On August 30, after 30 years, Montenegrin citizens ended the rule of one party, the Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, in democratic elections, thus empowering the opposition to form a government for the first time since establishment of the multi-party system in the country. As the new majority consists of a spectrum of parties, some of which are radical, pro-Serbian and pro-Russian, this situation raises many questions and concerns, such as what it means for the country's foreign policy and relations with Serbia, but certainly cannot overshadow the fact that citizens are now aware that power is changeable and that it opens the space for further and deeper democratization of the country, which was trapped in the hands of one man and one party for so long.
Today's situation is a confirmation that Serbian nationalism has fertile ground in Montenegro. Let us not forget that the regime of Slobodan Milosevic, as its personification, saw nationalism as a good basis to replace the faltering ideology of communism and a one-party system. The strengthening of Serbian nationalism triggered the domino effect of awakening other nationalisms, and the political stage thus set inevitably led to the tragedy of civil war. Through his influence and strength back in the nineties, Milosevic managed to establish new party leaders in Montenegro, thus bringing Milo Djukanovic to power. Serbia-Montenegro remains an isolated island that induced the conflict on the one hand, while, on the other, Milosevic was the international community's hope for an end to the conflict. This period was accompanied by rapid economic and institutional decline and the regime ruled by undemocratic means.
At the end of this probably most tragic period for the former Yugoslavia, Djukanovic realized that the political climate was changing and that all Western Balkan countries would have to move towards Euro-Atlantic integration as a concept that could bring the necessary stability to the region. With such understanding, Milosevic's policy was an unnecessary burden for Djukanovic, and listening to signals from the West, he quickly turned his back on his political mentor in 1997 which was followed by the split in the DPS, marking the beginning of a cooling of relations with Serbia and realization of the project of rebuilding independence that took place in 2006. Such a move brought certain and significant milestones for the country, such as the opening of negotiations with the EU in 2012 or NATO membership in 2017, but also good relations with neighbors. Serbia, however, remained part of the DPS’ policy of targeting enemies inside and out. Yet, the DPS did not see systemic change as an accompanying and necessary step, and faking reforms was a substitute for real ones. Djukanovic believed that the guarantor of power was a dominant party with a strong clientelistic network, with state property up for grabs. At the heart of such a logic is the understanding that one can govern on the one hand by presenting oneself as a guarantor of stability, and on the other by encouraging divisions in the country and thus diverting attention from key issues such as the poor economic situation, organized crime, corruption and captured institutions.
Official Belgrade and the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) participated in strengthening the divisions in the country by encouraging the position that the rights of Serbs in Montenegro are endangered, which in a way was an exaggeration of the situation, but not entirely without arguments. Especially after the adoption of the Law on Freedom of Religion last December, whose articles on reviewing the SPC's property in Montenegro caused great dissatisfaction in the country, led by the SPC itself, first by organizing protests/processions, and then by actively participating in the election campaign and openly supporting the Democratic Front (DF), one of the opposition blocks, which ultimately led to the electoral defeat of the DPS. In this way, the DPS lost touch with reality and internal processes, as the old communist leadership, from which Djukanovic himself emerged, once lost it. When citizens' awareness grows that the dominant political structure becomes, as defined in communism, alienated, or simply begins to primarily defend personal interests, the ruling party/government resorts to patriotism which is not, as it turns out, always a safe ticket.
Djukanovic is still an important figure in Montenegro, as his presidential term is ongoing, while also being the president of the strongest opposition party in the country. Paradoxically to some extent, he and his party still have a chance to help substantial democratization and de-monopolization of the country. The politically correct recognition of election results should be a roadmap. Thus, the national interests of Montenegro, its Euro-Atlantic path and stability will be best protected. In this way, from the Milosevic era until today, we are finally closing the circle in Montenegro.