GEOPOLITICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF ELECTIONS IN MONTENEGRO

Rimland or “coastal zone” is the main point of collision of geopolitical forces. For the geopolitics of the Sea, the ability to deter the forces of the Land from their presence in the coastal zone of the Rimland is of primary importance. Since its founding in 1949, the NATO alliance has been systematically expanding and seeking to establish control over the sea areas in order to weaken the land, guided by the “anaconda” principle, which was formulated by the American admiral and classic of “maritime” geopolitics Alfred Mahan. Its essence is to block enemy territories from the sea and along coastlines, which provides strategic superiority over the enemy, leading him to gradual exhaustion.

Montenegro can be safely attributed to the Rimland because of its geographical significance. Montenegro, being one of the Balkan states, is located at the crossroads of energy transit routes to southeastern Europe and enjoys great strategic importance for the transport of trade goods through two large seaports: Bar and Kotor.

Control of the Adriatic coast is part of NATO’s geostrategy, which is why the close relationship between Montenegro and NATO is of particular importance.

Thanks to Montenegro, Albania, Croatia and Slovenia, as well as Italy on the other side, NATO can fully control the waters of the Adriatic Sea, ensuring its strategic interests.

Accordingly, to ensure this control, a reliable support is needed in the form of a political leader, or at least stable political organizations aimed at closer integration with the Atlanticists, for whom the Balkans are the “heart of Europe”. Thus, the current presidential elections in Montenegro will largely determine the vectors of political interaction with the Atlanticists and Russia, together with its allies from Serbia.

Political landscape of Montenegro

One of the stages in the formation of Montenegro as a separate state was the general aggravation of the political situation in the Balkan region in connection with the collapse of the SFRY. The emergence of nationalist tendencies, in turn, gave rise to many ethnic contradictions, largely supported artificially. Therefore, the geopolitical situation in the Balkans, weakened by the war, was developing in favor of the Atlanticist forces, which were gradually mastering the region in the military-political dimension. The current geopolitical picture in the Balkans also influenced the policy of Montenegro, which, after the collapse of the SFRY, remained in close cooperation with Serbia within the framework of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro or “Little Yugoslavia”.

The year 1999 was tragic for Serbia and the Serbian people because of the NATO bombings, which had humanitarian consequences. These consequences also affected Montenegro, which, like Serbia, experienced the negative impact of economic sanctions imposed by the “world community”.

After 1999, the political situation in Montenegro itself, as well as relations with neighboring Serbia and with the federal center, gradually deteriorated. This was largely due to the change in the political leadership of the republic and the election in October 1997 of a new president, the young politician Milo Djukanovic, who served as Prime Minister of Montenegro under the previous president Momir Bulatovich . [ Z. V. Klimenko Montenegrin independence: causes and consequences] Milo Djukanovic came to power on a wave of public dissatisfaction with the depressing humanitarian situation after the collapse of Yugoslavia. Then his party (Democratic Party of Socialists) took the leading position in the Montenegrin parliament. The further political course of Djukanovic was the systematic liberalization of the economy and cooperation with the European Union, which allocated large financial assistance to Montenegro in order to attract it into its political orbit.

Montenegro, on the initiative of Djukanovic, gained independence from Serbia in 2006, after a referendum. Since then, the country has faced a number of internal political problems and challenges that are typical for many Balkan states that emerged after the collapse of Yugoslavia and NATO activity in the region.

Deteriorating relations with Serbia and increasing integration into Western structures have become Montenegro’s foreign policy trends for many years. One of the turning points that changed the geopolitics of the Balkan region was the entry of Montenegro into the North Atlantic Alliance in 2017.

One of the most important political topics in the country is the question of attitudes towards Russia and the West. Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic is establishing close relations with the EU and NATO, but within the country there are broad political groups that maintain closer relations with Russia, in particular the Serb Peace supporters, who aim at the sovereign policy of the Balkan states and the joint defense of their identity together with Montenegrins.

Domestic politics are also linked to the problems of corruption and organized crime, which remain a serious problem in the country. In recent years, the government has taken steps to fight corruption, including through the establishment of an independent anti-corruption commission. Crime remains one of the most important problems in Montenegro, which also extends to neighboring Serbia.

Montenegrin organized crime groups mainly specialize in drug smuggling, tobacco smuggling, arms trafficking and contract killings, which destabilizes the social and political situation in the Balkans.

Another important issue is the situation of minorities in Montenegro, including Albanians, Bosniaks and Roma. The debate continues in the country on how to improve their situation and protect their rights. This question is also raised in the current presidential elections: do the inhabitants of the country feel their belonging to the Montenegrin or Serbian nation?

In general, the domestic politics of Montenegro remains dynamic and full of challenges. However, the country’s government continues to work in line with European integration and the strengthening of Montenegrin nationalism, despite the “Serbian influence” in the country.

Serbian factor in Montenegrin politics

The Serbian factor is of great importance for Montenegro. This is primarily due to the close cultural and historical ties between these countries, as well as the fact that a significant part of the population of Montenegro (about 30%) is of Serbian origin.

Before the emergence of the Yugoslav Republic, there were practically no differences between Serbs and Montenegrins, since both peoples were united by the Serbian Orthodox Church, of which they were parishioners. The further creation of republics and national identities influenced relations between Serbs and Montenegrins. Nevertheless, the political life of both Serbia and Montenegro proceeded in the same direction. After the collapse of the SFRY in 1992–2006, Montenegro was part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (until 2003) and the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro (until 2006).

However, the situation is actually more complicated. Despite the fact that Serbia has influence on the political situation in Montenegro, it has not been able to achieve significant influence on the political decisions of this country because of Montenegrin nationalist groups loyal to the West, who deny the cultural and historical closeness of Serbs and Montenegrins. However, the government of Prime Minister Dritan Abazovich managed to sign a basic agreement with the Serbian Church, recognizing the exclusive status of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the country. The reaction of influential political groups in the country was immediate, as President Djukanovic repeatedly accused the Serbian Orthodox Church of a “religious monopoly” in the country and stated that he would seek autocephaly for the “Montenegrin church”. The result of Abazovich’s actions wasthe passing by the parliament of a vote of no confidence in the government headed by the prime minister, which indicates the strong positions of Montenegrin nationalists in parliament.

In addition, there are many confrontations between the Montenegrin government and Serbia, including territorial disputes and disagreements over issues of national identity.

Also, one of the main competitors of the incumbent president is the leader of the Democratic Front, which is considered pro-Serbian and pro-Russian, Andrija Mandic. In recent years, the Front has strongly advocated the withdrawal of Montenegro’s recognition of Kosovo, the lifting of sanctions against the Russian Federation and the withdrawal from NATO, however, Mandic’s current statements are of a “neutral” nature. As a result, the position of Serbia in the political sphere of Montenegro is complex and ambiguous.

Thus, although the Serbian factor may have an impact on the political situation in Montenegro, its role cannot be underestimated.

Current presidential elections

On March 19, polling stations opened in Montenegro to elect the President of the Republic. In total, the electoral committee approved seven candidates, including the current president and leader of the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) Milo Djukanovic. Djukanovic’s other candidates and main political rivals include the Europe Now supporter, former Economic Development Minister Jakov Milatovic, and the current president’s longtime opponent Andrija Mandic of the Democratic Front (DF).

Yakov Milatovich is a young Montenegrin politician who previously held the post of Minister of Economy of the country. Milatovich received his education and professional skills in the West: in the USA, Austria, Italy and Great Britain. The presidential candidate defended his master’s thesis in economics at Oxford. Milatovic began his professional career as a bank clerk at NLB Bank and later at Deutsche Bank. In 2014, he joined the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, initially responsible for economic analysis of the situation in the South-Eastern Europe region and then in the Western Balkans.

Yakov Milatovic, together with his colleague, Finance Minister Milojko Spajic, leads the Europe Now movement , which was originally an economic populist project, the goal of which was declared to be “improving the well-being of citizens” through European integration. “ I believe in the European value system. I am sure that the full membership of Montenegro in the EU is the best way to a fairer and richer Montenegro ,” Yakov Milatovich said in an interview.

In turn, Djukanovic, being the favorite of the presidential race, speaks using the message “Stop the agony of Montenegro”, and the main slogan is “Who else but Milo”.

Djukanovic, who is positioned as a pro-European politician, now looks like a problem on the way of Montenegro’s integration into the European Union, and, apparently, Western politicians in the current elections are pinning their hopes on a young candidate who will help strengthen European integration and carry out reforms beneficial to the European Union and Washington.

After processing 90% of the ballots, the head of the Socialists, Milo Djukanovic, is in the lead in the presidential elections held in Montenegro – he received 35.4% of the vote. In second place was Yakov Milatovich, for whom 29.2% of voters cast their votes. Candidate Andrija Mandić received 17.4%. Curiously, after that, Mandic called on the voters who supported him to vote for Milatovic in the second round, retreating from his characteristic positions directed against the influence of the West in Montenegro.

Thus, the presidential candidate from the “Democratic Party of Socialists” of Montenegro, Milo Djukanovic, and the candidate from the “Europe Now” movement, Jakov Milatovic, entered the second round of the presidential elections in Montenegro, which will be held on April 2. The presidential elections in Montenegro will have a significant impact on future parliamentary elections, but the current pro-Western geopolitical orientation of the country tends to persist in the future.

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