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Turn to Russia: "Political earthquake" happened in Montenegro
1 September 2020, 13:22
Turn to Russia: "Political earthquake" happened in Montenegro
Photo: balkaninsight.com
For the first time since 1991, the opposition may come to power in Montenegro. President Djukanovic remains president, but a government can be formed without his Democratic Socialist Party. Paradoxes of history - the government of a NATO member state will form a pro-Russian opposition bloc.

Yelena Ivanova

This morning was not happy for the President of Montenegro, Djukanovic. His DPS party won only 35% of the vote, while three opposition parties received 50.5%. This could mean the end of Milo Djukanovic's thirty-year rule.

Milo Djukanovic has ruled longer than the state of Montenegro has existed. In 2006, under the leadership of Djukanovic, Montenegro seceded from Serbia, in 2010 it became a candidate for the EU, and in 2017 it joined NATO. All this time the socialists were in power.

The opposition bloc, led by the pro-Russian Democratic Front, has already announced that it intends to form an expert government to gradually transfer power from Djukanovic to the opposition.

The list of complaints against Milo Djukanovic is long. He and his family are accused of corruption, creating a client economy, and links with organized crime. It is clear that in a country with a population of 600 thousand people everyone knows everyone. All went to the same schools, studied at one university throughout the country. But after 30 years of government, the country wants change. The voting turnout was 75%.

In Montenegro, there are several factors that have determined the choice of citizens. 30% of the population consider themselves Serbs. After secession from Serbia in 2006, the ethnic minority turned into a political one: these citizens never forgave Djukanovic for independence. Serbia became their big brother, the scale by which they measured their own success, and the alternate airfield. If Montenegrins moved to Belgrade, no one perceived them as foreigners. And if someone had difficulties in Montenegro, he went to Serbia.

The second factor by which the socialists lost the elections was their attitude towards the Serbian Orthodox Church. Late last year, a parliamentary majority passed a law under which the church would lose its property, acquired before 1920, if it could not prove its origin. This concerned, first of all, numerous monasteries on the territory of Montenegro. The law meant the actual nationalization of church property. The church could not forgive Djukanovic for this. She openly sided with the opposition. In a country where 80% of believers live, this decision was fatal for the socialists.

In Montenegro, the Russian political factor has always been significant. Therefore, after the country's entry into the North Atlantic Alliance, relations went wrong. In Moscow, no one is mistaken about the state of the Montenegrin army and its contribution to NATO - it is insignificant. But with the accession of Montenegro, only one country remains in the Balkans - not a NATO member. This is Serbia. Therefore, the Russian authorities did not hide their displeasure. Meanwhile, Russian money is filling the Montenegrin treasury. 30% of all tourists in Montenegro come from Russia. For comparison, only 12% of people have a rest from Serbia. FT writes that 80 thousand Russians own property in the Adriatic. About 30 thousand live in Montenegro permanently. The Central Bank of Montenegro said that of the 170 million euros spent by foreigners on real estate purchases in 2019, 39 million came from Russians. The Serbs paid 16.6 million euros and the Turks 1.7 million. According to the Central Bank, Russians bought real estate for the same amount in 2018. According to polls, 40% of Montenegrin real estate belongs to Russians. Among them are former politicians and billionaires. There are a lot of Russians in Montenegro, that the country began to be called "Moscow-by-sea".

This interest in property in the country on the part of Russian buyers is difficult to explain by political or economic closeness. Montenegro accused Russia of preparing a coup d'état in October 2016. The process lasted three years. 14 people, including two politicians from the pro-Russian Democratic Front, received prison sentences. The court passed a sentence against two Russians - Eduard Shishmakov and Vladimir Popov. They were sentenced to 12 and 15 years, respectively. The verdict was passed in the absence of the accused - two GRU officers. Bellingcat's investigative platform claims Popov's real name is Vladimir Moiseev. The investigation argued that the putschists were supposed to seize parliament and install a pro-Russian government on election day on October 16, 2016. The prosecutor then stated that Russian nationalists were behind the conspiracy, but the name of President Putin was not mentioned at the trial.

Russian oligarchs, such as Oleg Deripaska, have invested a lot, but not always successfully, in the Montenegrin economy. Deripaska filed an arbitration in Stockholm in 2016 against the government of Montenegro, accusing him of violating an intergovernmental agreement on the protection of foreign investment. The owner of the controlling stake in RUSAL demanded compensation of 600 million euros for the bankrupt plant in Podgorica, but the arbitration in the fall of 2019 supported the Montenegrin side.

Both the losers and the winners of these elections cannot be envied. Montenegro's budget is 30% formed from tourism revenues. This year, according to the opposition, the country will receive less than 90% of this money. The people of the Democratic Party of Socialists and President Djukanovic are in power and control. Overcoming their resistance is a big challenge for the coalition. If, of course, they can form an acting government.