On August 30th, legislative elections were held in Montenegro. The Socialist Democratic Party (DPS), which has held power alone for the last thirty years, won 35 of the 81 seats in the Podgorica Parliament, but is likely to lose the government. The three opposition parties – For the Future of Montenegro, Peace is Our Nation and Black on White – have 41 seats, a slim absolute majority if they decide to join. It will be seen in the coming days if Milo Djukanovic, president of the DPS and intermittently president and prime minister of Montenegro since 1990, tries to make a pact with Black and White, the party representing the Albanians, to stay in power. In any case, Djukanovic will serve as president (if there is not a motion of censure first) until 2023.
The defeat of the DPS is due to the erosion of Djukanovic’s government by cases of corruption and the autocratic exercise of power through the control of state institutions and the protection of a circle of oligarchs. Moreover, it was wrong to evade the two key issues of concern to Montenegrins – corruption and the economic recession caused by the pandemic – to focus on an identity issue. Since 2006, when Montenegro became independent from Serbia, Djukanovic, a former communist, based his policy on a nationalist discourse that insisted and still insists on the separation from Serbia, increasing year after year a deep social division. Of the 620,000 inhabitants of Montenegro, 28.7% declare themselves Serbs, 45.0% Montenegrins, 12.0% Bosnians and 4.9% Albanians. The culmination of this trend has been the proposal of the Law on Freedom of Religion, passed by the Parliament of Montenegro on December 27. The Law provides for greater state control of the finances of religious communities and the nationalization of the property of the Serbian Orthodox Church, whose ownership was not documented before 1918 (when Montenegro became an integral part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes). Despite the pandemic, the Serbian Orthodox Church (supported by the Serbian and Russian governments, as well as the Russian Orthodox Church) has organized every Thursday and Sunday protests led by popes with icons against the draft law. Djukanovic’s intention was to culminate the process of separation between Serbia and Montenegro, but he underestimated the power of the Serbian Orthodox Church, besides naively believing that, as fifteen years ago, an anti-Serbian and anti-Russian discourse would be enough for him to win again the elections, presenting himself as the great defender of democracy and of Western values and institutions. The result of the elections shows that the slogan of Djukanovic’s government – “The Serbs are against NATO, and those who are Serbs are against Montenegro and its independence” – is false.
If finally the three opposition parties manage to form a coalition government, it will maintain the foreign policy of the previous one (it will remain a member of NATO and a candidate for entry into the EU). However, its domestic task, the Herculean task of cleaning up its stables, would consist in undertaking, without political revenge, the regeneration of the state institutions created and dominated by the DPS since the collapse of communism, in fulfilling its electoral promise to create a government of experts and to revise the laws of freedom of religion, as well as in achieving the right balance between good neighborliness with Serbia and the containment of the interference of Russia and the Government of Belgrade in the internal affairs of the republic.