Open meddling of Serbia in internal affairs of Montenegro, parliamentary majority crisis, and further perspective of Montenegro were the topics discussed in the DFC Magazine by dr. Zlatko Vujovic, President of the Governing Board of the Center for Monitoring and Research (CeMI) and assistant professor at the Faculty of Political Sciences of the University of Montenegro.

Vujovic believes that Serbia’s aggressive politics toward Montenegro and other regional countries (Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, and Croatia to a lesser extent) may be stopped only by direct assistance and active participation of the Western partners. According to him, the EU and the United States should recall the fact that the political parties of President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic (SNS) and President of the Parliament of Serbia Ivica Dacic (SPS) have been created from the same parties that caused the hostilities in the Western Balkans during the nineties of the previous century.

DFC: On June 17, the Montenegrin Parliament adopted the Resolution on Srebrenica. Reactions from both Serbia and the Republic of Srpska followed, supported by the narrative that Montenegro is meddling in the internal affairs of another country. According to you, is Montenegro meddling in the internal affairs of other countries? To what extent does such a narrative affect the damaged relations between Montenegro and Serbia?  

Z. VUJOVIC: The problem of one’s attitude toward committed genocide, which has been undoubtedly proven in the proceedings held before an international court, cannot be treated as an internal affair of any country. It is particularly unclear why Serbia believes that something that happened in another country – Bosnia and Herzegovina – is its internal affair. It seems as if they are wrong in both cases. I am happy that the Montenegrin Parliament adopted the Resolution, clearly labeling and condemning the committed genocide in Srebrenica, but also highlighting that no nation is to be held accountable for the genocide and emphasizing that the guilt is individual. It seemed encouraging that the firm majority of votes of both the government and the opposition adopted such a resolution, but the fact that half of the parliamentary majority negates the genocide in Srebrenica left a bitter taste.

SNS and SPS restoring to factory settings

DFC: Besides severe reactions sparked off by the Resolution adoption, the Serbian officials and political activists always comment on and negatively criticize the work of the Montenegrin Government, explaining that they are only “protecting” Serbs in Montenegro. Does this serve to divert attention from Serbia’s internal issues or is the goal much bigger?  

Z. VUJOVIC: With years passing by, representatives of Vucic’s and Dacic’s parties have been restoring to factory settings from the nineties. It seems as if many international leaders have forgotten that the very ruling coalition – truth to be told, then known under the name of the Serbian Radical Party, that the SNS and the SPS came from – was responsible for the hostilities in the region. Both Dacic, then appointed as the spokesperson of the SPS, and Vucic, the then Minister of Information in the Federal Government, were the ones who justified the Serbian military and paramilitary interventions in different battlefields. Back then, Vucic was also dealing with Kosovo, only to justify war crimes over Albanians, which have eventually provoked NATO intervention. Now, the idea of Greater Serbia has been swapped for the idea of the Serbian world. Vulin, the Minister of Police and the former Minister of Defense, is publicly and unreservedly calling Aleksandar Vucic not only the President of Serbia but also the President of all Serbs; therefore, it is not surprising that Belgrade wants to destabilize the region. Whenever there is a crisis in Belgrade, such an approach is leading to sparking a fire in one of the hotspots of the region, with Belgrade-based propaganda doing its part of the job. Numerous regional actors are the target, as well as a small portion of opposition forces in Serbia.

Serbia will still have an enormous influence on Montenegro

DFC: Reactions of the Montenegrin officials to the Serbian political elite’s criticism have been until recently neither timely nor adequate. Now, the reaction obviously exists. Do you believe that the Montenegrin government has enough authority to stop the continuous meddling of Serbia in the internal affairs of Montenegro?

Z. VUJOVIC: I am afraid that neither the Montenegrin government nor all forces of both the government and the opposition have the power to stop the open meddling of Serbia in the internal affairs of Montenegro. The resources put at disposal of the Serbian government, open media space in Montenegro, and the unwillingness of the Western partners to respond to such behavior so far indicate that Serbia will continue to exercise enormous influence on the political events in Montenegro. Moreover, this is not the problem of Montenegro alone. Serbia is using Serbs’ communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina and on Kosovo, as well as in Montenegro to destabilize these countries. It has tried to do a similar thing in Croatia and North Macedonia but with less success. Those three countries have become the hostages of the Serbian official politics, which is trying to use them as bargaining chips in its Kosovo issue. Likewise, Serbian politics in the Western Balkans is almost completely serving the interests of Russia. Serbian communities in the region, together with the Serbian Orthodox Church are becoming the tools of Russian politics toward the Western Balkans. Fragile institutions are tended to be undermined, as well as the shattered citizens’ trust in them. Sophisticated campaigns on social media are deepening already existing divisions, which incites conflicts among different national communities. Some types of frozen conflicts or their modified versions are tended to be reborn. When Serbia is not able to significantly advance on the European negotiating path, due to its strong ties with Russian and Chinese interests and its unwillingness to reach a consensus on Kosovo, it is trying to slow down or stop other countries on that path. The goal is to continue to portray Serbia as a leader in the Western Balkans. Such foreign policy of Serbia cannot be rectified without a stronger intervention of the United States above all, followed by the changed attitude of the EU and its key member states respectively. The Western Balkans cannot be stabilized if Serbia continues to implement such aggressive political intervention, i.e. meddling in the electoral and political processes in some neighboring countries.

West to help the constitution of the new parliamentary majority

DFC: Besides criticism that has been coming from the region, a strong reaction about the government’s work is coming from the Democratic front’s address. Their irrevocable stance, stated at the parliamentary majority meeting, is that the current Government is not working in the interests of the ZBCG coalition and that the government reshuffle is necessary. In what way do you see the future of the parliamentary majority?

Z. VUJOVIC: The Democratic Front has willfully chosen to become an instrument of Belgrade’s and Moscow’s politics. Therefore, their moves are to be analyzed from that angle. They have always been in accordance with President Vucic’s strategy, after all. Such Government has no future, and its functioning is pointless unless a coherent parliamentary majority is formed, which would support it. The word reshuffle can be frequently heard, as well as a new government or elections. I wouldn’t even rule out the possibility of creating a new hybrid majority that would make space for a particular executive power with a mandate to fulfill the conditions to close the accession negotiations. It would not have to mean that a new great coalition will be formed, and I would not rule out the possibility of forming some new or extended version of the technocratic government either, which will constitute of different parliamentary majority; different from today’s one for sure. I believe that now is the time for our Western partners – the United States, the EU, and Germany first of all – to help form a new parliamentary majority with over 3/5 or possibly 2/3 of seats in the Parliament, which would meet the conditions for the EU membership but also be awarded the membership, i.e. the closure of the negotiations. Montenegro needs success; the EU accession politics also needs success. An optimistic message needs to be sent to the Western Balkans. Montenegro and the EU can help each other. It would be the greatest defeat of the Serbian-Russian efforts aimed at destabilizing the region, and the award to the Montenegrin political parties both the government and the opposition for putting national interests before the parties’. I believe that the idea will be approved if it is endorsed by the EU, the United States, and Germany. Everything could happen during this parliament’s mandate.

Are the elections a way out of the crisis?

DFC: If a concrete agreement is not reached, new elections are a way out from the parliamentary crisis. What would that mean for political parties and who would benefit the most from the new elections?

Z. VUJOVIC: If elections were held, after all, their results would largely depend on the timeframe, which would influence the level of Serbia’s interference in the election process in Montenegro. Only by simultaneously holding parliamentary elections in Montenegro and presidential, municipal (in Belgrade) or possibly early parliamentary elections in Serbia, a sort of guarantee for lowered interference of Serbia in the Montenegrin elections would be provided. Vucic would then have to prioritize the Serbian elections, and he would not be able to mobilize resources as he did during the last parliamentary or local elections in Montenegro. The best option for Montenegro would be to improve electoral conditions through consensus, reform the electoral legislation, and, then, hold the elections at all levels in one day. That would make space and time for the next government to focus on real, social, and economic problems, while undisturbed by constant electoral processes at some of the levels.