On October 30th, the Montenegrin parliament voted for a new government after months of political tension. This tension started in June when “Europe Now”, a centrist party with a primary goal of joining the European Union, won early parliamentary elections. The party did not have enough support to form a government of its own, and since then, it has relied on the backing of pro-Russian, anti-Western groups in the parliament (Milic, 2023). As a result, one of the most influential leaders of these groups, Andrija Mandic, was elected as speaker of parliament. This outcome comes as a blow to the United States and European Union officials who considered Montenegro as a frontrunner in the Balkans for EU membership, and these officials have informed the Montenegrins that this decision could potentially halt their entrance into the EU.
Some background about Andrija Mandic helps us understand why US and EU officials feel the way they do. Mandic has maintained an anti-Western and pro-Russian position since the very beginning of his political career. During the 2006 referendums for Montenegrin secession from Serbia, Mandic was strongly against it, called for the banning of any minorities from voting, and declared that Albanians in the country should have not been allowed to vote in the referendum (Heffner & Marek, 2007). Mandic also strongly criticized the Montenegrin government for joining NATO in 2006. Besides this, Mandic’s role in Montenegrin politics since 2006 has been very suspicious. In 2017, he was indicted along with thirteen other individuals (among them two Russian nationals), in a case where they were suspected of planning a coup d’état against the Montenegrin government. They were charged with “preparing a conspiracy against the constitutional order and the security of Montenegro” and the case went further on to claim that there was an “attempted terrorist act” (Radio Free Europe, 2017). Although the case was later overturned by the Montenegrin appellate court, the case brought attention to Mandic’s anti-Western stance. He has called for closer ties with the Kremlin instead of the West, causing the current rift between Montenegro and the EU. The political tension in Montenegro remains palpable. Hundreds of opposition supporters to the new government protested in front of the parliament building in Podgorica, calling the 30th a “black day” for any chance of Montenegro to join the EU (Milic, 2023). Instead of the new agreement bringing harmony to the government, Montenegro is now in a political war with itself.
The new developments in the Montenegrin government have been criticized by US and EU officials for good reason. Especially since the start of the war in Ukraine, Russia has been actively spreading authoritarian ideas to smaller states to bolster its influence across the world. However, Russia has primarily focused on targeting post-communist Eastern European states in its attempt to spread authoritarianism.
As argued by Anna Lührmann and Staffan I. Lindberg (2019), current autocratization patterns are different from past ones. The first two waves of autocratization according to Lührmann and Lindberg were characterized as more abrupt and sudden: coup d’états and foreign invasions were responsible for the shift to authoritarianism in most of the states affected. However, the new third wave of autocratization is very different. It is marked by a gradual, slow process undermining democracy. Most of the time, leaders are first voted into power democratically, and then they start passing laws that slowly erode the democratic processes and consolidate their power (Lührmann & Lindberg, 2019). Many Eastern European states have fallen victim to the third wave of autocratization since the fall of the Soviet Union. In Eastern Europe alone, “post-communist East European countries account for 16 mainly protracted, autocratization episodes in the third wave for example the gradual autocratization processes in Russia, Hungary, and Poland” (Lührmann & Lindberg, 2017). Lührmann and Lindberg’s article is from 2019, but many political developments in the Eastern Europe landscape since then continue to illustrate their findings.
US and EU officials are right to criticize the Montenegrin government. Montenegro, once viewed as the Balkan frontrunner to the EU, has now taken a massive step backward. Mandic becoming speaker, a powerful position, and the protests that have erupted since, show the gravity of the current political situation in Montenegro. Only time will tell if the Montenegrin government becomes more authoritarian, but the recent developments certainly indicate that they have made a step in that direction.
Heffner, K., & Marek, Sobczyński. (2007). RegionsintheProcessofEuropeanIntegration: Multicultural regions and cities in the context of European integration
Lührmann, A., & Lindberg, S. I. (2019). A third wave of autocratization is here: what is new about it? Democratization, 26(7), 1–19. https://doi.org/10.1080/13510347.2019.1582029
Milic, Predrag (2023). Montenegro,anEUhopeful,tovoteonanewgovernmentbackedby anti-Western and pro-Russian groups. (2023, October 30). AP News. https://apnews.com/article/montenegro-parliament-vote-serbia-russia-3346a60ba577d935 241fd7e19c8686ed
Radio Free Europe (2017). Montenegrin Court Confirms Charges Against Alleged Coup Plotters. (2017, June 8). Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. https://www.rferl.org/a/montenegro-coup-charges-confirmed/28535744.html