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Inauguration of new head of Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro sparked protests and inflamed political tensions. Hundreds 4 Sept blocked roads in Cetinje city in protest at inauguration of new leader of Montenegrin branch of Serbian Orthodox Church. During day of ceremony, demonstrators 5 Sept clashed with police who fired tear gas, leaving at least 20 officers and 30 protesters wounded and at least 15 arrested. Deputy PM Dritan Abazović same day accused members of opposition Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) of using event to “attempt to introduce Montenegro into permanent destabilization with elements of dissolution”. PM Krivokapić 6 Sept launched investigation into police management of protest attacks. After President Milo Đukanović and DPS members of parliament attended Cetinje allegedly to show support to protesters and urge cancellation of ceremony, ruling coalition members of parliament 22 Sept passed resolution demanding Constitutional Court rule whether Đukanović violated constitutional responsibility by promoting protests.
Parliament passed resolution prohibiting Srebrenica genocide denial and dismissed justice minister, creating rift within ruling coalition. Parliament 17 June passed resolution condemning June 1995 Srebrenica genocide and banning its denial; same day dismissed Minister of Justice Vladimir Leposavić for doubting International Criminal Tribunal’s classification of Srebrenica events as genocide. Ruling coalition faced internal strains as largest coalition partner pro-Serbian Democratic Front 17 June announced boycott of parliament, accusing govt of cooperating with opposition Democratic Party of Socialists during vote. Governing coalition member Democratic Montenegro party backed current govt and PM, rejecting call for new parliamentary elections. Serbian President Vučić mid-June responded to developments, saying: “We expected them from all those who would like to weaken Serbia, but we did not expect it from those who were always closest to us”. Meanwhile, Council of Europe report 3 June warned of increasing ethnic divisions and hate speech in Montenegro.
Post-election protest and attacks on ethnic minorities erupted following defeat of incumbent President Đukanović. Đukanović, who had ruled country for three decades, 1 Sept conceded defeat following 30 Aug election, accusing Serbia of stoking ethno-nationalist tensions; Belgrade same day denied meddling in election; election dominated by controversial Freedom of Confession Act that critics argue facilitates govt register of all religious sites in attempt to reduce role of Serbian Orthodox Church. Three opposition coalitions –For the Future of Montenegro, Peace is Our Nation and Black in White – 9 Sept signed coalition agreement promising to uphold country’s commitment to joining EU bloc. Meanwhile, post-electoral attacks broke out against ethnic minorities as supporters of pro-Serb parties reportedly attacked Bosniaks and Albanians in northern towns, and caused material damage to an Islamic community centre in the northern town of Plvelja 2 Sept. Religious leaders and opposition parties called for calm; top Orthodox Bishop Metropolitan Amfilohije 2 Sept called attacks an affront to “every citizen of Montenegro”. Thousands of protesters 6 Sept gathered in capital Podgorica to contest Serb nationalist imagery featuring prominently in opposition celebrations. New parliament 23 Sept convened, approved new govt composed of three electoral coalitions with slim majority of 41 seats; leader of pro-Serbian opposition party Zradvko Krivokapić appointed new PM.
Pro-Serb opposition staged largest protests to date against controversial religion law ahead of late Aug parliamentary elections. In run-up to parliamentary election held 30 Aug, hundreds 23 Aug protested against controversial Freedom of Confession Act in capital Podgorica and towns across country in largest demonstrations since law was passed in Dec 2019; critics of the law have argued that it facilitates govt register of all religious sites in attempt to reduce role of Serbian Orthodox Church and allow govt to claim religious sites as state property. Leading Serbian Orthodox bishop Amfilohije Radovic 23 Aug announced he will be voting for first time in upcoming elections, urged people to “vote against those who rule with false laws”; President Djukanovic accused Serbian Orthodox Church of running political campaign. Following election, preliminary results 30 Aug indicated that ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) won 29 of 81 seats, short of majority necessary for govt, while opposition parties “For the Future of Montenegro”, “Peace is Our Nation” and “Black on White” won 27, ten and five seats, respectively; DPS and opposition both claimed victory, citing ability to form govt with political allies. Three opposition parties 30 Aug announced intentions to form govt despite significant political differences and next day called on minority parties to join; DPS and President Djukanovic said they will “wait for the final results of the State Electoral Commission” and called on citizens to stay home awaiting confirmation of results.
Dispute between govt and Serbian Orthodox Church continued while voter registration irregularities surfaced ahead of 30 Aug parliamentary elections. Govt and Church leaders 21 July failed to agree on changes to controversial Dec 2019 Freedom of Confession Act; Church accused govt of engaging in dialogue for “political marketing” purposes; critics of the law have argued that it facilitates govt register of all religious sites in attempt to reduce role of Serbian Orthodox Church and allow govt to claim religious sites as state property. Crime and Corruption Reporting Network and Balkan Investigative Reporting Network mid-July reported more than 50,000 “phantom voters” will be eligible to vote in 30 Aug parliamentary elections; in some municipalities, number of registered voters reportedly exceeds actual population. Meanwhile, National Coordination Body for Infectious Diseases 5 July blamed rise in COVID-19 cases (2,065 active cases as of 29 July) on members of pro-Serb opposition Democratic Front (DF) party, alleging that members imported cases from Serbia; DF accused coordination body of supporting ruling Democratic Party of Socialists.
Tensions between ruling party and pro-Serb opposition mounted ahead of Aug elections, while dispute between govt and Serbian Orthodox Church continued. President Milo Djukanovic 18 June announced parliamentary elections to be held on 30 August, paving way for start of electoral campaigning. Amid escalating tensions between Djukanovic’s ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and pro-Serb opposition, police 17 June arrested Budva town’s incumbent opposition mayor for refusing to hand over power after ruling DPS gained majority in local assembly; hundreds of opposition protesters same day gathered in Budva; police dispersed demonstrators with tear gas and arrested dozens. Opposition protesters across country, including in capital Podgorica and Budva, 24 June took to streets in support of Budya opposition mayor; after clashes between protesters and police left seven police officers injured, police detained dozens, including two opposition lawmakers. Amid ongoing tensions between govt and Serbian Orthodox Church, police 14 June arrested several priests and 21-22 June questioned Church leaders about mass rallies over controversial Dec 2019 Freedom of Confession Act held in defiance of COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings; chief of police 21 June said Church rallies posed threat to region’s security, citing spread of religious radicalism and hate speech.
Tensions between govt and Serbian Orthodox Church increased after authorities 12 May detained Serbian Orthodox bishop and seven priests for holding religious procession in violation of COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings; detention next day sparked nationwide protests and clashes between police and demonstrators in towns of Niksic and Pljevlja; 26 police injured, 60 people arrested. Authorities 15 May released detained clergy.
President Đukanović continued to oppose Serbian Orthodox Church over controversial Dec 2019 Freedom of Confession Act, as Church followers sustained mass protests against law. Đukanović 4 Feb instructed members of ruling Democratic Party of Socialists to stay away from Church-organised protests, threatening expulsion from party for any politicians caught participating. PM Marković 14 Feb met with senior bishop to review religious law; Church delegates offered list of alterations to law including withdrawal of section requiring registration of all religious sites in Montenegro; govt reported “constructive and open atmosphere” of talks. Church officials claimed over 100,000 followers protested nationwide 16 Feb against new law; thousands marched against law again 29 Feb. Đukanović 27 Feb claimed Serbia and Russia were using protests to weaken govt and impede Montenegro’s application for EU membership; Belgrade and Moscow denied.
Tens of thousands of followers of Serbian Orthodox Church staged regular protests throughout month over controversial new Freedom of Confession Act, leading to clashes with police, and tensions with neighbouring Serbia. Critics argue law, which was passed 27 Dec, provides for govt register of all religious sites and stipulates religious groups must provide historic evidence of ownership to keep their properties, seeks to reduce role of Serbian Orthodox Church and allow govt to claim religious sites as state property. Tens of thousands of Church followers 12 Jan staged protests in capital Podgorica and other major towns calling for annulment of law; protestors 25 Jan clashed with police in Podgorica after security forces used tear gas to disperse them. Montenegrin president 23 Jan discussed religious law with Serbian president in attempt to diffuse rising bilateral tensions; acknowledged that respective positions on dispute remain so far “distant”. Police 31 Jan arrested in Mojanovići village mother of Milan Knežević, leader of opposition Democratic Front party, along with party members and another family relative; Knežević said arrests were related to his party’s objections to religious law.
PM Djukanovic resigned despite September electoral victory, citing personal reasons. Justice Minister Zeljko Sturanovic appointed PM-designate by President Vujanovic 11 October; parliament to confirm at next session. Author Jevrem Brkovic attacked and bodyguard killed by unknown assailants 24 October; Brkovic known for writing on organised crime links to government.
PM Djukanovic’s Democrat Socialist Party, together with Social Democrat coalition partner, won 10 September parliamentary elections: together won 41 of 81 seats. Opposition Socialist People’s Party group lost seats, suggesting voters alienated by their reluctance to abandon independence issue. EU praised electoral conduct and opened Stabilisation and Association talks. U.S. Sec. Defence Rumsfeld discussed NATO Partnership for Peace membership and possible Montenegrin participation in international security missions during Podgorica visit. 12 ethnic Albanians arrested for suspected plot to launch “terrorist attacks” on polling day.
Parties prepared for 10 September parliamentary and local elections with series of coalition agreements: 7 coalitions, 4 parties and 1 civic-group submitted electoral lists. Military conscription abolished as part of efforts to join NATO Partnership for Peace by end 2006.
President Vujanovic called parliamentary and local elections for 10 September. Opposition Group for Change (now Party) registered as political party. Constitutional Court annulled pre-referendum Minority Rights Act guaranteeing parliament seats to minorities, citing principle of citizen equality. Minorities, some of which had made act condition for supporting referendum, accused government of betrayal; ruling Democratic Party of Socialists offered Bosniak and Croat parties seats via joint slates in September elections. EU adopted new separate mandates for Stabilisation and Association Agreement negotiations with Montenegro and Serbia. Serbia and Montenegro agreed bilateral relations will continue as before independence in most matters.
Parliament declared independence 3 June. Iceland led international recognition, with Russia, all regional countries, EU and U.S. following. Serbia belatedly recognised Montenegro 15 June and moved to dissolve joint institutions. UN and OSCE accepted Montenegro as member.
21 May referendum resulted in victory for independence movement with 55.53% of vote - exceeding EU- imposed 55% hurdle - and 86% turnout. Some unionists, backed by Belgrade, refused to recognise outcome: Serbian President Tadic recognised result, but Serbian PM Kostunica remained silent. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, welcomed referendum conduct and recognised outcome.
Campaign ahead of 21 May independence referendum continued amid charges of fraud on both sides, as pro-unionist member of electoral commission arrested for falsifying voter registration forms; later released. Pro-union forces hinted at boycott as polls showed pro-independence forces will probably receive required 55% of votes.
Former President Slobodan Milosevic died of heart attack 11 March in Hague before conclusion of his trial. Fears raised death could mark return to reactionary nationalist politics and derail EU integration process. Serbian government provided quasi-state funeral that passed nationalist torch from Socialist Party of Serbia to Serbian Radical Party. EU extended deadline by which war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic must be arrested to 30 April; failure will halt Stabilisation and Association Agreement negotiations. Belgrade called for 17,000 Kosovo Serbs to quit UNMIK and Kosovo government jobs despite UNMIK’s earlier plea for end of Serb boycott of institutions. Montenegrin parliament set independence referendum for 21 May; took control of all State Union military forces on its territory.
EU Council threatened Serbia with suspension of Stabilisation and Association negotiations if Ratko Mladic not arrested by 5 April. False reports that Ratko Mladic arrested caused media furore. EU FMs also supported Miroslav Lajcak’s formula of 55% majority for Montenegro’s independence referendum; Montenegrin PM Djukanovic accepted proposal. First face-to-face Kosovo status negotiations between Serbian government and Kosovo Albanians held 20-21 February in Vienna, ended inconclusively; next round 17 March. Serbian parliament accepted results of first round of talks but announcements by key international officials that Kosovo independence likely outcome set off political firestorm in Belgrade. Serbs in Bujanovac, southern Serbia, proposed referendum on partition of town into Serbian and Albanian sectors, after Serb concern local Albanians will increase links with Kosovo.
EU warned association talks could be suspended if fugitive war crime suspects Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic not caught. Albanians in southern Serbia issued “Presevo Declaration” calling for inclusion of Presevo in Kosovo future status talks. EU envoy for Montenegro Miroslav Lajcak visited Podgorica for series of talks between officials and opposition on referendum; fourth round began 31 January.
5 members of Scorpions paramilitary group who filmed their execution of 6 Bosniaks in Srebenica in 1995 went on trial before Belgrade war crimes court 20 December. Earlier court sentenced 14 for 1991 war crimes against Croats in Vukovar, first verdict since 2003 inauguration. Venice Commission’s 19 December report found Montenegro’s referendum law in line with international standards, called for dialogue between government and opposition on referendum standards. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana appointed Czech Miroslav Lajcak representative to facilitate dialogue.
Serbian parliament adopted resolution authorising government to enter talks with Kosovo Albanians on province’s final status. Serbia sought international support for stance with high-level visits to Russia and China: President Tadic put to Russian President Putin proposal to reshape Kosovo within Serbia along dual entity model of Bosnia; warned of destabilisation if independence granted. In first PM visit to Zagreb since 1991, Kostunica pledged with Croatian PM to resolve legacy of 1991-95 conflict,
EU opened Stabilisation and Association Agreement negotiations 11 October. Montenegro PM Djukanovic said will not postpone spring independence referendum despite EU pressure, but may amend voting rules. Trial of “Vukovar 3” suspected of war crimes in Croatia started in Hague. U.S. Assistant Sec. State Burns said lack of progress on capture of war crimes suspects Mladic and Karadzic blocking improved relations with U.S., EU and NATO. Serbian war crimes court charged 5 Scorpion paramilitaries for 1995 crimes while Serb police arrested 9 fellow officers over 1999 Kosovo killings. Violence broke out at Serbia-Bosnia football match, injuring 19.
PM Kostunica appointed hard-liner Sanda Raskovic-Ivic as new head of Kosovo coordination centre, who called for Serbs to leave UNMIK structures and provisional government. Belgrade began purge of “disloyal” Serbs from Serbian-controlled municipalities in Kosovo. Defence Minister Prvoslav Davinic offered resignation 8 September over high profile corruption scandal involving purchase of unnecessary equipment at inflated prices. Supreme Court Judge Ljubomir Vuckovic and Deputy Prosecutor Milan Radovanovic arrested 15 September in aggressive move against corruption in judiciary. Head of Montenegrin Interior Ministry’s General Criminal Division, Slavoljub Scekic, assassinated 30 August in Podgorica. U.S. told Serbia that Ratko Mladic must be transferred to Hague, while EU threatened to delay Stabilisation and Association Agreement negotiations.
Provocations by Serbian Orthodox Church led to sharp deterioration in relations with Macedonia and Montenegro. Belgrade seized aircraft from Macedonian Airlines and shut border crossing to prevent Macedonians celebrating national day at Prohor Pcinjski monastery. Army airlifted aluminium Serbian Orthodox church to site at top of Mt. Rumija holy to Orthodox, Catholics and Muslims, causing sharp Montenegrin government response. Belgrade accused of planning Serbian Autonomous Region in northern Montenegro reminiscent of similar regions created as precursors to war in Croatia and Bosnia. Hague Tribunal fugitives Milan Lukic and Dragan Zelenovic arrested in Argentina and Russia respectively. U.S. presented draft agreement to move troops across Serbia-Montenegro in case of emergency in Kosovo; signed but unlikely to be ratified by parliament. Government dropped criminal charges against son and wife of Slobodan Milosevic. Bomb thrown at home of Hungarian minority politician in Vojvodina.
Serbian government published statement condemning all war crimes before 11 July Srebrenica memorial, attended by Serbian President Tadic. 8 former secret police convicted for kidnap and murder of former President Stambolic, including man accused of masterminding 2003 assassination of Serbian PM Djindjic. Montenegrin PM Djukanovic called for referendum on independence between February and April 2006. NATO Secretary General de Hoop Scheffer and Serbia and Montenegro (SCG) Foreign Minister Draskovic signed agreement on land lines of communication across SCG territory to enable faster reaction in event of unrest in Kosovo; Serbian government claimed wrongly bypassed in decision made by SCG.
Serbian politics dominated by war crimes issue. Video shown in Hague Milosevic trial 1 June, rebroadcast throughout Serbia, directly linked Serbian Interior Ministry “Scorpions” unit to 1995 Srebrenica massacre, bringing condemnation from PM Vojislav Kostunica and President Boris Tadic; yet parliament failed to adopt resolution condemning massacre. Government denied media speculation was negotiating with Ratko Mladic. U.S. rewarded cooperation with Hague tribunal by resuming $10 million aid 9 June. Bosnia's High Rep. Paddy Ashdown censured FM Vuk Draskovic for openly linking future of Bosnia's Republika Srpska to Kosovo independence, implying Serbia should receive Bosnian territory. Kostunica outraged Montenegrins by presenting list of potential Montenegrin voters inside Serbia for referendum on Montenegro’s independence to EU.
Serbian government argued no Kosovo standards met and continued to pressure Kosovo Serbs to boycott participation in Provisional Institutions of Self Government. No more transfers to Hague tribunal after 3 months of consistent cooperation. President Boris Tadic and PM Vojislav offered repeatedly to meet Kosovo Albanian counterparts - both refused. Belgrade and Podgorica continued with radically opposing visions of state union's future. Serbia received extension until end of year on its 3 year IMF agreement. Influential Serbian Orthodox Church sent strong isolationist signals throughout month.
Significant progress towards EU integration: EU Council of Ministers endorsed European Commission’s decision to begin negotiations on Stabilisation and Association Agreement 25 April. Two Hague indictees surrendered: former Yugoslav Army chief-of-staff Nebojsa Pavkovic; former Republika Srpska police general Ljubomir Borovcanin. Javier Solana met State-Union officials to resolve functioning of parliament by extending present mandate (had expired 3 March). Serbian government showing increasing signs of flexibility on Kosovo. President Boris Tadic twice publicly offered to meet with Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova: rebuffed both times. Kostunica publicly stated compromise will be necessary calling autonomy, less than independence”.
State Union parliament's mandate expired 3 March. No new elections called, but parliament continued to function. Four ICTY indictees surrendered, 12 still remain. Police issued warrant for retired general Nebojsa Pavkovic. PM Kostunica said government to announce new Kosovo policy at end of month and mentioned several possible options, all of which exclude independence, but by month end promised policy failed to materialise. Anti-semitic posters and graffiti appeared throughout Serbia, as right wing website published names of prominent Serbian Jews. Serbia hoping for green light from EU on starting feasibility study for accession; landmark textile import agreement signed 31 March.
Serbian President Boris Tadic visited Kosovo, insisting Serbian sovereignty. General Vladimir Lazarevic and Bosnian Serb generals Milan Gvero and Radivoj Miletic surrendered to ICTY. Term of state union parliament to expire 3 March, with no date for elections and disagreement between Serbia and Montenegro over how to proceed. Montenegrin government proposed alliance of 2 independent states: although rejected by Belgrade, no signs state union will collapse. BIA chief Rade Bulatovic accused of handing classified documents to CIA. President Tadic returned Labour Law to parliament following irregularities in final text.
New crisis emerged in south Serbia’s Presevo Valley with 7 January fatal shooting by Serb soldier of 16-year-old Albanian boy illegally crossing border. Albanian majority Presevo municipal assembly called for army to withdraw from south Serbia and for international military presence to replace it. Government attempted to reconstruct Coordination Body for south Serbia and to include Albanians, who remain hesitant. Shooting led to Belgrade internal debate as to whether army or police best suited for guarding border with Macedonia and Kosovo. U.S. government cut all financial assistance to Serbian government (U.S.$10m) and announced withdrawal of technical advisory personnel due to lack of cooperation with ICTY; EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana cancelled trip to Belgrade due to lack of Hague cooperation and deadlock over elections for state union parliament; EU commissioner for enlargement Ollie Rehn in Belgrade 25 January; warned failure to cooperate with Hague restricting progress towards EU integration. ICTY indictee General Vladimir Lazarevic announced 28 January he would surrender in early February.
U.S. Ambassador for War Crimes Pierre-Richard Prosper blamed PM Vojislav Kostunica for “zero cooperation” with ICTY. President Tadic’s call for early parliamentary elections criticised by other parliamentary parties. Heightened tensions with international community over High Rep. Paddy Ashdown’s moves against Bosnia’s Serb Republic and Kosovo Serb electricity cut-off. Army moved combat units south and transferred ground forces HQ unit from Belgrade to Nis. Hard-line Army Chief of Staff Branko Krga replaced by Dragan Paskas. Poll carried out by Montenegrin NGO indicated 73% of voters would vote in independence referendum, 2 thirds of them in favour. World Bank approved new 3-year arrangement for Serbia-Montenegro, worth $550m while International Monetary Fund approved 9th $95m instalment of current arrangement for bolstering hard currency reserves and balance of payments.
Apparent assassination attempt on President Boris Tadic 30 November as car tried to ram motorcade; Tadic unhurt; risk of further attempts as Vienna- based “Serbian Patriotic Organisation” issued death threats against Tadic, FM Vuk Draskovic and state union President Marovic. Serbian government rocked by scandals while Tadic in open conflict with PM Vojislav Kostunica; may try to bring down government. Serious questions arising about control over security structures. Hague Tribunal Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte briefed UN Security Council on 23 November - said Belgrade deliberately ignoring legal obligations. U.S. Congress conditioned Serbian aid for 2005 on arrest and extradition to ICTY of Mladic. Energy lobby leading to possible political shakeup in Montenegro. Relations between Belgrade and Podgorica increasingly frayed.
In highly publicised break with PM Vojislav Kostunica, President Boris Tadic called on Kosovo Serbs to vote in Kosovo's parliamentary elections and ignore Kostunica's boycott call - caused governmental crisis and beginning of parliamentary effort to recall Tadic. Highly influential "Godfather" of Greater Serbian nationalist ideology, Dobrica Cosic, published new book calling for partition of Kosovo. Democratic Party (DS) candidate Nenad Bogdanovic won Belgrade mayoral race in second round elections. More than month after local elections, discussions continued on forming municipal governments - Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) seeming to show preference for coalitions with SRS and Milosevic's SPS. Milosevic trial adjourned 22 October due to lack of witnesses, and his court-appointed defender Steven Kay resigned, throwing entire proceeding into disarray. Justice minister Zoran Stojkovic said Serbia will not arrest 4 generals indicted by ICTY. Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect Ljubisa Beara appeared before ICTY 12 October after Serb police apprehended and transferred him to Hague.
Montenegrin politics continue to be overshadowed by allegations of smuggling and human trafficking.
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