Lately | Montenegro

Police and political violence against citizens

By - 13.07.2020

Can the chaos in Budva lead to Montenegrin stabilization?

Shortly before the parliamentary elections across the whole country and local polls in several cities, all scheduled for August 30, tensions in Montenegro have begun to rise. One of the cities where the climate almost exploded was certainly Budva.

Protests that turned violent have been going on since June 17, when the mayor and the city authorities refused to hand over power after being voted out of the local assembly. After the first wave, the police stopped 54 people and arrested 41 individuals. Among them are the outgoing municipal Mayor Marko Carević and assembly president Krsto Radović. 

The special state prosecution initiated confidential proceedings against Dragan Krapović, the mayor preceding Carević, who has been part of the same local government, all due to an alleged criminal conspiracy with the goal, as the prosecution stated, to create chaos and block one intersection in Budva. This is seen by the prosecution as a fight against a form of repression from the state apparatus against those who oppose it.

According to police sources, nine police officers have been injured, and damage was inflicted on police vehicles, as well as on several buildings in Budva.

At the same time, the media and citizens bear witness to police brutality.

The entire climate turned Budva, the metropolis of Montenegrin tourism, into a breeding ground for this summer’s political struggle.

Police brutality

Budva is one of the rare Montenegrin cities that after the elections in October 2016, with a minimal majority, fell into the hands of the coalition made up of the Democratic Montenegro party and the Democratic Front alliance, opposition parties at the state level.

This local government lasted until assembly member Stevan Džaković changed sides, becoming an independent assembly member (since assembly members and not the parties through which they were elected now own the mandates), after which, as people would say, he “flew over” to the parties supporting the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), the state-level governing party.

After the June 17 protests, in front of the Budva Municipal building, private security appeared alongside police cordons, controlling the entry of Budva’s municipal building for 15 days straight. Responding to the question of an MP on why private security ended up in front of a public institution, prime minister Duško Marković (a member of DPS, just like the new Budva mayor) revealed in the Montenegrin Parliament that the newly elected president paid a Nikšić-based private security company, without providing any other details.

Tensions in Budva haven’t died down for days. They are only exacerbated by police violence against citizens, the employment of tear gas and excessive use of force. 

Dozens of cases have been filmed via phones and broadcast through traditional and social media, and now even the internal police Inspectorate cannot close their eyes to the brutality of police officers beating up and stomping on citizens who aren’t resisting.

During the first days of the Budva protests, the police often targeted many people at random, including citizens and municipal officials who gathered in front of the municipal building, people  strolling through the city or sitting in shops …

Many needed ambulances and hospitals, among them the former city Mayor Marko Carević, whose leg was injured.

The riots and change of government in Budva were preceded by a decision to call elections.

Political parties with no connection to the government in power, independent intellectuals and parts of the NGO sector have expressed their surprise at the decision of president Milo Đukanović (still the president of the ruling DPS party) to shorten the term for the Montenegrin Parliament and the local assemblies by two months. They believe this decision to be unconstitutional.

Unemployment has increased by 17 percent in comparison to the period before mid-March, when the crisis started.

“It is up to us to win and we will do so with pleasure,” Đukanović said, giving a statement as the state’s president and talking like a party leader, after heads of the opposition refused to meet him and agree on an election date.

Some analysts believe this to be Đukanović’s attempt to acquire an additional mandate before fall shows the face of the economic crisis that will hit the state hard due to a complete economic breakdown because of the pandemic that lasted for two months, a failed tourism season, and state debt that has piled up and is still accumulating.

Official estimates state that income from tourism will be 40 percent lower but on the basis of different sources from hotels and beaches, and according to tourism workers’ expectations, this decline will reach up to 60 percent. Unemployment has increased by 17 percent in comparison to the period before mid-March, when the crisis started, while this year there are no seasonal workers.

After the budget rebalance and new loans, it is expected that the new public debt will rise to more than 82 percent of the country’s GDP.

EU and US warnings

Budva is only a single example but it is currently the largest fire Đukanović is putting out. Protests have yet to die down, add to that the outcry of the Orthodox Christian believers gathered around the Serbian Orthodox Church, because of a disagreement related to the Law on Freedom of Religion. Processions and joint public prayers organized since the beginning of the year had fallen silent because of the measures begun to combat the pandemic but they are starting again.

After the last Budva events, the international community also woke up. The first reactions have begun to come in from the US Embassy and the EU delegation.

The US ambassador, Judy Rising Reinke, has expressed her dissatisfaction with the methods employed by the local authorities in Budva, calling for dialogue and the avoidance of violence. However, she also issued a reprimand to both DPS and Đukanović.

The European Commission had sent a so-called non-paper to Podgorica, pointing to a deep crisis in the judiciary, numerous unresolved affairs, pending cases of attacks on journalists, unconstitutional decisions and a general lack of rule of law.

A similar call arrived from the European Union Delegation in Montenegro, who called for “dialogue” and “a peaceful and orderly implementation” of elections.

It is important to remind ourselves that, just before the unrest started, the European Commission had sent a so-called non-paper to Podgorica, pointing to a deep crisis in the judiciary, numerous unresolved affairs, pending cases of attacks on journalists, unconstitutional decisions and a general lack of rule of law.

“The report reiterated that the Judicial and Prosecutorial councils still find themselves under unacceptable levels of political influence, which is one more issue institutions aren’t even trying to look into,” representatives of the Institute Alternative NGO said in their own public statement.

“Court presidents are persistently elected for more than two mandates, as opposed to international recommendations. The Constitutional Court is headed by a “chair-spokesperson” judge, thereby seriously undermining the trust in this institution.”

Montenegro has candidate country status and has opened EU negotiations in June 2012.

The elections will bring about some resolution but it is expected that the conditions that they are to be held under are far from democratic because a set of election laws has yet to change, as they were supposed to regulate this field.

It remains to be seen whether the elections will be a springboard to approach the EU legacy in a more genuine way.K

Feature photo: Boris Pejović.