Prime Minister Đukanović, it has been 32 years since the last visit of the President of Italy to Montenegro, the visit of the President Pertini to former Yugoslavia. Montenegro is now an independent country and the independence has been gained without bloodshed. Are you proud of that fact?
Montenegro still cherishes memories of the President Pertini’s visit more than three decades ago. He was popular in Yugoslavia, especially in Montenegro. Today’s visit of President Sergio Mattarello to Montenegro has historical significance. He is the first Italian President to visit our country since we restored independence 9 years ago. This is primarily seen as a neighbourly gesture of traditional friendship, but also as support of as a country as important as Italy for Montenegro, its European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
Thank you for reminding us of how we restored our state in May 2006. We are really proud of it. For the first time in the long history of the Balkans, a country was established in a peaceful and democratic manner. And throughout our history, we have been recognised as warriors and freedom-loving people. Nowadays we are equally proud of both sides of our history.
Montenegro is the smallest of ex- Yugoslav republics, although it holds a strategic position, has access to the Mediterranean and open door to the Balkans. What role do you think you can play in the region?
Montenegro was the smallest and one of the least developed republics of former Yugoslavia. Nowadays, it is the leading economy of the Western Balkan in terms of GDP per capita. We were internationally recognised as an independent state only 9 years ago. However, Montenegro is a country with a thousand year-long tradition. In ancient times, the Roman province Prevalis was established on Montenegro’s territory. For the first time, we gain our independence at the Berlin Congress in the 19th century. The history of this part of Europe is unthinkable without Montenegro. It used to be recognised as a small territory on which a libertarian nation difficult to conquer lives. Nowadays, Montenegro is synonymous with “European success story in the Balkans”, “anchor of stability in the region…” I think that is the role Montenegro has already been playing successfully. We should not forget that during the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia, it was the only one of the six republics where there was no war or destruction. And during Milošević’s war with NATO in 1999, we saved Montenegro from the bombing, although it was part of his Yugoslavia.
It seems that the coexistence of different nationalities and religions in Montenegro is on the right track. What is the difference compared to countries such as Macedonia, Bosnia or Kosovo, where tensions are still very intense?
Interethnic harmony in our country was strengthened during the historical turmoil I mentioned. During the wars of 1990s in former Yugoslavia, Montenegro opened its doors to everyone, regardless of their religion and nationality – Serbs, Muslims, Albanians … At the time, refugees accounted for one quarter of the Montenegrin population. In our country, Montenegrins, Serbs, Albanians, Bosnians, Croats and others live in harmony. This is a European identity card of Montenegro today. I think it is not immodest to say that Montenegro can set an example to its neighbours. I want to believe that the region is going that way regardless of the issues that threaten to halt or turn back the Balkan’s EU train..
Montenegro is very close to joining NATO. Why did you, like other Balkan countries, gave priority to the military alliance with the West?
Primarily for security and stability in the region. We believe that the membership invitation to Montenegro will be sent by the end of the year, and that it would be a true stabiliser for the region, and encouragement for pro-European forces in all countries of the region. History has shown that Balkan has never had self-regulatory mechanisms for the prevention of conflicts. That is why today we still lag behind the developed Europe. Euro – Atlantic integration is synonymous with stability of the Balkans. I believe that Serbia will eventually take the path.
Relations with Russia are still intense, many Russian tourists are supporting your economy. How do you intend to preserve the balance between Europe and Russia?
Montenegro has a several century-long tradition of friendly relations with Russia. The country played an important role in the process of restoring Montenegro’s statehood, which we do not forget. As one of key countries in the world, Russia normally has its interests. But small countries like Montenegro have its own as well. We chose the NATO and EU membership as strategic directions of our state policy. Not against anyone, but for ourselves. We have chosen the values the EU and NATO are based upon. Relations between Russia and the West have never been simple and they are not today. Yet I believe that no matter how long it takes, the crisis in Ukraine will pass. It affects not only the relations between Montenegro and Russia, but also the European Union as a whole and its member individually in relations to Moscow. We made our position in terms of the crisis in Ukraine as we joined the common European foreign and security policy. Russian tourists have always been welcome in Montenegro. And they will be. As well as in Italy and other European tourist countries. Montenegro does not want to be a bone of contention between Russia and Europe, Russia and the West, on the contrary.
The biggest foreign investor is Italy, particularly in the energy sector. Italian enterprises are implementing a strategic underwater cable project for energy export. The Port of Bar is very important for Fiat, although there are certain misunderstandings when it comes to investing in thermal power plants. How do you plan to resolove those issues?
We appreciate very much the fact that Italy is a leader among foreign investors in Montenegro, particularly in the energy sector as you noted. The underwater cable is of high importance not only for the energy, but for the overall stability as well. Our interest is to strengthen economic and overall relations with Italy. We have already made a decision to start the construction of the Second Block of the Thermal Power Plant in the municipality of Pljevlja as soon as possible. In the matter of fact, Italian President Pertini visited that city 32 years ago. We certainly wish to implement that project together with our Italian partners. If they do not see their interest in that project, we will certainly find other solution in order to finish the project without them. I personally believe that, in bona fides, we could reach the best solution in order to continue our cooperation.
Presence of China is visible. Will China’s expansion compromise the balance in Europe?
The presence of China and other partners outside of European continent will depend primarily on Europe itself. The process 16+1 (China and Central and Eastern European Countries) has been going on for several years, and the EU member states and aspiring countries are among them. We have started the construction of the first section that will connect the Port of Bar with Belgrade, as well as with Central Europe, with our credible Chinese partners under favourable financial terms. Given the long lasting crisis in Europe, there is a growing interest for the capital form places where it exists. And it is logical that investors from the world wide will come to places lacking European capital or interest. That leads me to the conclusion that capital from non – European countries could not jeopardise the balance in Europe. We should observe that issue from a better perspective, as Europe’s active engagement in global streams which are intensively taking place outside of Europe.
EU accession process is strategically important for investment. Montenegro has opened 18 out of 35 chapters. When do you see Montenegro joining the EU? In five or ten years?
We are constantly making progress towards EU accession. I believe it is reasonable to expect the opening of another two chapters next month. I have to remind you that the new approach regarding the enlargement policy has been launched precisely with Montenegro. We are the first country which has started the negotiation process by opening the rule of law-related chapters 23 and 24. For Montenegro, the overall process is more important than the ultimate goal. It is not important whether it is about five or ten years. We are focused on the reforms. We will continue that way and I am sure that the dynamics of the overall process will go in our favour.
Montenegro is a Balkan, but also a Mediterranean state. Do you consider expanding your role in international missions by joining the NATO Alliance, particularly referring to the crisis affecting the Mediterranean which has become a very “warm” sea over the past few months?
Montenegro is the missing Mediterranean and Adriatic link in the NATO chain. I believe it is not the size but the strength of the link that matters. We think that Montenegro’s membership to NATO will strengthen credibility of the Alliance. As long as both large and small, each according to their stability, driven by common values, do what need to be done, the world will be a better, more secure place. Another stable Mediterranean country as part of NATO is positive news for the entire Mediterranean. As to international missions, Montenegro is already acting as if it was already a full-fledged NATO member state.
Prime Minister Đukanović, you have been in charge of Montenegrin institutions for 26 years. Do you see your successor on the horizon?
During that period, I have withdrawn from power twice on my own initiative. Unfortunately for a short period of time, as the situation in Montenegro requested so. I am now focused on Montenegro’s commitment to EU and NATO accession. We are building a society based on the rule of law, we are establishing new intuitions, creating a new state architecture and a system in line with European standards. That is very important for every country, particularly for small states in the unstable Balkan region. If we succeed, it is irrelevant who will be on the top of the political pyramid.
Source: Government of Montenegro