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Montenegro Succumbed to Ethno-nationalism Without Resistance

June 26, 2020

Montenegro Succumbed to Ethno-nationalism Without Resistance

Balkan Transitional Justice

By Dragan Koprivica

At the end of May 2020, according to the Montenegrin police, an 18-year-old destroyed the marble slab on a monument marking the spot where the agreement was made to raise the July 13 uprising in 1941, during World War II.

To Montenegrin society, this was about as unexpected as snow in December. It set off a series of public statements full of sheepish indignation, followed by catchphrases about July 13 as the “foundation of modern Montenegro”, the importance of anti-fascism, and so on. 

Some tried to minimize the incident, representing it as a simple fabrication by the police who allegedly coerced the young man into confessing the crime. The vast majority just wanted to gain political points in the upcoming elections, therefore missing – for the umpteenth time – the real point.

For a long time, the Montenegrin public has been acting as if nothing special was happening, while chanting about the dangers of a divided society. Provincial hypocrisy and petty scheming do not allow citizens to be told the actual truth – which is that fascism has moved back to Montenegro.

The radicalization of, and extremism in, society has significantly intensified since 2012. It has become especially apparent since 2015, with the beginning of the anti-NATO protests of the opposition Democratic Front. Only those who saw their political opportunity in these protests failed to notice.

A smaller part of society wants finally to see things being called by their proper name, and see their heroes – war criminals from several different periods – finally get their deserved place in history. They want to see Montenegro become a clerical society, in which priests preach, mullahs mull, and others blindly follow. 

A second part of society sees in the first one an opportunity for a demonstration exercise – showing what society would look like if they came to power – therefore cementing their own rule for the next 30 years. 

And the third, civic and progressive part of the society, ashamed of both the first and the second, withdraws and keeps quiet. This is the part that is dominant in Montenegro, in terms of both numbers and quality.

This silence, passivity, and lack of reaction of the best and brightest in the society has brought us to our current situation in which the only state in the region whose independence movement was not predominantly nationalistic is now experiencing a flourishing of ethno-nationalism that is increasingly turning into fascism.

In relation to these phenomena, we have allowed a vicious circle of half-done “reactions” from those who occasionally get peeved by certain incidents. Most of these “reactions” are directed against their opponents – whoever they happen to be in a given configuration; very few people react against the real danger – which is any form of ethno-nationalism, clericalism, or fascism.

This is why stood silently before the political canonization of convicted World War II criminals. It is why we remained indifferent in October 2013, when, at the opening of a church in Podgorica, President Filip Vujanovic enthusiastically spoke about “peace and harmony and equality” – surrounded by frescoes of figures representing Marshal Tito, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and people who looked much like Albanians, all burning in the fires of hell.

We were silently horrified when the main opposition Democratic Front repeatedly proposed the establishment in Montenegro of an equivalent to Serbia’s Ravna Gora, as birthplace of the wartime Chetnik movement, and the construction of a monument to the criminal and fascist collaborator Pavle Djurisic, a Chetnik commander in Montenegro.

We were also horrified when we witnessed threats being made to minorities even from the rostrum of parliament.

We tolerated it when part of the intellectual “elite” endorsed the memory of Krsto Popovic, a Montenegrin who collaborated with German and Italian occupiers and fascists. And we tolerated it when they painted murals in his honour around Montenegro because of what he had done for the country before World War II.

We considered it an isolated phenomenon when a state official, Bosniak Party member Adnan Muhovic, bad-mouthed Montenegrins, the great prince bishop and poet Petar II Petrović Njegos – and promised Serbs a new “tractor race” – an open allusion to the Croatian Army’s Operation “Storm” in 1995, which led to a mass exodus of the country Serbs on tractors that summer.

We kept quiet about cheering for the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, in the halls of our schools. We kept quiet again after the unexplained publication of a photo of one of the leaders of the ongoing Serbian Church protests in Montenegro, Gojko Perovic, striking a pose under a photo of the Serbian Chetnik leader, Draza Mihailovic.

We failed to notice the creation either of ethno-nationalist online disinformation networks, their activities, or their sponsors. We failed also to notice that the few normal media outlets considered this topic boring and irrelevant, of third-class importance.

We have not opposed the increasing push for a policy of “co-existence,” a dangerously wrong “multicultural” policy whose actual goal is to show that relations between people in Montenegro are a matter of coercion. A policy that should, in perverted minds, replace the actual and authentic way of life among those who live here and who perceive this country as their own.

Only a few were disconcerted by the obvious use of the antagonism toward Montenegro’s membership in NATO for the purpose of establishing ethno-nationalist hotspots within our society.

We were not disturbed by proposals to “divide” up territory, culture, or economic wealth according to percentages from the census. Ideas of “mono-national truths” and giving benefits to peoples, instead of citizens, which imply the destruction of the foundations of the modern state, have become normal for us. It is the same way in which civil society was destroyed in almost all the countries of the former Yugoslavia.

We were fine with having narrow identity matrices, based on traumas instead of victories, implanted in our heads. We have not even noticed the revision of history served to us at every opportunity.

The political elites, intoxicated by their victory in the independence referendum, focused on counting square meters and mountain and seaside plots to pawn off to Russian tycoons, instead of creating serious policies and instruments that would strengthen an anti-fascist, civic state. They believed that fascism could be fought with surveyors’ calculations, rather than with education, the creation of a modern legal framework, and the constant promotion of these values by people of integrity.

In their song “Firma”, the best post-Yugoslav band, Hladno Pivo explained the process of privatization in Croatia, which is relevant for the entire Western Balkan region, as “God, homeland, nation – everyone down, this is privatization.” 

They described “how we fell, without a shot fired, for the old trick of a new beginning”. It is a perfect description of what happened to us in other areas, especially in the area of the fascisization of society. Montenegrin society has been ethno-nationalized without serious resistance.

The destruction of the July 13 monument is also the destruction of the anti-fascist, the only possible, Montenegro. This is why it is high time for an awakening of the actual citizens – Montenegrins, Serbs, Bosniaks, Muslims, Albanians, Croats, Roma, Yugoslavs, and all others, including those without a nation. The red line has been crossed. It is time for resolute opposition, to show that we are not merely schemers but real anti-fascists – the ones who truly care about Montenegro.

As a national hero once said: “If you take anti-fascism away from Montenegro, what remains is exactly – nothing.”

Dragan Koprivica is Executive Director of the Centre for Democratic Transition, CDT, in Montenegro.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BIRN.

This article was written as part of the regional program “Western Balkans: Understanding and Preventing Anti-Western Influence,” implemented by the International Republican Institute in Sarajevo. The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of IRI.