Can you name the Balkan leader who has been in high office longer than Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus? If not, I’ll do it for you. In Montenegro, Milo Djukanovic has held power and just about every high-level post there is over the past quarter century. Now he’s considering running for the presidency. There is usually only one reason for a politician to not want to give up the reins of power — the risk of being prosecuted for corruption. Sometimes the rabbit hole is just too deep.
Mr. Djukanovic is a shrewd manipulator, always playing 4-D chess with geopolitical standoffs, making the most of the power play between the East and the West. He began his career as a close ally of Slobodan Milosevic, the infamous Serbian dictator. However, upon reading the tea leaves in the 1990s, he changed sides. The dream of a greater Serbia/Montenegro was discarded in favor of independence.
As Russian President Vladimir Putin began to reshape the Russian Federation with an agenda to oppose the West at every turn, Mr. Djukanovic realized that being seen as standing up to the Russian bear, and being its victim, was good politics. He saw that much would be forgiven, like rigging elections, if one was seen as an enemy of the Kremlin. He realized that as the anti-Russian hysteria gained steam under the Obama administration, the goodies from Brussels and Washington would flow freely and their support almost predestined.
Then we come to the famous coup attempt that involved an alleged assassination plot against Mr. Djukanovic that was supposedly backed by Russian intelligence agencies. Admittedly taking a lot of imagination, this was an ultimate James Bond scenario, on par with Mr. Putin’s having supposedly once allowed Dmitry Medvedev to briefly run Russia. Many believe the attempted coup against Mr. Djukanovic was simply a way to ensure his reelection in Montenegro.
As the kangaroo court around this situation drags on, the prosecution’s narrative hinges mainly on the words of just one witness, Aleksandar Sindjelic, a far-right activist with criminal links and almost zero credibility because of his dubious past. Mr. Sindjelic was once wanted by Croatia for murder, but struck a plea bargain with prosecutors in exchange for changing his charges from “terrorism” to just “aiding and organizing a criminal ring.”
With regard to the alleged coup attempt against Mr. Djukanovic, 20 people were arrested for taking part and six were released the following day without any charges. Mr. Sindjelic was subsequently released under a “protected witness” status by the court.
“By releasing the former terrorist Sindjelic, all the masks have finally dropped in that cheap, staged and performed vaudeville ‘coup’ on election day on October 16. It is all clear now,” declared the main opposition party last month, according to Balkan Insight.
The case is now close to a collapse. Retired Serbian Gen. Bratislav Dikic, who was allegedly in charge of the military side of the coup, is likely to be found not guilty due to the lack of evidence.
The opposition party is having none of the charade and has continued its boycott of parliament. Almost half MPs, 39 out of 81, do not attend the sessions. An early parliamentary election combined with the presidential election next spring now looks like the only option to end the crisis.
With the last year seeing multiple car bombs and execution-style murders, as gang warfare comes out into the open, the country is in a state of flux, and the economy is close to collapse. Debt has soared from virtually zero to about 70 percent of GDP over the last 11 years. Unemployment is rife and the biggest employer is the state. The last of the major EU investors, the Italian A2A, has left the country.
The downward spiral needs to stop. The West needs allies, and we need those who challenge Russia, but being a foe of the Kremlin should not be the reason to turn a blind eye at rigged elections, corruption, poor governance, and societal collapse.
We should not let crooks use our fear of growing Russian influence and the Kremlin’s meddling in our democracy for their own interests.
Originally posted at The Washington Times