The British Helsinki Human Rights Group monitors human rights and democracy in the 57 OSCE member states from the United States to Central Asia.
* Monitoring the conduct of elections in OSCE member states.
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Montenegro: the past ten years
HITS: 2630 | 12-01-2007, 16:09 | Commentaire(s): (0) |
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After the Dayton Peace Conference ended the Bosnian war in 1995, the Western powers turned their attention to the political situation in Belgrade in the hope of toppling the Milosevic regime. A coalition of Serbian opposition forces known as Zajedno (Together) led street demonstrations for several months following disputed local elections held in November, 1996. However, by summer 1997 the chances that this group of people would overthrow the government and Milosevic, now President of Yugoslavia, evaporated in internal squabbles.


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Western leaders had more success in changing the regime in the small neighbouring republic of Montenegro, by 1997 the only other entity in what remained of the Yugoslav Federation. The country’s prime minister since 1990, Milo Djukanovic, led a putsch in the governing Social Democratic Party (the successor party to the League of Yugoslav Communists and sister party of the Serbian Socialists) taking over the leadership and expelling the republic’s president, Momir Bulatovic, and his minority supporters from the party headquarters. Presidential elections were brought forward to October 1997 and Djukanovic won in the second round of voting narrowly beating Bulatovic who went on to form his own party, the Socialist People’s Party (SNP).
BHHRG monitored both rounds of the poll in 1997 and found many similarities with the situation prevailing in the referendum campaign conducted over eight years later.[1] For one thing, the population of Montenegro was highly polarized between supporters of Djukanovic who was already floating the idea of independence and Bulatovic who favoured continued ties with Belgrade. Then, too, Djukanovic enjoyed an overwhelming advantage over his rival in that as prime minister he controlled the media and all the levers of power. The country was plastered with posters for ‘Milo’ while television aired non-stop coverage of pro-Djukanovic rallies and pop concerts.
Nevertheless, in spite of his massive media advantage, Milo Djukanovic lost narrowly to his rival Bulatovic who just failed to cross the 50% threshold for victory in the first round of voting. BHHRG’s representatives watched Montenegrin television which abruptly stopped its coverage of the results and broadcast folk dancing as the uncomfortable outcome was digested. In the second round, nothing was left to chance and the electoral registers were finessed to add more voters where necessary and remove those who might vote the ‘wrong way so that on 20th October, 1997 Milo Djukanovic became president of Montenegro.
Before his break with Belgrade, Djukanovic had been an enthusiastic supporter of the Serbian cause and was even filmed with JNA soldiers as they shelled Dubrovnik in 1991. In his reinvented state as a client of the West and enemy of Milosevic he apologised to Zagreb for Montenegro’s participation in the attacks on Croatia but even though he has escaped scrutiny suggestions have been made that he could still face the music for the attack on Dubrovnik and surrounding villages. According to Montenegro’s rising political star, Nebojša Medojevic “Milo Djukanovic and Vujanovic [Montenegro’s president] are now trying to avoid guilt for Dubrovnik …they are trying to avoid their share of responsibility”.[2] This is part of the hardening of the criticism that has dogged Mr. Djukanovic over the past eight years.
For, even before he was promoted by the West as a new style of Balkan ‘reformer’ Djukanovic was alleged to have made a fortune from smuggling items like petrol and cigarettes during the sanctions imposed on the former Yugoslavia by the UN in the early 1990s. While this may have been overlooked by most of his Western backers, in 2001 Italian prosecutors began to investigate Djukanovic for connections to the mafia via his tobacco smuggling activities.[3] Although several indictments were drawn up in Rome, Naples and Bari, the matter was inexplicably dropped after Silvio Berlusconi became Italian prime minister the same year. Berlusconi is reputed to be close to Montenegro’s former deputy PM, Svetozar Marovic president of the joint state of Serbia and Montenegro at the time of the referendum. The fear must be that a new centre-left government in Rome will revive these indictments. Many local observers think that this partly explains the urgency behind the prime minister’s push for Montenegrin independence which would make it easier for him to escape extradition. For example, time can be bought while a new constitution is drafted while Mr. Djukanovic could present himself as an elder statesman and seek a US-style immunity from prosecution.
But the net could be closing in on him at last. Never popular, from the time of his dubious victory in the 1997 presidential election, the DPS has always depended on other parties to govern. So lack lustre is his support base that the 2002 presidential election failed due to a low turn out. Few in Montenegro would mourn Djukanovic’s passing from power. The failure to garnish greater support for his pet project – independence – is a measure of his low standing in Montenegrin public life. But it is not only his reputation as a mafia don that exercises the local population. Since he came to power and cut ties with Belgrade life for most people in Montenegro has got worse – by 2000 GDP was only at 50% of its 1989 level. A whole generation has grown up since Djukanovic came to power at the end of the 1980s as a local proponent of Milosevic’s “anti-bureaucratic” upheaval. Boredom in the electorate besets even politicians who have achieved economic success over such a long period but those who preside over impoverishment must depend on peculiar political skills to keep hold of power despite their own record over so many years.
Many factories have closed as their customer base in Serbia disappeared with the effects of war and reform there. Other Montenegrin plants have been privatized in what many observers claim to be dubious circumstances, the most egregious example being the sale of the country’s large aluminium plant to a consortium based in the Virgin Islands and reputedly dominated by the Russian Rusel company. Even privatization deals with reputable European companies like the Belgian brewing conglomerate Interbrew’s purchase of the Trebjesa brewery in Nikšić have been problematic. Several hundred employees were sacked while agreements on salaries and pensions were not honoured leading to strikes and local industrial unrest. Interbrew merged with the Brazilian brewer Ambev (one of the brewing business’s most aggressive corporate raiders)in 2004 to become Inbev making the situation for many of Interbrew’s former stable of companies precarious.[4] It remains to be seen whether Trebjesa can survive at all in the new corporate climate.
Farming has suffered, again due to lost markets in Serbia; a once thriving agricultural sector is now dominated by the imports from countries like Italy, Greece and Turkey. The quality of the famous Njegoš smoked ham has declined since 20,000 pigs were imported from the Netherlands to replace the domestic breeds. The deterioration in the quality of the local food will make it more difficult for Montenegro to present itself as a centre for upmarket tourism, something Djukanovic claims to want. In fact, the country has been styled an ‘ecological state’ even as the aluminium smelting works outside Podgorica belches out fumes night and day.
However, despite the fact that Djukanovic has done many of the things demanded by the international community – closing factories, putting people out of work and encouraging imports of basic necessities – his critics claim he hasn’t done enough and that the ‘reform’ process has stalled. These critics are led by a business consultant, Nebojša Medojevic, who heads the Centre for Democratic Transition (also known as the Group for Change) NGO in Podgorica and who also has close ties to the G17 group of free market politicians in Belgrade. Described by Balkan watcher Tim Judah as “the most popular politician in the country”[5] Medojevic is a typical second-generation reformer in the mould of Georgia’s President Saakashvili and Ukraine’s Viktor Yushchenko, both brought to power in Western-inspired ‘colour revolutions’ which saw old favourites, Edvard Shevardnadze and Leonid Kuchma cast aside. Medojevic supports independence but opposes Djukanovic: on past experience, he could be the winner of the post independence fight over the political spoils which will come to a head with parliamentary elections due in autumn 2006 and which Medojevic apparently intends to contest with his NGO turned political party.[6]

[1] See: Montenegro, Presidential election, 1997 and for other reports on Montenegro
[2] Aida Ramusovic “Montenegro and Croatia: Paying for Dubrovnik” Transitions Online, 18th July, 2005
[3] Articles exposing Djukanovic’s connections to the tobacco mafia appeared in the Croatian magazine, Nacional in 2001 See, for example, Berislav Jelinic “The Tobacco Mafia also shakes Serbia” Nacional, 20th December 2001. Ian Traynor “Montenegrin PM accused of link with tobacco racket” The Guardian, July 11th, 2003
[4] For Interbrew’s activities in Montenegro and merger with Ambev, see
[5] Tim Judah “Depressing independence for Montenegro” ISN Security Watch, 4th May, 2005
[6] “Montenegrin NGO to be transformed into party in July” Dan, 1st June, 2006.





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