by Eric Voegelin for the Saker Blog
People in Montenegro and other parts of the Balkans where Serbs predominate have been manifesting their exuberant joy and dancing in the streets over what they believe is the opposition coalition’s electoral victory in Montenegro’s parliamentary elections on Sunday.
Someone they trust should try to calm them down and gently remind them of Yogi Berra’s immortal and ever valid dictum: it ain’t over ‘till it’s over.
The main issues and stakes in Montenegro are clear, as are also the reasons for mass dissatisfaction which led to the electoral outcome. For the last thirty years Montenegro has been ruled by one man, life-long President in all but name, Milo Djukanovic, assisted by his power apparatus. Djukanovic became Montenegro’s ruler when it was a federal unit within Yugoslavia and since 2006 he has ruled it as an independent country. Djukanovic started out as a promising Communist cadre and close ally of Slobodan Milosevic in the early 90s. But since then he “evolved” to become a devoted advocate of “European values” (in all respects that did not infringe on his own concentrated personal power) and champion of the NATO alliance. He made Montenegro join the latter two years ago. As a gesture of fealty to the empire that sustained him in his new incarnation he also took up a radically anti-Russian course.
That did nothing to increase his approval rating with the traditionally pro-Russian Montenegrin population which cherishes memories of Russia’s support over the centuries, thanks to which Montenegro was the only patch of land in the Balkans to avoid falling under the Ottoman yoke. But equally alienating were the plunder and corruption of Djukanovic’s decades-long reign. As described by his erstwhile friend and political ally Momir Bulatovic, Djukanovic’s downfall (in the moral sense, but in the political sense it was his ascent) started in the 90s when Yugoslavia was under fierce Western sanctions. The Yugoslav government naturally sought ways to evade them and since Montenegro conveniently has a seacoast Djukanovic was given the Adriatic smuggling franchise on the understanding, of course, that he would be acting for the public good, not his personal benefit. However, fallen human nature being what it is, that was a fateful miscalculation on his mentor Milosevic’s part. Djukanovic enjoyed immensely being in charge of the smuggling operation and was apparently fascinated by the personal benefits that could accrue to him from it. The rest, as they say, is history.
Djukanovic quickly transformed himself from a rigid communist apparatchik to a classical, smartly dressed mafia don. He expanded his contraband repertoire from gasoline and foodstuffs for Yugoslavia’s hungry, sanction stricken masses to more lucrative merchandise. At some point, the Italian prosecutor’s office in Bari, just across the Adriatic from Montenegro, became interested in these activities and launched an investigation. From then on, retirement was no longer an option for Djukanovic and it became imperative for him to keep his immunity from prosecution. Perpetuating himself in the office of head of state was the best solution that he could think of to avoid going to prison.
Like all blackmailed puppets, Djukanovic now obediently embraced the new, imperial party line. His looting of Montenegro’s resources and the oppressiveness of his regime grew by leaps and bounds as he was increasingly being coddled by “Western democracies,” which culminated in his dragging Montenegro into NATO without allowing the population to have any say in the matter whatsoever.
The big turnaround for Djukanovic came in the fall of 2019 when he decided to enact a new law which was not just discriminatory toward the Serbian Orthodox Church to which most Montenegrins adhere, but which also contained provisions that would enable the government to confiscate religious shrines and other property. A shining practical example of European values indeed! But perhaps Djukanovic was more forward looking than people give him credit for. Whether the divisive law was just a personal whim (Djukanovic is a dogmatic atheist and unlike most other ex-communist cadres in Eastern Europe he does not even pretend to respect any religion) or de-Christianised Europe’s pilot program, we shall soon find out.
But in Montenegro the new law caused an uproar. Under the battle cry “We shall not give up our holy places!” huge masses of people have been conducting relentless religious processions throughout Montenegro since December of last year. To the likely astonishment of cynical officials in Washington and Brussels, not to mention folks at the Tavistock institute, the archaic looking religious processions, instead of losing momentum kept gathering steam. Since Montenegro is a small country of about 600,000 inhabitants, when 200,000 or 250,000 chanting people crowd the streets it is a fact that can scarcely escape official notice or fail to provoke concern.
Against such background parliamentary elections were scheduled in Montenegro and were actually held on Sunday, August 30. Massive vote fraud preparations were detected as election day approached. But even so, to universal astonishment the three opposition coalitions prevailed and miraculously for the first time in decades there was the possibility of someone other than Djukanovic forming the government.
Hence the contagious expressions of joy in the streets of Montenegro’s towns and villages. But the reality is far less rosy than it appears. Djukanovic and his regime are down, but far from out.
Given the massive vote stealing, Djukanovic and his allies are in fact just one or two votes short of having a majority in the new parliament. Their defeat is technical, but not irreparable. The opposition is heterogeneous and disunited except for the common desire to see the end to the criminalized dictatorship and to put a stop to its most egregious abuses. Beyond that, it is ideologically diverse and consists of many small parties with undoubtedly very ambitious (it is the Balkans, after all) and avaricious chieftains.
Of the three main opposition groupings, the Achilles’ heel is the Reform Party, which obtained four deputies in the new parliament. That obviously makes it the swing vote in the forthcoming political negotiations. And here is the important part. The leader of the Reform Party is an interesting individual by the name of Dritan Abrazovic. Abrazovic is from the Gusinje region of Montenegro with a large Albanian minority. His Wikipedia biography is most illuminating:
Here are the elements that stand out:
“He [Abrazovic] was long-time associate of non-governmental organizations in the field of human rights, the Euro-Atlantic and civic activism. He was engaged in projects related to the promotion of multiculturalism in post-conflict areas of the former Yugoslavia. As a participant of international programs, conferences and seminars, he specialized in several study programs. From 2005 to 2007 he was an assistant at the Faculty of Political Science at the University of Sarajevo. In 2009, he completed the course for the Study of Peace (Peace Research) at the University of Oslo. At the same University, he completed a seminar for professional development (Professional Development). In 2011, he resided in the United States while participating in the State Department program in Washington D.C. From 2010 to 2012, he was the Executive Director of the local broadcasting company Teuta (Ulcinj, Montenegro). From 2010 to 2012, he was Executive Director of the NGO Mogul in Ulcinj. In 2010, he published his first book ‘Cosmopolitan culture and global justice’.”
Is a more Sorosite biography imaginable?
True, Abazovic has criticized Djukanovic, but mainly for corruption. However, his fundamental alignment could not contrast more drastically with that of most of his colleagues in the opposition bloc. He does not share the basic values of the Montenegrin public and very honestly he made that clear the day after the election. While agreeing to the Four Principles to which all opposition leaders subscribed, he issued a separate statement that was clearly contrary to the current of public opinion: Montenegro would not again become the “Serbian Sparta” (a nationalist meme recalling the country’s status as the only Serbian territory to resist Ottoman conquest), there is to be no withdrawal of recognition of NATO-occupied Kosovo, and there would be no withdrawal from NATO.
So the current correlation of forces is as follows. Djukanovic has a compelling personal interest in not letting go of the reins of government because that is the only assurance he has of not ending up behind bars. After a day of stunned silence following the elections, he explicitly refused to concede defeat and insisted that his party and its allies would form the new government. The Empire, for its part, has a compelling interest not to let go of the strategic piece of real estate known as Montenegro because of its notorious Ostfront plans toward Russia. Combined, they are a powerful tandem, not to be underestimated much less deterred by mere ballot-box numbers.
Djukanovic knows his opponents’ weaknesses and has tons of cash with which to exploit them. He needs to bribe only a few of the newly elected deputies to switch to his side and things in Montenegro will go back to square one (civil disobedience that might follow is a different matter, but Djukanovic is desperate and so used to being obeyed that he certainly believes that he could ride out the storm). The NATO bloc, whose resources are also vast, will not be easily dissuaded either. They have their local infrastructure which almost certainly covers elements of the opposition. Abazovic is just an obvious example. There is little doubt that the empire would welcome a systemic facelift in Montenegro to pacify the masses, but systemic change – No. It also will use all its available resources to prevent that from happening.
So the situation in Montenegro is still fluid and should be watched carefully. There is no reason to shout victory and dance in the streets yet.
Eric Voegelin is a political analyst based in Switzerland.