In Montenegro, A New Guard Revives European Ambitions

After losing the legislative elections in 2020, it is the presidency of the Republic that Milo Djukanovic and his party conceded on Sunday April 2, 2023. A page turns over three decades in power for the man of independence from Montenegro.
It is a young economist, Jakov Milatovic, 35, who puts an end to the continuous reign of Milo Djukanovic in Montenegro. Sunday, April 2, the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), which ruled the small country of the Western Balkans since its independence, ceded its last parcel of power, without ambiguity. Jakov Milatovic, of the centrist party Europe now!, won 58.88% of the vote, against 41.12% for Milo Djukanovic. A real political earthquake.

In thirty years, the Blue Palace had not known the slightest change. Since May 21, 2006, the residence of the President of the Republic, this palace of the royal family of Montenegro built in 1894 in the old capital in Cetinje, has known only one tenant, Milo Djukanovic.

The outgoing president is only 61 years old, but he has made politics his profession since the break-up of Yugoslavia. At the age of 18, in 1979, he became a member of the Yugoslav Communist League (SKJ), Tito’s single party, whose bureaucratic obstacles he quickly knew how to circumvent. He thus extracts himself from the only Montenegrin framework – his country of origin – to rise to the Yugoslav level, within the Central Committee of the Communist League.

The End of a Legacy

He then becomes a faithful ally of Slobodan Milesovic, of which he becomes the man-lie in Podgorica. The “anti-bureaucratic revolution”, the populist initiative that will bring Milosevic to power in Belgrade, will be for Djukanovic the opportunity to get his hands, in the same spirit, on Podgorica, which he will not let go.

When Yugoslavia broke up, he played the card of a “free” Montenegro to have a territory entirely his own. He created the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) in 1991. A movement with the typical grammar of the time, with the term “democratic” to sell hypothetical changes and the word “socialist” so as not to frighten the whole population.

A winning bet, since Milo Djukanovic was just 29 years old when he became the new Prime Minister of Montenegro, then federated with Serbia. But from 1997, he gradually moved away from Belgrade, and led his country towards independence, which was proclaimed in 2006. In the process, Djukanovic was elected President of the Republic.

And for decades, the sulphurous Milo Djukanovic will resist criticism and attacks. Since the 1990s, the Anglo-Saxon press has been talking about the trafficking of contraband cigarettes in Montenegro. The Head of State would not be aware? Wouldn’t he be involved in it, in connection with the Italian mafia? Djukanovic refutes all his accusations.
The “gospodar” – the “master”, the “owner” – nevertheless controls the business in his country. His brother Aleksandar is the boss of the first private bank in Montenegro and he participated in privatizations. His sister, Ana Kolarevic, a trained lawyer, was responsible for the judiciary. No evidence is held against Djukanovic. A causal link?
Under the threat of a first electoral defeat, during the presidential campaign, Milo Djukanovic, playing the card of the Bosnian and Albanian minorities, did not hesitate to accuse his rival, Jakov Milatovic, of being in the pay of Serbia . Because the far-right, pro-Serbian and pro-Russian candidate, third in the first round with 19%, Andrija Mandic, called on his electorate to vote for him.

The Challenge of Modernity

Djukanovic also argued that Europe Now! co-leader Milojko “Mickey” Spajic, who was born in northern Montenegro, was from a family of Serbian descent.

This will not have been enough to discredit the new Montenegrin guard. At 35, “Mickey”, trained at Osaka University and HEC, worked in the United States, Singapore, Tokyo and Paris before becoming Minister of Finance. A pro-European and pro-business, just like the new president, barely a year older, a former Minister of the Economy trained at the University of Chicago then in Oxford, Vienna and Rome, and a former collaborator of the Deutsche Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

The night of his victory, Jakov Milatovic wanted to change the image and history of his country. “Tonight, together with all the citizens, we said a decisive farewell to crime, to corruption in Montenegro”, he declared, before calling for “good relations with Serbia, but like all the nations of the Western Balkans”. But his “number one priority” is more ambitious: “We will tie Montenegro to the European Union, with full and complete membership. »
While waiting, in June 2023, for the outcome of the legislative elections.

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