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Dritan Abazovic: the First Four Years Will Be Crucial for Montenegro*

Published on , , Podgorica
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The toughest challenge before Montenegro will be depoliticisation of administration and democratisation, the influential political analyst Dritan Abazovic told euinside in Podgorica. He is also one of the founders of the newest political party in the country Positive Montenegro. The party has been created in May with the ambition to diversify the political spectrum in the country, ruled for decades by the party of Milo Djukanovic who, although having resigned two years ago in an attempt to demonstrate willingness for a change after Montenegro received candidate-status in 2010 but did not start accession negotiations, still has serious influence over the political process. As Mr Abazovic said, when you have had for 23 years the same government, it is impossible not to have a connection between the party, the state institutions and organised crime.

The latter is precisely another of the big challenges the country is facing, because of which the European Commission changed the approach and will start the negotiations from those chapters that refer to that particular problem - 23 and 24 ("Judiciary and Fundamental Rights" and "Justice, Freedom and Security") - which, according to Dritan Abazovic, is a good news. "You should understand that", he says, "our enemy is inside, it's ourselves, it's our mentality, it's our concepts of living, it's our concepts of values". This, in his words, can change when there are more young people who understand the process of being part of Europe. And Montenegro cannot have an alternative to a membership in Europe or NATO because, the analyst goes on, although the EU is no longer what it was and has a lot of serious problems of its own, for a country with geopolitical significance, small population, it is impossible to survive on its own. Moreover, he underscores, when the world is divided among the big countries like US, India, China and Brazil, the EU should be united.

Dritan Abazovic outlines two main risks for his country: a political and an administrative risk. The former, he explains, is the government itself because it is hardly that strong to be able to tackle the challenges the country is facing. In other words, the government will have to fight with itself. The latter problem is deeply known from Bulgaria's accession process - the lack of administrative capacity. People are yet to be trained and prepared, especially young people, which however will be a challenge in a country of 600 000 people, where they almost know each other and the administration suffers from the Greek disease - it is excessively big and many of the positions are held by people close to the ruling party not by people with merits.

The young analyst says something I heard many times during my short stay in Podgorica this summer - that for Montenegro the process of European integration is more important than the final goal of becoming a member. Maybe, he explained it most clearly: "It's not important to be part of the EU and to have lot of this kind of problems and lot of lack of democracy in the system. I think the more important thing is to have a functional system, a democratic system and to wait when political decision to be the part of the EU will be. I think Montenegro needs years but in my opinion the next 4 years will be definitely, in my personal opinion, more important for Montenegro's integration process". Why, I ask. Because, says Abazovic briefly and clearly, during these 4 years it will become clear what changes the negotiations on chapters 23 and 24 will bring.

This autumn in the small mountainous state, with a magnificent outlet on the Adriatic sea, there will be early elections the aim of which is to secure the new government with a full 4-year term from the very beginning of the negotiations process. An odd idea which, however, is well accepted in the country. For the first time the new party Positive Montenegro will stand in the elections, which, as the opinion polls show, already has the support of some 8% of the population. As Dritan Abazovic explains, one of the founders of the party, the political orientation of the party is centre-left and one of its main goals is to turn into an alternative to the government. And why Positive Montenegro, I ask. Because, Mr Abazovic tells me, Montenegro has a lot of positive things - nature, geography, history but it does not have positive economy and politics. Montenegro needs something different, the analyst says and looks convinced that the new political formation would bring that new thing. His words are supported by the first protests in the country in the beginning of the year against corruption and organised crime - calls for which can be seen all over Podgorica.

Montenegro has a long way to go - a way which some of the new EU member states walked successfully, others faltered but stayed on it, and some walk on it slowly, constantly looking back. The small state has an incredible chance of taking advantage from the good and bad experience, in general the entire experience from EU's enlargement in the beginning of the 21st century. But it also faces a huge challenge as precisely because of that experience the exigence toward the candidate countries will be bigger. All of the people I spoke to in Podgorica said this was realised. We are yet to witness if this is so. Montenegro's ambition, although stated timidly and with many reservations, is to be ready before the next decade. The real negotiations will start next summer when the screening process ends - a complete analysis of the existing legislation of the country.

Transcript of the interview with Dritan Abazovic

euinside: So, Mr Abazovic, first of all, congratulations for your country that it finally received a go ahead for accession negotiations with the European Union. This is going to be a tough challenge and you are a representative of a very young political party. Let's start first with what's the situation in Montenegro now that you're starting accession talks?

Dritan Abazovic: First of all, thank you very much for coming. I think this is a very important and big step for Montenegro and this is something very good news for all the citizens of Montenegro because we make progress in the European integration, starting negotiations with the EU. The situation in Montenegro is pretty complicated. It is the country with very young democracy. We got our independence in 2006 but in that period, these last five years, we didn't get a lot of political changes inside the country. We did not make for a strong reforms process and we are now in one pretty monotonous political situation. What does this mean? In Montenegro there's this phenomenon - we never finish with transition. After the break-up of the communistic regime in 1989 we have the same government with the same people, the same persons, you know ...

euinside: It's strange then that the EU has decided to start accession talks.

Dritan Abazovic: For me it's not something very strange because when you look Montenegro inside you saw a lot of problems. But when you look Montenegro outside you can see a country who gives the stability and who is a very strong partner to European countries. And I think this decision was more of a good will of the EU to just give the positive signal to the region that European integration is an open process for all Balkan countries. Then, I am not sure that this decision that they see a lot of progress here in Montenegro.

euinside: But do you think it will stimulate the reforms process?

Dritan Abazovic: We stimulate, we try to stimulate, but ...

euinside: No, the starting of accession talks. Do you think that it will stimulate the reforms process?

Dritan Abazovic: Yes, definitely, and that is the best thing what's happened last, I think five, years for Montenegro. Why? Because the pressure from Brussels will be more and more and the monitoring of the institutions in Montenegro who have lack of rule of law, lack of good administration, they have very strong politicisation of the public institutions and I think that now this monitoring will be stronger and will just make the progress in this area. But we come back in the transition process - if you have the same government 23 years, it's impossible to not have a connection between party, between state institutions and between organised crime. And we know in the Balkans this is a huge problem - crime and corruption. And the connection of the organised crime with some people in the politics and with some leader in the establishment of the country, I think that is the most bigger problem for Montenegro and fighting against that kind of problem will be very very big issue for Montenegro in the negotiations process. The good thing is, because we start with chapter 23 and 24 and that is first time that one country that starts with that kind of chapters (because we know that in the region Croatia finished the negotiations with those chapters) and I think that Montenegro, the government of Montenegro, should be in very unfortunately about that.

euinside: What do you mean - that it will be difficult for Montenegro to follow Croatia's example and fill the expectations that Montenegro is next Croatia or?

Dritan Abazovic: Definitely, yes, because for us, for ordinary citizens it's very good to start with these chapters. But I'm reassured that for this government it is good to start with these chapters because the fighting against corruption should go in the direction of fighting against people who are directly connected to the coalition in the government.

euinside: So you mean that this government will have to actually fight itself?

Dritan Abazovic: Definitely, yes. There was example everywhere. There was example in Croatia and we don't have the outside enemy. You should understand that. Our enemy is inside, it's ourselves, it's our mentality, it's our concepts of living, it's our concepts of values.

euinside: But how is this going to change?

Dritan Abazovic: I think it is possible to change because here in Montenegro it's now every day, I think, in my opinion, because I'm pretty young, every day there's more and more people who understand the process, who are understanding that be the part of Europe should be the part of sharing European values. I don't think that this kind of concept of the development, it's not only political but in economy and other areas, cultural areas, should be changed.

euinside: Now that you're very young and a representative of a very very young political party, which we'll discuss a little bit later, but aren't you afraid that it will be very difficult for you, for everything that you're saying, given the examples of Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, who are already members of the EU but their democracies are still hesitating and failing. Wouldn't it be for Montenegro even a tougher challenge to change, to prove that it changes?

Dritan Abazovic: This is a very good question and in theoretical aspect we can speak about democracy in different kinds of level. We know that kind of problems and we know that it's not every European country with the same level of democracy. But I think the concept of the EU and the understanding of the European Commission with these examples you mentioned - Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and others - should be very good for Montenegro because I'm not sure that they will make another mistake. I'm sure that they will try to do all the best to make Montenegro a very prepared country to be part of the EU and that is not important for the European Commission, in my opinion, that is important for us. We should understand one thing - process of the European integration what we should do for the Brussels or what we should do for Berlin or Paris. We should do it for ourselves, for our young generation who should have the opportunity to live in the better living standards that it is now in Montenegro.

euinside: OK, now you have a brilliant opportunity being a member of a very young political party. In which spectre is it - right-wing, left-wing, or this is no longer relevant?

Dritan Abazovic: One group of the people, coming from different areas, decided to make a new political party, which is called Positive Montenegro and that is a party of the ideological concept of the left-centre. We will try to be the alternative of this government. One thing that is maybe a paradoxical situation but is maybe very interesting for the European opinion is that Montenegro has very ... we don't have a good government but we don't have a good opposition. It's a huge problem. If you have this kind of concept of the political life it's impossible to have very strong reform process because society is pretty quiet in the political aspect, it is pretty quiet - we don't have the change, we don't have the understanding of a democratic process. We decided to make something totally new, with a new face, with a new people, with people who were never been involved in the politics and we will participate in the next elections. I don't know if Positive Montenegro will have success but it is very important to just give in Montenegrin opinion just a new concept, for people to starting to think about different kind of things, to have more civic activism and the try and make some changes.

euinside: What's behind Positive Montenegro? Why positive?

Dritan Abazovic: That is the name of the party. I think it's symbolical because we have very positive history, we have positive geography, we have positive nature but we still don't have positive politics and we don't have positive economy. And that was the symbolical aspect to give the name of the party Positive Montenegro and to try to make and to promote something positive and something different. That is very important. Something different that we don't see until now. If you have the people who - I want to just come back in transition, because it's very important for the understanding of the European process - if you have same persons, or same politics, same ideologies, they changed just a little bit that is true, who promote the separation and who promoted separatism and nationalism in the 1990s and who participated in the wars, in the crashing of ex-Yugoslavia, now have the same persons who promote the European integration and European values. I think that this is not compatible. I think it's a very paradoxical situation. In my opinion, the new persons, the new political leaders, should be promoters of the new Montenegro because if we just continue with this kind our process of European integration will be very strong, will be very slow and I'm not sure we will be part of the EU in the next 10 years.

euinside: Does this mean that in your political agenda the EU and the European integration of Montenegro would make a centre part?

Dritan Abazovic: Definitely, definitely. In the concept of our programme, in the chapter of the political system, of the political priorities, in the foreign policy is definitely promoting the European integration and the Euro-Atlantic integration. Our party will fight for Montenegro to be part of the EU and part of NATO.

euinside: And here's a tricky question - what EU, you probably know what changes the EU is undergoing right now, do you bear this in mind? Do you have kind of perspective what kind of a EU Montenegro is going to join? Have you thought about this?

Dritan Abazovic: Yes, I thought about this but I think the thinking about Montenegro or about any Balkan states outside of the EU and outside NATO is a very dangerous message. That is my personal opinion. It is true that EU now is not what EU was but I'm sure that for the country who have this kind of parameters - with territory, with geopolitical place, with economy and with population, very small population, I think that it's impossible to think about something what is not in the connection with something what is bigger and superior than those states. I think that our opportunity is to be part of the EU. I think EU have, we know it has a lot of problems now, lot of economic problems, lot of social and cultural problems but I'm sure that EU will survive and will be the better. Because in the concept of globalisation it's impossible to think that some states can be totally independent and totally autonomous. It's impossible because you have very strong concept now of countries who are very big, like US, like India, like China, like Brazil now, that kind of concept I think the EU should be together, should be better and I'm sure that this kind of crisis will finish for some years. I think that every crisis is a good opportunity to see what's both very good and to change that and to be stronger to just go out stronger from that.

euinside: Montenegro is in a very unique situation - now that the eurozone has problems, Montenegro has the euro as its own currency but is not a member of the eurozone. Do you think that Montenegro should stick or should abide with all these new legislation that is being passed through for the eurozone countries? Do you think that it's kind of too strict, too tough?

Dritan Abazovic: I think that is very big issue for the monetary system of Montenegro. But I think we don't have choice there - we cannot change the monet. In 2002 when we decided to get the euro that was the situation when we can promote some our value but now it's just sharing the destiny of other countries in Europe. I think the monetary system in Montenegro should not care a lot about the euro but should care about the inside problems like privatisation, like production and other issues.

euinside: What other national priorities will you party have?

Dritan Abazovic: Our party has a priority to make depoliticisation of the society and that is the priority. We have what I call 3D politics and that is discontinuity, decentralisation, depoliticisation of the system. If we will be in the situation to make something and to promote something it is this. And this is in strong connection with the European Union and the European Commission because decentralisation of country is something that is very important. We will have a concept of subsidiarity in Europe and to make local level stronger and stronger and depoliticisation because the public institutions in Montenegro are in strong control of politics and that is the lack of professionalism and that is the lack of understanding of the European concept.

euinside: Do you see any risks ahead in this process of negotiations? Any risk because there is a danger, actually, starting from the toughest chapters to actually prolong the accession process and make it slow and ...?

Dritan Abazovic: Yes, definitely, I saw two risks: one is the political one and one is the capacity of the administration. First is the political risk who promote the actual government because I am not sure they will have a strong will to fight all this problem you mention. And second thing is the very - we don't have the capacity in the administration to make some very big changes and we should train lot of people, we should prepare lot of people, especially young people, we should educate a lot of people to be functional. And we should, just because we have a lot of people in the public sector and that is one of the big big issues for Montenegro, we should just try to make some steps to just give the public administration professionalism in aspect who will promote the people who know the jobs and who are not there only because they are members of one party or another party.

euinside: Do you have a vision when is relevant or realistic Montenegro to become a member of the EU?

Dritan Abazovic: This is a very difficult question because a lot of factors aside that and in the end it's a political decision. My occupation personally is when Montenegro will be ready to be part of the EU.

euinside: When?

Dritan Abazovic: It's not important to be part of the EU and to have lot of this kind of problems and lot of lack of democracy in the system. I think the more important thing is to have a functional system, a democratic system and to wait when political decision to be the part of the EU will be. I think Montenegro needs years but in my opinion the next 4 years will be definitely, in my personal opinion, more important for Montenegro's integration process.

euinside: Why?

Dritan Abazovic: Because of chapters 23 and 24 and because I expect to have political changes here in Montenegro.

euinside: Thank you very much.

Dritan Abazovic: Thank you very much

*This interview was realised thanks to the kind help of Boro Milovic from Open Montenegro, a non-governmental organisation, partner to euinside

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