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Foreign Policy

A stolen state: Another victory of Vladimir Putin

The latest parliamentary election which was held on the 30th of August 2020 in Montenegro has jeopardized not only the state’s democratic transformation, but also challenged international stability and security by posing a threat to NATO indirectly. The drama of the new political split lies in the fact that on the one hand, a de facto dictator who has been ruling the country for thirty years,  Milo Đukanović has lost the majority in the Parliament, and by this an absolute power in the country. On the other hand, the political figure of Đukanović has also undergone a considerable transformation: from an official in the Communist Party and political associate of Slobodan Milošević and Momir Bulatović to the protagonist of EU integration, a politician who led the country firstly to independence and then to NATO membership. The result of the latest parliamentary election is a sign of a civilizational conflict in the country, as what we have essentially observed was the defeat of pro-Independence ex-communists and, contrary to that a victory of ex-communists, who are advocating their country to be dependent on Belgrade and Moscow. The source of this defeat of Đukanović is not the political fatigue of a de-facto Montenegrin monarch, and his loose of political and financial power in the country, but rather a failure of his state-building efforts and strengthening of national identity. He is a ruler, who failed the election to the Serbian orthodox church. A defeat, which retrieves the society to its key problem that has been diagnosed by Milenko Jergovic in one of his essays on Montenegro far back from 1993-1995, namely that Montenegrins were the first ‘verbally destroyed’ nation of the former Yugoslavia. He starts his essay with the thesis that if a lie is repeated often enough then it becomes the truth and the most painful experience is that over time those nations to which destiny has allotted the role of victims are falling to this ‘illusion of truth’ trap.  A fully accurate forecast for the country’s 30 years history if we consider that the same ‘triggers’ were used to divert the course of the country’s integration to Western structures. How was it done and what lessons should we learn from Montenegro?

The result of the election has shown the existing division of the small Balkan nation, where next to the wishes of the younger generation, stereotypes of the past live among older ones. A country where the ethnic group of Serbs accounted for 32% and 28.7% of the total population according to the states censuses of 2003 and 2011 respectively, at the same time, faces a significant problem of Orthodox church division, as more than 70% out of total 72% Orthodox Christian Montenegrins follow the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) whereas 30 percent follow the Montenegrin Orthodox Church (MOC), founded in 1993 after the former Yugoslavia collapsed. Moreover, decades of his power did not solve the question of polarization in the state, which has been there since the independence referendum of 2006 here 55.5% voted for independence from Serbia leaving 44.5% of the country that did not support independence. Paradoxically, the Montenegrin authority’s experience of the last year has shown to the world once more the power of traditionalism and the dangers of neglection of religious sentiments. This isn’t about a dispute on whether the Serbian Orthodox Church has had closer ties and stronger historical background in the state then the indirectly supported by the government of Dukanović  Montenegrin Orthodox Church (MOC), but rather shows that it is still possible in the 21st century that the question of the church would become a decisive factor, powerful enough to neglect achievements in the economy and international politics. The new Montenegrin law on Religious Freedom came into force on the 8th of January according to which, religious communities will have to provide evidence for ownership of their property that was built before 1918, due to historical circumstances, the law hurts mainly SOC, whose unproven property would be confiscated by the state, that in turn, because the government of Dukanović DPS party that for the first time lost a majority in the country gaining only 30 seats in the new Parliament out of 81, were supposed to be passed to the possession of MOC.

Dukanović has essentially tried to play that religion card and revive the canonically unrecognized MOC, the next step of whom would be to gain autocephaly, but he lost as the religious property law has become a regional power struggle. Under the circumstances, in which it was impossible to win autocephaly for MOC, he decided to attack the financial sustainability of the Serbian church. Amfilohije Radović, a Serbian Orthodox bishop, the Primate of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, has once again become an enemy of Dukanović. This, in my opinion, is what Milenko Jergovic was calling ‘verbal destruction’, as a bishop, who at times of Civil wars in Yugoslavia was threatening to destroy the Mausoleum of Njegoš on the top of Mount Lovćen, a holy place for every Montenegrin, now has used his political power in the region to change the course of the state’s policy, and stop his former ally from his state-building plans. There is also no surprise, that due to his opposition toward Milošević, Amfilohije for a short time found common ground with Milo Đukanović in 1997, and gave blessings to Đukanović, when he became Montenegrin president in January 1998,  and then during the 2006 Montenegrin independence referendum, Amfilohije supported the continuation of Serbian–Montenegrin unionism and was a key figure in the campaign for unity. Being fully dependent and supported by Moscow, he was just a part of a big Russian Federation game in the region during the last thirty years, and Russia was resolving different tasks in according to its interests on the political scene, firstly to prevent Serbian–Montenegrin state to join NATO, then after Milo Đukanović, has achieved the membership for Montenegro, the aim was to punish him and weaken the state. The church propaganda has restrained the nation from further development, showing that opposition supporters and protesters against the implementation of the law on Religious Freedom are essentially not ready for the proposed nation-building program and strengthening of national identity. Amfilohije Radović has used those unity ‘triggers’ and religious sentiments to unite the opposition, and he became the main figure of such unification, polarizing the state once more and making it the division even deeper. But the religious ‘normalization’ of the rebellious state is only the first part of the Russian struggle for the access to the Adriatic Sea and returning of Montenegro to the former status of Russian closest ally in the region.

Sources:

Žrtve sanjaju veliku ratnu pobjedu, by Miljenko Jergović p.301-304., available at: http://durieux.hr/wordpress/knjige/esejistika-publicistika/zrtve-sanjaju-veliku-ratnu-pobjedu/

Who are the triumphant opposition factions and what do they stand for?  – by Vladimir Utjesinovic, available at:

https://www.euronews.com/2020/09/02/montenegro-election-who-are-the-triumphant-opposition-factions-and-what-do-they-stand-for-

Montenegro Opposition Calls for Reconciliation After Claiming Election Win by Dusica Tomovic, available at:  https://balkaninsight.com/2020/08/31/montenegro-opposition-calls-for-reconciliation-after-claiming-election-win/

A monarch and a monk: revenge of Montenegrin ‘warrior in the robe’, by Vitaly Portnikov, available at:

https://lb.ua/world/2020/09/22/466443_monarh_monah_revansh_chernogorskogo.html

By Ihor Bobyr

I am a student of BA in International Relations and European Studies at Lazarski University. My main research interests are democratization on post-Soviet space, European Integration, ethical and religious conflicts, political conflicts, and historical traumas.

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