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Interview: Prime Minister Djukanovic Talks About Montenegro's Rocky Road

Montenegro's Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic
Montenegro's Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic
Montenegro's Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic came to international prominence as something of a political wunderkind during the 1990s, when he served three consecutive terms as prime minister. His kaleidoscopic political career has kept him at the center of Montenegrin events for nearly two decades -- from the breakup of the former Yugoslavia through Montenegro's 2006 referendum on independence and its current bid for membership of the European Union.

He spoke recently with RFE/RL Executive Editor John O'Sullivan in the Montenegrin capital, Podgorica, about his country's drive to reform, political courage, and life in Europe's toughest neighborhood.

RFE/RL: Economists tell us that that small countries tend to be better governed than large ones. Is that your experience? And what are the drawbacks of governing a small country?

Djukanovic: I have come to realize one thing: The easiest thing to run is a well-ordered country, be it a small or large one. When you have a system with fully fledged institutions, then it's easier to manage. Such systems can even succeed with somewhat inferior top management. The problem in the case of Montenegro is that you don't have well-developed institutions.

Montenegro became independent three years ago. In three years you can't form or develop new institutions to the right level of performance. This process has got under way, and I think it is doing well. But if you could accomplish it in three years, then it would be an easier job than in fact it is.

You need to become independent [and] then to ensure that the dust settles after independence -- re-establishing internal harmony between those who are pro-independence and those who oppose it. You need to adopt a constitution and hundreds of new laws. These new laws begin the process of harmonizing local legislation with European law.
Montenegro has...the capacity to become an economically and democratically developed state, a well-respected member of the European and trans-Atlantic families, and a strongly positive example for the region. If it achieves these things, that will be strong evidence that smaller states tend to be better governed than larger ones.

You need to reform old institutions and put in place new ones. Something that is more complicated is providing the necessary "software" -- namely, the human resources for all these institutions -- to make them fully functional. This is a job you cannot complete in three years' time.

But I want to confirm that we are off to a good start and on a good track. Certainly the international community believes so. As a result, Montenegro is finding that the doors toward European and trans-Atlantic integration are open to it.

Montenegro has very good resources, considerable competitive advantages, and the capacity to become an economically and democratically developed state, a well-respected member of the European and trans-Atlantic families, and a strongly positive example for the region in which we live. If it achieves these things, that will be strong evidence that smaller states tend to be better governed than larger ones.

In A Fishbowl

RFE/RL: Montenegro can point to good developments, including political stability and economic growth, in recent years. But the country is also handicapped by a reputation for corruption and criminality. Can the international community expect some high-profile prosecutions?

Djukanovic: If high-ranking officials are involved in crime and corruption and that is proven beyond any doubt, they will not be spared enforcement of the laws passed by parliament. I have already said that some employees in governmental institution -- and these are not exceptions -- have had final verdicts handed down against them by Montenegrin courts.

I am convinced that should there be a repetition [of such offenses], the authorities will be rigorous regardless of the positions they occupy in the hierarchy.

RFE/RL: These are not purely judicial questions, however. They have a bearing on Montenegro's entry to the EU and its ability to attract well-balanced investment.

Djukanovic: You are absolutely right. We take such actions partly in order to persuade our foreign partners that we consider them important.

More important, however, is our responsibility to our local people. We took on the responsibility of developing a legal state.

But yes, that is also an issue with a bearing on business. Over the past three years Montenegro has been a regional leader in terms of per capita investment. Those who invested here came because they felt that their capital was safer here and that they would reap profits more quickly.

We are very eager to keep the confidence of investors. So we have to strive to make the legal system increasingly effective and efficient.

Statesman Versus Politician

RFE/RL: When you embarked on the quest for Montenegrin independence, you also took Montenegro in a completely new direction in foreign policy. You established a strong drive toward membership of NATO and membership of the EU. Your orientation was markedly toward the United States as well as to Brussels. Now, there are a fair number of pro-European politicians in the Balkans but not so many pro-American and Atlanticist ones. Why exactly did you choose that course? And aren't you going against the trend of public opinion?

Djukanovic: I've learned very well the difference between a politician and a statesman. A politician is someone who always says something that enjoys majority support; a statesman has a higher responsibility.

Statesmen must say something that the general public may not want to hear, that they may not understand at the time, but that they will appreciate with the passage of time. In 1999, after Milosevic plunged Serbia and Montenegro into war, I said that it was his private war of which Montenegro wanted no part.
Others may dispute that. But my impression at the time was that 70 percent of Montenegrins thought I was a traitor. Had I yielded to the majority view, Montenegro would have entered the war [against] NATO and we would have suffered even greater damage than Serbia. Today Montenegro would probably be bound within an even stronger union with Serbia. Our future would have been that of a slave and prisoner.

Soon after these events, 70 percent of the people of Montenegro realized that our choice at the time had been a good one. So whoever strives to serve the public must be prepared for misunderstanding from the public. Yet it's their duty to do the job responsibly as they perceive the best interests of their community.

That's the case with our policy of trans-Atlantic integration. Most people do not believe that this is the right and inevitable course for Montenegro. But we should note that -- gradually but steadily -- the pendulum is moving in this direction.

What has caused our people's initial mistrust of NATO? There are two causes: First, there are the prejudices left over from the Cold War. In the ex-Yugoslavia of those years, NATO was perceived as an instrument of war.

The second cause of mistrust was the NATO operation in Serbian and Montenegrin territory in 1999. People were hardly aware that it was mainly Milosevic's fault that such an operation could happen in Europe in the late 20th century. So the war is something that makes people nervous about NATO. I understand that reservation.

But my argument is that probably no other region in the world has shown such a lack of reliable instruments for its own stability. Throughout our history, there has scarcely been a period of 30 or 40 years without our stubbornly repeating mistakes and provoking conflicts with tragic consequences. More often than not, the cause of such conflicts was our lack of flexibility in dealing with our religious, ethnic, or cultural differences.

So what's the way out? How we can overcome instability? That's why I think we need NATO as a guarantor of stability -- a prerequisite for economic stability and integration in our region.

Bosnia's Future

RFE/RL: Yet after a brief period of peace, we can see tensions rising again, especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina. What advice do you have for your colleagues in neighboring countries to reduce these tensions?

Djukanovic: Despite the fact that there are a number of open questions still remaining, the regional situation is better than it has been in the past few decades. Today, all countries see their future -- hopefully their near future -- as part of Europe. And I am certain that all countries, except Serbia for the moment, see their future in NATO.

That, however, does not liberate us from a duty to work on carefully rehabilitating the postconflict areas of the region, especially those where problems are still felt, both within Europe, the region, and within the Euro-Atlantic region of integration.
Let me start with the easier [issues]. It is very important to resolve the border dispute between Slovenia and Croatia as soon as possible, and to remove this obstacle from Croatia's path to Europe. It is also important that Europe, in dealing with Croatia, should show that it respects all the hard work that the Croatian government and other elements of Croatian society have put into adapting Croatia to life in the European community. For these efforts are a significant and stimulating factor for all those who live in the region.
With all due respect to certain international agencies, which see potential for new conflicts in Bosnia, I must say that I don't share these opinions.

Furthermore, I believe that it is extremely important that Greece and Macedonia solve the problem of Macedonia's name as soon as possible so that Macedonia can become a full member of NATO. Needless to say, this is important for Macedonia, but [it is important] also for the region as a whole, so that we can put an end to certain retrograde ideas that may still be raising specters in the region.

Also, it is very important to speed up the process of establishing the status of Kosovo. Politically, this end is already in place. A legal case is currently being discussed before an international tribunal, but it is my impression that this process has only prolonged the illusions that some people still harbor.

This process needs to end in order to help everyone understand that some pages of our history have already been written. It is better for us to turn to new, blank pages that yet need to be written and where we can establish a better future for us all.

And finally, there's Bosnia, which today seems like the region's biggest problem.

But I am more optimistic about Bosnia. With all due respect to certain international agencies, which see potential for new conflicts in Bosnia, I must say that I don't share these opinions. But what is true and obvious is that Bosnia is still far from being a functional country. In all my talks with Bosnian officials, I always urge that they accept that it is unavoidable for Bosnia to remain a unified country. Moreover, this is in the best interest not only of the people who live in Bosnia and of those of us who live in the region, but also -- and this is especially relevant -- it is also in the best strategic interest of Europe.

So when I talk about Bosnia with international officials, it is my recommendation to them that we must improve the process of transferring responsibility for caring about the future of Bosnia to the local political authorities.

It is my impression that we have in past years wasted too much time disciplining Bosnia instead of actually preparing it to take responsibility for its European future.

As someone who harbors no feelings of inferiority as a man from the Balkans -- quite the contrary, in fact -- I don't believe that in the 21st century any country anywhere -- and especially on the European continent -- should be governed from the outside, by outside elements.

I understand that this outside governance was a necessity born from the war, but I also understand the need to work much faster than we have done on giving local institutions the capacity to reclaim responsibility for the European future of Bosnia.

I believe that only then will we be able to claim that the job has been done, and that Bosnia has a safe future.

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