Djukanovic Had to Fall Eventually

Governments in Montenegro have controlled elections for decades, so the fact that Milo Djukanovic still lost speaks of the enormous desire for change among the country’s citizens.

If Montenegro were a functional democracy, governments would change in election cycles. The left, right or centre would leave and return. The victory of the opposition would not be presented as the end of the world – a typhoon that will take away the country.

However, Montenegro is not a democracy. That is why it is a miracle that President Milo Djukanovic lost the elections, despite the monopolies he holds, or, as OSCE observers would say diplomatically, his huge institutional advantage. Only Lukashenko in Belarus and Vladimir Putin in Russia still have such an advantage in Europe.

The government has completely controlled the elections in Montenegro for decades; it had an army of safe voters, the media, huge funds, the security apparatus and electoral rolls full of phantom voters – yet it still lost. This speaks not only of the erosion of a clientelist and corrupt order, which even the most loyal supporters are slowly abandoning, but also of the enormous democratic potential and desire of citizens to control power and trigger change.

Clearly the Serbian Orthodox Church played a huge role in these elections. Djukanovic’s rival was his former ally, Metropolitan Amfilohije. But, it would be wrong to conclude that Djukanovic was overthrown only by the Serbian Orthodox Church and by the contested Law on Freedom of Religion.

His other, no less important, opponent was civic Montenegro. Djukanovic could never fall just because of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the religion law, even if that was a straw that broke the camel’s back. After all, the Church was not engaged in the presidential elections in 2013, or in the parliamentary elections in 2016. And in both of those cycles Djukanovic lost, but the opposition victory was stolen.

As much as propaganda wants to disguise it, all nationalities voted against Djukanovic’s Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, on Sunday – Amfilohije’s followers but also atheists that are far from the Serbian Orthodox Church – dedicated citizens who believe that Montenegro needs a government that will build institutions, implement necessary economic reforms, establish a fairer income distribution, strong health and education systems, stop the departure of young people and professionals, reform the judiciary, introduce the rule of law, move faster towards the European Union and create a state for everyone.

All those who believe that sensitive issues should be resolved by compromises, and not by deepening divisions, also voted against Djukanovic. Governments committed to the public interest address sensitive issues through dialogue. Djukanovic did not have that sensitivity. Instead of negotiating with the Church, he sought an enemy. This time he overplayed his hand. As the writer Balsa Brkovic says: every dictator must fall once.

As in other autocracies, when leaders move out from reality, they get deposed, even when the whole security apparatus is on their side. Our dictator had been operating for a long time with uncontrolled power. He stepped out from the real world. He covered himself with the flag, anthem, language and the state, while he and his closest looted and destroyed our environment.

He surrounded himself with extreme Montenegrin nationalists or with clients who pushed him towards ruin with their constant demands to insert another letter in the alphabet and repaint history … as if identity can be “rounded off” by force.

That Djukanovic was in a world of his own, with a narrowed consciousness, became clear when he announced the founding of a church at a DPS party congress. As if Montenegro were not a secular state and as if churches are established by party decrees!

A year before the elections, he and his hawks pushed the DPS into a conflict with the Serbian Orthodox Church, only to present himself as the only guardian of the state.

Concerned analysts, among them many of our friends from the “other” Serbia and from the region, perceive the change of government as the collapse of Montenegro, even as a threat to the stability of the region.

According to these interpretations, this state can only survive as a dictatorship. Hence, Djukanovic and his circle should be granted one more cycle of 30 years to drive out the Russians, pacify the Serbs, round up the church, create a state-building opposition and, along the way, plunder whatever is left.

Accordingly, while Djukanovic is the guarantor for NATO, it does not matter what the nature of the government in Montenegro is like and how people live here. The fact that we are a hybrid regime, that we are suffocating in corruption and crime, that we are impoverished, that we have been negotiating with the EU for the longest time in history due to unwillingness to reform the system – is left aside, as long as the leader keeps to the “correct” strategic course.

If this country can only survive as an autocracy, under someone’s firm hand, then let it not be. Why maintain it by force?

The moment of truth has arrived. And although many followers thought that he was eternal, he is finished. Now it is only important that the transition is peaceful, that Montenegro becomes a country of all its citizens. There has been too much revenge and conflict already.

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