What are the moral standards in Montenegro today? Which are the values we hold sacred, which allow us to tell good from bad? What is the ethical codex of the ruling establishment, whose leader is now, from the position of the moral policeman, starting “cleaning up”?

Not long ago we could read in the papers that the Prime Minister and president of the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) Milo Đukanović explained at one of the promotional meetings that during his absence from the executive (as if anybody believed the executive was ever free of his influence?!), he had a chance to assess the situation objectively and to see all the “lack of commitment, professionalism, loyalty and moral ground in so many individuals and parts of public administration”. In his signature manner, he also threatened that “the state apparatus should be efficiently purged of all that…”

This statement is fascinating for several reasons.

First, because it seems to suggest that Đukanović somehow failed to notice all that during his long rule. This would logically beg the question of his ability to rule, because such failures didn’t just spring to life during Lukšić’s term – he inherited them, alongside many other problems, when he came into office.

Second, even if we accept that this is how things are and refrain from condemning this late eye-opener, we should expect Đukanović to use his newly acquired wisdom to assemble a radically different Government. Which he didn’t – in fact, he brought back some of the most controversial figures.

Third is the question of decisive criteria that determine the fate of any official in such a government. There is no doubt that the commitment and professionalism of public servants ought to be monitored. But in the light of ongoing scandals linked to abuse of public resources by DPS, it is dangerous to bring up categories of “loyalty” and “morals”. The danger is, above all, in identifying the state with the ruling party, and it is not difficult to conclude that all those who prove disloyal to the party won’t find a place in the Government. Some more radical commentators than myself could bring up associations with the notion of “supreme loyalty” as practiced by the Nazis.

Even more fascinating is the question of morals and who decides on what morality applies… Morality is defined as a form of social conscience, a set of unwritten rules, customs, habits, behavioural patterns, communications which a community accepts as the norms to live by and creates them in accordance with its values, regulating inter-personal relationships. Moral rules vary with time and space, and if their violation is not followed by legal sanctions, but by the pangs of conscience, condemnation or boycott of the community.

What are the moral standards in Montenegro today? Which are the values we hold sacred, which allow us to tell good from bad? What is the ethical codex of the ruling establishment, whose leader is now, from the position of the moral policeman, starting “cleaning up”?

Is it moral to treat public resources as party’s own? Is it moral to pay enormous severance packages and other benefits to the directors of failing companies, while their workers must take to the streets to seek what they earned? Is it moral that public officials squeezed the last drop out of institutions to feather the nests for their families and mistresses? Is it moral for the officials to have plagiarised their way into academic titles? Is it moral for the officials of this same Government to be on openly friendly terms with “controversial businessmen”, so that in spite of grounded allegations they remain immune to legal investigations? Is it moral to make use of public institutions to weed out the opponents? The list could go on forever…

All moral differences notwithstanding, it has always been immoral in all societies and ages to work against the interests of the community – the primary function of every moral code is to protect all citizens. This kind of morality, however, only incidentally appears within existing authorities. This is why we can have such unprecedented failures of the prosecution, as for instance inviting a renowned university professor to a hearing for his criticism of Đukanović in his column in a daily newspaper, and having the police violate autonomy of the university because of the “urgency” of the matter. And the same prosecution did not have the professional courage and commitment to invite to a similar hearing party clogs whose only social weight is their party membership and loyalty to that same party. The latter decision of the prosecution was praised by the highest ruling structures of DPS! Most likely, party loyalty and morality made up for other flaws, so nobody bothered to pose the question of the responsibility of the prosecution as the weakest link in the fight against corruption and organised crime. Moreover, this is an excellent example of the kind of system Đukanović aspires to, a system in whose name he will purge all those who are not ready to be merely efficient executors of party’s orders. We should expect to see Ranka Čarapić return to some position in this “cleaner” Government, because her marginalization or, heavens forbid, investigation of her performance would undermine the morale of all DPS’ foot soldiers who know that the word of the party chief is the only law to be respected.

Đukanović‘s expose has nothing to do with morality, as long as it denies us any concrete action to prosecute those who under the wing of his party worked to accumulate enormous benefits for the party and for themselves, to the detriment of the common good.

His irresponsible sarcasm is the reflection of continuous refusal of this government to build a modern democracy, based on the rule of law. The government which had spent at least 36 582 698, 93 euro from the national EU IPA programme and Budget of Montenegro directly invested into public institutions responsible for the fight against organised crime and corruption, a figure that is probably several times larger if we add all the regional EU funds and various investments by USA and EU member states, without producing any visible and measurable results.

Of course, it is easier to test party loyalty and morality than to evaluate responsibility of those who are unable, due to the lack of capacity and integrity, to do their job as the laws requires them to, because enforcing those laws would be too dangerous for the government and even for Đukanović himself. This is why, as the things now stand, everything will be allowed except attacks on the person and deeds of the party leader and his party. It is a lesson already taught to the football fans, who are allowed to brandish posters with criminally prosecutable hate speech against sexual minorities, but are not allowed to ask the Prime Minister for employment, with allusions to the Montenegrin reality where party loyalty decides who gets the jobs.

Daliborka Uljarević, Executive director of the Centre for Civic Education (CCE)

Published in Vijesti, 05. 03. 2013.