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Montenegro expelled the Serbian Ambassador because Đukanović lost control of parliament

By Paul Antonopoulos | December 4, 2020

Serbian Ambassador to Montenegro, Vladimir Božović, was declared a persona non grata last week and was asked to leave the country. The Montenegrin Foreign Ministry justified its reasoning because of Serbia’s alleged “long and continuous meddling in the internal affairs of Montenegro.” They also claimed that the Serbian ambassador “directly disrespected” their country by highlighting that the 1918 decision for Montenegro to join the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was “liberation” and occurred because of the “free will” of the Montenegrin people.

Montenegro is politically split between those wanting to maintain closer ties with traditional allies like Serbia and Russia, and those who want Montenegro to become a liberal democracy modelled on the West. However, for those hoping to turn Montenegro into a Western-style liberal democracy, they place their hope in President Milo Đukanović. The Montenegrin President since 1991 has held leadership positions in an authoritarian manner, either as prime minister or president. Đukanović is alleged to have strong links to the mafia, was described in 2010 as “mysteriously wealthy” for being one of the world’s richest leaders, and engages in corrupt practises like smuggling, organized crime, and privatizing state assets like the Prva Banka for the benefit of his family.

However, Đukanović’s stranglehold over Montenegro is weakening. The 2020 Parliamentary elections saw an opposition coalition comprising of pro-Serbian, left-wing and right-wing political parties, specifically For The Future Of Montenegro, Peace Is Our Nation, and the United Reform Action Party, win 41 of the 81 seats in the Montenegrin Parliament. The ruling Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro (DPS) and the Liberal Party won 30 seats, officially becoming the opposition after thirty years in power. On Wednesday the new government was elected by 41 out of 81 members of the Montenegrin Parliament.

With the scandalous decision to expel Božović, motivated by the weakening of Đukanović’s political power, the outgoing Montenegrin government unsuccessfully tried to profit politically by provoking artificial tensions with Serbia before the formation of a new government. They were counting on the re-grouping of nationalist forces to back Đukanović’s DPS, an unsuccessful gamble.

Decisionmakers in the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica also made a second gamble. They expected the EU not to interfere in their issue with Serbia and thought Brussels would only silently observe the instability. They were proven wrong as a minor spat between the EU and Montenegro occurred this week. Montenegrin media, which is strongly aligned with Đukanović, got into a polemic with European Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi. They criticized him for not supporting the expulsion of the Serbian ambassador. The EU has no interest in supporting unnecessary hostility towards Belgrade, especially at a time when Brussels is attempting to become the main player in Kosovo and when Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić is becoming increasingly friendly towards the EU and NATO.

Serbia’s Foreign Ministry immediately announced its response to the expulsion of Božović. Montenegrin Ambassador Tarzan Milošević was asked to leave Serbia within 72 hours. Although the ambassador was given 72 hours to leave, Várhelyi welcomed Belgrade’s near immediate decision change on expelling him. On Twitter he said:

“I welcome the Serbian Government’s decision to withdraw expelling the Montenegrin ambassador. I call on Montenegro to do the same. Respect for good neighbourly relations and regional cooperation are cornerstones of EU enlargement, and Association and Stabilisation Process.”

Although Belgrade withdrew its demand, European institutions no longer have an understanding for the policies of the Montenegrin authorities. It is extremely uncommon in diplomatic practice for a government that was defeated in recent elections to make such important state decisions during the transition period. At this moment, there is no logic for the EU to unreasonably support hostility against Serbia, especially from a country like Montenegro that is in an advanced stage of EU accession.

Brussels is likely aware that Serbia has the greatest potential out of all the former Yugoslav countries. Any quarrelsome tone directed against Belgrade, which is not related to the Kosovo issue, does not serve EU interests. This is especially important because Podgorica has already announced that they will ignore Várhelyi’s call to withdraw the decision to expel the Serbian ambassador.

Such a mindless action by Montenegrin authorities was accompanied by reactions from the political and media establishment in the country. All of them vehemently demanded that Várhelyi learn about historical events from the beginning of the last century, and that on the basis of such interpretations it can be understood why the Montenegrin kleptocracy makes extreme moves against Serbia.

European representatives do not want to engage in any interpretations of Montenegrin history. Instead, the EU sent an explicit message against the provocative actions by Montenegrin authorities – the interest of the EU in the Balkans is stability. Another important message was sent to Đukanović as well – his anti-Serbian policies have been overcome and he cannot seek his political survival through Serbophobia.

The formation of a new government dealt a major blow to Đukanović’s dominance over Montenegro, and could pave the way for his final ousting from Montenegrin politics in the next presidential election. Although he and his faction expected silence or acceptance from the EU for provoking Serbia in reaction to losing the parliamentary elections, it could be suggested that Brussels’ patience with Đukanović’s authoritarianism, corruption and regional provocations is beginning to end.

Paul Antonopoulos is an independent geopolitical analyst.

December 4, 2020 - Posted by | Aletho News | , ,

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