- - Thursday, September 24, 2020

Political power has never changed hands at the ballot box in Montenegro, a country at the heart of Europe until now.

The new, democratic government will address religious and ethnic divisions, and accelerate the country’s westward course.

This week, the people of Montenegro bore witness to a miracle: the defeat, after 30 unbroken years in office of a corrupt, vote-rigging, Christian- persecuting and minority-baiting government.

In its place a new, democratic coalition is elected, built by and with the intent to heal across religious and ethnic communities, and to construct a country where we can celebrate difference as much as we do our common, Montenegrin identity.

For three decades, the international community gave the president and his communist-turned-democratic socialist party the benefit of the doubt. Montenegro joined NATO, opened accession talks with the EU, and the world’s jet-set brought much-needed investment and development along our breath-taking coast.



But inland, people were suffocating. Perhaps, because our country of some 600,000 citizens is so small and because it has been well-disguised by the president and his family — the international community did only occasionally react to their clientelism, their undermining of the rule of law and rights, and their construction of a one-party state. It took 29 years before Montenegro was downgraded from “new democracy” to “hybrid-authoritarian regime” a fact of life that was already obvious to every Montenegrin, decades before.

In our task that lies ahead, we call on the international community both for understanding and support. Power in our country has never before changed hands through the ballot box. In our new “Montenegrin Spring,” we ask you to set aside much of what you have been told, falsely, about the incoming parties — and to base your approach not on the words of politicians who are now of the past, but on actions by our new government in office.

Much of Montenegro’s outward appearance is a veneer, carefully constructed by the outgoing regime to give the impression of westward progress — in order to deflect attention away from state control and the lack of advancement for the majority of the country within. They have for decades claimed the mantle of a pro-Western party, while branding all and every member of our incoming government coalition as the very opposite.

Last week, we moved decisively to end their erroneous claims. Signing a three-way agreement, we guaranteed not only to maintain Montenegro’s commitment to NATO membership but to deepen our place in the alliance; and we pledged to accelerate reforms that can take our country into the European Union.

We now move, swiftly, to address internal divisions caused by the last government’s smash-and-grab attempt to steal property of the 800-year old Orthodox Church and to which the majority of our citizens adhere and to ensure justice is delivered for Montenegrin Muslim victims of state-sponsored violence in the north of the country before and immediately after the election.

The unconstitutional state law that attempted to legitimize religious property theft and Christian persecution rightly condemned by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom and by members of the British parliament- will be removed; and anyone found protected by the outgoing regime for pre- and post-election attacks on Muslim communities will face justice.

For those suffering from the economic effects of an economy based on tourism during a global health pandemic, the new government must institute financial support. The outgoing government did absolutely nothing except for claiming, perversely and disgracefully, that Covid had in fact created a labor shortage. With months wasted, and tens of thousands of jobs lost, we will move to swiftly institute a financial package assisting families and small businesses first while we seek to repair relations with neighboring countries which are the source of a large percentage of holidaymakers each year.

Yet, there is much we can only finish to completion in partnership with the international community and in particular the United States, Great Britain and the European Union. The complex task of investigating decades of economic plundering and offshore bank accounts holding the profits of state asset stripping and questionable deal-making by the outgoing elite can only succeed with international support.

So, too, the rule of law and justice systems within Montenegro are weak after decades of clientelism. We must rebuild them, where necessary with international counsel and expertise, to ensure that the law as written is applied with judicial fairness in practice, and that political power is not an impediment to prosecution and crimes committed in public office.

There is so much to do. Our country did not as it is widely believed become a free, open and democratic society some 30 years ago, when everywhere else in Eastern and South Eastern Europe communism collapsed: It became a nation in deep-freeze, trapped under the same, sole ruling party — just with a new name and logo. Montenegro’s “Democracy Generation” are only now coming to office today.

The Montenegro the West has come to know is not the same country Montenegrin citizens have long experienced. It is time for the two to become one: for the outward, westward, open and inviting Montenegro to be the same for those who live there as those who come, each year, to grace our magical shores. It may have arrived at the beginning of autumn, but in Montenegro it is the spring.

• Zdravko Krivokapic is the leader of “For the Future of Montenegro” the largest of the three-way coalition party victors of the Montenegrin General Election. He is prime minister designate.

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