With the election in Montenegro only just over, I can only give my first impressions, and time will tell if my interpretations, dilemmas, and explanations of the opposition victory were valid. We can only wait and see what is going to happen and what kind of policies the new Montenegrin government is going to adopt, provided one manages to form, and I hope it will. It is not quite certain if the opposition is going to assume power, as it claimed only one seat more than Milo Djukanovic’s Democratic party of socialists (DPS). That is why I intend to analyse both sides.
Judging by the first reactions and statements from the winners in the opposition, the impression is good and encouraging. Montenegro shall not halt its path towards the EU and towards building a democratic society and the rule of law. Doubts clouded the celebration when we heard from the winners that the leader of the largest opposition party (the Democratic front) said the true winner of the election was Saint Basil of Ostrog. There’s truth to that. Let’s remember how it all started. The new law on religious freedom, imposed by the government and fiercely rejected by the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral headed by the Metropolitan bishop Amfilohije, sparked clashes and mass gatherings of resentful citizens organized in church litanies and processions. By all accounts, Milo Djukanovic made a huge blunder with that law. It was a mistake because it drew the church into the game. Even the most skilled and long-lasting ruler has to step on a landmine at some point. That had to happen to Djukanovic, because many were exhausted by his rule riddled with mafia-like behaviour and corruption. He lost because people couldn’t stand him anymore.
However, the resentment of citizens is not enough to topple such regimes in our part of the world. Prior experience in our region proves that authoritarian rule is rarely or never put to rest solely by the inner strength of a society, for these societies are weak and under the patronage and pressure of the great powers. Change occurs only when the great powers, or some other great force, stronger than the corrupt autocrats from within, interfere and help citizens and the opposition. We saw that in Serbia on October 5th 2000, when the Serbian opposition successfully toppled Slobodan Milosevic with the decisive aid of both the US and Russia. The latest changes in North Macedonia also confirm that this is the way out of the authoritarian dead end. That is not to say that internal powers have no role to play, for no outside force, nor any other power, can help unless internal actors gather in an efficient and effective way, unless they devise a strategy, program, and plan to take over in a way that would be agreeable to these powerful external backers.
This is what happened in Montenegro too. In this case, that outside power which played a key role in deposing Djukanovic was the power of the church. That’s why the mistake he made with the Freedom of religion act was so fatal. The Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral successfully took under its wing and offered protection to all disgruntled citizens with the processions subliming all of the anger of an unsatisfied and humiliated people. The people united and established internal communication regardless of political and religious preferences. No one could be fooled by the images of mass processions of the “entire people”: it was not only about resisting a single piece of legislation, but about the power of faith and of the church that could gather a mix of different ideologies, primarily pro-Serbian as the main inspiration and the source of the political Christian Orthodoxy narrative, but others as well: civic, democratic, liberal, as well as the forces of social and economic fates of the people. They all slipped under the safe umbrella of the faith and the church, and it did not matter how many of them were true believers. Mass gatherings assumed the form of church processions which the authorities could not touch, at least until the coronavirus outbreak. The desire and determination of the people to change the unbearable life circumstances in Montenegro were obvious. That is why in this case the church was the key, it stepped in instead of the forces that should have come to help from the outside, but which were in this case, on the contrary, backing Milo Djukanovic.
This is why this election was nothing like any of the numerous ones held in the past 30 years, each won by the DPS. They were planned to be historic, and so they were. Bishop Grigorije said that the Montenegrins have only had four rulers: Nikola, Aleksandar, Josip Broz Tito and Milo Djukanovic. Boris Raonic, a seasoned NGO activist, said that these elections were a historical success because the people of Montenegro managed to change the government for the first time in 112 years, and did so through parliamentary elections. With a pen. No doubt, it is the most important and the biggest success of Montenegrin society. After 30 years of the familial, partocratic and deeply corrupt rule of Milo Djukanovic, the opposition managed to claim a (razor-thin) victory, winning more votes and seats (40 for the ruling party, 41 for the opposition, seems so far). A peaceful change occurred as a result of a relatively regular election, which is a point in Djukanovic’s favor, since he obviously didn’t steal the vote. This was also heard in his speech after the results came in. He congratulated his opponents, although with a heavy heart and not yet certain if he can bring himself to accept the loss of power by a single seat.
When we look at why Djukanovic’s rule was so long-running and why it took the power of the church, something stronger than him, to take him out of power (granted, he is still the president of the state), it is important to note that his style of ruling has produced an invincible model of government that he himself patented. Djukanovic devised such a model that ensured he got protection from the outside, from great powers and powerful corporations like Philip Morris (for cigarette smuggling), to do what they expected him to do. That’s how he managed to chase out the Russians with a fake Russian coup, he recognized Kosovo, secured NATO membership for Montenegro and confidently proclaimed to have reached the doorstep of the European Union, although the interior state of affairs, order of the state and the rule of law prove otherwise, since on all those fronts Montenegro is very far from being a member of the EU. Cooperative on the outside, thus protected and supported by the greats, while towards the citizens he behaves like a mob boss, corrupt and authoritarian, just like his whole family. Outward he is cooperative and “progressive”, inward – a medieval feudal lord. Djukanovic’s model of rule has been assumed by Vucic as well. He’s been riding on the Kosovo issue for eight years, guarded by the foreign powers (from chancellor Merkel to other global heads of state) that expect him to sign the recognition of Kosovo. These thoughts of mine correspond to Dubravka Stojanovic, who said: “I feel strange for being willing to turn a blind eye to Milo’s corruption, media control and the like, because of his foreign policy. Thus, I caught myself taking the same position as the colonial EU. Something along the lines of, ‘you don’t need more democracy, just stop the Russians’. I felt truly ashamed when I realised this was how I actually thought.”
For Montenegro and its new government the question of consequences arises now, since Milo’s ruling patent (a good guy on the outside and a ruthless ruler on the inside) has been broken with the help of the Serbian Orthodox church. Will that mean a harder position for the minorities that are already targeted, according to reports? A meeting held by the three leaders of the Montenegrin opposition shows promising signs that this is not the course they intend to take.
In the end, what can the opposition in Serbia learn from their Montenegrin counterparts who did have help, but that were also cooperative, perfectly and rationally organized? They dismissed the model of DOS which prescribes unification of the entire ideologically heterogeneous opposition into a single column in order to win the decisive battle when the time comes. Their representatives realized that some people would never vote for the pro-Serbian Democratic front and made a rational decision to form three columns, each gathering smaller parties of similar orientation, ranging from the right, to the centre, to the left. One column is the DF, called “For the future of Montenegro” (pro-Serbian right), the other two columns are civic and are led by young and fresh faces (“Peace is our nation”, and Dritan Abazovic’s “Black on white”). Opposition representatives did not fight nor attack each other. They didn’t only criticize the government, but prepared serious, thought-out programs to present to the voters.
This organisational model proved to be more successful. It has also been shown that putting different parties in the same basket, as intended in Serbia with the Alliance for Serbia (SZS), was a big mistake. So was boycotting the election, a move which, in the tight space of the SZS, destroyed the Democratic party as the only democratic pro-European party in the alliance. Although the SZS fell apart, the opposition parties once again formed the United opposition of Serbia (UOS) offering more autonomy to the parties (consensual decision making is not required), but demanding all member parties took part in the boycott. Anti-boycott parties are not admitted unless they change their leadership.
And one final note: when the news broke that the opposition has won the elections in Montenegro, celebrations with revelry and gunfire immediately began over here, by which I mean in Belgrade. They celebrated thinking that Milo was defeated by the Greater Serbia gang that would pull Montenegro into the Greater Serbia project. However, the new Montenegro will be a surprise to them as well, for it will continue on its path to the EU and will not break any contract Milo has signed. Montenegro will not halt, just as Serbs in Croatia have grown independent and moved on, leaving Serbia behind in its dark tunnel at the end of which no light can yet be seen.
Translated by Milica Jovanovic
Vesna Pešić, političarka, borkinja za ljudska prava i antiratna aktivistkinja, sociološkinja. Diplomirala na Filozofskom fakultetu u Beogradu, doktorirala na Pravnom, radila u Institutu za društvene nauke i Institutu za filozofiju i društvenu teoriju, bila profesorka sociologije. Od 70-ih pripada peticionaškom pokretu, 1982. bila zatvarana sa grupom disidenata. 1985. osnivačica Jugoslovenskog helsinškog komiteta. 1989. članica Udruženja za jugoslovensku demokratsku inicijativu. 1991. članica Evropskog pokreta u Jugoslaviji. 1991. osniva Centar za antiratnu akciju, prvu mirovnu organizaciju u Srbiji. 1992-1999. osnivačica i predsednica Građanskog saveza Srbije (GSS), nastalog ujedinjenjem Republikanskog kluba i Reformske stranke, sukcesora Saveza reformskih snaga Jugoslavije Ante Markovića. 1993-1997. jedna od vođa Koalicije Zajedno (sa Zoranom Đinđićem i Vukom Draškovićem). 2001-2005. ambasadorka SR Jugoslavije, pa SCG u Meksiku. Posle gašenja GSS 2007, njegovim prelaskom u Liberalno-demokratsku partiju (LDP), do 2011. predsednica Političkog saveta LDP-a, kada napušta ovu partiju. Narodna poslanica (1993-1997, 2007-2012).