What kind of state does Montenegro need? Damar Institute August 31, 2023

What kind of state does Montenegro need?

At the level of political formula – a set of desirable values and an accompanying institutional framework that ensures them, or through which the system legitimizes itself – there is a majority consensus among the citizens of Montenegro regarding Montenegro as a European state of the rule of law, democracy, social justice and inclusion, and environmentally sustainable development. However, one of the significant burdens is the “unfinished tradition” or re-traditionalization of society and divisions, as well as the present revisionism and fear of its consequences – as indicated by some of the findings of the research presented today by the Center for Civic Education (CCE), Friedrich Ebert Foundation, and DAMAR Agency at the roundtable discussion “What kind of state does Montenegro need?”

Kirsten Schönefeld, the director of the regional office of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation for Serbia and Montenegro, emphasized the importance of gaining closer insight into the state and needs of citizens. “We welcome this very important project that explores the concerns, challenges, and what connects the citizens of Montenegro in light of significant changes in the country. We believe that strengthening inclusive policies oriented towards citizens is crucial for deepening democracy, pluralism, and enhancing trust in institutions and the system. We strongly support Montenegro’s orientation towards the European Union and believe that policies in the country and the EU will aim to accelerate the pace of the integration process,” Schönefeld stated.

The research included three main sections: 1) state and political system, 2) economic system and policy, 3) social system and policy, encompassing 24 coding units.

Regarding the first section, specifically in terms of organization, division, and control of power, as well as regionalization, decentralization, and local government, Daliborka Uljarević, the Executive Director of the CCE, highlighted the imbalance that exists in certain areas regarding legitimacy and authority. “There are divided opinions about whether the president of the state should have greater authority in exercising power, with a slight majority of 45% believing that their authority should be expanded. Citizens do not have illusions that they can influence and control power beyond elections, and they view each of the existing mechanisms of such control as essentially ineffective, with none recognized as efficient by even a fifth of the respondents. The prevailing sentiment is that local authorities (mayors, municipal assemblies) in Montenegro should have greater decision-making powers – 51.8%, which also indicates the limitations of a centralized system in ensuring services at the local level. Furthermore, the prevailing view is that the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) should have the same position as any other religious community because Montenegro is a secular state – 55.3% explicitly support this, while less than a third (30.2%) believe that SOC should have a special status due to the number of believers in Montenegro, and 14.5% cannot determine their stance on this issue,” Uljarević stated.

“Despite nearly all of our decision-makers pledging their commitment to the EU, 46.4% of citizens do not believe they are working towards equal treatment under the law and the establishment of European standards that guarantee the rule of law. A significant majority (67.9%) believe that the rule of law is not possible without accountability and equality under the law. It is concerning that a small number believe there is a judicial system in Montenegro where they can receive justice – only 14.4%. Nevertheless, nearly half of the population believes that justice is slow but attainable in Montenegro, with a high number recognizing that the judicial system works only for those who are powerful and well-connected (31.6%),” Uljarević commented on the part of the research related to the rule of law and judicial reform.

In the section of the research concerning identity issues, the majority assessment of respondents is positioned towards the belief that interethnic relations in Montenegro are currently good but need significant improvement (52.5%), while nearly a third (30.6%) view them as poor and a serious problem. Opinions are divided about the quality of the debate on identity issues, with an equal number of people thinking that scientists and politicians should address these topics.

“Overwhelmingly, citizens attribute the divisions in Montenegrin society to political parties (53.4%) and religious communities (23.3%). Additionally, just over one-third believe that the secular character of Montenegro is endangered today (34.6%), and a worrisome number view the rehabilitation of war criminals and movements, as well as historical revisionism, as present in Montenegro (41.1%). This contributes to the prevailing sentiment that we are facing a problem of radicalization (48.7%). Solutions are seen across a wide spectrum, including legal sanctions, strengthening civic education, media educational programs, etc.,” Uljarević emphasized.

Among numerous socially harmful phenomena, citizens are primarily concerned about children and their safety, and it is encouraging that awareness about the issue of domestic violence is growing. The police are predominantly seen as an entity addressing this problem, resulting in a prevailing feeling of security outside the home or apartment (82.9%). An imperative stance is held by nearly 80% that the state urgently needs to implement a policy to review gun permits and reduce the amount of weaponry in society. When it comes to combating corruption and organized crime, the most recognizable actor is the Prosecutor’s Office (31.4%), with all other actors being significantly less recognized.

“As expected, given the support that the EU accession process has in the public, the majority opinion is that the main pillar of Montenegro’s foreign policy should be the EU (58.2%), but the influence of Serbia and Russia is growing significantly. The prevailing view (55%) is that we need new political structures to accelerate the path to the EU, and key benefits from the EU,” Uljarević stated.

Citizens mostly believe that Montenegro should maintain its position on recognizing Kosovo and leave Serbia and Kosovo to resolve their relations on their own (46.8%).

“The concerns expressed by citizens in this research highlight the need for improvements in several key governance areas. By addressing these issues through increased transparency, policy reform, and strategic investments, it is possible to build a more inclusive, efficient government that is trusted,” said Vuk Čađenović, Executive Director of DAMAR Agency.

“Divided opinions about the importance of voting in society, in which almost half (47.3%) believe that abstaining from voting should be a legitimate way to express dissatisfaction, while a significant number (46.9%) view voting as a civic duty, reveal potential disillusionment with the political process among a significant portion of the population. In terms of electoral reforms, there is strong support for introducing open electoral lists (62%), indicating a need for increased transparency, and the opinion of the majority (57.4%) that granting voting rights in diplomatic-consular representations abroad is a good idea points towards a desire for greater diaspora involvement in the political process,” Čađenović said.

It appears that public trust in political parties is deficient; therefore, 60.3% of respondents believe that political parties do not fulfill their pre-election promises, and the change of power has not convinced the majority of a change in governance and other institutions, as confirmed by the fact that 48% think the new government also favors its party members, activists, and officials.

“When it comes to the freedom of NGOs to operate and criticize without sanctions, 35.7% believe that NGOs can do so, and nearly 50% suggest limitations on free criticism through reactions and insults on social media and in comments, or believe they are not free,” Čađenović points out.

Almost half of the respondents (49.8%) attribute the country’s difficult economic situation to international trends and the influence of the coronavirus pandemic, while 41.9% blame irresponsible government decisions.

“When it comes to trust and transparency regarding tax fairness and taxation, as well as in public procurement, the majority of respondents (53.6%) believe that everyone should contribute to taxes, while a significant portion (40.9%) suggest tax exemptions for the poorest and payment based on economic capacity. This is followed by the fact that 58.9% believe that the law is not applied equally to all taxpayers. Regarding the compliance of public procurement with the law, 49.5% of citizens stated that they believe tenders are mostly rigged for those with connections in these institutions. A high level of distrust is indicated by the prevailing impression (53.4%) that rationality, professionalism, and depoliticization are not the basis for employment and advancement in public administration,” Čađenović stated.

As priorities for development, citizens see healthcare (52.3%), education, science, culture (42.5%), and social policy, social entrepreneurship, and employment (34.8%). Support for investments in green energy is endorsed (37.3%), but it is considered currently unattainable (33.5%), indicating strong support but also some concerns about feasibility.

Dr. Zoran Stoiljković, a professor at the Faculty of Political Sciences, University of Belgrade, commented on the third part of the research related to the social system and policies. “Considering that this section reflects the political and social pulse of citizens, three recurring data points are noticeable – first, we need to ask how people are living with a grade of 2+ that is repeated both in the majority’s assessment of their living conditions and their standard of living, as well as in the potential for change through the development of social dialogue institutions and the government’s behavior as a partner in it. This rating dominates from the perspective of expectations. Additionally, it’s evident that in Montenegro, the mood varies between hidden, uncertain optimism and dissatisfaction and skepticism that it’s hesitant to abandon,” Stojiljković said.

He reflected on the influence of tradition regarding the perception of women’s rights vulnerability, as well as the constraints on the work and life prospects of young people highlighted by research findings, along with the position of the elderly. “The third thing I would like to emphasize is the weight of the context you encounter, which limits the chances for change. The encountered context and resulting limited capacities and resources first lead to a state where desirable goals such as ecological reform, energy transition, and the improvement of healthcare and educational services and networks are seen as desirable but currently difficult to achieve goals by about a third of the population,” he commented.

In the field of education, attitudes are diverse when it comes to assessing primary and secondary education on one side and higher education on the other. “Regarding primary and secondary education, a significant majority would like reforms because it is not open to innovations and lacks sufficient critical capacity, which also speaks to the state of being accustomed to the idea that our children can and must be excellent. The quality of teaching in secondary schools is evaluated somewhat better than the aforementioned grade of 2+, and citizens blame the low standard of teachers as well as the low position of institutions responsible for educating the educational workforce. Similar views apply to healthcare,” Stoiljković said.

He particularly pointed out the fact that “over 60% of citizens support the need for university-educated people to be present in the public sphere, participating in discussions that involve diverse perspectives and shaping public policies. There’s a lack of them here, and too many of them in politics are driven by ego,” he said.

Finally, he analyzed media data, noting that the media situation globally, including in our country, is on a downward trajectory. “Objectivity exists to some extent or not at all. Montenegro has media pluralism but not impartiality. Also, social media have deeply penetrated public political life, and when it comes to disinformation, Montenegro is very sensitive to media pressure, organized creation of fake news, and post-truth. Citizens value that media lack good and professional journalists the most, as well as educational content and those that promote culture,” Stoiljković concluded.

Data collection was conducted using the CAPI method from May 15th to May 21st, 2023, on a three-stage stratified random sample that included 1002 citizens of Montenegro.

After the review of the research findings, an open discussion followed with over 50 participants from various fields (academic sphere, NGO sector, media, culture, education, judiciary, etc.). It is planned that, in the upcoming period, further exploration of these findings will take place, along with the creation of recommendations for decision-makers.

Maja Marinović (CGO)