Montenegro often makes the news for the right reasons. NATO accession talks proceeded smoothly. Bold steps have been taken to settle the borderline dispute with Kosovo; and while the country has a sizable Albanian minority, there have not been substantial minority issues. Montenegro has been able to make its way around armed conflict, ethnic rivalry and instability, but has not become quite a European democracy.
In many respects the country is deeply divided and parliament and elections have not been able to offer resolution in the country’s pending structural problems. The split from Serbia has left its own political legacy of political division, mostly between Russia and NATO. The shadow of an alleged coup attempt continues to cast its shadow over the political system. However, these apparently “big issues” circumvent domestically consequential matters. One look at international indexes on corruption, transparency and rule of law suggest the country continues to be entangled in a political system that defies genuine democratic change.
Still, as a candidate for EU accession state, there is some hope that external pressure may yield results. At least that the hope of Dritan Abazović, President of United Reform Action.
European Interest: Mr. President, do you believe that the pressure that will come from Montenegro’s accession negotiations will dramatically transform the level of transparency? What do you believe needs to happen domestically?
Dritan Abazović: Montenegro is the only country in Europe – and among the few democracies in the world – where there has been no peaceful and democratic transfer of power in recent history. Milo Djukanovic and his party (DPS) are on the right track to reach Mugabe, who ruled until recently, after almost 30 years in power. This speaks of the still modest democratic capacities and enslaved institutions that our country have, and the integration process which is incredibly important for our country. Therefore, I expect that positive pressure from Brussels will intensify; if not, the government will not do much to transform itself and they will try to preserve the status quo. For us, EU integration means democratization and transformation: these are objectives we can hardly achieve on our own. Therefore, we need to encourage citizens, because for us in Montenegro and the Western Balkans there is no alternative to the EU.
In your view are NATO and EU enlargement linked during the Trump era?
It is good that Montenegro became a member of NATO, as this will facilitate transition and consolidation. I haven’t noticed any major changes in our relations with the United States since President Trump’s administration came into office. I expect that further support from the current administration in our democratization efforts, which requires leaving behind the Milo Djukanovic regime that is essentially running the country as a personal fiefdom. From this perspective, I am confident that joining the Alliance was a step in the right direction. We now need to focus on domestic reforms.
Are you optimistic that the demarcation of the Montenegro-Kosovo border will resolve the issue at hand? Do you believe that this agreement is secure?
I expect the issue of demarcation to be solved in the best possible way and without any delay. Montenegro has good regional cooperation with all our neighboring states, which should be preserved. At the same time, it is in Kosovo’s interest is to settle border issues as soon as possible to catalyze the process of European integration. Therefore, I expect that a solution will be found and that we will not fall prey to political rhetoric more fit of the 1990s. Political leadership must assume the responsibility of making the Western Balkans a better place to live. These pending issues must be addressed so we can focus on economic growth, which is the real and more substantive challenge at heart.
Was there an attempted coup in Montenegro in February 2017? Are you satisfied that the current trials in Montenegro inspire trust in the Rule of Law in Montenegro?
There is no significant improvement in the rule of law nor will there be for as long as long as the people in power are the same that have been leading the country since the collapse of communism. We cannot expect that this current immovable government will start prosecuting itself. It’s illogical. We live with improvised policies founded on arbitrary objectives. There is no sign of a dedicated political fight against corruption and organized crime.
Without dramatic change, Montenegro will remain a captive state and its institutions nothing but personal fiefdoms.
An outsider would see Montenegro divided between pro-European and pro-Russian forces. Is this neat division straightforward?
This division in Montenegro is historical and should not be ignored. However, it is clear that a part of the political elite constantly encourages polarization with ulterior motives, breeding hostility. This is not the way forward for a serious state, not least because instability is risky. Montenegro needs unity: there is a consensus about the European integration and we need to build on that. We have chosen the road of EU integration, although as a small state we naturally want the best possible relations with all other partners around the world.
Who does your party represent? Who do you see as your political allies?
We are a center-left party, clearly pro-Western and pro-European. All of our policies gravitate towards the objective of completing the accession process and becoming an EU member state. Our programme is founded on three priority reform areas: sustainable economic growth, healthcare and education. This means that our cooperation is possible with social-liberal parties throughout Europe, but also with green parties. We see them as our closest partners.