No. 10 : January-April 2014

Filip Kovačević

Montenegro’s Political System

Academic Foresights

How do you analyze the present situation of Montenegro’s political system?

The political system of Montenegro is at the present time unique in Europe in that the same political party has been in power since the introduction of the multiparty politics in 1990. If we take into consideration that this party, the Democratic Party of Socialists, is the direct successor of the Yugoslav Communist Party, we can see that the same authoritarian ruling elite has been in power since the end of the WWII. This means that we are dealing with a political structure extremely resistant to democratization and progressive political reforms. It is not surprising then that this structure has captured all the state institutions and forced them to do its bidding. In other words, in Montenegro, there is a one-party system that has swallowed up the state itself. All spheres of life, social, cultural, artistic, etc, are dominated by the ruling party officials and their families and friends. The levels of corruption, cronyism, and clientelism are so high that it is impossible to get a job at any state institution without demonstrating one’s willingness to vote for the ruling party and/or their political allies.

It is also important to note that the ruling party is dominated by one man, the current prime minister Milo Djukanovic. In fact, this is Djukanovic’s seventh mandate as a prime minister and he was also the country’s president in one five-year mandate. Djukanovic has (illegally) amassed an immense amount of wealth and a great number of connections in the transnational capitalist circles and is using the money and the influence to acquire the protection of key international players, especially in Washington DC. Though he spouts the rhetoric of the so-called Euro-Atlantic integrations, he is actually quite close to the ruling circles in Russia. Quite a lot of “dirty” KGB money has entered Montenegro right after its independence and filled up the coffers of Djukanovic, his relations, and friends.

Still, it is clear that Djukanovic is losing his hold on power and that the control of his party over the Montenegrin society is slipping. In the last parliamentary elections which took place in October 2012, Djukanovic’s party with its junior coalition partner, the Social-Democratic Party (which, by the way, is not immune to the corruptive privileges of governing and is social democrat in name only), achieved the worst result in a decade. It lost the absolute majority it had had and was able to hold on to power only due to the political support of several parties of national minorities (Bosniaks, Albanians, and Croats) whose leadership has also been implicated in corruption scandals (1). However, Djukanovic’s majority in the Parliament remains very tentenuous as it depends on just a few votes.

Also, the presidential elections held in April 2013 brought a defeat to Djukanovic’s candidate Filip Vujanovic. Yet, due to the wide-spread voter fraud and the subsequent illegitimate work of the state institutions beholden to Djukanovic, the victory was stolen from the independent candidate Miodrag Lekic. The supporters of Lekic organized a well-attended protest and, as a result, there was an agreement to make and implement deep structural changes in the voting and other legislation in order to prevent future abuse. It is clear however that Djukanovic will do everything in his power (note that the state apparatus, such as the judicial system and the police, remain under his control) to slow down, delay and marginalize any democratic changes. He and his cronies know that the only way to hold on to power is to continue to use their wealth and contacts to manipulate the Montenegrin public opinion and the perceptions of foreign diplomats.

In your opinion, how will the situation likely evolve over the next five years?

It is beyond doubt that the next several years will bring substantial political changes to Montenegro. We will see the end of Djukanovic’s rule and it is quite possible that the party he has led for more than 15 years will collapse. It will most likely split into several factions, each of which will accuse all the others for the complicity in corruption, organized crime and other social ills that have devastated the economy of Montenegro. In my opinion, the fate of Djukanovic might resemble the fate of the former prime minister of Croatia, Ivo Sanader, which means the eventual conviction and prison time. However, there is also a real possibility that Djukanovic might evade justice by fleeing to a friendly country somewhere in Eurasia. It is clear that much will depend on the skills and political wisdom of the coalition that will replace the Djukanovic’s regime. My expectation is that the first post-Djukanovic government will include not only the professional party politicians but also the experts in various fields and that, in this way, this government will right away attain the great degree of legitimacy in the eyes of the Montenegrin population (even among the former Djukanovic’s supporters).

There is however also a small chance of what I would call the worst case scenario. This scenario will be played out if Djukanovic (after losing an election) refuses to leave power willingly and tries to employ physical force against the opposition, autonomous NGOs, and independent media. The resulting confrontation may lead to wide-ranging disturbances and conflicts. The role of international community, especially the EU, is crucial to prevent such turn of affairs. Still, one can never be sure, considering that so far the EU diplomats have been very complacent toward the documented abuses of Djukanovic’s regime.

What are the structural long-term perspectives?

After more than two decades of a regime that devastated the Montenegrin economy and made the gap between the rich and the poor the widest in all of Europe, there is not much that can be done in the short term to improve the living standards of the population. Montenegro’s industrial potential has been destroyed and the tourism and agricultural industries (the hopes of the future growth) have so far been either underdeveloped (for instance, in the country’s mountainous North) or developed in an unsustainable, environmentally unfriendly way (for instance, on the country’s coast). This is why the new, democratic government will not have any easy time to turn the economy around, which is not to say that it cannot be done. Notwithstanding its small size, Montenegro after has a very auspicious geographic position between the West and the East, combining the EU, the US, Russian, Turkish and even the incipient Chinese influences, and it could develop an economic and political diplomatic position to be friendly with all the great and regional powers and derive the benefits accordingly. For instance, certain UN and/or other global organizations could be based in Montenegro.

Montenegro’s integration into the EU has the support of more than two-thirds of the population and this integrative path will definitely be taken by the new government. However, as long as Djukanovic remains in power, no substantive integration is to be expected as it would seriously compromise the monopolies that he and his cronies have established. The integration into the NATO block is much more questionable, even though there is a strong pressure of the US and various lobbying centers within the country. The majority of the Montenegrin population is either indifferent or expresses its disapproval of the actions of this military coalition, and this trend will likely continue to increase in the future. This is why Djukanovic will try to avoid the holding of the referendum on the entry into NATO but, in my opinion, his efforts in this respect will fail.

It is also clear that the political fates of neighboring countries will impact on Montenegro. The resolution of the conflictual relations between Serbia and Kosovo as well as between the Bosnian-Croat Federation and the Republika Srpska within Bosnia-Herzegovina would obviously contribute a great deal toward the creation of a peaceful and prosperous atmosphere in the region. If however these tensions or conflicts continue, Montenegro will be negatively affected and its growth and every other potential will stagnate or decrease.  This is why a rapid but fair EU integration might be the only way for the entire region to overcome its most troublesome problems. With the new government, unencumbered by the ghosts of the past, Montenegro could have a valuable mediating role to play in integrating the region into the EU.


  1. (1)What has to be kept in mind is that in Montenegro no corruption scandal, involving high level state officials, has ever had a legitimate judicial outcome due to the fact that the court system is under the control of the ruling party. So the typical trajectory of a scandal is something like this: after being written about in the independent media, it enters the labyrinths of the judicial institutions and no one hears about it ever gain.

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Filip Kovačević is Associate Professor of Political Psychology at the University of Montenegro. He is the author of several books and dozens of articles on Montenegrin politics, contemporary political philosophy, and Lacanian psychoanalytic theory. He has been invited to lecture at European and American universities. He is a newspaper columnist, political analyst, and a well-known activist intellectual in the public life of Montenegro.

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