“May Montenegro live forever! This is a great victory of our country… This time, we’ll know how to protect it and we’ll never ever allow this matter to be questioned. We need Montenegro as our home, that is, a safe and comfortable home for all our citizens. We need the State in order to achieve all our European ambitions and place it among the most developed European countries as soon as possible.“
These were the words of Milo Đukanović on 21 May 2006 when the independence referendum took place and when he talked in front of thousands of citizens who were waiting to hear the referendum results.
Today, 13 years after the referendum, the President of Montenegro, Mr Milo Đukanović, a politician and leader thanks to whom the country renewed its independence, became the NATO member state and is now close to the European Union (EU), reminds of the most important details of our new history in an exclusive interview with Dnevne Novine daily. President Đukanović says that significant historical results have been achieved since 2006 and that the last 13 years can be perceived as the period of emancipation of the Montenegrin society.
“The reminder of only the most significant events of our new history points out to the fact that nothing happened by accident. Everything was connected. The previous achievements opened door for the future ones. That is why I believe we should see this as an emancipation period of Montenegro. And that is why I have to say to all those who have been repeatedly criticizing the long-ruling Montenegrin government: there is no such thing as a long-ruling or short-ruling government. One can only talk about a credible democratic choices and anticipation of democratic or dictatorial development. i.e. autocratic ruling which prevents the democratic election process. Each country has its own model in place, and the government or dissatisfied opposition cannot decide about it,” emphasizes President Đukanović.
DN: Mr President, 13 years have passed since Montenegro regained its independence. The country has achieved historical results that even the most severe critics cannot deny. As the President of Montenegro, how do you see the state you are running?
Đukanović: Yes, I do agree. We have achieved historical results. We have done a lot. The whole range of the achievements over the last 13 years and 15 years before the referendum should be perceived as emancipation of the Montenegrin society.
In the early 1990s, Montenegro had to choose between war and peace, and it chose peace maybe for the first time. In this way, it preserved its biological and material core and the undeniably valuable capital of a multi-ethnic community. That was the first hint of a more responsible, contemporary Montenegro.
DN: And what about the second hint?…
Đukanović: The second one came soon after. It had a symbolic meaning as the then government declared that Montenegro had assumed responsibility to finance its own state obligations in the beginning of 1994. In those times, it looked too pretentious, maybe even utopian, but proved to be realistic. That statement was the first hint of our emancipation and the need to get away from the impact of others. It’s evident – the assistance we were receiving through various forms meant that we had to be loyal to those who was providing it.
DN: You’re emphasizing the third emancipation step as well…
Đukanović: The third one referred to 1999 i.e. during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and Montenegro as well. From the very beginning, we claimed that it was not our war and that we were going to follow our own interests. That was the new and very important step towards emancipation and a sign of a growing responsibility of Montenegro.
DN: Then happened the Belgrade agreement, referendum and NATO membership…
Đukanović: The Belgrade agreement, which was considered as a step backward by those advocating for ‘now or never’ approach, and even a national treason, actually confirmed the new features of Montenegro and its modern generations. It confirmed the fact we possessed not only courage but patience and thoughtfulness as well. The independence referendum confirmed strength of the vision of a democratic Montenegro and that it was right to patiently develop awareness of the significance of restoring independence. We used our last chance to do what was right in terms of history and to be responsible towards our future.
NATO membership and our road to the EU show that our vision was not only clear but realistic and correct as well. This has also confirmed our growing capacities to achieve that vision despite numerous in-country obstacles and those coming from the outside.
DN: You were talking about the most significant events on the road to restoring independence. What would be your message?
Đukanović: Those events prove that nothing happened by accident. Everything was connected. The previous achievements opened door for the future ones. That is why I believe we should see this as an emancipation period of Montenegro. And that is why I have to say to all those who have been repeatedly criticizing the long-ruling Montenegrin government: there is no such thing as a long-ruling or short-ruling government. One can only talk about a credible democratic choices and anticipation of democratic or dictatorial development, i.e. autocratic ruling which prevents the democratic election process. Each country has its own model in place, and the government or dissatisfied opposition cannot decide on it. When it comes to the elections in Montenegro, the relevant international institutions who have been monitoring the elections worldwide, have always approved the results. Of course, we obtained the recommendations for improvements but no country in the world has perfect elections.
I wanted to remind of the most significant achievements of the government so that we altogether note whether we were wasting time or rather reached a breaking point and stepped into a much better quality of the national responsibility, and now the return of Montenegro to its European roots.
DN: Are you satisfied with the achievements?
Đukanović: Am I satisfied? I always think we can do better and faster, and that we can be even more sociably sensible and responsible.
Because, you see, we are talking about core changes in a society and not all societies accept the new rules in the same way.
DN: By following your diplomatic activities, we can see that the international political circles have great respect for the progress Montenegro has achieved since it restored its independence. On the other hand, some in-country media and political centers continuously criticize everything that the whole world recognizes as a success. What do you say about this?
Đukanović: It might sound as a paradox, but it’s true Montenegro has great reputation in the international public. Greater than in the local one.
The international community is evaluating results we achieved for only 13 years, i.e. since Montenegro has officially assumed responsibility for its future.
Our commitment to defend the idea of coexistence and multi-ethnic democracy in the early 90s, the ability to preserve peace and internal stability and to contribute to regional and later global stability and security, proved to be correct. Our international partners greatly appreciate the fact that Montenegro has no open issues with its neighbors, and that objectively plays a far more important role in the region when compared to its territorial and population size.
That is why they call it ‘anchor of stability’, ‘the country of good news’, ‘a successful European story’… Respecting the foreign public also encourages Montenegrin ability to implement reforms, adopt new standards, implement expensive and challenging development projects, and generate dynamic economic growth even in times of severe economic crisis in Europe.
DN: Contrary to that…
Đukanović: By contrast, still there’s aggressive and politically-backed challenging of everything achieved so far. And this comes from two sides. First, the opposition is tired of the numerous election beatings, but that does not encourage it to improve its policy and responsibility. On the contrary, the opposition leaders opted for self-deception and they have been struggling to assure the election body of their beliefs, as they themselves totally lost faith that they would ever win the elections. They had been trying to ensure support of the West and East for a long time, which resulted in serving the Russian and anti-West interests in the Balkans. They also involved in the anti-NATO and anti-European activities, which are completely contrary to the core interest of the people from the Balkans.
The second, more important part of the Montenegrin political controversy are parapolitical centers of power or the so-called independent but actually opposition media and a part of NGO sector, representing the core of the opposition policy.
DN: What are their interests?
Đukanović: Their interests are of financial and political nature. To be even more precise – by pretending to represent civic society, they have been trying to use grants of the international institutions and their most important argument is continuous criticizing of the government and challenging its achievements. Their political goal is to use campaigns and different affairs in order to try to eliminate those they consider the political opponents and thus make profit and desired social power. One must note they are quite innovative. They established their own political parties several times, which proved to be have been used only for the election purposes, and they are still describing themselves as the independent media companies. In addition, they take funds without any ideological prejudices: from the West and East as well, in the name of European democracy and even from those who are striving to ruin it. Some of those parapolitical centers were not against the West in the beginning, but they are cheaters, have no ideas and are rather greedy. They believe that the most important thing is to oust the government even if that means they need to ally with the anti-European and anti-NATO parties. And even if that means that they bring into question the heritage of Montenegro’s latest developments, including the state itself. They would seek for the ways to get awards for their contribution from the government or ways to change power. Irresponsible and immature. We have already witnessed many such roles throughout history and that is why we are here.
DN: You have noted that the Brussels administration slowed down when it comes to the EU enlargement and you have been openly criticizing them, warning of the consequences of the enlargement slowdown. You openly speak about the influence of the so-called third countries – Russia, China, Turkey, and you might become a target for both sides. What do you think about this? What are the risks?
Đukanović: The situation is such that there are many reasons for criticism and self-criticism. That is why I don’t want to be silent about any of it. However, the platform is clear. Montenegro, as well as the Balkans, belongs to the EU. That is the interest of the Balkans and the EU as well. We both have to work more and better, especially now when we know we lost a lot of time in the history. Of course, we ourselves are responsible for the state of play in the Balkans. But, the EU, which has been running Europe for a long time, also has responsibility in this context as the Balkans is part of our joint European home. The longer we waste our time the greater chances for others to get in are. Let me be clear: I have nothing against any other country, not even Russia, China or Turkey … I consider their ambitions to take new positions on the global scene are legitimate. Nevertheless, there’s no doubt Europe is our home and zone of the topmost priority of the EU and NATO Alliance as well. The EU and the United States are not common or accidental allies. Our system of values is the same. In this sense, when I urge them to be more involved, I have in mind the need for preserving our values. I hope that the public clearly sees that any other version of the future of the Balkans arises from the completely different values.
Finally, I do not advocate for sectarianism or that we should fight with those who think differently. Political wisdom to all of us who live and lead politics in the Euro-Atlantic area, orders co-existence, cooperation and thorough promotion of values. Imposing general formulas of democracy is not a solution as there are no such formulas. Everything that the Euro-Atlantic alliance wants to do, as a real leader on the global scene, would require time, patience and cooperation. But first it has to responsibly and decisively protect its interests in the whole continent, i.e. in the Balkans as well.
DN: Elections to the European Parliament are approaching. What are your expectations? What direction are Europe and the EU going to take after the election? What can Montenegro and the region expect?
Đukanović: We’ve been witnessing the strengthening of right forces and populist movements in past years, not only in Europe but worldwide. That will definitely make an impact on the forthcoming European elections. However, I believe that political structures which are dominant in the EU today will stay in the lead. Whatever the outcome of the elections, I don’t think that the enlargement policy will be in the focus of the EU, especially not at the beginning. Any European administration is expected to give priority to the build-up period, adaptation of new European institutions, internal topics and problems. However, pro-European governments and policies in the region shouldn’t be discouraged by this. It’s important that we stay committed to reforms, development of the society based on rule of law and staying on the European course, which has no alternative as far as Montenegro is concerned. Let me say it again: comprehensive Europeanization process of our societies is more important than the exact and accurate membership date.
DN: Montenegro joined NATO two years ago. Can we talk about the benefits of the membership already? Have your expectations been fulfilled?
Đukanović: We can definitely talk about the benefits as they are obvious. We now have new, higher quality of internal security and political stability. Montenegro is successfully dealing with the challenges.
Thanks to participation in joint activities of the Alliance, state institutions, armed forces, security structures are becoming more mature and ready. We are ready to face new challenges, such as cyber and hybrid threats.
Being part of the Euro-Atlantic system of values stimulates investments and tourist arrivals. In 2018, investments from NATO member states were by 65% higher compared to 2017. In addition, number of tourists coming from NATO member states in 2018 increased at double growth rate in comparison to the number of tourists coming from the states which aren’t NATO members.
Most importantly, however, is the fact that with NATO membership and considerable progress made in the EU negotiation process, Montenegro has reaffirmed its commitment to be part of the European family and provide European quality of life for its citizens.
DN: New parliamentary elections are going to be held next year. Considering the experience from 2016, could there be some similar scenario?
Đukanović: It wouldn’t be very grateful to make such forecasts, but I believe that it can’t happen again. Besides, our country has shown readiness and determination to respond efficiently even in such unforeseeable circumstances.
DN: Opposition keeps rejecting invitation to dialogue and joint work on creating conditions for the next parliamentary election. One part of the MPs, Democrats for example, haven’t attended the Parliament but they have been getting their salaries regularly. Does this happen elsewhere in the world and what are the models for coping with such situation?
Đukanović: I think the political and general public is already fed up with this story. There’s nothing else to be said. Such actions are reflection of the political maturity of their protagonists. I don’t know if there’s similar situation somewhere in the world, but what I know for sure is that the Parliament is the only place where that issue can be discussed.
DN: Dnevne Novine daily has recently published results of the research on media scene in Montenegro and the presence of officials in the media. The research has shown that you were the main subject of Vijesti – newspapers, TV and portal- in January, February and March. In 900 out of 1200 releases and posts, your name has been put into negative context. Where does that obsession, or we might even say hatred, come from? Is there any rational explanation for such serious attacks you are exposed to?
Đukanović: Be it rational or irrational, I’ve said already – it’s all about personal financial and political interests of the owners of “Vijesti”, who see me as a threat to the fulfillment of their surreal ambitions. Also, they are logistics for the surreal ambitions of other internal and external factors that see me and the DPS as an obstacle to the achievement of their objectives. They are also abusing the democratic institute of the freedom of media in order to achieve their dirty objectives. They won’t manage it, however.
Threats made by some opposition leaders deserve contempt.
DN: Convicted leaders of the Democratic Front have threatened you and your family, as well as the holders of the most important judicial functions in Montenegro. How do you comment this?
Đukanović: Such threats are the expression of weakness and cowardice of people caught in the act. They are not worthy of any comment. I choose my friends and I’m dedicated to them: I’m honest with them, understanding and always willing to help them and support them.
Enemies choose me to be their opponent, or a “butcher”, as some “democratically profiled” opposition leaders would subtly say. I despise their threats that normal people are disgusted with. You know they say: You will never reach your destination of you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.
We won’t let anybody undermine our country.
DN: The church issue in Montenegro is still on hold. The sluggishness in dealing with the issue is often publicly criticized, even by the most fervent advocates for the current government. Is the adoption of the new law in sight? What model for dealing with this issue do you find most appropriate and most efficient for Montenegro?
Mr Đukanović: I wouldn’t say the issue is on hold. I’d rather say we are creating presumptions for tackling the church question more seriously. As far as the lack of patience you are talking about is concerned – well, it’s nothing new. I’ve already reminded you of the anxiety of specific political forces in the lead-up to the referendum in 2006. If we had rushed, we would have never got anywhere. The Government adopted the Proposal Law on the Freedom of Confession and referred it to further procedure. I believe it can significantly contribute to tackling many important issues in this delicate area. Unfortunately, there are no pre-formed models for that. Our political view is that every new solution must follow the fundamental objective: overcoming complex divisions in the Montenegrin society. In order to come to a sustainable solution, we count on commitment of every political and church structure, all for the sake of our country, citizens and the church. Of course, we won’t let anybody undermine our country while hiding behind the mantle or the cross.
The Prespes Agreement is a good stimulus for settling Serbian and Albanian relations.
DN: Handling the Belgrade-Priština problem is in the EU focus. One of the possible ways out from this frozen conflict is the “correction” of borders between the countries. You’ve been against such solution from the beginning. You said it would mean going back to nineties. In your opinion, what are the starting points of the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo?
Đukanović: First and foremost, It’s good that the dialogue between Belgrade and Priština has been open in the first place. I know that the problem of Serbian-Albanian relations and misunderstandings is old and complex.
It’s bad that the dialogue has reached a stalemate. It should be resumed and finished successfully, with a smart approach.
The Prespes agreement is a good stimulus for that. It’s true that I took the idea of demarcation with a grain of salt, since that would mean departing from the principles of Badinter Commission.
There are two reasons for my view on this. Considering that the demarcation would undoubtedly be perceived and interpreted in ethnic context (Serbs in Serbia, and Albanians in Kosovo), it would not contribute to the idea of multi-ethnic democracy that we want to develop in the Balkans. And then: how can we be sure that one such solution won’t spark off chain initiatives for tackling other open questions in a similar way? What are the guarantees that it’s not going to happen?
Besides, I think that there’s been tactical mistake in the communication with the public. I think the negotiation process should have been finished first and solutions that would lead to normalizing the relations harmonized. Finally, the idea of demarcation – does it endanger the stability of the region or can it be part of the sustainable solution?
Serving others always results in treason
DN: On 9 May, High Court in Podgorica delivered first-instance verdict in the case of coup attempt, confirming that the peace and right of Montenegro to choose its own future were definitely under threat. Your life was in danger too. And while Montenegrin judicial system is being hailed internationally, the entire opposition here (including SDP, always talking about the rule of law), is voicing criticism, appeal against the decision of the Court, underrating judicial system and Prosecutor’s Office… Your comment?
Đukanović: I don’t think any serious and elementary informed person was surprised. I’ve already described the inferior consciousness of the majority of the opposition in Montenegro. Due to their obvious political weakness, they believed they would be able to achieve their objectives while serving others and their interests. By rule, it results in treason. It’s called like that everywhere in the world. When some other country, not your own, is your “mother”. And when you start serving your new “mother”, regardless of the fact that it opposes to the interests of your own country, the country of your ancestors… while expecting some cash from it…
There’s nothing new to be revealed here. Entranced by the politics of the big protector, opposition leaders have said everything. And their foreign mentors too. They have been creating their own indictment for months without being aware of it. Or maybe they believed they could scare us and that we would give up on our state and political plans. Or they believed that they might eliminate us, whatever.
Since nothing happened they remained with their hands in someone else’s pockets. Offended because they’ve been caught. I don’t care about their complaints. Montenegro was able to respond to this challenge and that’s what matters.
“Agreement for the Future” – another mirage of the people obsessed with the hatred for the government
DN: Seems like the “Agreement for the Future”, adopted by the opposition not so long ago, is part of the past. Since you want more powerful opposition, as the corrector of the government, do you expect that opposition political actors will take part in the next elections more seriously and more responsibly? Or maybe the obsession with your personality and the DPS is going to be the only political program in 2020 as well?
Đukanović: I wouldn’t waste my time dealing with the opposition, we’ve got much more important subjects and tasks to deal with. The results will show how political subjects, whether it’s the government or opposition, treat the vital issues and Montenegro. It’s perfectly clear that “Agreement for the Future” was just another mirage created by the same people obsessed with the hatred towards the government. It’s a destruction and it will never result in anything worthy. As for the final part of your question, I’ll let the opposition actors draw the conclusion themselves – is such attitude towards the DPS and me going to bring them success?