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Government crisis in Montenegro: possible implications

In Montenegro, the parliament's vote of no confidence opened a complex government crisis that could have several implications for the country and the Balkan region. By Antonio Stango

In the night between 19 and 20 August, the Parliament of Montenegro passed a motion of no confidence against the Government, with 50 votes in favor out of 81. Lasting only 115 days, this was the shortest government experience in the history of the country. Indeed, Prime Minister Dritan Abazović, from the Action Reformist United (Ujedinjena Reformska Akcija / URA) civic movement, leading a minority coalition of 16 members of parliament, had been able to also count on the external support of the 30 deputies from the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) led by President Milo Djukanović, who had been Prime Minister himself for decades.

This seems to delay the prospect, outlined in Abazović's program last April, of an acceleration of the reforms necessary to conclude the negotiations for accession to the EU, which started in 2012, in contrast to the slowness of which his predecessor Zdravko Krivokapić was accused. At the same time, in a forthcoming government (to be formed with or without recourse to early elections), pro-Serbian and pro-Russian tendencies could re-emerge, despite Montenegro being a NATO member since 2017.

According to Croatian Member of the European Parliament Tonino Picula, European Parliament rapporteur on Montenegro, the possible return to government of the “Democratic Front” (FD) alliance and “For the future of Montenegro” coalition, which had lost the majority last April, could make the country's path to the EU more difficult, particularly considering the FD's aversion to Euro-Atlantic integration and its divergent position from the EU's common foreign and security policy on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

According to Abazović, the current crisis was also caused by pressure exerted on some political parties by organised crime groups, especially the ones operating in cigarette smuggling and cocaine trafficking, to counter the anti-corruption campaign. However, what led to the motion of no confidence was above all the controversial “Basic Agreement”, a pact between the Government of Montenegro and the Serbian Orthodox Church enabling the latter to take legal ownership over what it claims to be its property, without proof documentation.

The Agreement, signed on 3 August, was apparently an attempt by Abazović (a member of the Albanian and Muslim minority) to expand his support base. However, despite praise from pro-Serbian parties, it was defined “contrary to the constitution of Montenegro” by the DPS, with President Djukanović's vowing to suspend it as soon as a new Government takes office. Often accused of being functional to the interests of Belgrade, the Serbian Orthodox Church claims to represent 72 percent of citizens – while the autocephaly of the small Montenegrin Orthodox Church is not recognised by the patriarchates of Belgrade and Constantinople.

The political crisis could be temporarily resolved by bringing back the parliamentary majority that won the elections in August 2020, which would include Abazović's URA but in which the Democratic Front would also have a key role. For the latter, Andrija Mandić, the president of the New Serbian Democracy component (Nova Srpska Demokratija - NSD) criticised the statement of Vladimir Bilčik, the Slovakian president of the European Parliament Delegation to the EU-Montenegro Stabilisation and Association Commission, according to which such a government would not have EU support. Mandić replied that Montenegro should not accept “interference in internal affairs”. However, he does not seem to feel a similar pressure from Belgrade and Moscow.

Meanwhile, on 26 August, the Ministry of Finance and other state institutions in the country suffered a serious cyber-attack, which was defined as “unprecedented” and can be attributed, according to the Ministry of Defense and the National Security Agency, to Russian operators. The Ministry of the Interior has launched an investigation on the incident, also with the help of a specialised team from the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the United States.

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