ANALYSIS – Elections in Montenegro: Back to the Future

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The writer is the Director of the Srebrenica Memorial Center. A part-time lecturer at the International Relations Department of the International University of Sarajevo (IUS), Dr. Suljagić is also the author of two books: “Ethnic Cleansing: Politics, Policy, Violence – Serb Ethnic Cleansing Campaign in former Yugoslavia” and “Postcards from the Grave”

SREBRENICA

Two days after the elections in Montenegro held on August 30, a mosque in Pljevlja, a town in the north of the country, was stoned by the groups of what were obviously followers of the election winners. The victory of the far-right Democratic Front, with the open support of the Serb Orthodox Church, whose head Amfilohije Radovic once described Muslims and Islam as “a fake people and a fake religion”, was seen as a signal. The Bosniaks and Muslims of Montenegro already experienced persecution in the 1990’s. In the summer of 1992, for example, more than 80 Muslim refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) were rounded up and “extradited” to the illegal Bosnian Serb authorities and subsequently executed. [3]

Whereas this and similar events remain an indelible stain on both the state of Montenegro and its 30-year ruler Milo Dukanovic, over the last two decades the country has made strides towards reconciliation with all of its neighbors: Albania, BiH, Croatia, Kosovo and Serbia. Under Dukanovic’s leadership, the state publicly distanced itself from the policies of the 1990’s, when it served at best as a logistical basis for the Serbian attack on BiH and Croatia and from where some of the “paramilitaries” were recruited that were involved in the systematic rape campaign in the south of BiH. Dukanovic’s rout in the elections is not a win for democracy as it has been claimed by some political commentators in the region and internationally. In fact, it is a loss and a serious setback for Montenegro’s democratic progress made during the last two decades. In political and ideological terms, the winners of this election have been walking in the footsteps of Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic.

Theirs is an odd and combustible ideology, a mixture of ideas that draws not only on the contemporary Serbian nationalism, but also on some older ideas, dating back to Mediaeval times. One such idea is the myth of Antemurale Christianitatis, or the bulwark of Christianity. The antemurale myth stresses that the chosen group –in this case Serbs– is not only a part of a larger (Christian) civilization, but also it represents its very outpost, “sacrificing itself” in order to save this civilization. Acting against a mosque in Pljevlja is, in this worldview, acting on behalf of some larger and allegedly superior cultural entity, against other (Ottoman, Muslim and Asiatic) groups that do not belong.

Karadzic, who is now serving life in prison for genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of laws or customs of war, maintained throughout the war that one of the main roadblocks on the Serbian road to independence was the fact that their opponent was Muslims.

“Nobody has ever offered us any other option but to disappear, to abolish our state, to accept a joint state with (Bosnian President Alija) Izetbegovic, or, rather, with the Muslims and the Croats, and they clearly told us so at the cocktails and lunches: ‘Gentlemen, it’s because we don’t want to accept the existence of an Islamic state in Europe!’,” he said in one of the sessions of the Bosnian Serb Assembly. He went on to further accuse Europe of wishing to remain “a community of happy Christian peoples”, while the Serbs “guard its walls, as a kind of a moat filled with filthy water, with no other purpose to its existence but to neutralize Islam”. [4]

The transcripts of the Bosnian Serb Assembly show one of the leaders of the member states of the then European Community (EC) also making comments along those lines. Konstantinos Mitsotakis, the then prime minister of Greece, came to Bosnia and Herzegovina in May 1993 and appeared before the Bosnian Serb Assembly in what purported to be an effort to persuade the leadership to accept the Vance-Owen Peace Plan. In his speech, he heavily criticized the EC’s decision to recognize Bosnia and Herzegovina as a mistake that led to the creation of “a Muslim state (…) in the heart of the Balkans and of Europe”, before personally attacking the then president of BiH, Alija Izetbegovic. [5]

All of us often take geography for granted. Nevertheless, even the personal sense of freedom has to do with one’s ability to move around physically, to cross borders. In the 1990’s Bosnia and Herzegovina was attacked by first Serbia and then Croatia. Although Montenegro was Serbia’s junior partner, the part it played was by no means small. Ever since, only Montenegro has renounced its past, to the extent that any state in the Balkans would ever do. The new government, whatever it is like, is going to be staunchly revisionist and is highly likely to walk back on that policy. Once again, as a citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina of Muslim extraction or indeed a Montenegrin citizen, you’re not going to be welcome there within the time span of 25 years.

It is bad news for Bosnia and Herzegovina as well for two reasons: not only are we going to end up with another hostile and revisionist state on our borders –revisionist in the sense of seeking to undermine the present political arrangement in the region of former Yugoslavia– but its very existence is going to embolden similar elements within our own country. It will also encourage the extremist elements in Serbia, to whom President Aleksandar Vucic is beholden.

Without a hold over Montenegro, the idea of Greater Serbia is laughable. An important element of the Serbian genocidal campaign against Bosniaks and other Balkan Muslims stemmed from the drive to establish or safeguard real or perceived regional hegemony. Take away the crimes committed on behalf of Greater Serbia against the Muslim populations of Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sandzak and Kosovo, and there remains nothing else. There is simply no other way to advance the idea of a Greater Serbia than through practices that are inherently criminal and genocidal. Serbian nationalism is venomous: only 25 years ago it cost only Bosnia and Herzegovina in excess of 100.000 dead and refugees numbering in the millions. But this time we know.

* Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.

[1] https://www.glasamerike.net/a/crna-gora-napad-pljevlja/5567583.html
[2] https://www.slobodnaevropa.org/a/ostre-osude-govora-mrznje-amfilohija-radovica/26683894.html
[3] Radončić, Šeki. Kobna sloboda: deportacija bosanskih izbjeglica iz Crne Gore, Fond za humanitarno pravo, 2005, Beograd
[4] Assembly of the Serb People in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 49th Session, February 13, 1995, p. 78, Radovan Karadžić.
[5] Assembly of the Serb People in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 30th Session, May 5-6, 1993, p. 46/2, Konstantinos Mitsotakis

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