CUPRINS nr. 129-130


Politică externă

Montenegro, one year and one Constitution later


A success story takes shape in the western Balkans passing almost unnoticed amidst the present Kosovo rumble. The article seeks to uncover whether there is anything to learn from Montenegro’s velvet divorce and its ability to invalidate the pessimistic scenario that state dissolution is the certain recipe for violence in this part of the world.

Keywords: Constitution, Slobodan Milosevic,
minority rights, collective rights


One year and a half has in fact passed since the tiny state on the Adriatic shore gained its independence and amidst the ongoing debates regarding the independence of the much-troubled Serbian province of Kosovo, a quick glance at the Montenegrin neighbours might shed some light as to the prospects a Balkan statelet faces nowadays after gaining independence.

The continuum that the Balkans represents actually resides in the continuum of the problems that plague this region: (national, ethnic) minority rights issues, religion, language, identity issues, social, legal and development issues and recently Euro-Atlantic integration issues. With problems being the same while the approach is different, a survey of how Montenegro tackled these issues after its independence is useful because Montenegro seems to be pushing on in the right way. To what extent can some of its policies –which may one day be referred to as the „Montenegrin model”- be exported to nearby Kosovo is the theme of a small comparative exercise that serves as conclusion to this article.

1. What makes a relationship special - Serbia

Montenegro’s history is inextricably linked with Serbian history, as from 1918 the two have been, one political form of organization or another, part of the same state. These South Slavs share religion, (grudgingly) language, on occasions the Serbian inat and, lately, the aspiration towards Euro—Atlantic integration.  Once seen as Serbia’s most steadfast ally, independent Montenegro has to appease nowadays almost one third of its population, the Serbs.

The opposition to the wording „Montenegrin identity” that emerged in the context of the discussion regarding independence resulted mostly from the widespread sin of identification between Serbs and Montenegrins. As true as it is that the two states have more than a lot in common, Montenegro has been a distinct, sovereign state until 1918. Montenegrins claim their forerunners to have arrived in the Balkans before the Serbs and, organised in the state of Duklja and later Zeta, arduously fought to maintain their independence from the Byzantines, the Serbs and subsequently the Turks. Dramatic episodes outline the complex as well as divisive relationship between the Serbs and the Montenegrins, as well among the Montenegrins themselves, since the population was deeply divided on whether to commit to the union with Serbia or not: after allying with Serbia in 1914, during the 1915-1916 retreat of what was left of the Serbian army through the fields of Kosovo Polje and then the mountains in Albania in a struggle to reach Corfu, it was the Montenegrin troops1 who secured their passage. As a thank-you note, guided by Nikola Pašić’s ideal of Serbian supremacy, and opposed by King Nikola of Montenegro, Serbia virtually annexed Montenegro in 1918, a move that generated discontent in Montenegro (causing an uprising in 1919) since it put an end to the state’s monarchical aspirations and made way for a Serbian-dominated first Yugoslavia.

In the Balkan war which ended in 1995, Montenegro sided with Serbia as Montenegrin troops carried out attacks on Dubrovnik, in Croatia and several towns in Bosnia. In the fall of 1991, Montenegrin JNA troops were the forefront of the siege of Dubrovnik, „the worst public relations disaster for the Serbs during the entire war with Croatia”2. In the Kosovo war of 1999 though, the situation was different: Montenegro had taken the first steps towards independence, guided by a man who ruled on its political destiny for more than 15 years.

Even though the „democratic spirit” embodied by Milo Đjukanović3 was deemed genuine in the West, his beginnings as politician relate to the League of Communists in Montenegro and to his close relationship with Milošević: „Đjukanović’s success did not result from a clash between demonstrating citizens and a powerful regime, but rather from an internal factional split between pro-Serb hardliners and locally oriented reformers within Montenegro’s ruling power structure, or an elite-level schism that was reminiscent of the meltdown in many other communist regimes in Eastern Europe during 1989.”4  On the background of the economic sanctions imposed on Yugoslavia starting with 1991, Đjukanović allegedly put to good use Montenegro’s geostrategic position by engaging in smuggling operations with the Italian neighbours overseas. Đjukanović’s connection with these activities was never proven in court and, while his cabinet made sure that salaries and retirement benefits arrived in Montenegrins’ pockets on time, Đjukanović built up support for himself and his ambitious goal of independence by ensuring civil rights for the Muslim and Albanian minorities. While this can be qualified as boldly exotic given the overall Balkan circumstances at that time, a healthy dose of precaution and political shrewdness can describe the moves on the Montenegrin political stage after Milo Đjukanović was first elected prime minister in 1991; even though the government in Podgorica proves increasingly critical of the Milošević regime after the removal from office of opposition leader Dobrica Ćośic in 1993, no outright or sudden moves in the direction of independence were made, especially so as not to provoke a violent response on behalf of the JNA. Also, Đjukanović was careful so as not to do anything that could have been qualified as anti-Serbian. Instead, the separation came gradually, with Đjukanović managing to take control of functions previously exerted at the federal level, but with the most visible results in the field of economic relations. As early as 1999, Serbia and Montenegro find themselves separated from the economic point of view (with a „trade war” going on with Serbia and the introduction of the Deutsche Mark as currency in Montenegro) so it does not come as a surprise that during the 1999 war in Kosovo the two states are no longer on the same side. Đjukanović had waited until Milošević’s power base eroded so that he could lash out against the regime in Belgrade and in 1999, Đjukanović refused to declare a state of emergency in Montenegro and to break diplomatic relations with several NATO countries.

Surprisingly for some, after Milošević’s demise in 2000, Montenegro fails to obtain support form the West for its independence aspirations, despite of benevolent attitude shown by the latter on account of Montenegro’s stance during the war in Kosovo. The international community’s fear that Montenegro’s independence would trigger similar ambitions in the region and thus fuel instability, ultimately lead to a State Union of Serbia and Montenegro in 2003, a last orchestrated attempt at preventing future state dissolution in the Balkans. In May 2006 though, Serbia receives two consecutive blows in the form of the suspension of talks between the EU and the government in Belgrade on account of the latter’s poor cooperation with the ICTY and Montenegro’s official divorce out of the state union.

2. Politics-international and domestic

Montenegro is now a member of the UN, the IMF and the World Bank and signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union in October 2007. It is also a member of the Partnership for Peace and regards joining NATO as a foreign policy goal in order to soothe its security concerns, while expecting a „positive signal” as regards the alliance membership in April 20085.

Despite the initial unrest in the international community (more like Europe in this particular case), Montenegro’s independence did not spark any new similar ambitions in the countries that encompass minorities with separatist aspirations. The ones that paid the closest attention were neighbouring Serbs in Bosnia’s Republika Srpska, an entity that since the Dayton Accord is seemingly looking for a legal loophole to return to mother Serbia, and even though initially enthusiasm stroke in the camp of, for instance, Transdniester and Abkhazia, no concrete solution was given to their respective statuses following in the „Montenegrin precedent”.

International verging on domestic, Montenegro’s policy regarding Serbia will continue to be of a special nature since almost 30% of Montenegro’s population is Serbian. Montenegro’s divorce of Serbia within the framework of the State Union left all the international commitments to the latter; Serbia inherited UN, WTO, IMF and Council of Europe membership but also all the duties stipulated in the UNSC Resolution 1244 regarding Kosovo. To put it in a nutshell, Montenegro washed its hands of the complicated issue, accusing Belgrade of hijacking its rightful course for too long.

Milo Đjukanović is today no longer in power; at least officially, that is. The man that put Montenegro on the path of independence stepped down once this act was completed, after 16 years of holding either a prime minister or a president position, amidst persistent rumours about his connections with the black market. Nevertheless, the current ruling coalition is made up of Milo Đjukanović’s party, the Democratic Party of Socialists and the smaller Social Democratic Party.

The Serb List is an alliance made up of a series of parties that stand for the rights of the Serbs in Montenegro, such as the Serb People’s Party and the Serbian Radical Party. Its members advocate for closer ties with Serbia and this translated in opposition towards two of the main changes envisaged in the constitutional draft: a Montenegrin language and a Montenegrin Orthodox Church. The Albanian minority, represented by the Democratic Union of the Albanians and the Albanian Alternative, although quite vocal on the Montenegrin political scene especially as regards the issue of Albanian minority’s rights, refrained from voting on the Constitution. In autumn 2007, the wild card on the Montenegrin political scene was the Movement for Changes, a party that originated in a non-governmental organization opposing Đjukanović’s Democratic Party of Socialists. It supported some of the Serb People’s Party initiatives but it voted for the new Constitution in October 2007, thus supporting the ruling coalition.

All parties subscribe in various degrees to the goal of Euro-Atlantic integration and the lack of an extremist party on the Montenegrin political stage, both in the period prior to the independence and at present, contributed significantly to the degree of political stability achieved.

Two major issues troubled Montenegrin political life in the second part of 2007: the adoption of a new Constitution and the controversial privatisations of strategic sectors of the tiny state.

3. Balkan issues in a Constitution for Montenegro –minority rights, language, religion

The new Constitution of Montenegro, adopted in October 2007, provides that Montenegro is a „an independent and sovereign state, […] civil, democratic, ecological […] based on the rule of law”6. Together with a ban on assimilation practices, rights and liberties are guaranteed for persons belonging to minority nations, out of which „the right, in the areas with significant share in the total population, to have the local self-government authorities”7, while „the official language in Montenegro shall be Montenegrin […]. Serbian, Bosniac, Albanian and Croatian shall also be in official use.”8

The debate surrounding the issue of minority rights should have been one referring mainly to the legal aspects of the future Constitution (conformity with the international instruments in the field) but since passing the Constitution required winning hearts, minds and votes, politics stepped in. Montenegro is a civic state without an ethnic majority which also makes obvious the lack of ethnic minorities. Yet without a doubt, minorities played a key part in Montenegro’s independence referendum, since the latter was won with the aid of the votes cast by adherents and members of the Albanian and Bosniak parties, representing to a large extent the Albanian and Bosniak minorities in Montenegro.

From the moment in which Đjukanović began opposing Milošević’s policies in the 1990s, the minorities were presented with an alternative, alternative that most supported wholeheartedly since it gave them the opportunity of advancing their own political agendas. The independence equation was solved following simple political arithmetic: „In an independent Montenegro we [Bosniaks] will account for 15 per cent, but in the union of Serbia and Montenegro [without Kosovo] not more than 2 per cent”9. In other words, in the context of the independence referendum, the minority political representatives tried to obtain as much as possible in exchange of their votes. This „as much as possible” translated in the will to be directly represented in the future Montenegrin Parliament. The coalition for independence (DPS and SDP) responded by offering guaranteed seats for minorities according to the following algorithm: minorities representing 1 to 5% of the population - one seat, any minority accounting for more than 5% of the population – two seats.10 The deal struck before the referendum was short-lived: the law implementing it passed in the Parliament prior to the referendum but was rejected by the Constitutional Court after the validation of the independence referendum results.

Frustration struck the camp of the minorities and the most vocal in expressing it were the Albanians in the context of the debates surrounding the draft for the new Constitution in May 2007. Sensitive concepts such as „collective rights”, „regional devolution”11 together with the desire to use Albanian language in the area near the border with Kosovo and Albania where Albanians represent a majority, only succeeded in raising suspicions regarding Albanian’s real intention of uniting with Albania. Also, these are concepts that do not fit the „civic state” mould to which Montenegro aspires. Nevertheless, Albanians received some international recognition as to the legitimacy of one of their demands, namely the clear stipulation of minority rights in the future Constitution, on behalf of the Venice Commission12.

Bearing in mind the simple political calculus – the Constitution passes if it is voted by a two-thirds majority in the Parliament – votes coming from parties who represent minorities were, again, crucial.

The issue of citizenship also raised debates in the period before the adoption of the Constitution. Amid the discussions over the issue, what really sparked debate was Serbia’s move to amend its law on citizenship in September 2007. According to the amendments, the date of June 3, 2006 (the day of official Montenegro independence) is the point of reference: Montenegrin citizens registered as residents in Serbia at that point will be considered Serbian13. This law, corroborated with the Montenegrin legal provisions on citizenship (stating that Montenegro does not accept dual citizenship) basically amounts to a very difficult choice for the Montenegrin Serbs, who are bond to make a commitment to either Serbia or Montenegro as their home country. The new Constitution states that: „Those that got another citizenship after that date, can keep Montenegrin citizenship until signing of the bilateral agreement with a country of their citizenship, but not longer than a year after adoption of the new Montenegro Constitution”14. What stands here as fairly obvious but nevertheless striking is that until June 3, 2006, everyone was a citizen of Serbia-Montenegro and thus people could have opted for either Serbian or Montenegrin citizenship only after that date. Bearing in mind that a bilateral agreement on the citizenship issue is quite unlikely to be signed in the near future, the representatives of the Serbian political parties in Montenegro claim that they have been discriminated by the authorities inasmuch as the Albanians and the Croats get to keep the citizenship they had prior to the independence because they helped the referendum pass15.

Whether the people of Montenegro speak „Montenegrin” or „Serbian” is in the eye, or should one say ear, of the beholder. The minor language differences are inflated out of proportions in political rhetoric. At one point, a compromise solution was to call it „Montenegrin-Serbian” but it seems that in a twisted sense of agreement, this was the only variant that both the Serbs and the Montenegrin nationalists agreed was unacceptable. The Serb List representatives took out the numbers from the 2003 census in which 64% of Montenegro’s citizens declared they speak Serbian in order to prove the justness of their cause.16

Another point on which the Montenegrin Serbs seems to have lost in the new Constitution regards the express mentioning of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The re-emergence of a Montenegrin Orthodox Church in 1990 added to the movement for independence and, in consequence, attracted the interest of the political parties, some of them like the Liberal Alliance strongly advocating the importance of a separate church for the new state.

The row over the Serbian vs. Montenegrin Orthodox Church was also amplified by the Montenegrin authorities’ unwillingness to back down and offer a free passage to Serbian Bishop Filaret on several occasions. The move is actually part of the Montenegrin state’s attempt at reconciling with its past and displaying goodwill towards the ICTY: Bishop Filaret is under the suspicion of having provided assistance to war crimes fugitives17.

4. „Wild beauty” is a fountain of money

He who visits Montenegro cannot help to be swept away by its natural beauty. It is precisely on this impression the country makes on its visitors that the Montenegrins bet their money on. And money starts to flow right back into their pockets as the number of foreign tourists is on the rise. Apparently Montenegro’s GDP rose by 6,5% in 200618 while the estimates for the period between 2006 and 2015 show an increase in the travel and tourism market of 9,9%19, a rate of growth faster than any other in the world. In areas such as the Bay of Kotor, real estate prices have long ago surpassed the possibilities of the average Montenegrin, while authorities have correctly identified their target as upper class members looking for quality services in exquisite resorts or for tasteful summer residences.

Tourism is Montenegro’s main card to play but things are far from perfect: water shortages, fairly dubious infrastructure, resorts still carrying the scent of past Communist times as well as random and often illegal constructions have to become the number one target of government development policies.

Working side by side with corruption, organised crime and smuggling activities seem to pose a real threat to the economic sector bearing in mind Montenegro’s European aspirations. Drug trafficking is identified as a serious concern alongside the organised crime20 .

As part of the post-independence economic processes, privatisation of strategic sectors has been at the heart of numerous political debates. Problems started to emerge when it became apparent that assets were centralising in the hands of a few, might as well refer to them as oligarchs since one of these few is the Russian aluminium tycoon Oleg Deripaska. The latter’s attempt at purchasing the thermal plant and coalmine in Pljevlja almost generated a political crisis as the acquisition would have placed Deripaska in control of about 40% of Montenegro’s economy21. Just like Deripaska, several other Russian businessmen help give Montenegro the nickname „Moscow-on-Sea”22 with the support of powerful Milo Đjukanović and the coalition in power. Obviously, the greatest fear is that, domestically, this economic power will eventually fringe on political power while, internationally, it will provide Russia with a bridgehead in the region.

5. Lessons for Kosovo

In the light of the above presented, the legitimate question is whether Montenegro is the exception that enforces the rule or can the model of its independence and subsequent transformations be exported to Kosovo? If Montenegro is indeed an exception, what can be learnt from its experience?

Montenegro shares with Kosovo the burden of a past in unity with Serbia and the dangers of an ethnically mixed population. But the differences between the two are substantial.

All along the duration of its marriage with Serbia, Montenegro had the status of „republic”, therefore one of juridical equality with Serbia from the constitutional point of view. It was never merely a province, as Kosovo was (Kosovo can be considered a de jure republic for a brief period, from 1974 to 1989) and thus it can fairly be assumed that Montenegro benefits from an institutional culture, from the patterns of decentralization it needs in order to become a success story.

Montenegro has had the advantage not to be marked by any major ethnic divisions as the largest ethnic groups, Montenegrins and Serbs, share so much in terms of history, language and religion. Paradoxically, this might be the very reason why Montenegrin identity is not that well defined yet. This much more balanced composition of the population allowed for post-independence policies in Montenegro to target mainly the pragmatic aspects of economic development and European integration rather than the appeasement of the various ethnic groups’ ambitions. Also, this sort of composition of the population in which there is no majority people is regarded as one of the determinants of the current stability.23 In Kosovo, the very ethnic divide is the issue, a fact that makes compromise so difficult to achieve.

Politically, Montenegro’s road to independence and most of its ulterior transformations spell the name of one key figure: Milo Đjukanović. In neighbouring Kosovo, the same goal of independence is pursued by politicians such as Agim Çeku and Hashim Thaçi, figures of a completely different background and modus operandi, whose pragmatism in devising a long-term plan for Kosovo beyond independence is debatable.

Saving the most visible for last, taking a stroll in Montenegro is hardly similar to visiting Kosovo. The two do not benefit from the same geographical premises and since Montenegro uses tourism as its economy engine, the chances that Kosovo might be able to follow in this path are dim. Montenegro’s economy was not revived only by means of foreign aid, mainly from the EU. A crucial component was, and still is, private foreign investment. This incoming flow of private capital, although not without peril if we are to consider Russia, represented for Montenegro the essence of economic development. Would this be a likely scenario for Kosovo after gaining independence or the scenario of dependence of foreign aid be more likely the case?

While all aspects of the above comparison point to the fact that Montenegro’s model cannot be applied to neighbouring Kosovo, Montenegro’s success story seems so far to show that historic and ethnic resentment are not unsurpassable and good economic premises can only be a positive influence in the process.


Books and articles:
Cohen, Lenard J.(2001), Serpent in the Bosom. The Rise and Fall of Slobodan Milošević, Colorado: Westview Press.
Judah, Tim (1997), The Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia, Second Edition, Yale University Press.
Harden, Blaine (1999), „Playing Chicken with Milosevic”, 25 April, available at
Hockenos, Paul, Winerhaen, Jenni (2007), „A Balkan Divorce that Works? Montenegro’s Hopeful First Year”, World Policy Journal, Summer, Vol. 24, No 2, p. 39-44.
Lombardo, Francesca (2007), „Small country, big future”, Financial Times, November 17,  available at

News articles:
Adrovic, Samir (2007), „Montenegro Rebuffs Albanian Demands”, 15 June, available at  
B 92, „Filaret case: Montenegro will prevent road blocks”, September 1st , available at 
B 92, „Montenegro moving towards NATO membership”, 26 December 2007, available at
MaleŠ, M.(2007), „A year to choose Montenegrin or Serbian passport”, 24. October, available at
McLaughlin, Daniel (2007), „Oligarch finds a place in the sun in Moscow-on-Sea”, Irish Times, 25 July 2007, available at
Rudovic, Nedjeljko (2007), „Montenegro Politicians seek Constitutional Consensus”, 16 August, available at Politicians Seek Constitutional Consensus.pdf
Sadikovic, Sead (2006), „Minorities flex their political muscles”, 10 April, available at 
Softic, Tufik (2007), „Minorities Cry Foul Over Promise of Guaranteed Seats”, 18 May, available at  
„Montenegro Abandons Energy Sale to Russian Businessman”, 12 June 2007, available at
„Montenegro 2007 Progress Report accompanying the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council”, Commission of the European Communities, Brussels, 6 November 2007, available at
„Montenegro Reacts to Serb Citizenship Law”, 25 September.2007, available at

Official documents:
Interim Opinion on the Draft Constitution of Montenegro adopted by the Venice Commission at its 71st Plenary Session, Venice, 1-2 June 2007, available at
The Constitution of the Republic of Montenegro, October 2007, available at


1  As the saying goes, „Serbs will fight until the last Montenegrin dies”, in Blaine Harden, „Playing Chicken with Milošević”, 25 April 1999, The New York Times, available at Topics/People/G/Gelbard, Robert S.
2  Tim Judah (1997), The Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia, Second Edition, Yale University Press, p. 182
3  Journalist Blaine Harden of the New York Times had an interview with Milo Đjukanović in 1999 and noted the following: „I noticed a stark difference between him and other Balkan leaders I have interviewed in the past 10 years. Unlike Alija Izetbegovic in Bosnia or Tudjman in Croatia or Milosevic in Serbia, he answered questions directly, without taking off on insufferably self-serving rants about how his people have been wronged and misunderstood for centuries.” (Blaine Harden (1999), „Playing Chicken with Milosevic”, 25 April, /accesat 06.02.2008.
4  Lenard J. Cohen (2001(, Serpent in the Bosom. The Rise and Fall of Slobodan Milošević, Colorado: Westview Press, p. 219.
5  B 92, „Montenegro moving towards NATO membership”, 26 December 2007, available at /accesat 06.02.2008
6  The Constitution of the Republic of Montenegro, October 2007, Article 1, /accesat 06.02.2008
7  The Constitution of the Republic of Montenegro, Article 79, /accesat 06.02.2008
8  The Constitution of the Republic of Montenegro, October 2007, Article 13 /accesat 06.02.2008éé8702679c8b42794267c691488.htm /accesat 06.02.2008
9  Opinion of Rifat Veskovic, president of the Democratioc Union of Muslims-Bosniaks, in Sead Sadikovic, „Minorities flex their political muscles”, 10 April 2006, /accesat 06.02.2008
10  Tufik Softic, „Minorities Cry Foul Over Promise of Guaranteed Seats”, 18 May 2007, available at /accesat 06.02.2008 
11  Samir Adrovic, „Montenegro Rebuffs Albanian Demands”, 15 June 2007, available at /accesat 06.02.2008
12  Interim Opinion on the Draft Constitution of Montenegro adopted by the Venice Commission at its 71st Plenary Session, Venice, 1-2 June 2007, III. Part One, „Principal Provisions” provides the following as regards Article 7: „Whether or not to list the specific minority rights is, in principle, a choice which belongs to the Montenegrin parliament. Both options are possible, but if the rights are not listed the constitution must contain an explicit reference to the relevant (constitutional?) law: such reference should therefore be added in Article 7”, / accessed 06.02.2008
13  „Montenegro Reacts to Serb Citizenship Law”, 25 September 2007, /accesat 06.02.2008
14  M. Maleš, „A year to choose Montenegrin or Serbian passport”, 24 October 2007, / accessed 06.02.2008
16  Nedjeljko Rudovic, „Montenegro Politicians seek Constitutional Consensus”, 16 August 2007, Politicians Seek Constitutional Consensus.pdf / accessed 06.02.2008
17  B 92, „Filaret case: Montenegro will prevent road blocks”, September 1st 2007, / accessed 06.02.2008
18  „Montenegro 2007 Progress Report accompanying the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council”, Commission of the European Communities, Brussels, 6 November 2007, p.18, / accessed 06.02.2008
19  Francesca Lombardo, „Small country, big future”, Financial Times, 17 November 2007, / accessed 06.02.2008
20  „Montenegro 2007 Progress Report accompanying the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council”, Commission of the European Communities, Brussels, 6 November 2007,  p. 43, / accessed 06.02.2008
21  „Montenegro Abandons Energy Sale to Russian Businessman”, 12 June 2007, / accessed 06.02.2008
22  Daniel McClaughlin, „Oligarch finds a place in the sun in Moscow-on-Sea”, Irish Times, 25 July 2007, / accessed 06.02.2008
23  Paul Hockeros, Jenni Winterhaen (2007), „A Balkan Divorce that Works? Montenegro’s Hopeful First Year”, World Policy Journal, Summer, Vol. 24, No 2, p. 39

IULIA SERAFIMESCU - Masterat în Relaţii Internaţionale (2007, Universitatea Bucureşti), licenţiat în Ştiinţe Politice (2005, Universitatea Bucureşti).




Sfera Politicii