of European integration.

New government, old problems

The ousting of Milo Đukanović and the DPS can be seen as a milestone for Montenegro. Despite his pro-European and pro-Atlantic approach which saw Montenegro become a member of NATO in 2017, his tenure in power has been marked by widespread corruption, state capture of key institutions and a crackdown on press freedom. Montenegro suffers from an undeveloped democratic system which has allowed semi-autocratic leaders to strongly influence political processes and paved the way for widespread patronage networks to emerge. As a result, the judiciary, as noted by the Montenegrin think tank Institut Alternativa, is controlled by the DPS, which has led to questionable results in the area of investigations in cases of high corruption. In many instances, the Agency for Prevention of Corruption did not even pursue an investigation (European Western Balkans, 2021). There have been several affairs which have shone light on the independence of the judiciary; however, the “flats” affair particularly shook the public’s confidence. In 2019, the government revealed that it had been giving loans and flats on very favourable terms to a number of senior judges (Marović, 2021). As a result, 57.3% of Montenegrins believe that the judiciary fails to protect the rights of its own citizens. On paper, Montenegro has done much in order to fulfil the demands required of an EU candidate country in order to combat corruption and strengthen the legal and institutional framework. However, the amendments taken and laws passed are limited in scope, and their implementation has been insufficient. The country still lacks an effective framework for the fight against corruption and the action plan formed to fulfil Chapter 23 of the association negotiations which covers anti-corruption measures is outdated and has only been updated once which was in 2015 (Marović, 2019).

In addition to the boundless corruption scandals, tarnishing the reputation of the small state, the country, according to Reporters Without Borders, has one of the worst press freedom environments in the whole of the Western Balkans with only Bulgaria having a lower score (Reporters Without Borders, 2021)—a figure, which ultimately jeopardises the country’s EU accession process and has caused much concern from Brussels. A case against the newspaper Vjesti is particularly striking as, even though the paper has been under constant attack since 2011 with five vehicles to date having been burnt and various reporters beaten, the police have not managed to resolve any of the issues and not one person has been accused, hinting at the possible support by the judiciary or the DPS (Beiber & Kmezic, 2015). Smear campaigning is also a problem which threatens the health and well-being of reporters belonging to the free press. A recent example was the smear campaign used to attack journalists who were critical of the government in the run up to the 2020 parliamentary elections, calling the journalists “collaborators of the Serbian secret services” as well as providing personal information about them (Reporters Without Borders, 2020).

It is in the background of this democratic decay in which the new government finds itself, with most of the power, even though not formally, belonging to the DPS. Đukanović has already stated that he will not sign proposed changes to the law governing prosecution appointments. A change that, although has been criticised by the Venice Commission, is necessary in order rid the prosecution office of corruption and loyalists of the DPS. However, the agenda of the new government itself is largely unknown, and whether it will survive the full four years is an even bigger mystery as the current government only holds a very slim majority of one Member of Parliament. At the current moment, the three parties are united in their fight against the DPS and the rule of Đukanović; however, the strings may soon become loose and divisions may start to appear within the coalition. At face value, the new government has much technical experience, however for some including the prime minister himself, politics is something completely new and navigating through the complex waves of Balkan politics is something that not everyone is gifted with. Despite their brief time in power, the government has had to deal with many problems, most notably the pushback from the Law on Religion and the proposed government debates on the Law of Citizenship (Dragojlovic, 2021), less to mention the rifts which are already beginning to show, damaging the alliance with the largest party, The Democratic Front, recently boycotting parliamentary procedures and accusing the prime minister of working with the DPS (Kajosevic, 2021B).

A European future?

The new government, which has been described as pro-Moscow and pro-Serb was quick to reassure the international community that Montenegro’s future lies in Europe and Montenegro will not deviate from the path to EU accession. Montenegro is already the front runner in the process and, according to the results of a public opinion poll conducted in November and December 2020 on behalf of the Delegation of the European Union to Montenegro, 77.6% of Montenegrin citizens have a positive attitude towards the EU and the country has opened all chapters with three provisionally closed (European Union External Action Service, 2021). Furthermore, the country, together with Albania, is the only country to have consistently aligned themselves with 100% of the EU foreign policies decisions.

However, like other states in the Balkans who are aspiring to join the EU, Montenegro is faced with a similar problem that is beyond its control; EU expansion fatigue. The bloc is still yet to put a date on the opening of accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia after Bulgaria’s veto (in the case of North Macedonia) and there are many voices within the bloc, most notably France, who are against further accession. It was France, together with the Netherlands, who first blocked the opening of accession agreements with the two countries in 2019, and it does not seem that this hard stance by President Macron is likely to change in the near future as he is looking to appease the right-wing voters of the country who are mostly against further immigration in the run-up to the Presidential elections in 2022 (Crowcroft, 2021). The effects of the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit have also shifted attention away from the region, with expansion no longer being a priority for the EU.

If there is one thing that is clear, it is that the transition of power is not going to be instantaneous and the DPS is not going to relinquish power without a fight. The party is deeply rooted within the parliament and the judiciary and getting rid of them is not going to be easy. A task made all the more challenging with the recent protests and the effects of the pandemic. As the recent religious protests have shown, Montenegro is still a deeply divided nation with a lot of the politics fuelled by ethno-nationalism and made worse by politicians who play the ethnic card in order to achieve short term gains. In such environments, it does not take much for the spark to be ignited leading to violence based on ethnic grounds. With this in mind and taking into account the coalition’s unstable footing, Đukanović will do much in order to entice the smaller parties in the coalition to leave, triggering new elections where he would still have a good chance of being re-elected. Although there is hope that the ruling coalition will be able to muster up more support and achieve its aims, at the moment it is looking unlikely that it will survive.

From our partner RIAC

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Baerbock has publicly declared ‘a war against Russia’

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image source: Wikimedia Commons

On January 25 Germany and the United States decided to provide Ukraine with Leopard 2 and Abrams tanks totaling 45 (respectively: 14 + 31). Some European countries also intend to join these supplies that could reach around 300 main battle and light tanks during this year. The Pentagon official confirmed that collected ‘the armor basket’ could include 300 tanks and ACV/APC during 2023. It will be 28th ‘basket’ of lethal military supplies of the transatlantic alliance to Ukraine that started on a massive scale in 2022.

– Unlike fascist Germany, current Germany openly declared a war against Russia on January 25. Arguing in favor of sending NATO tanks and ACV/APC to Ukraine, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said EU countries were fighting a war against Russia. US and EU officials have previously gone out of their way to claim ‘they were not a party to the conflict in Ukraine’.

This is a quotation from what Baerbock has stated at PACE. “And therefore, I’ve said already in the last days – yes, we have to do more to defend Ukraine. Yes, we have to do more also on tanks,” Baerbock said during a debate at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on January 25. “But the most important and the crucial part is that we do it together and that we do not do the blame game in Europe, because

so far from the German Government, it means that her statement is fully shared by the FRG Government we are fighting a war against Russia and not against each other.”

If she has not been sacked and the Parliament.

It also means that the FRG has radically changed its foreign policy and once again is unleashing the next World War – the Third one.

It means that German tanks again will appear in Ukraine and Russia like in 1941-1945.

It also means that pro-Nazi coalition supports ultra-nationalist regime in Kiev that began its own and unprovoked aggression – initially against Donbass in April 2014, and later against Russia in October 2022.

It means that since January 25, 2023 current joint Ukrainian-NATO actions in Ukraine can be politically and juridically labelled as “a declared direct combined Ukrainian-NATO aggression against the Russian Federation”.

Russia angrily reacted to such abnormal statement. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that tank supplies to Ukraine by Western countries testify their direct and growing involvement in their armed conflict. He added that the flow of western weapons to Ukraine does not help potential negotiations between Moscow and Kiev.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned that any shipments containing weapons for Ukraine would become a lawful target for Russian forces,

The Russian Embassy in Germany for its part warned that “this extremely dangerous decision [by Berlin] shifts the Ukrainian conflict to a new level of standoff.”

All five parliamentary political parties at the Russian State Duma are demanding from the highest military and political structures in the country to destroy all Ukrainian-NATO heavy weapons – not only at the front lines, but additionally and primarily near Ukrainian-NATO border as soon as such weapons cross it on land, in the air and at sea.

Such destruction will save a lot of innocent lives amongst civilians and military men.

– Moscow has also cautioned NATO and non-NATO members against supplying Ukraine with depleted uranium munitions (DUM) and with long-range weaponry capable of striking at cities deep within Russian territory.

Supplying Ukraine with DUM for western military hardware would be regarded by Moscow as the use of “dirty bombs,” said Konstantin Gavrilov, head of the Russian delegation to the Vienna Negotiations on Military Security and Arms Control. Speaking at a plenary meeting of the OSCE Forum for Security Cooperation in the capital of Austria Vienna, Gavrilov cautioned “western sponsors of Kiev’s war machine” against encouraging “nuclear provocations and blackmail.”

“We know that Leopard 2 tanks, as well as Bradley and Marder armored fighting vehicles, can use depleted uranium shells, which can contaminate terrain, just like it happened in Yugoslavia and Iraq,” he said. “If Kiev were to be supplied with such munitions for the use in western heavy military hardware, we would regard it as the use of ‘dirty nuclear bombs’ against Russia, with all the consequences that entails.”

Gavrilov also warned that Moscow will retaliate if the West were to supply Kiev with long-range weaponry to carry out strikes against Russian cities. “If Washington and NATO countries provide Kiev with weapons for striking against the cities deep inside the Russian territory and for attempting to seize our constitutionally affirmed territories, it would force Moscow to undertake harsh retaliatory actions. Do not say that we did not warn you,” he remarked.

– Ex-President Donald Trump called on Joseph Biden to end ‘crazy’ Ukraine conflict before it leads to the use of nuclear weapons.

“First come the tanks, then come the nukes. Get this crazy war ended, now. So easy to do,” Trump outlined.

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Davos more of a show, no longer so important

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“Davos has become more of a show, it’s no longer so important”, concluded Liviu Muresan from Eurodefense Romania at the end of the webinar recently jointly organized by Eurodefense Romania and the Bucharest-based MEPEI think-tank. In the aftermath of the Davos World Economic Forum, 20 key-note speakers invited to examine this year’s edition did not hesitate to cast a critical eye upon the outcome and some of them were very straightforward in assessing this year’s  WEF.

Adrian Severin, former Romanian minister of foreign affairs, gave a remarkable definition to the Davos WEF:  “something between mythology and reality because politicians come to Davos to look for intellectual validation and economic support, corporatists come to look for intellectual respectability and political assets, civil activists seek kinship with the political power and financial sponsorship. They make a network of self-legitimized supra-national power that combines the characteristics of occult interest groups, influence groups that associate oligarchic cynicism with democratic hypocrisy. A group of self- proclaimed prophets, self-confirming their prophecies.”

Experienced in foreign policy, Severin could identify new approaches during the Forum, so he portrayed in detail “the Davos WEF that turned from an incubator of ideas into a platform for launching messages and trial balloons, from a doctrinal workshop into a ballroom…from a political designer into a moral whistle-blower ….from a producer of doctrines into a producer of dogmas…from the champion of missionary realism into athlete of utopias ….from a platform of dialogue into a platform of war propaganda…from a believer in globalization into a promoter of globalism…from a follower of inclusion into a promoter of exclusion….Davos is at risk of losing popularity and political failure, it no longer solves problems, it either deepens the existing crisis or generates new crises .”

Severin argued that “this year’s edition was significant through the absences rather than through the presences because only Olaf Scholtz was present this year out of the G7 leaders….Russia and China were absent….The president of the European Commission has become a US ventriloquist , no longer representative of the European Union that is neither  Union, and no longer European…The main representatives of the US were absent. Those present discussed everything but the risk of having the world fractured into two blocks with incompatible cultural identities, with the Euro-Atlantic block increasingly weaker than the Indo-Pacific block and the Euro-African-South-American block…the discussion about green energy and other similar topics  is nonsense as long as solutions are not presented.”

Severin believes that the main concern should be “to stop the war in Ukraine and to normalize the dialogue between the Euro-Atlantic and the Euro-Asian blocks”, especially because this year’s theme was “Cooperation in a fragmented world”.

The most inspirational speech was given by Antonio Gutierez, the head of United Nations Organization, who referred indeed to the fragmented world, but Severin pointed to the fact that Antonio Gutierez gave such a speech in Davos and not in the UN in New York or Geneva, a sign of the failure of the UN, which means that the UN and the OSCE must be revived.

General Corneliu Pivariu, former head of the Romanian Military Intelligence, stressed that the Davos meeting actually does not solve any problem of the world. It speaks every year about economic inequalities without solving that, doing every year nothing else than acknowledging the deepening of inequalities. For instance, according to Credit Suisse, between December 2019  and December 2021, the global wealth increased with 42 trillion USD but 26 trillion USD belonged to the 1% richest population, and 16% to the rest of 99% of the world’s population. Another topic is global warming, which is also never curbed, and an Oxfam report released in November 2022 revealed that a billionaire’s annual emissions of CO2 are one million times higher than a person in the 90% of the world’s population.

Carlos Branco, senior analyst with the National Defense Institute in Portugal, confirmed that Davos meeting did not find solutions to the world’s problems. He reminded that, in Davos, Ursula Von Der Leyen, Olaf Scholtz and other leaders spoke of the need to make Europe independent in terms of energy but they did not explain how exactly Europe will manage to provide itself commodities and raw materials, since Europe currently has 37 strategic dependencies out of which 2% from China and 3% from Russia, while the new technologies will still make Europe dependent on Asia. “The future of Europe will depend on how it will position itself in relation to the advanced technologies, Artificial Intelligence,  a.s.o., but for the moment, Europe is trapped.”

As an outstanding expert on Asia, Viorel Isticioaia Budura, former Managing Director for Asia and the Pacific at the European External Action Service and former Romanian ambassador in China and Japan, pointed to the absence of many G7 leaders in Davos as well as of Asian leaders, among which China, which is “the beauty and Miss Universe of the world’s interdependency”, and mentioned the presence of many Asian business people in Davos this year, while reminding of the importance of Asian countries and of the three high-level summits organized in Asia last year, G20, APEC and ASEAN, and of what Anthony Blinken, the US secretary of state, called “the rest of the world”, namely, Asian countries that do not follow the Euro-Atlantic order but have become a significant part of the global economy. Isticioaia Budura wondered if the “re-globalization of the supply chains would be possible” and declared China “the champion and the promoter of globalization.”

Michael Zinkanell director of the Austrian Institute for European and Security, Vienna, expressed his opinion that “we a living in a bipolar world dominated by the US and China while Russia has no ability to project global power, and some clear conclusions after the Davos meeting are that instability is increasing in the world, the world is becoming more and more interconnected and energy independence and decarbonisation are very important for the future”.  Zinkanell sees natural disasters and socio-economic risks as the main concerns for the future, but also the interactions with some authoritarian countries that are trying to lead in this new multipolar world that will allow multilateralism.

Germano Dottori, editor of the Italian Geopolitical magazine, also agreed that Davos meeting became too politicized and not too useful but he sees the prospects for the future of the world “not so bleak like a few months ago.”

Flavius Caba Maria, president of MEPEI, the Bucharest-based think-tank that co-organized the webinar, expert on the MENA region, mentioned a few aspects among which that fact that the representatives of oil and gas companies were welcomed at Davos, unlike Glasgow, which is a sign that renewables cannot entirely meet the energy needs of humanity.

On the other hand, Caba Maria pointed to the BRICS countries and his remarks could be seen as complementary to the idea mentioned by several speakers that the Western institutions seem to have lost their ability to solve the global problems and to ensure economic equality.

Caba Maria emphasized that “the global South is establishing its own system of alliances, turning them into a source to transform global economy, thus creating a development alternative trend, different from the one promoted by the West, with three regional alliances looming: the African Union, the Community of Latin American States and Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Eurasia. Among all these countries, China stands out and everything that’s going on in China is of utmost interest for the other countries, because it has become the world’s largest economy.”

Facts to keep in mind for the organizers of next Davos meetings.

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Serbia must reject the ultimatum regarding Kosovo

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Photo: Presidency of Serbia / Dimitrije Goll

The President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic on January 20th  had a meeting with the Western negotiating team about the solution for Kosovo. European mediator Miroslav Lajcak, American envoy Gabriel Escobar, German and French special advisers Jens Ploetner and Emmanuel Bonne as well as Italian prime minister’s adviser Mario Talo once again discussed with the leaders of Serbia (and Kosovo) the plan(ultimatum) that should regulate relations between Belgrade and Pristina. Officially, the plan for a peaceful solution has not been presented to the public. However, Serbian media published the text of the plan and they clearly emphasize that it is an ultimatum from Quinta.  And what is even more important, no one from the Government of Serbia denied it.

Which clearly tells us that the Government of Serbia is releasing the plan(ultimatum) as a trial balloon. However, that decision turned out to be wise, because the reactions of the citizens of Serbia to the plan were more than clear on the point of view that the plan was unacceptable. Because that agreement, among other things, requires that Serbia in practice (de facto) recognize the violent secession of its own Province that is, allow Kosovo to join the United Nations.

The plan compiled by the advisers of the leaders of the two largest democracies in Europe – French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz – represents a gross violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1244, the basic principles of democratic international relations, the UN Charter, and the OSCE Final Document.

The plan(ultimatum) for Kosovo, humiliates Serbia and the Serbian people by ordering that Serbia respect equality, sovereignty, territorial integrity and the so-called state symbols of Kosovo and all other countries, except it`s own sovereignty, territorial integrity and it`s internationally recognized borders confirmed by the UN, OSCE and other international organizations. Serbia is expected to cooperate in dismantling its own integrity, its own constitutional order and international reputation, so that no one could use the “Kosovo case” as a precedent for unilateral secessions, which primarily refers to Ukraine.

The fact that currently five members of the European Union (Spain, Romania, Slovakia, Greece and Cyprus) and four members of NATO do not recognize the independence of Kosovo shows how bad the acceptance of the plan would be for Serbia. The goal is also to place all responsibility for the victims and destruction on Serbia, as a victim of the NATO aggression in 1999, and to use this act to justify the aggression against Serbia, which was carried out against the international law.

Kosovo is not a frozen conflict, as claimed in the West and repeated by official Belgrade, nor it can be resolved by an ultimatum to Serbia. The best example of this is Cyprus, which was invaded by Turkey in 1974, and despite this, neither Turkey nor Cyprus (or Greece) agree to any ultimatums, nor does anyone give them. The question must be asked here, how is it possible for Quinta to issue an ultimatum to Serbia and why are the Serbian Government and the President of Serbia allowing it?!

The Serbian Government must apply new tactics

Negotiations on Kosovo with Quinta must first be conducted on essential matters. And that means, above all, the protection of the current Serbian population in Kosovo and the return of the 250,000 expelled Serbs. Regulating the status of Serbian state property in Kosovo, which was seized by the separatist government in the province. Plus, the return of stolen property to the Serbs, who were forcibly expelled from the province.

Also, bearing in mind the aggressive policy of the Kosovo separatists, who, contrary to the agreement with NATO, are sending special units to the north of the province, while perpetrating violence against the Serbs, a new strategy is needed. And this is primarily reflected in the fact that the Government of Serbia must help establish the Republika Srpska in the north of Kosovo. This means that the local Serbs would have their own police(including a special police unit), judiciary, prosecutor’s office, education, health care and control over border crossings. In other words, parity would be established in the armed forces, bearing in mind that it is not realistic to expect that Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic will ever approve the sending of the Serbian Army to Kosovo. In this way, Serbia would strategically strengthen its positions and would wait for a change on the geopolitical scene of the world, until favorable conditions are created for the full return of the southern Serbian province of Kosovo to Serbia.

Otherwise, if Serbian Government agree to Kosovo’s entry into the United Nations, it would mean that Kosovo could unite with Albania, about which Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti also publicly spoke about. This would than open the issue of secession from Serbia of the Presevo Valley and the geographical region of Sandzak. And what is even more important, an incredibly strong pressure to abolish Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina would begin. All of the above would have catastrophic consequences for the country of Serbia, but also for the entire Balkans.

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