Montenegro

Transitional or Hybrid Regime
48
100
DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage 47.62 100
DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score 3.86 7
Last Year's Democracy Percentage & Status
49 100 Transitional or Hybrid Regime
The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0-100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic.

header1 Score changes in 2020

  • Judicial Framework and Independence rating declined from 3.75 to 3.50 after several scandals involving the prosecution and judiciary came to light in 2019, while the mandates of the Judicial Council and supreme state prosecutor expired, preventing the justice system from operating in an effective manner and eroding public trust.
  • Corruption rating declined from 3.25 to 3.00 after high-profile corruption revelations were not followed by effective action from the authorities.

header2 Executive Summary

By Ana Nenezić and Vuk Maras

In 2019, Montenegro faced a reversal of its overall democratization due to a number of ongoing political crises and scandals in all spheres of the society. The year started with several local environmental protests followed by larger civic protests against the government (prompted by explosive corruption revelations) and ended with massive demonstrations by the Serbian Orthodox Church and its followers against the new Law on Religious Freedoms.

Montenegro has been struggling with deep political and societal divisions for many years, which were aggravated in 2019 despite several unsuccessful attempts at dialogue between key political actors. Furthermore, the traditional separation of powers between the state’s legislative, executive, and judicial branches continued to break down as a result of the evident concentration of power in the executive branch and limited checks and balances elsewhere in government.

Systemic corruption was brought into the spotlight with the “Envelope” affair, in which businessman Duško Knežević revealed he had been illegally financing the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), his erstwhile ally, for years. Recordings released by Knežević, who resides abroad to avoid prosecution for alleged crimes, implicated members of the political elite in corruption. Although these revelations prompted several investigations and low-level arrests, the involvement of higher-profile figures in the “Envelope” affair was overlooked by the relevant institutions. This mild response and lack of institutional independence sparked citizen protests in the capital Podgorica in mid-2019 and underscored the DPS’s firm grip on the state.

A number of other affairs during the year undermined judicial institutions in particular. Under pressure from civil society, the state admitted that it had given judges favorable loans and credits for apartments. In addition, the acting Judicial Council reappointed several judges who had already exceeded their term limits. Due to these and other incidents, overall public trust in the judiciary declined significantly in 2019.

The political scene remained polarized by a marked lack of dialogue. The High Court of Podgorica delivered a first-instance judgment in the “coup trial,” sentencing a group of 13 Russians, Serbs, and Montenegrins, including two leaders of the opposition Democratic Front (DF), to up to 15 years in prison. The coup never materialized, as its alleged plotters were arrested on the eve of the 2016 parliamentary elections.1 Defense attorneys appealed this decision. In addition, several members of the political opposition were tried by the state prosecution office on other charges.

Parliamentary elections are due to be held in Montenegro no later than October 2020, but the country has yet to reform its electoral framework. With the strong support of European Union (EU) representatives, the ruling coalition (led by the DPS) and the political opposition reconvened the ad hoc Committee on Further Reform of Electoral and Other Legislation in September. However, one opposition party decided to boycott and thereby block its work, requesting that the government withdraw the Law on Religious Freedoms from Parliament. (Aside from this action, elements of the opposition have been boycotting Parliament altogether since the 2016 parliamentary elections.) The Law on Religious Freedoms, which is widely seen to target the Serbian Orthodox Church, was nonetheless adopted, provoking violent disruptions in the Parliament building and the arrest of a number of DF members. Its passage has further polarized Montenegro’s already divided society and shifted public attention away from all other national affairs.

The overall media environment in Montenegro remains fractious, and the development and sustainability of professional commercial media is uncertain. During 2019, over a dozen new cases of threats and attacks against journalists and media occurred, while the majority of older cases remain unsolved. The government proposed a set of new media laws that ignored key proposals from independent outlets and civil society organizations.

Together, these issues have stymied Montenegro’s progress in the EU accession process. For the first time since the start of accession negotiations in 2012, Montenegro neither opened nor provisionally closed any negotiation chapters, raising the question of whether the EU has silently activated the “balance clause,” a mechanism that may be applied if rule-of-law reforms lag far behind the country’s overall alignment with EU standards.

National Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive branches. 3.253 7.007
  • In 2019, Montenegro’s executive and legislative branches continued to converge, with the latter increasingly subservient to the former. Representatives of several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)1 and opposition parties2 criticized Parliament for its reduced oversight role, as compared to previous years. Parliament, which is controlled by the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and allied parties, failed not only to effectively oversee executive power but also to scrutinize important pieces of legislation. The ruling coalition in Parliament made several questionable decisions over the year, including passing the Law on Religious Freedoms that compels religious bodies to provide proof of ownership for any real estate or property acquired before 1918, a requirement likely to burden the Serbian Orthodox Church.3 Parliament also adopted a law to save the national airline from bankruptcy that envisages a €155 million ($167 million) outlay from the state budget, despite the fact that additional aid for the airline was supposed to be conditioned on an as-yet unimplemented restructuring plan.4
  • Parliament made a number of controversial appointments in 2019. It named Sreten Radonjić head of the Council of the Agency for Personal Data Protection and Free Access to Information, even though his performance as head of the Agency for Prevention of Corruption was unsatisfactory (see “Corruption”).5 It also named Zorica Kalezić vice governor of the Central Bank of Montenegro while a court case contesting the illegal dismissal of the previous vice governor was still ongoing.6
  • After several weeks of protests, organizers of the Odupri se (Resist) movement (see “Civil Society”) put forward in March a document titled “Agreement for the Future” signed by all opposition parties. The agreement set the opposition’s terms for forming a new national interim government composed of an equal number of representatives from the ruling majority, opposition parties, and nonpartisans that would pave the way for free and fair elections while preserving Montenegro’s current foreign policy.7 It also envisaged a boycott of all local and national elections before the establishment of the new national interim government. The agreement further required the resignation of current high-profile officials, including the president, prime minister, supreme state prosecutor, and chief special prosecutor. However, the DPS declined to negotiate. In April, the agreement was undermined by the opposition Social Democratic Party’s participation in the DPS-led effort to oust the opposition-run government in Kotor municipality, as well as by other disagreements among various opposition parties. All of this indicates that the proposed agreement was premature and that opposition politicians lacked the political will to ensure the minimal cooperation required for its successful implementation.
  • The opposition saw increased pressure in 2019. In May, two Democratic Front (DF) leaders, Andrija Mandić and Milan Knežević, were each sentenced to five years in jail for “creating a criminal organization with the purpose of committing terrorist attacks and other crimes against the constitutional order and security” as part of the dubious first-instance judgement in the “coup trial.”8 Their attorneys appealed this decision, which was still pending at year’s end. Moreover, several DF lawmakers were sanctioned for physically and verbally attacking MPs from the ruling coalition. In an October decision, DF leader Milan Knežević was given four months of house arrest, while lawmakers Marina Jočić, Milutin Đukanović, and Branko Radulović were given probation in relation to a 2017 incident.9 In December, 17 DF lawmakers were arrested for violent disruptions during the vote on the Law on Religious Freedoms (see “Civil Society”).
  • Montenegro entered the eighth year since the start of EU accession negotiations.10 The country has not achieved the results expected by this stage, as it continues to face significant challenges in meeting EU standards. The government claims that it has continued to “fulfil” EU conditions, yet in practice it only simulates the process of reform while remaining focused on using the state apparatus to achieve DPS political interests. This political maneuvering has seen the formal opening and provisional closing of some chapters of the EU acquis without any structural or tangible results. During 2019, however, for the first time since the start of negotiations, Montenegro did not open or provisionally close any chapters.11 Several NGOs12 and opposition figures are now speculating that the European Commission (EC) has decided to slow down negotiations, perhaps by invoking the “balance clause” in the accession process.13
  • In 2019, the government raised the monthly minimum wage from €193 to €222 ($208 to $240), as it was the lowest of any state in the region.14 In April, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projected 2.8 percent growth in Montenegro’s gross domestic product (GDP), the country’s worst forecast since 2009. The IMF raised its estimate slightly in more recent forecasts, noting, “In the absence of further reforms, growth is expected to average just under 3%.”15 Montenegro’s significant public debt burden, currently above 70 percent of GDP, remains an area of serious concern, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development called on the government to reduce it to below 60 percent.16
  • Almost 49 percent of Montenegrins believe the country is moving in the wrong direction, the highest percentage in the past decade, according to July 2019 polling by the Center for Democracy and Human Rights.17 At the same time, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, in its survey “Youth Perceptions and Attitudes on Politics in Montenegro,” found that 70.3 percent of youth are considering leaving the country, while 55.3 percent feel that personal rights and freedoms are generally not respected.18
Electoral Process 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines national executive and legislative elections, the electoral framework, the functioning of multiparty systems, and popular participation in the political process. 4.254 7.007
  • Montenegro’s parliamentary elections are due to be held no later than October 2020, but the country has yet to complete electoral legislation reform in line with recommendations from the OSCE/ODIHR1 and domestic election observation organizations.2
  • The preelection year was characterized by an intensification of the political crisis that arose from the 2016 parliamentary elections, which returned the DPS to power amid numerous irregularities.3 The opposition has boycotted parliament in one form or another ever since. However, because the opposition remains fragmented and stuck in a cycle of mutual recriminations, not all opposition lawmakers have joined the boycott.
  • In 2019, dialogue between the DPS and the opposition failed to produce any tangible results, despite the international community’s efforts at mediation. The ad hoc Committee on Further Reform of Electoral and Other Legislation, which was constituted in 2018 to update the country’s electoral framework, resumed its work in September 2019 after the DPS made certain concessions to the opposition Democratic Montenegro party, which had hitherto refused to participate.4 This move was highly praised by the international community.5 However, the DF decided to boycott the work of the newly reconstituted body in September, which was renamed the Committee on Comprehensive Reform of Electoral and Other Legislation and given an extended mandate.6 In addition, Democratic Montenegro party decided to leave the committee just before the end of its mandate, conditioning their return on the withdrawal of the Law on Religious Freedoms.7
  • The DPS rejected this request and instead passed whatever electoral laws it could without the opposition—that is, legislation that did not require a two-thirds majority. This included amendments to the Law on Voters List, the Law on Financing of Political Entities and Election Campaigns, the Law on Territorial Organization of Montenegro, and the Criminal Code of Montenegro, which criminalizes illegal financing of political parties and campaigns.
  • In March, local elections were held in Tuzi, the youngest Montenegrin municipality (see “Local Democratic Governance”). According to the EC, no “major irregularities” marred the vote.8 A coalition of Albanian parties won; backed by the Democrats (Democratic Montenegro), the coalition sent the ruling DPS into the opposition in this municipality.9
Civil Society 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses the organizational capacity and financial sustainability of the civic sector; the legal and political environment in which it operates; the functioning of trade unions; interest group participation in the policy process; and the threat posed by antidemocratic extremist groups. 5.255 7.007
  • In 2019, Montenegro introduced separate funds to cofinance EU-funded projects conducted by civil society organizations (CSOs)—a welcome development, although sustainable funding for CSOs remains a problem. On the other hand, the government proposed amendments to the Law on Free Access to Information that could reduce the accessibility of public data and shrink the space for CSOs. Overall, there were no significant changes in the civil society sector during the year.
  • Official data show that the number of registered civil society organizations remains high for a small country like Montenegro. As of March, 4,500 NGOs, 174 foundations, and 11 foreign organizations were registered in total.1 Although the number of active NGOs is certainly lower, Montenegro still has a vibrant NGO scene.
  • Montenegro has not yet developed a database of CSO projects receiving public funding. Still, reporting shows that 15 out of 17 ministries proposed and received funding from the state budget in 2019 for projects in 20 different areas of public interest.2 The process of soliciting CSO projects, however, was delayed for three and a half months with no explanation.
  • The relationship between government, other political actors, and the civil society sector is characterized by high levels of mistrust and low levels of cooperation. Montenegrin civil society, however, enjoys stronger support and higher levels of trust among Montenegrin citizens. The public’s level of trust in NGOs (39.3 percent as of December 2019) is higher than its trust in political parties (25.6 percent), Parliament (33.7 percent), and government (36.2 percent).3 The government and other political actors perceive CSOs as rivals rather than partners.
  • Throughout the first half of the year, waves of demonstrations under the banner Odupri se (Resist) occurred in the capital Podgorica, gathering thousands of citizens outraged by the revelations of the “Envelope” affair (see “Executive Summary”).4 The protests were led by an informal group of intellectuals, activists, and journalists, and were supported by opposition parties. Protestors demanded the resignations of key public officials and the formation of an interim government.
  • In September, the government proposed amendments to the Law on Free Access to Information that would introduce new restrictions. These would regulate the “abuse” of the right to information, providing authorities with a legal basis to arbitrarily reject requests for government records or other public information. These amendments could drastically reduce the transparency of government institutions, contrary to international standards, and thereby enable corruption. CSOs signed an open letter requesting that the envisaged amendments be withdrawn.5
  • In December, Parliament passed the Law on Freedom of Religion or Beliefs and the Legal Status of Religious Communities (known as the “Law on Religious Freedoms”) despite strong objections from many opposition parties and the Serbian Orthodox Church, which stands to lose real estate through state confiscation. All attempts by the opposition to amend the law before it passed were voted down. Lawmakers from the DF tried to prevent a final vote on the law by causing chaos in the legislative chamber but were stopped by parliamentary security services.6 Seventeen DF lawmakers were later arrested for the violent disruptions. President Đjukanović signed the law on December 28, a day after it was passed.7 Largely peaceful nationwide protests, organized by the Serbian Orthodox Church, promptly ensued and continued into 2020.
  • Several local NGO initiatives were very successful in 2019. In Bar, citizens and CSOs prevented the development of a former arboretum, earning a commitment from the authorities to instead plant trees in the space.8 And in Žabljak, citizens and CSOs blocked an infrastructure project within Durmitor National Park.9
Independent Media 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines the current state of press freedom, including libel laws, harassment of journalists, and editorial independence; the operation of a financially viable and independent private press; and the functioning of the public media. 3.253 7.007
  • Freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and other media freedoms are under constant attack and political pressure in Montenegro, as evidenced by the “no progress” marks in the last three European Commission reports.1 An EC “non-paper” specifically lamented “a lack of progress in addressing both recent and old cases of serious attacks against journalists with regard to identifying material perpetrators and those behind the attacks.”2
  • In 2019, there was one serious physical attack on a journalist.3 In addition, Vijesti, the most popular news portal in the country, endured distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks in January, February, April, June, and September.4 Public authorities did not resolve any of these attacks5 nor inform the public on the outcome of any investigations. Twelve cases of threats against and intimidation of journalists were also reported, according to official information from a government commission.6 Out of that number, five cases were criminal offences, three were misdemeanors, two were dismissed, and the remaining are still being processed.
  • In January 2019, reporter Jovo Martinović was given an 18-month prison sentence. Martinović, who had been in contact with an organized crime group for a journalistic investigation, was convicted on charges of drug trafficking and membership in a criminal association. The sentence was thrown out on appeal in October, although Martinović faces a retrial in 2020.7
  • In December, Vladimir Otaševića, a journalist from the daily DAN, was attacked by Mladen Mijatović, an employee of the Ministry of Interior and bodyguard of the controversial businessman Zoran Bećirović.8 The attack occurred while Otašević was trying to photograph Bećirović in a shopping mall. At the time, Bećirović was in the presence of Miloš Šoškić, a state prosecutor. As the attack unfolded, Šoškić did not try to stop the incident although obliged by law to intervene. Later, public broadcaster RTCG released an incomplete account of the attack that did not accord with reporting from other outlets. The Council of RTCG conceded the “error” and ordered the station management to determine responsibility for its misleading reporting.9
  • There was no progress during the year in resolving previous attacks on journalists or media property. According to a September statement by Police Director Veselin Veljović, the 2004 assassination of DAN editor-in-chief Duško Jovanović and the 2007 attempted assassination of journalist Tufik Softić would probably never be resolved due to prosecutorial omissions in the investigations.10 So far, no proceedings have been initiated against those responsible for the omissions.
  • In February, just before an official visit by Johannes Hahn,11 then European Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, police announced their completed investigation into the 2018 shooting of Vijesti journalist Olivera Lakić, naming the perpetrator as Filip Bešović, who promptly proclaimed his innocence.12 Several months later, police officials denied that they ever claimed Bešović tried to kill Lakić.13 Subsequently, there has been no progress in finding the real shooter.
  • In 2019, Montenegro began significant media legislation reforms. Three key draft laws—the Law on Media, Law on the Public Broadcaster, and Law on Audio-Visual Media Services—were publicly debated in February, March, and July, respectively, and all were pending at year’s end before the EU and Council of Europe, which will offer advisory opinions.14 The draft Law on Media envisages the establishment of a Media Pluralism Fund, which lawmakers hope will incentivize commercial media to produce content in the public interest and improve their competitiveness. However, according to representatives from the media, this fund is too small to achieve its purpose, as it will be more than ten times less than RTCG’s annual subsidies.15 Other provisions of the law undermine the confidentiality of sources, which journalists will have to disclose as requested by prosecutorial authorities under a wide range of circumstances. Though these requests are subject to approval by a court, they can still be misused.16 Meanwhile, the draft Law on the Public Broadcaster contains provisions that could further undermine RTCG’s independence, according to critics, by creating significant space for political interference.17 Lastly, the draft Law on Audio-Visual Media Services would not protect Montenegrin citizens from regional unprofessional media content, does not envisage requiring national TV stations to air more self-produced quality content, and could leave space for monopolies in the media market by allowing media buying agencies to own media outlets.18
  • Media ownership concentration is a problem in Montenegro. Additionally, an analysis by the EU-Council of Europe JUFREX program of the country’s media sector identified shortcomings in relevant legal and institutional frameworks, proposing 68 recommendations for improvements.19 The government adopted a plan for implementing these recommendations and, in January 2019, reported that it had implemented more than half, largely through the abovementioned new media legislation, even though no legislation had been enacted at that point.20 There have been no other communications from the government about the implementation of JUFREX recommendations.
  • In positive news, the High Court in Podgorica confirmed that the entire management of the public broadcaster had been illegally dismissed in 2018.21 Additionally, in November 2019, Milka Tadić Mijović and Milena Perović Korać, journalists from the weekly Monitor, won a long-running court case against the formerly state-owned daily Pobjeda, which they accused of damaging their reputations and honor in a series of offensive stories published in 2011–12. In a final ruling, the High Court in Podgorica obliged the state and Pobjeda’s former editor-in-chief (currently media advisor to the prime minister) to pay each journalist compensation of €5,000 ($5,399).22
Local Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the decentralization of power; the responsibilities, election, and capacity of local governmental bodies; and the transparency and accountability of local authorities. 4.505 7.007
  • Montenegro’s constitution recognizes the opština (municipality) as the basic form of local self-government and administration. The administrative capital Podgorica and the historical/honorary capital Cetinje have special legal status. In 2018, the number of municipalities increased from 23 to 24, when a new municipality (Tuzi) was established.1
  • Structural and financial difficulties are the main challenges faced by municipalities in Montenegro. Additionally, the level of transparency among local governments continues to decrease.2
  • In 2019, the state adopted a new law on local self-government financing3 that increases the percentage of personal income tax assigned to municipalities in the country’s underdeveloped Northern Region.
  • The central government continued to put pressure on municipalities where the DPS is not in power, including by denying funding for projects and sending in various inspectors to harass local officials.4 Meanwhile, several political crises occurred in municipalities where opposition parties hold power. In Kotor, after several attempts, the president of the municipality, who came from the opposition Democrats, was dismissed5 and replaced by a new president appointed from the DPS.
  • Most municipalities have an excessive number of employees, as previous attempts at reduction have been unsuccessful. The state adopted a new internal reorganization plan for 2018–20 to reduce the number of employees in local governments by 1,217, a 10-percent decrease from the current total of 12,174.6 However, significant progress has not been made toward this goal or even in the implementation of the plan’s short-term measures. In 2019, 230 employees in local governments left their positions, while 137 new employees were hired.7
  • During the year, the first elections were held in the youngest Montenegrin municipality of Tuzi, which was previously part of the capital Podgorica. The Albanian Forum coalition, comprising Albanian Alternative (AA), Democratic Alliance (DSA), and Democratic Union of Albanians (DUA), won the majority of votes, while the ruling party DPS came in second.8
Judicial Framework and Independence 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses constitutional and human rights protections, judicial independence, the status of ethnic minority rights, guarantees of equality before the law, treatment of suspects and prisoners, and compliance with judicial decisions. 3.504 7.007
  • In 2019, the independence and integrity of the Montenegrin justice system were seriously undermined by a number of questionable administrative decisions and scandals involving high-ranking judicial authorities, resulting in decreased public trust.
  • The government adopted a new “Strategy for the Reform of the Judiciary, 2019–2022,” continuing an already decades-long process of judicial reform.1 Previous efforts did not produce desired outputs for creating an independent, impartial, accountable, and efficient judicial system. The new strategy focuses on implementing Chapter 23 of the EU acquis, which concerns the judiciary and fundamental rights. There were no changes in the judiciary’s legislative framework during the year, however.
  • The Judicial and Prosecutorial Councils are the key management bodies responsible for appointing and dismissing judges and prosecutors, respectively. The Judicial Council’s mandate expired in 2018, and the opposition’s partial boycott of Parliament prevented the election of new members. To ensure its continued functioning, the Law on the Judicial Council was amended in line with advice from the Venice Commission2 to extend the mandate of its existing members. In June 2019, eight would-be new members of the Judicial Council finally stood for election before Parliament, but none won enough votes to be elected.3
  • In its ad hoc form, the Judicial Council reelected the president of the Supreme Court and the presidents of the basic courts in Bar, Kotor, Plav, and Rožaje, even though these judges have already served two or more consecutive mandates in their respective positions. (The incumbent president of the basic court in Kotor has held his position since 1989.) These decisions were questioned by many domestic4 and international experts and NGOs,5 who pointed out that they violated the constitution in the case of the Supreme Court and the Law on the Judicial Council for basic courts.6
  • In addition, the ad hoc Judicial Council selected ten candidates for judicial positions in basic courts around the country.7 Three NGOs submitted a criminal complaint against the council, alleging “a gross violation of the regulations on conducting and evaluating [candidate] interviews and preventing conflicts of interest.”8 The state prosecution office rejected the complaint without providing information on any action taken to verify the allegations.9
  • The mandate of Montenegro’s supreme state prosecutor expired in October. The Prosecutorial Council decided that the incumbent, Ivica Stanković, would remain in the position, since no one else stepped forward to succeed him.10 This decision came despite the claim made by “Envelope” affair informer Duško Knežević that he had bribed Stanković to stop an investigation into his foreign clients.11 Authorities have failed to investigate this claim, which Stanković denies.
  • During the year, Montenegro’s Supreme Court issued dubious legal guidance to lower courts, instructing them not to adjudicate Parliament’s decisions to appoint or dismiss public officials in any administrative dispute or civil proceeding.12 The guidance was criticized by international and domestic experts,13 who argued that it violates the right to a legal remedy through the courts and was politically influenced. It came after several rulings in favor of plaintiffs with civil society backgrounds who were dismissed from public positions by Parliament.14 The basic court in Podgorica disregarded this guidance in a September case,15 ruling that Parliament had illegally dismissed Central Bank vice governor Irena Radović, although a higher court overturned this ruling at year’s end.16
  • The first-instance verdict in the “coup trial” came in May (see “Executive Summary”). The conduct and outcome of the trial led the opposition (in particular, the DF) to conclude that it was politically motivated.17 Some observers pointed out that the trial left a number of questions about alleged coup d’état unanswered.18
  • Several other affairs shook public trust in the judiciary in 2019. Under pressure from civil society,19 the government revealed that it had given apartments and loans to a number of senior judges as part of the so-called “Flats” affair.20 This practice undermines the separation of powers and gave the government political influence over judicial officials. In June, the NGO Institute Alternative asked the Constitutional Court to review regulations that allowed the allocation of apartments and loans to public officials, and at the same time pointed out that several Constitutional Court judges have conflicts of interest, since they were also beneficiaries of the regulations.21
  • In recent years, the judiciary has made progress in the area of transparency. Courts have their own websites where they post information about scheduled hearings, court decisions, annual work reports, as well as other documents that are important to the general public.22 On the other hand, the state prosecution office remains non-transparent, and its website is inoperative.23
  • The enforcement of ethics codes for judges and prosecutors remains limited, as does disciplinary accountability, according to a European Commission non-paper.24
  • The latest polls conducted by the Center for Democracy and Human Rights (CEDEM) show a decreasing level of public trust in the Montenegrin justice system. CEDEM found that 40.8 percent of citizens trusted the judiciary in July 2019 compared to 49.1 percent in March 2018.25
Corruption 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Looks at public perceptions of corruption, the business interests of top policymakers, laws on financial disclosure and conflict of interest, and the efficacy of anticorruption initiatives. 3.003 7.007
  • Montenegro has failed thus far to establish a solid track record in the fight against corruption, especially high-level corruption. Several scandals emerged in 2019 that further undermine the rule of law and underscore the country’s lack of political will to process, prosecute, and adjudicate corruption.
  • According to the EU, corruption remains endemic in Montenegro,1 compounded by the lack of political will to tackle it.2 Following the publication of an EC non-paper in November that criticized the government’s anticorruption efforts,3 the director of the Agency for Prevention of Corruption (ASK), Sreten Radonjić, announced he would resign before his mandate expired.4 He subsequently applied for and was elected head of the Council of the Agency for Personal Data Protection and Free Access to Information.
  • In July, Parliament appointed five new members to the Council of the ASK, which controls the institution. Two of the five members came from civil society, while the majority5 came from government ranks.6 According to civil society representatives, this distribution will not ensure the ASK’s proper conduct. Others noted with concern that the council members were elected only with votes of the ruling majority in Parliament,7 with some opining that the members will not be accountable to the public but, rather, to the ruling majority.8
  • The ASK’s latest progress reports demonstrate that the agency has had little tangible impact. For example, out of 4,400 public officials in Montenegro,9 the agency made only 30 decisions related to conflicts of interest, and found violations of the law in only 20 cases.10
  • Several potential high-level corruption cases were ignored by the ASK in 2019, as in years prior. For example, President Đjukanović was accused of possessing unexplained wealth and violating the Law on Prevention of Corruption when photos showing him wearing wristwatches worth over €1.5 million ($1.62 million) were published. The agency ignored that the president did not declare these assets in official reports.11
  • As part of the “Envelope” affair, a video surfaced showing former Mayor of Podgorica and current Secretary General of the President of Montenegro Slavoljub Stijepović accepting €97,500 ($105,000) from Duško Knežević on behalf of the DPS. After a short investigation, the ASK fined the DPS for not reporting €47,500 of illegal income.12 However, they did not investigate the remaining €50,000. The DPS paid the fine and also returned just €47,500. No investigations into other illegal donations from Knežević were conducted, and the entire affair was initially marked “internal” by the ASK, thus denying the public access to decisions and documents in the agency’s case against the DPS.13 However, Stijepović was indicted on money-laundering charges by the Special Prosecution on December 30, 2019.14
  • In October, a local businessman released recordings showing attempts made by two state construction inspectors to extort him.15 Although the businessman claimed he had reported the case to the public authorities five months prior, state prosecutors did not act,16 prompting him to share the recordings with the media. The inspectors remained unindicted at year’s end, but Minister of Tourism and Sustainable Development Pavle Radulović, to whom the inspectors ultimately reported, submitted his resignation.17

Authors: Ana Nenezić is the Executive Director of the think tank Centre for Monitoring and Research (CeMI), Montenegro. Vuk Maras is the Executive Director of the Media Association of South-East Europe, based in Podgorica, Montenegro

Note

The ratings reflect the consensus of Freedom House, its academic advisers, and the author(s) of this report. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author(s). The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0–100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic.

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  • Global Freedom Score

    62 100 partly free