Freedom in the World
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In October 2011, the European Union (EU) cleared Montenegro to begin accession negotiations following progress on seven priorities, including the September passage of a new election reform law. However, the EU noted that further efforts were needed in the areas of anticorruption and antidiscrimination legislation, as well as judicial reforms.
Montenegro was first recognized as an independent state in 1878. In 1918, it joined the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, which after World War II became the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. As that state collapsed in the early 1990s, Montenegro maintained its ties to Serbia in the truncated Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), dominated by Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević. In 1997, however, a group of former Milošević cohorts in Montenegro, led by Prime Minister Milo Đukanović, decided to break with Milošević and pursue Montenegrin independence.
Milošević’s fall from power in 2000 did not improve relations between Montenegro and its larger federal partner, and the two republics signed an agreement in 2002 that loosened their bond, replacing the FRY with the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. The deal allowed either republic to hold an independence referendum after three years, and Đukanović exercised that option in May 2006. Referendum voters approved the final break with Serbia, and the parliament declared independence in July.
The September 2006 parliamentary elections confirmed voter support for the ruling pro-independence coalition. Đukanović retired in October, but returned as prime minister in April 2008, allegedly after a brief attempt to control the country from behind the scenes. Also in April, President Filip Vujanović of Đukanović’s Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) was elected to a second five-year term.
In January 2009, Vujanović called snap parliamentary elections, reportedly because of fears that the global economic crisis could erode voter support before the legislature’s full term ended. The March polls saw the DPS-led coalition win a comfortable majority of 48 seats in the 81-seat parliament. The opposition Socialist People’s Party took 16 seats, followed by the New Serb Democracy with 8, the Movement for Change with 5, and four small ethnic Albanian parties with 1 seat each. Local elections in several municipalities in May 2010 confirmed the DPS’s political dominance.
Since gaining independence, Montenegro has sought to join NATO and the European Union (EU), and in December 2010, the EU granted the country candidate status. A few days later, Đukanović resigned as prime minister for a second time, asserting that he had successfully guided the country toward European integration. However, there were indications that his continued tenure could have obstructed Montenegro’s EU candidacy as a result of allegations that he had been involved in cigarette smuggling in the 1990s. Đukanović remained chairman of the DPS, and Finance Minister Igor Lukšić, also a DPS member, succeeded him as prime minister.
In September 2011, the parliament broke a four-year impasse to pass a landmark new election law that ensures the representation of minorities and improves technical voting issues. The law’s passage had been delayed as a result of a controversy over the languages officially recognized in the country. In 2010, Montenegrin had become the official language of the state broadcaster, and a Montenegrin grammar text was introduced in schools. Critics of those moves argued that the government was promoting an artificial language derived from standard Serbian, and the opposition had vowed that it would not support the election law until the Serbian language was given equal status to Montenegrin in the education system. The law was passed after lawmakers agreed on a class to be taught in the schools called “Montenegrin-Serbian, Bosnian, Croatian language and literature.”
In October, the European Commission (EC) noted progress on the seven priorities for EU membership, especially the passage of the election law, and cleared Montenegro to begin accession negotiations. The EC emphasized, however, that efforts needed to continue on key reforms, especially regarding corruption and antidiscrimination legislation.
Despite its NATO and EU ambitions, Montenegro has extensive economic ties with Russia. Some accounts suggest that as much as $13 billion in Russian capital has entered Montenegro since the 1990s, allegedly making it the largest recipient of foreign investment per capita in Europe in recent years.
Montenegro is an electoral democracy. International observers deemed the 2006 and 2009 parliamentary elections and the 2008 presidential vote to have been free and fair, despite some irregularities. Members of the unicameral, 81-seat Assembly (Skupština) are elected for four-year terms. The president, directly elected for up to two five-year terms, nominates the prime minister, who requires legislative approval.
Numerous political parties compete for power, though the opposition remains relatively weak. The current coalition government consists of the DPS, the Social Democratic Party, and two smaller parties representing the Bosniak and Croat minorities. Other parties in the parliament represent ethnic Serbs and Albanians, and the Movement for Change advocates liberal policies and European integration. Serbs, who comprise an estimated 35 percent of the population, were generally opposed to independence prior to 2006, but their adjustment to the new reality has eased political tensions.
Corruption, which remains a serious problem, is partly a legacy of the struggle against the Milošević regime in the 1990s, when the small republic turned to various forms of smuggling to finance government operations. Prime Minister Lukšić has prioritized the government’s anticorruption campaign, and the EC reported in October 2011 that key legislative frameworks were being implemented to improve party financing transparency and eliminate conflicts of interest. Nevertheless, implementation has been uneven, convictions in high-profile corruption cases remain low, and interagency cooperation needs improvement, especially between prosecutors and police. From October 2010 to September 2011, 28 officials were charged with abuse of office and bribery. Montenegro was ranked 66 out of 183 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of the press is generally respected, and a variety of independent media operate. In July 2011, the government enhanced press freedom by removing provisions on defamation and insult from the Criminal Code, among other measures. However, several old cases of violence against journalists remain unresolved, and reporters still face harassment. The public broadcaster is not fully independent. Internet access is unrestricted.
The constitution guarantees freedom of religious belief. However, the canonically recognized Serbian Orthodox Church and a self-proclaimed Montenegrin Orthodox Church have repeatedly clashed over ownership of church properties and other issues.
Academic freedom is guaranteed by law, but political debates about the nature of Montenegrin identity and history have spilled over into the educational realm, as was the case when controversy over the Montenegrin language almost blocked the adoption of the new election law.
Citizens enjoy freedoms of association and assembly. Nongovernmental organizations are generally able to operate without state interference, and the EC noted improving cooperation between civil society and government institutions in 2011. Most formally employed workers belong to unions, and the right to strike is generally protected. Workers at Montenegro’s oldest daily newspaper, Victory, organized strikes in October 2011 to protest unpaid wages.
The EC’s 2011 report on Montenegro cited improvements in judicial reform, especially regarding the independence and efficiency of judges and prosecutors. However, the report noted concerns about the recruitment and training of new judges and prosecutors, as well as inefficiency in the court system. Despite efforts to improve prison conditions, most facilities are antiquated, overcrowded, and often unhygienic.
Ethnic Albanians, who comprise approximately 7 percent of the population, maintain that they are underrepresented in the civil service, particularly in the police and the judiciary. Members of various other minority groups, such as Roma, Ashkali, Egyptians, and homosexuals, often face discrimination. The EC noted in its 2011 report that, despite some improvements, antidiscrimination laws are unevenly implemented.
Women in Montenegro are legally entitled to equal pay for equal work, but traditional patriarchal attitudes often limit their salary levels and educational opportunities. Women are underrepresented in higher levels of government. In June 2011, the government adopted a five-year strategy to combat domestic violence. Trafficking in persons for the purposes of prostitution and forced labor remains a problem. In 2011, the government investigated only three trafficking cases and did not prosecute a single new case, according to the U.S. Department of State's Trafficking in Persons Report 2012. However, 14 traffickers were convicted in 2011 from earlier cases, compared with 12 trafficking convictions in 2010.
The ratings through 2002 are for the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, of which Montenegro was a part, and those from 2003 through 2005 are for the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro.