MONTENEGRIN-SERBIAN RELATIONS COMPLEX, DIFFERENCES EXPRESSED, AND THE POTENTIAL FOR CRISIS CONTINUOUS
“The relationships between Montenegro are sensitive and complex, and they should be approached realistically with full awareness of what they draw from history, as well as what shapes them through current decision-makers, as well as through the prism of evident attempts to provoke a crisis by the authorities in Belgrade. These were some of the highlights from yesterday’s Plenum on Montenegrin-Serbian relations, organized by the Center for Civic Education (CGO) and the Regional Academy for Democratic Development (ADD) with the support of the Swiss Embassy. The Plenum was opened by Daliborka Uljarević, the executive director of CGO, and Balša Božović, the director of ADD, by presenting the key findings of the public opinion research on the relations between Montenegro and Serbia through a comparative analysis. It is worth noting that earlier, individual research findings were presented separately in Montenegro and Serbia.
“Differences in the positions and interests of political actors, as well as among a significant portion of the citizens in Serbia and Montenegro, are serious and enduring, but they should neither be underestimated nor overestimated. Much depends on how things will continue to develop and what political course Serbia will take in respecting the international agreements it has signed. In this traumatically charged foreign policy context, with various selected foreign policy destinations, these differences could potentially become conflictual,” stated Dr. Zoran Stojiljković, a professor at the Faculty of Political Sciences at the University of Belgrade, in his commentary. He emphasized the significant importance of the research for the academic community and decision-makers.
Historian and president of the HIPMONT association, Miloš Vukanović, highlighted the number of undecided respondents on questions related to defining a value framework, such as attitudes towards the partisan and Chetnik movements, and the importance of the education system along with its deficiencies. Vukanović explained that the long-standing narrative of the endangerment of Serbs in Montenegro is inaccurate. He said, “A certain number of people were indeed endangered and discriminated against by the DPS regime, but this was due to their political, not national, affiliation.” He concluded by noting the significance of data that shows a considerable percentage of those who support the aggressor, as this represents a problem, in reference to the respondents’ attitudes toward the Russo-Ukrainian war.
Aleksandar Sekulović, vice president of Antifascist Serbia, had three key impressions. He said, “The first impression is that it is very well done, current, and can be extremely beneficial to decision-makers in both countries. The second impression shows that Serbia and Montenegro are largely two different societies, both culturally and in terms of values. The third impression is that respondents in Serbia, in some cases, displayed a significant or noticeable level of insincerity, especially regarding the state-legal status, or independence of Montenegro, as well as the external influence of Serbia on events in Montenegro, where it seems they provided expected answers,” among other observations.
Slobodan Georgiev, the news director of TV NOVA S, believes that although the issue of Montenegro’s independence was resolved in Montenegro in 2006, it still lingers in Serbia. He mentioned that the radical interpretation of history in Belgrade fantasizes about the moment when Montenegro separated from the union with Serbia, as it opens the door to a potential separation of Kosovo. Georgiev also mentioned attempts to provoke a crisis that would allow control of Montenegro from Belgrade. He noted the influence of the academic community and the long-established imperial policy, where the narrative of “all Serbs in one state” has been nurtured, which affects young people and their value systems.
Dragan Đukanović, a professor at the Faculty of Political Sciences at the University of Belgrade, believes that the results in both countries are worse than what the research indicates. He mentioned a high degree of agreement in Serbia regarding reporting on Montenegro, whether it is media controlled by the government or those that can be considered part of an independent media scene. He pointed out that the new power structure in Montenegro draws its legitimacy from the religious movement, making the role of the Serbian Orthodox Church significant.
Mihailo Miletić, president of the Association of Montenegrin Electors in Serbia, thinks that there is institutional endangerment of Montenegrins in Serbia. He explained this through the obstacles the Montenegrin national community in Serbia faces in the process of choosing their representatives and the discrimination against Montenegrins in the Serbian education system that denies Montenegrin history and identity. He also warned of the continuous decrease in the number of Montenegrins in Serbia.
“It is difficult to find recognition of the Montenegrin identity among the elites in Serbia,” according to historian Milivoj Bešlin. Interpreting the research results, he explained that, despite the authoritarian regime, there is a diversity of opinions, which is a positive sign and reflects a changing relationship with reality through new media and social networks. “Elites create an expansionist narrative when it comes to Serbia. Another aspect concerns the narrative of protecting Serbs outside of Serbia, which is the shortest definition of Serbian nationalism today – Serbs outside of Serbia,” he emphasized. Bešlin explained that it is of utmost importance to the authorities in Serbia to have Serbian lists in countries in the region with Serbian populations. He also pointed out that the Serbian authorities consider as Serbs in Montenegro only those who are voters of party structures under the influence of Vučić. Given the data on the number of those who identify as Serbs in Montenegro, this means that most of them actually do not trust Aleksandar Vučić.”
Srđan Šušnica, a culturologist and political analyst, pointed out the issue of ethno-territorialization in the relations between Serbia and Montenegro. He highlighted the significant discrepancy between respondents in Serbia and Montenegro on questions such as language, acceptance of Montenegro’s independence, and the role of Serbia in protecting Serbs in Montenegro. He expressed concern about this trend and how it normalizes various types of interventions by Serbia in Montenegro.
Adnan Prekić, a professor at the University of Montenegro, explained that the situation between Serbia and Montenegro is not a result of recent political activities but rather a continuation of historical policies. He mentioned the main problem in communication between the two sides being the Serbian government’s attempt to turn the Serbs in Montenegro into a diaspora.