I would like the concept of civic, cosmopolitan and European vision of the region to spread to other countries
We spoke with Dritan Abazovic, Deputy PM of Montenegro, on the eve of the 200th day since the new Montenegrin government was appointed. He talks for Diplomacy&Commerce magazine about the vision of Montenegro as a modern European country, devoid of crime and corruption, in which cooperation between different national, religious and political communities is possible. “In the end, everything depends on the people, their good will, energy and the ability to find a compromise for certain things in a political environment,” says Mr. Abazović.
In the post-Zoran Djindjić-period, politicians who were considered “a rising star”, like you, who gained such prominence on social media were few and far between. How did you convert this sudden “popularity” into political “momentum”, i.e. momentum for reform?
I am not sure that I can compare myself with Zoran Djindjić. He was a great European politician and a man who definitely left a deep trace in the transformation of the entire region. I am very sorry that everything ended the way it ended, but I am humble and I think I am far from such a format of a politician.
On the other hand, I think I have given significant impetus to Montenegro’s reform trail. I see it as my personal and professional obligation, as a promise given to citizens. I was not overly excited when I became popular, nor hesitant when, after a certain period, I was severely criticized. One should follow one’s path. I am 100% sure of the correctness of my views and I would like the concept of civic, cosmopolitan and European vision of the region to spread to other countries, not only in Montenegro. Still, it needs to be given some impetus. If I contributed even a little to that, I am happy, and if I did not, that means that we should all work even harder and better together. I’m confident that the best things are yet to come.
In the next 15 years, Montenegro should set an example of a good, well-organized European country with great opportunities
After the election, many smaller political parties, as well as the former ruling party, thought that the URA and yourself could be the decisive factor that would „add grist to their mill“ so to speak, but it seems that they did not understand you the best, nor the URA. The word „URA“ in Albanian means “a bridge” and fittingly, you have decided to stay committed to the idea of building bridges. To what extent and how do you manage to explain your position and implement your programme today?
I am extremely pleased with our achievement on 30th August. Few people believed that such a regime could be defeated in Montenegro. I was the one who believed in it from the beginning, from the day I entered politics. „URA“ in Albanian indeed means „a bridge“, but the URA, regardless of what it means in any language, has demonstrated that it can be a bridge and perceive politics differently compared to the previous view of the political scene in the Balkans.
The goal is to do those things that are crucial to breaking down barriers in our heads that are artificially set up. The notion that cooperation between different national, religious and political communities is not possible is completely incorrect. It is all an artificial creation. In the end, everything depends on the people, their good will, energy and the ability to find a compromise for certain things in a political environment. I think we have proven that we can do it and we have done it appropriately. I am glad that all other political subjects followed our idea and vision and that we did not have to adjust to anyone. This is also something that remains a great pledge for the future. Of course, we now face other challenges. There is still a lot of work ahead of the Government of Montenegro, but I am sure that the URA has planted the seed from which a more beautiful and progressive future of all peoples living here should sprout.
Montenegro wants the best possible cooperation with the Republic of Serbia and we do not have a neighbour who is closer to us in any segment
How difficult is it to, figuratively speaking, “drain the swamp” in Montenegrin politics after 30+ years of one party’s rule?
This is not a swamp, but more like a bigger lake or the sea. As hard as it is, it is a job that must be done. We started something. A good foundation has to be laid because if we do that, the current period will not last too long. If we are prone to making certain compromises and being unprincipled, then we will achieve nothing. I believe that if we are determined, as we were to change the government and pave the way for Montenegro’s reform path, we will succeed. It does not matter at all how big ‘the sea’ is and how much distance we have to swim, but if you have enough desire, will, knowledge and are solidly prepared for it, then I think it is not impossible to win in the end. We proved exactly that in very difficult conditions. Now, all that remains is to validate that we have not wavered and that the same zeal, desire and will still exist.
How would you rate the relations between Montenegro and Serbia, and how big is the potential for progress?
Regardless of certain daily political squabbles, which aim is to promote certain political subjects backed up by a political agenda that is different to our state’s agenda, I would still rate them as correct and good. I don’t think what’s happening right now will cast a shadow over our relations. I think they should be elevated on a different level, not the political one but rather the state one, and that means that we should not be hostages of political subjects, but rather ‘hostages’ of the national interests of the two countries. Montenegro wants the best possible cooperation with the Republic of Serbia and we do not have a neighbour who is closer to us in any segment. We want the good neighbor policy and to affirm to the maximum that all possible doubts are overcome in one dialogue. I am ready to personally contribute to that and once again, I would like to convey a message to the officials of the Republic of Serbia that the Government of Montenegro is their friend in terms of protection, promotion and the best interests of both countries.
Montenegro is facing difficult economic indicators – the decline in 2020 was 10%. How hard is it to get the economy back on its feet at the most disagreeable moment for a new government?
The current situation is difficult. We lost last tourist season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and regardless of that, the economic parameters were quite bad. I hope that this is a year of recovery and that 2022 will be a year of complete normalization. I expect that this tourist season will exceed all optimistic expectations. In this regard, I would like to invite all citizens of the region to spend their summer vacation in Montenegro. Montenegro is a country of great opportunities and huge untapped potential.
We are obligated to utilize that potential in the coming period. I feel so many good vibes around Montenegro, so much investment potential, so many people and serious companies that would like to do fair business in Montenegro. The most important thing in that sense is to establish a system that will be able to absorb them in the right way and make those projects feasible in our society. That would translate into an overall recovery. Yes, the decline was steep, but Montenegro has the opportunity to rise like a phoenix from the ashes and to turn the curve in a positive direction in a short period.
The sooner we fulfil our obligations, the sooner we will probably join the club of democratic states, to which we aspire
You have become a symbol of the fight against organized crime. This ’disease’ is endemic for the region, and Serbia, Albania, Bulgaria, Kosovo… How difficult is it to “pull out that weed” that poisons both society and the economy?
My primary task in political engagement as the Deputy PM is to fight organized crime and corruption. I am satisfied with the results we have achieved in the first 200 days of our government and I think there are no more indifferent people when it comes to starting to fight against organized crime.
Of course, the results must and should be much better and more visible, but it is impossible to do that without the results of other institutions. Here, I am referring primarily to the State Prosecutor’s Office, and especially to the Special Prosecutor’s Office, as well as all other services in the security sector. No one has fought organized crime alone, nor has any country reduced it to zero, but our ambition is that Montenegro will never again be recognized as a country where criminals are welcome and where they can carry out business activities without any restrictions. I think that image is already changing. We have decimated one of the most important and strongest criminal clans in Europe. We are on our way to do the same with some other criminal organizations. It will take a lot of energy, knowledge and courage to get the job done.
However, this is our obligation and I would be very disappointed at the end of this endeavour if I had to admit that we failed to do it. I am confident that we will achieve this and I call on all other social factors, in the country and the region, to help us with this fight. If this is not a joint action of the countries of the region, Europol and other institutions in the security sector, I think we can hardly accomplish significant results. Transnational crime is often better coordinated than states and governments. However, no one is stronger than the state and the most important thing is to express the unwavering political will to be the ones who stand out in that fight. The only thing that currently exists is a feeling of loneliness because I don’t see that everyone is ready to sacrifice in that direction. I guess that will come with time. I hope that my colleagues will, at some point, accept this as the biggest problem of our overall development, and not certain topics that are artificially imposed on our society, which have nothing to do with the standard of living or societal progress.
What does the Government intend to do in the next period in terms of reforms, economic growth and Montenegro’s accession to the EU?
Our most significant reforms pertain to EU accession and Chapters 23 and 24, i.e. the rule of law and the fight against corruption and organized crime. In the process of economic reforms, we must go towards the process of liberalization and the possibility of doing business in Montenegro, breaking down all the barriers that now exist, and choosing priority projects of national importance.
Montenegro has several outstanding sites and several segments to which it can contribute. I think that energy, in addition to tourism, can become a significant industry. So far, agriculture has been an untapped branch, so there are several areas in which we should act and by doing so, move along our European path. I expect that all ministries, services and agencies will be fully committed to fulfilling the European agenda. That is our most important foreign policy priority. The sooner we fulfil our obligations, the sooner we will probably join the club of democratic states, to which we aspire.
15 years of independence
Montenegro celebrates 15 years of independence. Where do you see Montenegro in the next 15 years?
I think haven’t been making any progress in the past 15 years. We had some progressive things that are not negligible, we joined a number of international organizations and we somehow consolidated the state, which is good. However, for the next 15 years, we should entertain a dynamic that is completely the opposite. In the next 15 years, we need to pave the way for Montenegro to be an example of a good and well-organized European country with a high standard of living, environmentally friendly and bursting with great opportunities. I believe that, in 15 years, Montenegro will be a global hit. If we have a common-sense policy, which will make good use of its potentials, I believe that a fifteen-year period will be enough, not only to become a European hit, but also a global one, with people eager to live, work or spend their free time here.