On 15 April, Milo Djukanovic (Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS) won the presidential election in EU candidate Montenegro. A generation of Montenegrins grew up with Djukanovic as leader: since 1991, he has been prime minister six times and now, for the second time, president. His long rule is not uncontroversial. He allegedly enriched himself during Western sanctions against the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s by working closely with organised crime. In 2002, for instance, the prosecutor in the Italian city of Naples issued an arrest warrant for Djukanovic's alleged role in cigarette smuggling. Despite the EU perspective - Montenegro is currently negotiating accession - the democratic transition is stalled by authoritarian leadership of one of the longest-serving leaders in Europe.
Father of the fatherland
As a 26-year-old politician, Djukanovic stood at the cradle of the Democratic Party of Socialists and the multi-party system in Montenegro. DPS's political pragmatism is one of the reasons for its long rule. Djukanovic stood side by side with Serbian leader Milosevic in the early 1990s, but shifted his course towards Europe the moment the Serbian leader became an international pariah. After the war, he opened his doors to Russian tycoons and political influence to join NATO in June 2017, much to Russia's anger.
The pragmatism also had its downside. At the time of the break-up of Yugoslavia, Djukanovic's government kept the economy going by giving free rein to organised crime. Unbundling the ties between the state and organised crime proved to be a long process that is still ongoing, according to European Commission reports. Djukanovic has made an art of dividing the opposition and politicising important issues at the right time. If you are for EU integration, stability under the NATO umbrella and for a better future, vote for Djukanovic. Are you for Russia vote for the opposition. This is how voters were presented with the choice during the campaign by the man who gave Montenegro independence from Serbia in 2006.
The road to EU membership, regardless of developments in the Union itself, is still long and full of challenges for Montenegro. Rule of law, protection of fundamental rights and media freedom are the main challenges. On 9 May, for instance, a journalist of the independent newspaper Vijesti was shot in the leg and the recently appointed independent board members of the public broadcaster have already been replaced by party loyalists. In a recent report, warned Freedom House for authoritarian leaders in south-eastern Europe who use democratic means and institutions to erode democracy. In 2017, Aleksandar Vucic switched from prime minister to president in Serbia. Also in Serbia, the presidency is ceremonial, nevertheless Vučić holds all the strings firmly in his hands. Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi did the same in 2016.
Politics in Montenegro and the region is dominated by frontrunners and their political parties who are ready to roll back democratic reforms to retain their power. Therefore, in addition to stability in the region, the European Union must be strongly committed to democratic reforms.