Time to unite for the Euro-Atlantic future of Montenegro

by US Ambassador Judy Rising Reinke and UK Ambassador Karen Maddocks

Members of the international community concerned with Montenegro’s Euro-Atlantic trajectory have been deeply shaken by the recent events surrounding the enthronement of Metropolitan Joanikije. There is no doubt that these events clearly aroused strong feelings. They also attracted extremists, in addition to foreign actors, who sought to exploit the enthronement for their own ends, including seeking to destabilize the country and stoke societal divisions.

As polls have repeatedly shown, most Montenegrin citizens from all political divisions want their country to join the EU. For Montenegro to take its rightful place alongside the free and democratic nations of Europe, those who believe in a multi-ethnic, inclusive and democratic Montenegro must make their voices heard and resist those who would divide their society along ethnic lines or religious. It is up to the citizens of Montenegro to determine the future of their country and to shape their own destiny.

We urge the Montenegrin government to remain focused on making progress in areas that will accelerate this country’s accession to the EU and increase stability and prosperity for every one of its citizens. The areas that need attention and action are well known: strengthening the rule of law, fighting organized crime and fighting entrenched corruption. We welcome recent successes in the security sector, including arrests in high-profile organized crime cases. We also commend the efforts of the police to strike the right balance between civil liberties and public safety during the induction weekend of Metropolitan Joanikije. At the same time, recent events have made it clear that Montenegro urgently needs a strong, independent and impartial judiciary to ensure that those who break the law are held accountable, regardless of their connections.

Religious issues absorb the attention of leaders on all sides of Montenegrin politics, and insufficient attention is paid to much more pressing issues. The government must focus its energies on improving the quality of life of middle Montenegrins. It means better education and better health care, including containment of the pandemic. If this country is to stem its brain drain, there must be more opportunities for talented and hardworking people to thrive. The infrastructure needs to be improved to support the economic growth that is reaching every corner of the country. And institutions need to be strengthened to ensure that they enjoy the full confidence of all Montenegrin citizens and that they effectively deliver the services for which they are designed.

We question the usefulness of a national census that collects data relating to ethnic identity at the present time – some political forces cynically defend this endeavor, hoping it will further drive a wedge between those who identify as Montenegrins and those who identify as Serbs. How does this help the country move forward?

The US, UK and other like-minded international partners stand ready to support a constructive dialogue, which should include both political actors and representatives of civil society, transcending political, religious divides and ethnicities, to build confidence and help create a common vision to move Montenegro forward on its western path. The success of such a dialogue will require strong political will and ultimately depends on the Montenegrin people, and not on the international community.

We call on all those who live in this country and who are committed to building an inclusive and democratic Montenegro to do their part to reduce tensions and engage in dialogue, from the community level to the top of the political leadership. It is now.

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