How the use of ethnonationalism backfired in Montenegro

Opposition supporters celebrate after the parliamentary elections in entrance of the Serbian Orthodox Church of Christ’s Resurrection in Podgorica, Montenegro on August 31, 2020 [AP/Risto Bozovic]

On Sunday, Montenegro’s governing celebration, the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), misplaced a closely-contested election after remaining in electrical power for 30 decades. Three opposition coalitions – Peace is Our Country, Black on White coalition and For the Potential of Montenegro alliance – secured 41 out of eighty one parliament seats in whole and have begun negotiations to kind a new govt.

Even though the defeat of DPS, led by President Milo Djukanovic, who has been perceived as significantly authoritarian, should really have been a welcome enhancement, quite a few see his opponents coming to electrical power as an even a lot more harmful enhancement.

The pro-Serbian and pro-Russian For the Potential of Montenegro managed to mobilise its voters by flaming ethnonationalist sentiments. The 27 seats it received on Sunday had been viewed as a victory by much of the Serbian group in the region, which helps make up around 30 per cent of the populace, and was celebrated by Serbs in Republika Srpska, the Serb-led entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia suitable.

In the meantime, the Muslim minorities in Montenegro, which represent about 20 per cent of the populace, felt threatened. In the city of Pljevlja, the Islamic group making was attacked and Bosniak citizens had been verbally and bodily assaulted. Attacks against Muslims had been noted in other cities as properly.

These developments come just 4 decades after the region confronted a coup try, allegedly backed by Russia and Serbia. There are now growing fears that the election success will provide a pro-Russian, anti-Western coalition to electrical power which will threaten the country’s balance, ethnic peace, European integration and independence.

How did Montenegro get in this article?

Over the earlier 30 decades, Djukanovic has skilfully manoeuvred on the Montenegrin political scene to keep electrical power. In the early nineteen nineties, when he very first turned key minister, he was near to the Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic. In the next decades, having said that, he significantly distanced himself from Belgrade and adopted pro-independence guidelines, spearheading the 2006 independence referendum, which led to Montenegro splitting from what remained of Yugoslavia.

The region then begun on the path toward Euro-Atlantic integration, opening European Union accession negotiations in 2012 and joining NATO in 2017. The latter was opposed by a substantial element of the populace, particularly the Serb group due to NATO’s bombing through the Yugoslav wars in the nineteen nineties.

The 2016 coup try was reportedly orchestrated to prevent NATO membership, but the DPS govt foiled it and proceeded with the integration procedure.

Whilst sustaining a pro-Western foreign policy, which received him Western assistance, Djukanovic’s DPS govt was significantly shaken by corruption scandals and rising fears of creeping authoritarianism. In 2015, Djukanovic himself was named “person of the calendar year in organised crime” by the Arranged Criminal offense and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).

As community anger around the mass-scale corruption grew, well-liked anti-govt protests erupted in 2019. It was then that Djukanovic begun circulating a draft Regulation on Freedom of Faith and Conviction and the Lawful Status of Religious Communities. The law sought to cement the autocephaly of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church, which break up from the Serbian Orthodox Church in 1993 and was passed in December 2019, angering the Serb group in the region.

Critics of the govt have questioned its timing. By passing this law, Djukanovic diverted attention from his corruption scandals and authoritarianism and performed the ethnic card, just like other Balkans leaders often do.

Resurgent ethnonationalism

The passing of the law experienced the supposed impact: It took attention from the corruption scandals by inciting greater ethnic polarisation.

The DPS and its associates portrayed the law as the rightful restitution of church residence which was taken absent from Montenegro after the region misplaced its independence to the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes in 1918, which inevitably turned Yugoslavia. Establishing an unbiased church was intended to reassert Montenegrin sovereignty.

The Serbian Orthodox Church, having said that, viewed this as an try by the Montenegrin govt to consider residence which it thought it rightfully owned. The Serb group obviously turned down the law. During the discussion of the bill in parliament, Andrija Mandic, the chief of Democratic Entrance, now element of the For the Potential of Montenegro alliance, threatened to “dig up the buried weapons”, a reference to the massacres of Muslims that took put in Yugoslavia in the 20th century.  

He named on the Muslim MPs, whose assistance was very important to sustaining a DPS greater part in parliament, not to back again the law, saying “if you come after our church, we will come after your homes”.

The formal Islamic Neighborhood in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina strongly protested against what they noticed as a phone for another genocide. After the ethnic cleansing and genocide strategies by the Serbian management of Serbia and Bosnia, Mandic’s responses cannot be taken evenly, particularly as he is acknowledged to have been a supporter of the convicted war criminals, Radovan Karadzic and Vojislav Seselj.

This anti-Muslim sentiment is rooted in what American historian Michael Sells named “Christoslavism,” a peculiar blend of Orthodox Christianity and South Slavic nationalism, which sees Slavic Muslims as traitors. In this expansionist nationalist ideology, Slavic Muslims are viewed as apostates from Christianity.

Mandic’s rhetoric, alongside with formal statements by the Serbian Orthodox Church, galvanised the Serb populace, which took to the streets to need the govt rescind the law.

Led by the Serbian Orthodox clergy, hundreds protested against the law in major Montenegrin metropolitan areas for months. Whilst the protests had been largely peaceful, they also developed roadblocks that had been reminiscent of similar methods used in the make-up to the conflicts in the nineteen nineties.

Formally, the Serbian govt also opposed the law and set stress on DPS to annul it. But unofficially, as Vesna Pesic, a Serbian human legal rights and anti-war activist, has pointed out, Djukanovic and his Serbian counterpart Alexsandar Vucic, both of those benefitted from the tensions and had been a lot more in settlement than they appeared to be.

For Djukanovic, the political gain he was pursuing was strengthening Montenegro’s placement vis-a-vis Serbia by marginalising the Serbian Orthodox Church, which has opposed his rule. For Vucic, the endgame is the ethnic division of Kosovo and, inevitably, Bosnia and Herzegovina and pulling Montenegro back again into Serbia’s orbit.

Significant miscalculation

Thus the Religious Freedom Regulation was no a lot more than an try of the corrupt ethnonationalist elites to keep in electrical power and to carry on their nationalist agendas. But it was also a major miscalculation by Djukanovic.

The Serbian Orthodox Church and supporters of the Bigger Serbia emerged as the winners in this contest for electrical power. The clergymen made use of faith to mobilise the Serbian populace, tapping into the Serbs’ notion of historical victimhood. It was this voter mobilisation that ultimately swayed the vote in favour of the opposition.

Djukanovic not only misplaced, but he also skipped a treasured chance to produce a actually civic identity in Montenegro. By turning to ethnonationalism, he has tested to be no diverse from the greater part of the leaders that have unfortunately thrown the location into a neverending loop of divisive nationalist rhetoric.

What next?

A govt formed by the 3 opposition blocs is far from stable. Dritan Abazoviq, an ethnic Albanian and the chief of the United Reform Motion and Black on White citizens platform, emerged as an unlikely kingmaker. Remaining real to his commitment to reform and opposition to Djukanovic, he supplied ample seats to kind the greater part and perhaps stop Djukanovic’s 3-decades-extensive grip on electrical power.

At the exact same time, he is intensely criticised for joining efforts by For the Potential of Montenegro to kind a cabinet due to their anti-NATO, anti-Western, pro-Russian and anti-minorities rhetoric.

Even although the new ruling coalition pledged to uphold the current worldwide treaties and European integration, it is unclear how this will be reconciled with the burning of the NATO flag, and threats against minorities through the electoral marketing campaign. Abazoviq insists on the formation of a govt of professionals and has pledged to withhold his assistance if the rising coalition normally takes a potent pro-Serbian stand.

All this could make the proposed ruling coalition unstable and produce a place for Djukanovic to entice smaller functions in the new coalition, such as United Reform Motion, to go away. This would trigger both a formation of a new coalition or would lead to new elections. Whilst his corruption is properly documented, Djukanovic is continue to a much better alternative, as the substitute would thrust Montenegro into Russia’s orbit.

His participation in govt would make sure Montenegro’s Euro-Atlantic integration and should really be supported by the West, which can also exert potent stress on Djukanovic to dedicate to anti-corruption reforms and potentially even resign. The other doable circumstance is for smaller functions to not be part of both of the two coalitions. This could end result in a constitutional crisis or could lead to new elections, with uncertain outcomes.

In the stop, the selection is concerning a coalition led by a corrupt chief with a potent commitment to Euro-Atlantic integration, and a coalition that at present affirms Montenegro’s treaties but whose major element has a potent heritage of pro-Serbian, pro-Russian and anti-minorities tendencies. Seeking at latest violence against the Muslim minorities in Montenegro, the next alternative would destabilise Montenegro. This is something the United States and the EU should really operate tough to prevent.

The views expressed in this posting are the author’s have and do not necessarily mirror Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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