Montenegro: I was wrong

A couple of years back, Brussels Gonzo and I had a debate about Montenegrin independence. I did a post saying it was a really bad idea. Gonzo replied with a post saying that I was just plain wrong. Bosh and drivel, I replied a few days later.

Okay, so: two and a half years have passed since that debate. Montenegrin has been independent since May 2006. How does that debate look in retrospect?

Well, it looks like Gonzo was right and I was wrong.

1) Montenegro’s economy has not collapsed. In fact, Montenegro grew faster in 2007 than in any of the previous four years.

2) Montenegro’s secession has not inflamed Serb nationalism. In fact, Serbia today has a much more liberal, non-xenophobic, and generally sensible government than it did when we had that debate.

3) While Montenegro’s government continues to be corrupt, inbred, intolerant of criticism, and deeply linked with regional criminal elites, independence has not made those things worse. Indeed, matters may have improved a little.

The whys of this would require a much longer post. But here are a few quick thoughts.

(1) Kostunica’s government wisely decided not to punish the Montenegrins, but instead handled the separation with tact and even generosity.

(2) Djukanovic has lost none of his cunning. He cleverly took a couple of years off, “retiring” (at the age of 44) to run things from behind the scenes — thereby allaying the fears of donors and investors — and only returning to formal power earlier this year. And he’s done a solid job of managing the transition to formal independence. While I don’t much care for Djukanovic — he’s an amoral opportunist who’s been involved in a variety of creepy and criminal activities — he’s no fool, and he deserves credit for good policy and competent management.

(3) Tourism has boomed.

(4) Light industry (mostly garments) has picked up sharply.

(5) Foreign aid has continued to pour in.

(6) Montenegro’s big Yugoslav-era aluminum refinery, while perpetually trembling on the brink of bankruptcy, has stubbornly refused to die — thereby keeping thousands of people employed, and the government’s finances from imploding.

This is not to say that everything is wonderful in Montenegro. It’s still poor, it’s still corrupt, and it’s still not a great place to be, say, an investigative reporter with an interest in public finance. Human Rights Watch and Transparency International have a variety of things to say about Montenegro, most of them none too flattering.

But, you know: it’s not an economic basket case. Independence was not a disaster.

Of course, it’s possible that things may still go bad. Maybe in five years Montenegro will be a blighted, post-apocalyptic wasteland. But given enough time, so will everywhere else. I mean, in a few million years we’ll all be a thin film of graphite between two layers of sedimentary rock. Two and a half years seems like a reasonable time to say whether something’s working out or not. And so far, Montenegrin independence seems to be working out.

8 thoughts on “Montenegro: I was wrong

  1. Pingback: Montenegro: two years later « The 8th Circle

  2. Your previous attitude obviously shows that you were a typical consumer of propaganda (even though you were object of a little bit more sophisticated one).
    Unfortunately, Your third paragraph /3) While Montenegro’s government continues to be corrupt, inbred, intolerant of criticism, and deeply linked with regional criminal elites, independence has not made those things worse. Indeed, matters may have improved a little./ shows that you failed to learn from your mistakes.
    I am pretty sure that in 2-3 years you will be ripe to write an article reconsidering your today’s attitude. However, I’m not sure that you will do it.
    Corruption in Montenegro is not worse than in other Balkan countries, it’s even, acc to the reliable Western sources, less problematic then in the neighborhood. “Intolerance of criticism”, “deep links with regional criminal elites” etc. are unfortunately just words given without any proof.

  3. “Corruption in Montenegro is not worse than in other Balkan countries, it’s even, acc to the reliable Western sources, less problematic then in the neighborhood.”

    Really? Let’s see what our friends at Transparency International have to say.

    Corruption Perception Index, 2007

    Italy 5.2
    Greece 4.6
    Croatia 4.1
    Bulgaria 4.1
    Romania 3.7
    Serbia 3.4
    Montenegro 3.3

    Montenegro is tied with Jamaica, Lesotho and Swaziland. You do beat Albania, though.

    Doug M.

  4. Well, now is 2008. I know /you have already shown/ that you do have a problem understanding importance of timing. So, let’s see the NEWSET Transparency International’s data:

    2008 Confidence CPI score

    Croatia ________ 4.4
    Romania ________ 3.8
    Bulgaria _______ 3.6
    Macedonia ____ 3.6
    Albania ________ 3.4
    Montenegro _____ 3.4
    Serbia _________ 3.4
    Bosnia & Herz. _ 3.2

    Source: http://www.transparency.org/news_room/in_focus/2008/cpi2008/cpi_2008_table

    As data shows, situation in Montenegro is, as I have said, NOT WORSE than in the NEIGHBORHOOD. Corruption Perception Index is SAME (equal, equivalent, identical, adequate analogous, match, at par etc – hope you would catch the essence) as in Albania and Serbia, better then in Bosnia even very similar to index in Romania and Bulgaria – countries that are EU members.

    Furthermore, processes are much important than sole indexes: Comparing last year’s index – Montenegro is up (better) 0.1, Serbia has same result, Bosnia is 0.1 down etc.

    Imputation has been, for years, Montenegro enemies’ and Montengro independence opposers’ weapon.

    P.S. I have mentioned Montenegro’s neighbors in the Balkans. Believe or not, Italy is NOT in the Balkans; Greece, Bulgaria and Romania are not Montenegro’s neighbors. (But neighbor is Bosnia Ex Yugoslav republic which you “accidentally” missed.) Hope you do not need a hint to show Montenegro on the map. 🙂

  5. The new TI index just came out two weeks ago. Funny thing is, I noticed it at the time…

    Italy’s not in the Balkans, but it is — your words — “in the neighborhood”. And I can say from personal experience that Podgorica-Bari is a lot faster and easier than Podgorica-Sarajevo.

    So Montenegro improved by a tenth of a point. Wonderful! You’re now equal to India, Senegal and Madagascar.

    Of course, over the same period Albania jumped by 0.7 points — a much more dramatic increase. They’re tied with you now. Interesting, no?

    As to “intolerant of criticism”, let me know when the killers of _Dan_ editor Dusko Jovanovic are convicted. Not to mention the guys who killed Slavoljub Scekic, the cop who was investigating his case. Or the guys who beat up author Jevrem Brkovic, sport journalist Mladen Stojovic, editor Zeljko Ivanovic, or radio journalist Tufik Softic.

    And then of course there are the lawsuits against journalists, like the ones brought by PM Djukanovic against Ivanovic and everyone else at _Vijesti_. The court awarded Djukanovic 20,000 Euros for that. Which is pretty amusing, since the President of the court had his own anti-journalist lawsuit going at the same time, against Peter Komnenic of _Monitor_.

    As for links to regional criminal elites… come on. The Italian prosecutors are crazy or wrong? The “cigarette transit business” was conducted without links to organized crime? Djukanovic’s brother Aco is clean? All that money in Prva Crnogorska Banka came from the Prime Minister’s salary? Okay, if you say so…

    Of course, Montenegro /is/ unusual in one way: unlike everyplace else in the Balkans, people trust the government:

    http://www.gallup.com/poll/106054/Trust-Favors-Incumbent-Montenegro-Election.aspx

    Anyway. If, in another two or three years, Montenegro is doing much better — then sure, I’ll post again about it.

    Doug M.

  6. Srdjan, Montenegrin politicians do visit Italian prosecutors in Bari, the destination of their traffics. The region itself has high levels of criminality, Bari being the city with the highest number of homicides, the university famous for serving as a diploma supermarket and 13 proffessors from the same family. So Mr. Muir is right on including it. After all, the title shows he is capable of admitting his errors.
    That said, there is indeed less corruption in Crna Gora than around. A Serb girl was complaining to me just last Saturday about diplomas being sold freely on Beograd streets. In Croatia, well…
    http://www.setimes.com/cocoon/setimes/xhtml/en_GB/features/setimes/features/2008/09/22/feature-02
    Bulgaria, Romania and Greece are the top 3 EU countries with the highest number of investigations on EU-fund frauds by OLAF(2007).
    We Balkanistanians do love the motto bribe and be bribed, don’t we?
    I’d be more worried about Montenegro turning into a Russian colony, since many of them oligarchs are buying property even where the law says otherwise.
    PS : Albania went from 105th to 85th place. Quite a jump, huh…

  7. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Montenegro: Independence, 2 1/2 Years On

  8. I am looking for an outlet to further the stories of Prva Banka, the bank partly owned by Milo Djukanovic. We have hard evidence here in the United States, as there was a court case against individuals for using a website to bilk investors of several million dollars which I believe was used by Djukanovics for the first purchase of the old bank, now owned by their family. This was a big court case in the United States, but never formally tied together. I see now the bank is becoming the subject of law suits in Europe. I need to know if you can help s report this story and perhaps open the case against them for recovery of funds.

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