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Montenegro’s Opposition Turns Out To Also Be Pro-West, But What About The Church?

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Montenegro's Opposition Turns Out To Also Be Pro-West, But What About The Church?

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In Montenegro, the opposition claimed victory against the 30-year-long “rule” by the country’s dominant Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS).

Opposition leader Zdravko Krivokapic who is to likely fill the role of the country’s next Prime Minister turned to quoting the Old Testament and King Solomon in his vows of the future.

As Jerusalem burned, Krivokapic says, its citizens passed buckets of water along a line to extinguish the flames. Solomon even saw an ant carrying a tiny drop of water on its back.

“This is my vision for Montenegro,” said Krivokapic. “We will all contribute to create the new Montenegro that we all wish for.”

And despite initial promises to turn to a more pro-Serbian and pro-Russian direction, Krivokapic actually said that pro-EU path is unquestionable.

President Milo Djukanovic and his DPS have positioned themselves as pro-West and pro-EU and have dubbed the opposition as pro-Belgrade and pro-Moscow. That appears not to be the case.

And Krivokapic appears to not have entered politics due to Serbia or Russia, but rather because in 2019, a law was passed that forced the Serbian Orthodox Church to prove ownership of its vast landholdings in Montenegro.

The law has been interpreted by the church and its believers as an attack on religious freedom and led to mass street protests throughout 2020.

Far more than Europe or NATO, the legislation was the most significant issue during the election on August 30th 2020 and is widely considered to have been responsible for the DPS parliamentary defeat.

“This was a discriminatory law […]. More than 120,000 people peacefully protested week after week against [it]. We are going to work on changing the law to make it fair,” said Krivokapic.

He described himself as “a religious man”, Krivokapic said that he understood the need for the church to be governed by law and regulation, but criticised the previous government for not consulting the Serbian Orthodox Church prior to tabling and passing it in 2019.

Krivokapic said that with him as prime minister all stakeholders would be taken into account.

But the pro-EU and pro-NATO direction were unquestionable.

Not only will the government continue to pursue Montenegro’s joining the European Union, says Krivokapic, but they will pursue it faster and harder than the DPS have so far.

The new government will reportedly focus even harder on countering corruption and organized crime, in order to join the EU even quicker.

On September 9th, the three main opposition blocs also committed to “strengthen[ing] and enhanc[ing]” Montenegro’s relationship with NATO.

“This information that we are pro-Serbian or pro-Russian or that we will stop negotiations. That we are anti-NATO. It is not true, and we will prove that very soon. We are committed to all our obligations and everything that we have signed in the agreement with NATO,” he said.

“The pro-West, pro-EU orientation of the new government will be very clearly defined. There will be no doubt about it. Our pro-Western orientation is unquestionable.”

Krivokapic said that the government will engage with the thousands of Montenegrins who do not want the country to join Europe, with the most recent polling putting support for EU membership at 55%, down from 67% just two years ago.

“This share of people who do not believe in EU integration reflects [the failure] of the party that was in power […] to show the benefits [of] accession to the EU. […] Our people here […] did not get enough information, true information, about the benefits of EU integration,” he said.

“I can tell you as an engineer, the technical regulations, the harmonisation of standards: If there was nothing else but that we would still benefit strongly.”

When it comes to Russia’s influence in Montenegro, Krivokapic said that he thought it was given too much attention and was “overemphasized.”

“And it was Milo Djukanovic who did that. Ask yourself who actually ushered in Russian investors and businesses and tycoons to Montenegro, it was MIlo Djukanovich. But now it suits him to talk about Russian influence in Montenegro,” he said.

“I haven’t been in contact with any Russian officials so far – I cannot say about any members of my coalition – but I can say that it is a big power, a great power, and as every great power it has its interests. But what I can say is that our main interest is the country of Montenegro, which is very clear in our orientation is western. We will not give this up.”

So it would appear that either the opposition presented itself as less pro-West initially, and then turned back, or it was misrepresented in a propaganda row by the Montenegrin government.

Either way, it appears that little is to change in the direction of development of Montenegro, however it appears that there might be good news for the Orthodox Church in the country.

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