Dr Orhan Dragaš: Minority government is a necessary bypass, a time for talks on a full-capacity political government
My intention was to remind of the hysteria that reigned in Montenegro, but even more so in the region and in Europe after the 2020 elections that the DPS and Đukanović will not hand over power. That they would create some chaos, demonstrations, buy MPs, even tanks on the streets and similar nonsense were mentioned. I only reminded about some of the many who said that – in Montenegro everybody, all which then won a narrow majority in parliament, Dritan Abazović, Nebojša Medojević, Duško Knežević, people from the Democratic Front, there were also many in Belgrade, but also in Europe, among serious media outlets such as Deutsche Welle, and among intellectual stars studying the Balkans, such as Florian Bieber. I was only interested on the basis of which they all thought that there would be no peaceful handover of power in Montenegro. What did Montenegro do to give at least one reason for them to think that there will be no peace after the change of government? Nothing, there has never been such an occasion. It was just a deep-seated prejudice against Montenegro, that it was not mature and democratic enough to be independent. It is a story from the east, which they bought in the West without thinking, that Montenegro is an autocracy, both after 10 years of rule by Đukanović and the DPS, and after 15 and 20 years, and now after 30 years. There has always been this narrative that Montenegro is an undemocratic state, and as the only proof the number of years one leader has been in power was given. What will we do with the fact that Helmut Kohl and Angela Merkel were chancellors for 16 years each and at the head of the CDU for 20 and 25 years? Does that make them autocrats and Germany an undemocratic country?
These concerned Europeans have leveled Montenegro with Belarus or Kazakhstan for years, and during that time it has advanced the most with the democratic transition, joined NATO and came to the door of the EU as the “best example” in the Western Balkans, as European politicians often pointed out. Thanks to that inertia, laziness of spirit, but also the bad intentions of European politicians and bureaucracy, the change of government in August 2020 was perceived as a victory for democracy, without even realizing what that change of power really brings. It was celebrated that the government changed after 30 years, and because of that, Montenegro even progressed on one of those fake indices of democracy or human rights. And what happened? Complete degradation of civil society, turning away from the European course, clericalization of political life, all contrary to what Montenegro was until then and by which it was the “best example” in the region.
Of course, apart from bad intentions, there was no reason to talk about problems with the handover of power. Đukanović admitted the defeat of his party that evening; he even pressured the new authorities to constitute the parliament and the government as soon as possible, so that the constitutional deadlines would not be violated. And when the moment of a new change of government came, we saw that it was not going exactly as the textbooks of democracy said. Those who have been in power for only a year do come to terms with the surrender, organize demonstrations, break the law, and ignore the parliament that elected them. What is the violent stay in power if not what we see from the remnants of the government of Zdravko Krivokapić and the coalition that supported him? But there is no word about that in the European media and statements of so-called experts, because that does not fit into the stereotype that they have been building about Montenegro for decades and built careers and made business on it.
2. In your opinion, how far are the outgoing Government of Montenegro and the current parliamentary majority ready to go in defense of their power and seats in depth and breadth?
Krivokapić and his people showed that only one year is enough to prove themselves not only as ignorant, but also as an undemocratic state administration. The character of each government is best illustrated by its last days – what you do and how you behave when you are definitely leaving the stage. The last days of Zdravko Krivokapić’s cabinet looked like before a comet strike – advisers were being hired to get sinecures, citizenship was being given outside the rules, laws were being broken hour by hour, and all the time street demonstrations were being called in order to pretend to be a victim. I myself used to organize street demonstrations, I participated in them countless times, but I have never seen ministers and MPs protesting in the street, as in the past days in Podgorica. These people were without a doubt ready to create great riots in Montenegro, they wanted chaos, and they saw in that a way out for their failed policy and a way to stay in the saddle for at least one more day. One more day was important to them, maybe they would hire another advisor, driver or give citizenship to their friends, and maybe they would close a business deal at the last minute. Fortunately, they did not succeed in that, because they had a clearly expressed will of the voters opposite to themselves, embodied in the new balance of power in the parliament, which no longer wanted them. At the moment when it was removed, the government of Zdravko Krivokapić had 13% of support in the parliament, and that is the “will of the voters”, which they constantly say is being reshaped. You cannot rule the country with the support of 11 deputies, and if you insist on that, then you are not a guardian of the people’s will, you are just a dangerous usurper.
3. In the light of new developments, that is, a vote of no confidence in the Government of Zdravko Krivokapić, do you estimate that a minority government is the best solution for Montenegro at this moment?
It is far from the best solution. Even as a forced solution, the minority government does not have a special perspective. But in these circumstances, it is perhaps the only bypass for Montenegro to return from the state of complete political, social and economic instability and chaos to the track from which it slipped a little over a year ago. There are never ideal solutions in democracy, and even democracy itself is not ideal, not to mention Churchill’s famous description of democracy from 1947 that it is actually the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried from time to time. The most important role of the minority government is to end a bad period in which Montenegro has crushed its democracy, its economy, its international position and its civil society on a daily basis. And that is where its mission and all the ambitions associated with it should end. Each day of the previous government was a day when Montenegro suffered damage and was indebted to someone else to repair that damage, at an interest rate that is higher than the damage done. I do not mean only finances, but also the reputation of the country, interethnic tolerance, and democracy in general. That is why the minority government is there to stop the general decline, to draw the line and to move towards the point where Montenegro was until the 2020 elections. To start with.
4. Some political entities in the ruling majority and in the opposition, but also political analysts generally agree that the elections are the cleanest and best solution for Montenegro. What is your attitude?
Before the elections, I would stick to the option of a majority, political government, with full legitimacy. If the minority government is already a reality, such a political government with full parliamentary support would be not only its possible, but also logical successor. If a political agreement could be reached on it, and it is already visible through talks on a minority government, such a majority and the government that would result from it would stabilize the situation in Montenegro and do their job in full capacity. Montenegro would thus save time, so much needed to repair the damage, would not have to spend another five or six months on the elections and would get the most efficient response to get out of the crisis. Such a government would absolutely be a reflection of the will of the citizens, because it would be elected by deputies who have only a year and a half of mandate, and each of them is the bearer of the electoral will of voters, so the government they would support would undoubtedly reflect that will. Those stories about some change in the electoral will of the citizens are just complaints of those who are leaving. If such a political agreement within the parliament would not be possible, then elections remain the only way to fully consolidate political life. I do not know when they will be held, or when a full-capacity political government could be formed, but the nature of the minority government is such that its lifespan should be measured in months, not years. That is why I am convinced that now is the time to talk about longer-term solutions, and one of them is certainly the majority, political government.
5. Members of the ruling majority who did not support the overthrow of the current government claim that CM URA is bringing the DPS back to power with this move. Do you think that the return of the DPS to power is certain in the foreseeable future, and what should this party do within its structures to regain the support of voters, but also the shaken trust of the international community?
As far as I could see, the DPS has already made huge changes within itself, but all that passed in the shadow of the events around the Government, its moves and conflicts that shook that coalition from the first day. It seems to me that the DPS has started to transform since election night, because they realized that if they do not change, they can only hope for new election defeats, nothing else. The local elections, first in Nikšić, and then in Cetinje and some other cities, showed that they preserved their electorate, that they did not sink as many wished and that they can wait for a new election test in good condition. The message in the August 30 elections for the DPS was very clear, and that is that they have to change fundamentally. People reacted to their corrupt and ossified people from the very top, especially long-time local bosses, who were convinced that they were irremovable, that it was enough that they even existed to be in power. I have the impression that there are no more of them in the first lines. I don’t know if the DPS will return to power, they will certainly not be in the minority government, but the past year has shown that they are a serious organization, which well understood the message of the citizens that they must change and look for their chance with new people in the new elections. The fact that the DPS is still by far the strongest party in Montenegro and the most numerous in Parliament is often overshadowed. And it is even more often lost out of sight that its leader Milo Đukanović, as the President of Montenegro, in the last 15 months was a factor that maintained the continuity of civic and pro-European Montenegro and an important reminder of what Montenegro was until recently and what it could be, and what it was in reality.
6. What is the influence of the international community on the changed circumstances on the Montenegrin political scene, especially having in mind the recent engagement of the American special envoy for the Western Balkans Gabriel Escobar in Montenegro and the region?
What we usually consider to be the international community, and we can narrow down to America and the European Union, reacted catastrophically at the moment of the change of power in Montenegro. I have already talked about how obsessed they were with the fact that the change of government came after 30 years, and that apart from the calendar that fact meant nothing. Serious interethnic incidents, unreasonable economic decisions, mass nepotism in the state administration, leakage of NATO confidential data, and constant tensions were happening before their eyes. And they tolerated that for an incomprehensibly long time. They were silent like hardened bureaucrats who did not want problems in their shift. Only last year’s report of the European Commission showed that the EU was somewhat aware that a general decline in all achieved values was on the scene in Montenegro and that the country was on a downhill. The same goes for the United States, which usually reacts faster than Europeans, but it should be borne in mind that there was a change of administration and that it took some time for them to deal with Montenegro. Gabriel Escobar’s mission not only in Montenegro, but in the entire Western Balkans, is a confirmation that President Biden’s administration will address this region as one of its real foreign policy priorities, and don’t forget that Biden announced it only a few weeks after he took office, when he spoke on the phone with Angela Merkel. The main goal, and Escobar repeats it, is to stabilize the region politically and economically, and turn it as much as possible to its common priority, which is the EU membership. This did not happen in Montenegro during the government of Zdravko Krivokapić, and that is why the role of the United States in the changes in Montenegro is important and positive.
7. Two weeks ago, in just two days, the Serbian Patriarch Porfirije met with as many as eight politicians from Montenegro. Are successful European integrations and emancipation of Montenegro in general possible while the Church of Serbia in the function of the Serbian world is controlling the conversation?
Montenegro now has the opportunity to regulate its relations with the Serbian Orthodox Church in a way that will be good for its civic essence, but also for the Serbian Orthodox Church as part of that society. And most importantly, in a way that will not destabilize it and produce problems. This obviously could not be done under the pressure of the street and under the unusual activism of the Church in political life, which we have witnessed a year and a half ago. The crisis over the status of the Serbian Orthodox Church arose due to the refusal of the DPS government to accept the demands of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which was the trigger for both the processions and, ultimately, the coming to power of Krivokapić’s coalition. But even that Government did not sign the Agreement with the Serbian Orthodox Church in a year, because some parts were contrary to the Constitution and laws of Montenegro, which Krivokapić himself spoke about. So, that government also came to those positions of the DPS, which, for the same reason, it destroyed not so long ago with processions and later in the elections. That is why I am convinced that the Serbian Orthodox Church has learned important lessons from everything that happened in Montenegro in the past period, and that it will also correct some of its earlier moves, including ambitions. The Serbian Orthodox Church will not disappear from Montenegro, nor would that be normal. It will remain an important part of social life, but it should agree on its position with civil Montenegro, the one represented by the representatives of the citizens in the parliament, in the Government and in the position of the President. I hope that this path will be followed, and I see the fact that many Montenegrin politicians participated in talks with Patriarch Porfirije as a hope that we will have a different level of communication between state and church authorities than we have had so far. And that can only benefit Montenegro.
Director of the International Security Institute and the author of the book “Two Faces of Globalization – Truth and Deceptions”