Fear and happiness

The latest survey of public opinion “Balkan Monitor” conducted by the agency Gallup Europe in the Western Balkans, organized by the European Fund for the Balkans, has shown a worrying trend in terms of freedom of expression in Montenegro. In fact, as many as 64% of respondents believe that most or many people are afraid to freely express their political views. In an earlier study by the same agency, this figure was 50%. This is the highest percentage in the Western Balkans!

So it seems that the process of European integration, consolidation of democratic processes, and certain economic development does not make us freer as individuals, but quite the contrary.

Earlier research conducted by CEDEM also showed that discrimination on the basis of political opinion is the most common form of discrimination and that this kind of discrimination in most present during the employment process.

When we put this information in the context of reported facts in Opinion of the European Commission on Montenegro’s EU membership application that our public administration is “highly politicized”, and the fact that the public sector amounts for over a quarter of the total number of employees, we get a clearer picture of the causes of such a high degree of captivity of thought.

I believe that fundamentally, this attitude towards freedom of expression is an awareness of the immutability of the national party system, a system that when it wants to help – it really helps, and it doesn’t want to help – it enforces the law. We should not forget that even among employees in the private sector, which had mainly originated, developed and survived on the basis of the state/party monopolies and private relationships, there is also a strong awareness of the desirable political opinion and the limitations of freedom of expression and political action.

In such a situation where we still often hear the old wisdoms of “don’t stir”, “don’t’ be hasty”, “you do not have to be the first to say something”, “there’s already someone thinking about it”, “nobody has to know what’s on your mind”, we have developed an awareness that is more useful, purposeful and rational not to speak and wait. In other words, unfreedom pays off.

Some other responses from the survey do not correspond with the expected dissatisfaction with this situation, while on the other hand they indicate that unfreedom does not hurt as much as civil or political activists expected it would.

Therefore, the Gallup survey show that our citizens’ average life satisfaction increases, amounting to 5.5 on a scale of 0 to 10, which is almost at the level of neighboring Croatia (5.6), and highest since 2006 when this research started. Should we emphasize that the confidence which our citizens have towards the Government is by far the largest in the region, with over 70% of respondents who mostly or largely trust their Government.

Perhaps the explanation lies in the words of Ivan Krasteva written in the introduction of this year’s Gallup survey, “The citizens of the region are learning to live in dysfunctional countries, and badly governed democracies, and they are also learning the art of bearable dissatisfaction.”

I fear that the development of art of bearable dissatisfaction has become a development opportunity and superior artistic achievement and, in the same time a desirable attitude towards the world around us.

However, instead of contempt for people who treasure their bread and keep their mouth shut, the work on accelerating the process of depoliticization and introducing the system of merit-based recruitment and promotion, accelerating privatization through a balanced proportion of undisputed foreign capital, rationalization of the number of employees in public administration should be continued.

However, nothing will help break the unfreedom of expression as establishing the practice of changing the government. Then, when the foundation of a democratic change of government is present in the people’s consciousness as an experience, as a reality, then freedom will appear in places where it was not expected. Decades of leaders’ cults and omnipresent state party rule is the biggest barrier to freedom of opinion and expression.

The release is a prerequisite not only for the sustainable competitive political system but rather the very essence of civil society. I already wrote about the possibility of civil society reducing to a few professional organizations in addition to which there will be no small, sporadic, citizens’ initiatives and actions. Just as many political parties are living today, through a narrow group of politicians and professional employees, without a party base and relationship with citizens.

It is necessary to open all structures (state, party, civic, economic), eliminate monopolies and strengthen competition, reduce state interference, strengthen trade union organizations and mechanisms for protecting workers’ rights and have a stronger connection of the media and citizens.

If those who are leaving and those who are to replace them, in all structures, should have a strategic, emancipatory relation to these issues that would be worthy of a leader, perhaps history could one day hold them in significantly higher regard than their present contribution to freeing Montenegro and its citizens sugests, regardless of how much they themselves contributed to this situation.

Stevo Muk
President of the Managing Board

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