Interview: The majority of Montenegrin citizens support Accession to the EU; still without a stable majority for NATO

Below, you can read the interview with Dina Bajramspahić, public policy researcher in IA

When the Institute Alternative was founded and what is its mission and vision?

Bajramspahić: “Institute Alternative” was founded in 2007 as a think-tank organization with the aim to contribute to the improvement of public policies in Montenegro though research and advocacy. Based on the decision of the Ministry of Science from 17 of October 2013, Institute Alternative (IA) has been granted a license for performing scientific research activities in the field of social sciences, according to the Law on Scientific Research Activity. Our strategic goal is to raise the quality of work, accountability, transparency and efficiency of public administration, fostering an open, public, constructive and reasoned debate on public policies and to strengthen the capacity of state and society for development.

Through what programs do you realize your strategic goals?

Bajramspahić: We are currently in the phase of strategic rethinking of program areas of the organization and redefining our goals for the period by 2020. However, for years, IA has been implementing its activities within four main active programs: 1.The reform of public administration, 2. Responsible public finances, 3. Parliamentary program and 4. Security and defense – in which I am personally most involved, although, naturally, there is an overlap between all programs and activities of the organization.

What are the major projects that Institute Alternative has implemented so far, and what are those you are currently working on? 

Bajramspahić: Over the past nine years we have been working on a lot of projects in each of the program area. A list of 35 current and completed projects from just the last few years is available at: IA is known for the transparency of its work and the proactive disclosure of information on all projects, donors that have supported our work and on our finances. Among other things, this year it was third year in a row that IA received five stars for the transparency of its finances, according to research conducted by an international non-profit organization, Transparify, that evaluates transparency of over 200 research centers. So far, our work is supported by over 20 different donors, and with the majority of them we have continuous cooperation. Our annual financial reports are also available on our website.

Would you explain briefly your main tasks as a public policy researcher?

Bajramspahić: I work in IA since May 2011 as a researcher and my main task is data collection and analysis of public policies in the field of security and defense; writing and publishing different types of reports (studies, briefs, articles, press releases), which are usually the result of monitoring and evaluation of the work of state institutions. Thus, it is necessary to present recommendations arising from those analyses to the relevant decision makers and the public. With the aim of influencing policy-making, we participate in expert working groups, but we also organize various public events in order to start discussion on a number of important issues for society.

Initially, the subject of our interest was predominantly democratic and civilian control of the security and defense sector. However, over time, we started being actively involved in all issues related to the rule of law, good governance in the security sector, reform of the judiciary and anti-corruption, and questions of integrity in this area. Therefore, my job is to point out, based on collected data, to the possible directions for improvements in these areas.

Is it possible to say that the democratic processes in Montenegro advanced after its independence?

Bajramspahić: There is no doubt that Montenegro formally advanced the most among of all of its neighbors in terms of European and Euro-Atlantic integration. Number of steps has been taken, and over the past decade there has been a strong commitment to reaching these goals. However, the progress that has been realized is such that the citizens still cannot feel the benefits of the process. A lot comes down to elitist communication between international organizations, Member States and the Government, and on their assessment of the progress, that is often political. The democratization process is still turbulent, which means that we note the positive improvements but occasionally also some steps backwards.

Can the resignation of Darko Pajovića, leader of Positive Montenegro, after the failure of the recent general elections in the country, be considered as contribution to the democratization of society and political scene of Montenegro?

Bajramspahić: I believe not. Having lost parliamentary status, Positive Montenegro no longer has any chance of serious influence on the political situation in Montenegro. It should be noted that in the last parliamentary composition, this party had seven seats, which was a success given that they were just established. The management of this political group has an absolute responsibility for its collapse, but the ostensibly responsibility of its leader, who actually, except resignation, had no other option, will not have an impact on the political scene.

How would you assess the last parliamentary elections in Montenegro in terms of regularity and behavior of actors before and after them?

Bajramspahić: I think it’s devastating for all participants of the electoral process that even in 2016 has not been achieved more when it comes to confidence in the electoral process. A number of issues have not been resolved. It is clear that the opposition, because of objective reasons, and because of lack of involvement in solving problems, entered the election with suspicion and awareness of its very unequal position. It is so first of all because there were still present some practices of abuse of state resources for party purposes, especially through the party’s employment. There were also other open doubts in irregularities such as buying votes and irregularities in the voters list, which was all accompanied by a lack of proactivity of relevant state authorities.
I think it’s too bad that the rhetoric was extremely sharpened and was dominantly populist and nationalist. Questions about Montenegro’s membership in NATO prevailed, rather than the real life issues that the majority of citizens worry about. Even those parties that offered a Program, generally had no clear suggestions on how to improve the situation in Montenegro. The most worrying is that the elections showed that such realistic and moderate policy would not get support because the majority of citizens gave their vote to parties that with their extreme statements contributed most to the polarization of society – to the ruling DPS and the opposition party DF.

How do you comment on the arrest of the former head of the Serbian Gendarmerie Bratislav Dikić and the group on election day? Have arrested actually had bad intentions, or …? Does Belgrade have anything to do with their appearance in your country on election day?

Bajramspahić: I think it is too early to comment, because the situation is still very unclear and unknown, but I want to believe that the court process will resolve all issues. The Special Prosecutor that is leading this case has so far justified the high expectations that the public had of the Special Prosecutor’s Office. So, I hope it will be the same in this case, although now, there is a far greater risk of political misuse of the Prosecutor’s Office. If it is confirmed in the future that the official version on the event is not true, this would have serious consequences on our justice system, where the Special Prosecutor’s Office was the brightest link so far.

The relative winner of the election was again Milo Djukanovic and his party. Will he be able to form a stable parliamentary majority and the Government, if he succeeds to acquire the minority parties in the coalition? Could “Croatian scenario” happen in Montenegro?

Bajramspahić: If DPS fails to form a majority with the minority parties, I believe it would be no more unstable than the majority if constituted by the opposition and minorities. I certainly think that for the reform process, it is better that no party has an absolute majority since it is forced to more dialogue and negotiation with other actors in society, which is especially important for Montenegrin context. If we still have in mind the benefits of Government, I think that minority parties would not be as “impulsive” to leave the Government and “re-test” their power in elections.

In the end, is Montenegrin society predominantly determined for the EU and NATO?
Bajramspahić: According to opinion polls, the majority of Montenegrin citizens support the accession of Montenegro to the European Union, but there is still not a stable majority for NATO.

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