Montenegro’s Ambassador to Spain
J.D. Latorre / A. Rubio
You are the first ambassador of Montenegro residing in Spain. How do you feel in our country?
This November, I mark two years of my mandate as the Ambassador of Montenegro in Spain. This time has passed incredibly fast, and I dare say for two reasons: the first is that there was a lot of work to be done to establish a new embassy and intensify the bilateral relations of our two countries. The second is that Madrid and Spain are amazingly beautiful and offer a unique lifestyle experience, making every day seemingly short for pursuing the many interests that this city awakens. Furthermore, if you will allow me to drift from the language of diplomacy for a bit, I could only describe my relationship with Spain as “love at first sight.” And, of course, that love still endures, enriched by all that Spain has to offer, from cultural and historical treasures to its lifestyle, which allows one the opportunity to relax and socialize with friends. In this sense, I can affirm that “sobremesas” have become my favourite part of the day, and Retiro park my favorite place for long walks.
As I am very passionate about sports, I must also point out that the first unofficial ambassadors of Montenegro in Spain have been the many Montenegrin athletes, with their magnificent careers in their clubs – from Pedja Mijatovic in Real Madrid and Stefan Savic in Atlético, to our basketball player Bojan Dubljevic in Valencia. They have represented and continue to represent Montenegro in Spain in the best way and, for that, I am very grateful.
Montenegro gained independence through a referendum agreed with Serbia. What are the differences between that situation and more recent ones?
I do not want, nor can I compare the referendum for Montenegrin independence in 2006 with the situation anywhere else in the world, as every story differs and has its own peculiarities. Let me remind you that Montenegro organized a referendum on independence based on an agreement with Serbia, with which it had previously been in the state union, but also with the full participation of the European Union and international community which set an unprecedented condition: that at least 55 percent of the electorate must vote for independence in order to be internationally recognised. The referendum was done in a peaceful and democratic atmosphere, without any incidents, with the participation of 87 percent of the electorate, and the results of the referendum were accepted worldwide. This event was of paramount importance on the road to regaining Montenegrin independence. However, I reaffirm that each state ought to resolve any such issues in accordance with their Constitution and Law.
Currently, Montenegro is making great efforts to join the European Union. What stage of EU negotiations are you currently in?
In its restoration of independence, Montenegro proclaimed two major foreign policy goals: NATO and European Union membership. The first objective was achieved in June 2017, when Montenegro became the 29th member state of NATO and it had strong support from Spain in the accession process. In terms of EU membership, Montenegro has opened all negotiation chapters, from 2012 to the present, except Chapter 8, and has begun the process of closing the chapters. We have come a long way in the negotiations in relation to other EU aspirants from the Western Balkans. However, we have witnessed recently that the EU enlargement policy, which we believed to be perhaps the most successful European policy, is being questioned by some of EU leading members. The most important thing is that the Western Balkans continues to reform in the spirit of European values and standards, and that Montenegro continues to work hard to achieve these goals, mainly for the good of its citizens and the betterment of their life. EU membership has no alternative for Montenegro, although it is not only up to us to determine when this might happen.
How could Spain contribute its early integration?
That is, EU membership negotiations were opened in 2012, at a time when the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy was the Spanish Javier Solana. In the next four years, when we expect our negotiations to be finished, another Spaniard, Josep Borrell, will be covering the same position again in Brussels. Therefore, we have started, and hopefully, we will end our journey to the European Union, with Spaniard in one of the key positions in the Belgian capital. It is our expectation that, as before, Spain strongly supports the enlargement policy, as well as the principle of evaluating the results for each country individually.
The current bilateral trade balance greatly favors Spain, according to 2018 data (26.9 million € in favor of Spain). How could it be balanced? What products could Montenegro offer?
Realistically, it is difficult to expect that the trade equilibrium can be established between the small Montenegrin economy and the Spanish economy, which is one of the largest at EU level. Montenegro mainly exports aluminum, bauxite, wood, electricity, but when it comes to foreign trade total, export covers less than 20 percent of import.
Can Montenegro be of interest to Spanish investors? What benefits does the Government of Montenegro provide to potential investors?
Montenegro is the leading investment destination in our region: the total foreign direct investment (FDI) inflow in the first half of this year was close to 400 million euros. The growth trend is especially visible after Montenegro’s accession to NATO (2017). The investments of the alliance member states grew by more than double in the last year. One of the key objectives of our Embassy in Madrid is to present the investment potential of Montenegro to Spain, primarily in the sectors of tourism, renewable energy, transport, agriculture, as well as in major infrastructure projects. We have had numerous and significant meetings with a large number of Spanish companies and I believe that we will have concrete results in the coming year… I would also mention the successful cooperation we have in numerous projects with the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID).
Although a small country, Montenegro takes pride in its uniqueness of nature, such as Tara Canyon, more than 40 lakes, and varying climates, ranging from tropical to subpolar. Do you think such natural diversity might be attractive for Spanish tourists?
Describing the natural beauties of Montenegro – this area of somewhat less than 14,000 square kilometers (Spain is 36 times larger than Montenegro!), Lord Byron wrote the famous phrase more than two centuries ago: “…At the birth of our planet, the most beautiful encounter between the land and the sea must have happened at the coast of Montenegro”. Today, of course, tourism is our leading industry. This year, we expect to exceed 2.5 million visitors and exceed one billion euros in revenue. I am pleased to note that the number of Spanish tourists is increasing, which is undoubtedly related to the presence of the Iberostar Group and Melia with their hotels on our coast and, since last summer, the first direct air service between Podgorica and Barcelona. I believe that the trend of increasing the number of Spanish tourists in Montenegro will continue, while there’s also an increase in the number of tourists from Montenegro visiting Spain. The opening of the Embassy of Montenegro in Madrid, as well as the opening of the Honorary Consulate of Spain in our capital, Podgorica, certainly contributes to this.
A monument to Cervantes was recently erected in the city of Ulcinj, on the Montenegrin coast. What was the reason?
It is known that the most famous Spanish of the 16th century, after the famous battle of Lepanto, spent several years in captivity somewhere in the Mediterranean, and that after returning to Spain he wrote his most famous work, Don Quijote. According to an existing legend in Montenegro, Cervantes was captured by the pirates of Ulcinj and spent time in this city, which was called Dulcinio at that time. He allegedly gave the name of Dulcinea to the main female character in Don Quijote, after seeing a beautiful woman from Ulcinj, whom he met in the years of his captivity in that city. There is no clear evidence that this story is true, but encouraged by this legend, the inhabitants of Ulcinj erected a monument to Cervantes last year. In any case, Spanish tourists visit Ulcinj more and more, and the book published by Spanish writer Angela Rodicio “Dulcinium: El amor perdido de Cervantes”, a few years ago, has certainly contributed to this.