By Oksana Sazonova
Today, on April 28, regardless of unpredictable events at the moment, will be a historic day for the Balkans and for Europe. The vote of the Parliament of Montenegro on the country’s accession to NATO is the culmination of a large number of very diverse events that took place in the country and around it for the past several years. Considering the composition of the parliament, the orientation of the ruling party and the boycott of the opposition, it can almost certainly be said that the decision will be positive.
The event, as announced about a week before it, will take place not in Podgorica, but in the city of Cetinje, the historical and cultural “capital” of Montenegro. The visiting nature of the meeting at the official level is explained by the importance and solemnity of the forthcoming event. Although there are other reasons: in Podgorica, for this day, massive street events of numerous opponents of joining NATO were already planned. Assessing their previous actions, it would be possible to assume with certainty a very tense situation in the capital … if the deputies taking a historic decision were there at that time.
Cetinje is not simply removed from Podgorica towards the coast (which would not be a problem for the opposition, it is quite capable of organizing buses for its supporters). The section of the road from Podgorica to Cetinje is, according to an interesting coincidence, now actively being repaired, and traffic in this direction is practically blocked. If we take into account maximally strengthened police control, then the simultaneous arrival of a large number of politically active people in this city is unlikely simply for technical reasons.
Such attention to the street component of the global process on the accession of Montenegro to NATO is completely justified. Suffice it to recall that it was the anti-NATO rallies in Montenegro in October 2015 that led to mass riots that were suppressed only by the most severe police measures, batons and tear gas with a terrible concentration of chemicals. Massive, although more peaceful, were subsequent actions of the opposition: 10,000 thousand rallies for 600,000 Montenegro and 200,000 Podgorica are a colossal figure. The situation was strained in 2016 when mass actions during the voting in the parliament about the distrust to the prime minister (who still holds the post of head of the ruling party) Milo Djukanovic. Earlier, in 2008, miraculously before the seizure of government agencies did not come after the anti-Serb decision of the Montenegrin authorities – recognition of Kosovo independence.
In general, demonstrations, speeches, large and not very – unchanged background of everyday life in Montenegro. Last summer, the city center was permanently closed due to strikes of employees of the “Podgorica Aluminum Combine” because of many months of delays in wages. Then scandalous rumbled parliamentary elections with a coup and video evidence of the purchase of votes. Soon after, the protests of mothers of large families began, outraged by the post-election decrease in benefits. After a while – the protests of residents of the village Zagoric because of the “soaring” taxes on land. These movements united, other citizens dissatisfied with the social sphere joined them, they blocked the central streets, the access to the parliament, bridges.
A non-standard situation develops within the Montenegrin authorities. Opposition parties and coalitions, which received slightly less than half of the votes according to the official results of the October 16 last year’s elections, have since boycotted the meetings in protest against the final results. In the organization of a questionable coup d’etat, the regime accuses the opposition leaders and Moscow. And in any case, the victory of the current government over the radically different opposition is the indicator, rather, not its advantages, but a dangerous split in the Montenegrin society.
It turns out that the vote on the historic decision on the likely entry into NATO in Montenegro occurs against the backdrop of discontent among citizens and permanent protests – political and social, boycotting parliament sessions by almost half the convocation, court cases against deputies and opposition activists.
We also keep in mind the territorial dispute of Montenegro with the partially recognized “republic of Kosovo”: it is a question of several square kilometers of the border, unmarked since the Yugoslav times, but due to these lands, the Kosovo Albanians have issued armed threats.
And also criminal cases against the ex-prime minister and the current leader of the ruling party in Montenegro Milo Djukanovic. The court in Italy recognized him as a dangerous criminal at the top of the mafia structure, and German media in the past year uncovered a scheme of his illegal trade in cigarettes with ISIS terrorists.
Such a country, with an endless ball of internal and external contradictions, NATO embraces now. The leadership of the alliance in December 2015 sent Podgorica an official invitation to join the alliance, then, on the 10th anniversary of independent Montenegro, a Protocol was signed in Brussels, which was ratified by the parliaments of the member countries within a year.
But for which purpose?
Montenegro is a small country with 600,000 inhabitants and only 2,000-strong army. One brigade of ground forces, one tank, one howitzer, two frigates converted into patrol ships (the legacy of Yugoslavia), several aircrafts that have not been used since 2010 – the North Atlantic alliance intends to “strengthen” its combat capability with such an army. Hardly even in Podgorica, anyone took offense at the recent words of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu that “the military potential of Montenegro is zero.”
The Montenegrin army may be of interest to NATO, except as its personnel, “living force”. This worries Montenegrin citizens, who, like everyone else, see the military operations of the alliance and its losses, such as the recent ones in Afghanistan. Not all NATO actions are approved by the Montenegrins, because one of them by historical standards recently passed and against their country: the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999.
Montenegro is more interesting from the point of its geographical location. After the collapse of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, unlike Serbia, it gained access to the sea, and, accordingly, ports. The Adriatic Sea, which also washed the shores of other NATO member countries – Italy, Croatia, Albania, Greece – the actual access to the Mediterranean, to Turkey and the Middle East. With the entry of Montenegro into NATO, it turns out that the entire Mediterranean and neighboring coast, with the exception of Syria, appeares under its control.
At the same time, NATO countries surround Serbia, which adheres to the policy of military neutrality, accepts Serbian-Russian-Belarusian exercises, and in 2017 announced its intention to participate in CSTO training.
In addition, opponents of the alliance in Montenegro note the geopolitical and partly psychological moment – drawing into NATO of Russia’s historical ally. The Orthodox peoples of the Balkans, in view of a number of significant events for their history, usually gravitated more to the east than to the west, and with the accession of Montenegro to NATO, a disruption of this connection, albeit artificial, occurs.
There is another question – why is the use of territory, people and even history necessary for Montenegro itself? Judging by the official media, NATO should make the country safer. However, right now the whole world is witnessing the fact that the leading forces of the alliance can not even defend themselves against attacks of a terrorist threat. Will they give all the power to protect Montenegro? It is doubtful. On the contrary, Montenegro itself, like a new part of a large system, runs the risk of becoming a potential target for religious extremists.
Like many other processes in the territory of the former Yugoslavia, the formation of Montenegro as a state took place under the strict control of international structures and leading Western states. From socialist times, through the war years and the rise of nationalism associated with it, until today key political figures are irreplaceable, and the brightest of them is Milo Djukanovic. The criminal cases in Italy mentioned above, the exposure of the German media about cigarettes and ISIS, and other open publications about corruption and nepotism in Montenegrin authorities and big business are threads that make the political elite of a small Balkan country manageable.
Hence the recognition of Kosovo, and anti-Russian sanctions that are unprofitable to Montenegro, which have undermined the flow and solvency of tourists, anti-Serb and anti-Russian hysteria, and, finally, the final chord – joining NATO.
In a statement by Russian MFA spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, where a recommendation was made to Russians to refrain from traveling to Montenegro due to anti-Russian sentiments in power, it is separately emphasized that these sentiments are alien to the population of Montenegro. The local press is really full of scandalous statements by politicians that Moscow is using terrorists and the Serbian Orthodox Church to intervene in the Atlantic plans of Podgorica. While only words were sounded from Moscow in support of the idea of the opposition to hold a referendum in Montenegro on this important issue.
Of course, there will be protests today, although not as massive as they would have been in Podgorica. Yes, a partially acute reaction will be able to “disperse” by the distance, repair of roads and police cordons. Although in fact, the presence of all this is another indicator of the fact that the parliament is aware of the citizens’ opinion on the decision, and yet this decision is being made.