gUSERS IN A beachfront restaurant where the Bojana river lazily flows into the sea belted with old Yugoslav pop songs while the children frolic in the sand. This is just the image that Montenegro’s tourism industry wants to promote, as it struggles to recover from the wave of covid-19 that hit the country last year. But far from vacation spots, the picture is very different. The government is faltering. Old quarrels are tearing Montenegro apart.
In March, the Minister of Justice expressed doubts that the Srebrenica massacre in neighboring Bosnia in 1995, in which 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed by Serbs, was an act of genocide. Parliament sacked him on June 17 and made it illegal to deny the crime was genocide. Indignant, the largest party supporting the government withdrew its support, putting it in danger. Srebrenica is a litmus test in Montenegro: if you say it was not genocide, you are considered “pro-Serbian”. Many Montenegrins consider themselves to be Serbs; even those who argue that there is a distinct Montenegrin ethnicity admit strong cultural and historical ties.
Long before the outcry, the government was faltering. In the August election, a handful of disparate opposition parties managed to strip the party in power since the 1990s, the DPS, of his majority. The margin of victory was so slim that it took until December to concoct a new government, made up of technocrats and determined to maintain the DPSpro-Western foreign policy. The new prime minister was Zdravko Krivokapic, a hitherto obscure professor proposed by the Serbian Orthodox Church, to which most Montenegrins nominally belong.
But Slaven Radunovic, the leader of the Populist Democratic Front (DF) in parliament, wants a more pro-Serbian policy. He withdrew his party’s support for the government and wants Montenegro to leave NATO and to revoke its recognition of neighboring Kosovo, which split from Serbia in 2008. What happened in Srebrenica, he said, was a terrible crime, but not genocide.
the DFOpponents of it are called the cat’s paw of the “Serbian world,” an ideology promoted by Serbian nationalists who want their brethren in Bosnia, Kosovo and Montenegro to look to Serbia for leadership. Absurdity, laughs Mr. Radunovic. Such ideas are spread “to scare people”.
Alarm bells are ringing NATO sits however. Montenegro is a member of the alliance. Pro-Serbian and therefore pro-Russian officials have already been assigned to important posts, with access to sensitive information. Russia was behind a failed coup in Montenegro in 2016 that appeared to have the backing of DF, although he denied any involvement. The plotters sought in vain to prevent the country from joining NATO. Savo Kentera, the head of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro, a pro-Western think tank, said Russian officials were likely delighted at the prospect of friendly sources within the alliance.
Last year’s election broke a psychological barrier. It had been widely accepted that change at the ballot box was impossible. The head of the DPS, Milo Djukanovic, is still president. His party is still the most important in parliament and his followers are still integrated into all the institutions of the country. But the victory of the opposition now calls into question all the assumptions on the future direction of the country.
Many Montenegrins wanted a change of government because they believed those in power were deeply corrupt and in cahoots with organized crime. But Dritan Abazovic, the Deputy Prime Minister, fears that civic parties like his are now “crushed” between the two main political blocs: pro-Western crooks and pro-Serbian ultra-nationalists. ■
This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the title “Darkness envelops the mountain”