Small Wars Journal

Is an International Conflict Brewing in Montenegro?

Sun, 11/15/2020 - 8:37pm

Is an International Conflict Brewing in Montenegro?

 

Batya (Батя)

 

During the grueling wars that ravaged the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Montenegro was arguably fortunate in comparison to countries like Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo. Whilst it was bombed several times in NATO airstrikes, Montenegro didn’t suffer the mass destruction, ethnic cleansing, and refugee crisis that its neighbors did. The country has been lucky to avoid religious conflict through a high degree of religious tolerance and diversity throughout its history. However, in 2020 it seems that luck has run out. It’s possible that a civil war is looming in the country of the black mountains. One that has the potential to become an international conflict.

 

Since the cooling of hostilities in the former Yugoslavia, the coastal country of Montenegro developed into an idyllic destination for the rich and famous. It’s a country I’ve visited numerous times and one I’ve always found relaxed and laid back in comparison to neighboring countries such as Albania where I usually enter from. Montenegrins are proud to show off places like Porto Montenegro where Russian billionaires moor up their megayachts or the island of Sveti Stefan where Robert De Niro opened a branch of the Nobu Sushi restaurants. But this year, Montenegro's idyllic reputation has been shattered in a string of unsettling incidents revolving around president Milo Djukanovic.

Photo 1
President Milo Djukanovic)

 

Milo Djukanovic happens to be one of Europe’s lesser-known dictators and was a close friend of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. Since 1991, Djukanovic has ruled Montenegro interchangeably as president and prime minister for 29 years as an authoritarian head of state. In 2010, his estimated wealth of £10 million earned him a place amongst the twenty richest world leaders according to the British newspaper The Independent. He is known to have links to the Montenegrin Mafia and the international cigarette smuggling trade worth several billion dollars annually. In 2015, the investigative journalists’ network OCCRP named Milo Djukanovic ‘Person of the Year in Organized Crime’.

 

In late 2019, the Djukanovic regime adopted the “Law on Freedom of Religion or Belief and the Legal Status of Religious Communities” which de-jure transfers the ownership of church buildings and estates from the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, many of them hundreds of years old, over to the Montenegrin state. This controversial law sparked various peaceful protests that saw thousands come out on the streets and many of the narrow roads through mountainous Montenegro blocked. They were described as some of the biggest protests in the history of Montenegro but were soon met with violent police crackdowns which saw protestors, journalists, and clergy alike viciously beaten and arrested.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zucI5qD3p0c)

 

The spread of the Coronavirus pandemic provided ample opportunity for a blanket ban on all public gatherings in Montenegro. As the protests were subdued the authorities began arresting high profile clerics of the Serbian Orthodox Church on charges of planning public gatherings. This ironically led to further protests which were stamped out with further violence from the authorities citing an apparent revival of Covid-19 cases in Montenegro. The anger is still bubbling away despite lockdown. Local police are monitoring social media and have pulled in activists for questioning over Facebook posts. You might be wondering what President Đukanović thinks of all this unrest? He bluntly called those protesting “a lunatic movement”.

 

In a worst-case scenario, the Montenegro Crisis will degenerate into open armed conflict between those loyal to Djukanovic and those against him. Since the Yugoslav Wars, the Balkans have been awash with millions of undeclared military-grade weapons in private ownership. Just a handful of these smuggled weapons, in particular the Zastava M70 assault rifle, were responsible for the carnage unleashed in various terror attacks in Paris during 2015. In 2017, gunpolicy.org estimated that there were around 245,000 legal and illegal weapons in the hands of civilians in Montenegro. Alarmingly, the weapons in the hands of the police and military of Montenegro combined was reported to be an inferior 13,396 firearms.

Photo 2
A bride fires a handgun into the air during an ethnic Albanian wedding in Southern Montenegro

 

 

The statistics foretell that even with the loyal support of the police and armed forces, the Djukanovic regime would struggle to defeat an armed insurrection. But despite his unpopularity amongst his people, Djukanovic has some powerful friends who wish to see him stay in power but similarly powerful enemies who wish to see him ousted.

 

In 2017 Montenegro successfully joined NATO. A 2017 poll carried out by CISR showed that over 50% of the country’s population interviewed were against the country’s membership of NATO and viewed its overall impact on the world as negative. The majority of those polled also saw themselves as culturally closer to Russia than to the EU as well as a positive opinion on Vladimir Putin. When asked to elaborate on the benefits of strong relations with Russia the majority of answers boiled down to viewing Russians as their Orthodox brothers, their protector throughout history, and as the only power that can “stand up to the West”.

 

“Becoming a member of NATO will make Montenegro a legitimate target of Russian missiles.” - Russian MP Mikhail Degtyarev of the Nationalist LDPR, May 2014.

 

In the event of armed conflict breaking out between largely Serbian opposition to the Djukanovic regime, we could expect to see a NATO peacekeeping force deploy to the country which is something the majority of the population would not take kindly to. Amongst Serbs, NATO is largely despised after the bombing campaign on Serbia during the Kosovo Crisis in 1999. In the event of an armed confrontation between NATO and anti-Djukanovic insurgents, there’s a high possibility of Serbia deploying military forces in order to protect ethnic Serbs or at the very least, irregular Serbian nationalist forces entering Montenegro with the same ideological aim. As protests against the new law spread to Serbia, thousands of  Red Star Belgrade fans and various far-right Serbian groups marched on the Montenegrin Embassy in Belgrade and burned the Montenegrin flag outside.

 

This is where Russia comes in. In 2016 Russia was accused of attempting to overthrow the Djukanovic regime through a violent coup which conspired to take over parliament during the October parliamentary election, assassinate Milo Đukanović, and install a pro-Russian government in order to stop Montenegro joining NATO. The coup was foiled at the last minute and Russia subsequently denied involvement. 14 people including two Russian military intelligence officers, two Montenegrin opposition leaders, nine Serbian citizens were found guilty of the coup by a Montenegrin court in 2019.

Photo 3
Coup in Montenegro

 

 

As two Orthodox countries, Russia and Serbia have a close cultural and ideological bond dating back centuries. In the 1990s, post-Soviet Russia was weak and embattled with widespread corruption and internal conflicts in the North Caucasus. Thus it was unable to provide military assistance to their Serb allies during the Yugoslav Wars. A few hundred Russian mercenaries did, however, form what became known as the “Russian Volunteer Unit” and assisted the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) during the Bosnian War.

 

The lack of military support for their Orthodox Serb brethren in the Balkans, particularly in the late 1990s when Serbia was directly attacked by NATO and forced to surrender Kosovo, is a source of shame for many Russians. Modern Russia is no longer a weak country and is now a formidable fighting force. It’s unlikely that they will pass up the chance to defend Orthodox Serbs against NATO aggression in a renewed war in an attempt to regain the honor they felt to have lost during the 1990s. Whether via direct conflict or through proxy war methods as seen in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine.

 

Montenegro has a history of long rulers. King Nicholas I, whose portrait hangs in Djukanovic’s office, ruled the country for 58 years until he was deposed. It seems that Milo Djukanovic has had a good run. In history, violent crackdowns on protests made up of the majority of a heavily armed population has never ended well for the one in charge. It’s my hope that this crisis comes to a close without further bloodshed. If not, we may see the next global conflict erupt in the land of the black mountains.

 

About the Author(s)

Batya (Батя) is the founder of Reaper Feed. He is an international security advisor and a high-risk expedition leader across former and active conflict zones. Batya founded Reaper Feed to provide unprecedented insight into the lesser-seen sides of human conflict and modern warfare. He can be reached at @Reaperfeed1 on Twitter.

Comments

This article is full of shalow, misinformant details and possible propaganda targeting campaign. Becausse this website has a lot of articles of very deep and inteligent information, about military operation, strategies, tactics, history facts and many more, this shalow dissinformantion articles are making rubish of this place. And i will, with a experience in propaganda and desinformation field, mark it as prepared article for some things which will maybe happen in the near future, propaganda article. Political situation is deep and has deep historical backstory. Western values of Montenegro are exercised through centuries,roots of conflict are treced in the case of Montengrin sacriface in WW1 by anexion from Serbia and WW2 through Partisan movement as revenge to Serbian forces and King of Serbia (which is grandson of King of Montenegro) who through chetnik movement colaborated with Nazi Germany clashed with Partisans. Montenegro is last country in EX Yugoslavia which takes care of Yugoslavian Antifasicst heritage, all others ex-yu countries except Slovenia are deep into national-fascist dreams. Bigest problem in Montengro and root of all problems in First and Second Yugoslavia is Serbian orthodox church, created 1922. by joining by force few orthodox churchs in EX YU and anecting the most important one, Montenegrin orthodox church (founded 1458). That is a root of Serb vs Montenegrin conflict, as Montenegrins after 1918. had war with Serbia first through Green movement (King Nicolas Army) and then through Partisan Comunist movement, with Serbs (Prochetnic fascist movement whose bigest suporter is SOC). That conflict was frozen during comunist Yugoslavia, but was always brewing in Montenegro between SOC and Comunist Party of Mne. Everything slowly columinated during wars in 90s, and this now is just the continuation. This is the 102 years old conflict, where Montenegrins want back their church and property under state, which existed before Serbian state and church were formed. Esspecialy as SOC church is even in comunism but today very clearly, is just a hub of FSB inteligence and propaganda machine, who supports and spreads, fascist, anti-eu, anti-Nato and anti American propaganda and actions. Bigest profits in religious properties of SOC, are in Montenegro, where no tax or any trace of how much money is earned is traced. That money is used for undermining Montenegrin state and goverment. Then there comes mentioned Milo Djukanovic, as man who prophets and exerciae secular state and order, pro-nato, pro western politics, and discontinuation of SOC tentacles into Montebegrin historic heritage and property. That church property(even today it is not property of Serbian church, just faked paperea of ownerahip during wars in 90s) and history of that religious objects, is the core and foundation of Serbian make-up fairy tales history, and make up fary tale long history of incorporationg Montenegrins inside of it as elite-Serbs. Because of that is brewing, old conflict, which is coming to end, becauasse serbian old politics and SOC leaders are dying of COVID 19, where they infected on protests against goverment, where they accused goverment that they are baning human right to preach god and uae fake westwrn propaganda about COVID 19, which not exist, and the faith will heal them all. And the result is, The SOC Archbisshop in Montenegro died from coronavirus, and now on the death sheet is SOC Patriarch. They sacrifaced themselvs in battle against Montenegro, and against Montenegro OC, and people, against science against doctors. Conflict in Balkans will start in Serbia or in Bosnia, but probably in Serbia, becausse Serbia is devided between China (most control), Russian, American  EU and Turkish influence, and has big nationalistic extremist prorussion oposition which Moscow controls. There will be detonating fuse of conflict in Balkans, but very limited one, becausse Serbia and Bosnia are strategicly and economicly isolated in case of conflict and surounded by NATO members.