We are celebrating fifteen years since the renewal of independence without consensus on what kind of Montenegro we need. Society is deeply and tensions spark almost daily, in some form. This is accompanied by the burden brought by the health and economic crisis, which even more developed societies and more responsible political structures have a hard time dealing with.
The fact that on 22 May 2006, no dialogue was started on how to create a sustainable political community that all citizens feel like their own and the only state, regardless of how they voted on 21 May, as well as the absence of dedicated work of politicians on its modernization and development, has caused unforeseeable consequences. Over the past fourteen years, the previous government (mis)used all available mechanisms to preserve or expand power, utilizing patriotic sentiments as a coat that hid various misdeeds on the state to which they had publicly and indecently loudly promised allegiance.
At the political level, they nurtured antagonisms and wholeheartedly reminded who was “for” and who was “against” the state in 2006, in order to continue sailing on the wave of victors, pushing the defeated into growing mud. The institutions were shaped by the image of those who were ready to be agile soldiers for the “party issue”, with the tacit consent to include as a wage both their personal and related interests. At the same time, with the illusion of omnipotence, confrontation with dissidents caused degradations, which included dirty campaigns conducted in cooperation with imported media from neighbouring Serbia, but also domestic media Cerberus. In that decadence, the underestimation of citizens grew, but also the arrogance towards the EU and other foreign policy partners who observed Montenegro without pink glasses.
Changing bad governance was needed. And it happened for the first time after the renewal of the multi-party system in the elections in August 2020. That change was supposed to be a chance to correct the deficiencies of the former government and to enter a new phase of consolidating the democratic order in Montenegro. However, it was also clear that a change of government would not solve all our problems.
The agreement of the leaders of the three ruling coalitions, signed immediately after the 2020 parliamentary elections, instilled hope that the newly elected have learned some lessons from the previous government, and that they are wise enough not to tread on what were rare but good previous aspects, such as foreign policy priorities and a willingness to compromise with minorities to share with them participation in government. Unfortunately, nowadays, after half a year, few things remained unviolated or retained from that agreement.
Apart from the fact that the new government demonstrates that it does not understand the complexity of European Union negotiations and that it fails to manage public administration, we are increasingly witnessing the expression of ignorance of political processes in different dimensions, but also our positions in them. In support of this are the facts that the negotiating structure of Montenegro within the EU negotiation process is in disarray and without the idea of further restructuring, while party employment, for which the previous government was justifiably criticized, continued with new party membership cards and with the blessing of the church. There are too many examples that raise the question of whether the new officials have been “inserted” the worst enemies amongst political advisers, because only this can explain the amount of imprudence, particularly within the executive branch, which is monitored from all sides and with the utmost care.
With the change of government, the main bearers of the deformity did not leave, nor did those who can bring fundamental changes come to power. But this is expected, as well as the fact that it will take several more cycles to form a mature political elite. We are paying the price, inter alia, of a prolonged democratic and economic transition. However, this does not mean that one should sit idly by.
That is why fifteen years since the renewal of Montenegrin independence is a good reason to think that it is high time for a serious dialogue on Montenegro and Europe. This need for dialogue – open and constructive, seems more imperative today than ever, although the climate is not favourable at all. We are witnessing deep and dangerous inherited or newly generated divisions that decision-makers are irresponsibly using to cover their inability to deal with the essential problems of the development of Montenegrin society.
Ultimately, one requires classification as one side or the other, the “other” is easily blamed for everything, while perceiving one’s own position uncritically or with a lot of understanding. No dialogue is based on the thesis that the actors of the dialogue are the only owners of the truth. Dialogue is not about guarding the state with the flags of your own or another state, but acting responsibly, demonstrating personal agility in the public interest and respect for the law, starting from the most responsible holders of power, all the way to the citizens of Montenegro.
Nowadays, the European idea is one of the few ideas that has a strong potential to integrate the largest number of citizens of Montenegro and to make society as a whole more cohesive. Our accession negotiations with the European Union also represent our huge chance to organize ourselves as a society, to establish the missing responsibility, build a state in which individuals cannot be above institutions and to develop a civic spirit.
There are too many differences between us, therefore, the key goal should be finding connective tissue to overcome our differences, at least those concerning some key issues, rather than distancing ourselves more and more from each other over time. This is not set by any Brussels standards; it is the measure that we should set as the basis for democratization and Europeanization of our society and work on it consistently.
This requires a lot of unpopular actions, especially by political decision-makers, possibly short-term loss of some votes, but the format of politicians is measured in the long run by the vision and courage to implement that vision despite obstacles that sometimes may seem invincible.
This shift starts from facing the reflection given to us by the relevant assessments from international reports, but also by a thorough analysis of the positions of various actors, regardless of how politically close they are. It is an approach that directs us towards strengthening the rule of law, consolidating political pluralism, strengthening the economy and stabilizing the state. Continuation of the policy based on labeling “winners” and “losers”, will only have a further devastating effect on an already weakened society and will feed the appetites of those who watch Montenegro from the neighbourhood as a desirable prey.
Civil society can and must be a partner in this process. But it must be a partner who cares about its autonomy and who as such is respected by other parties. As before, we will strive to contribute to the process of Europeanization and modernization of Montenegrin society precisely in those segments in which we notice the inefficiency of public authority. We will always be the bearers of integrative ideas in Montenegro, especially when we detect the lack of commitment or impotence of the authorities on these issues. We will act in this way because we genuinely want to create a progressive and educated Montenegro in which Montenegrin citizens will live well.
The responsibility of the authorities is to launch a serious initiative for dialogue without delay, to reach full political consensus on the European idea and to work on it day and night. If that does not happen, the change of government in 2020 will not be seen as a step towards democratic consolidation, but as a mere replacement of players that will weaken Montenegro both as a state and as a society, instead of empowering it and uniting all its strengths. And for many, life will continue to range from high expectations to lost illusions, as cynically defined by a dear friend.
Daliborka Uljarević, Executive Director of the Centre for Civic Education (CCE)
Note: the article is publicised in “Vijesti”