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Russian expert blames Montenegro protests on authorities’ defiance of public opinion

October 28, 2015, 19:23 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara
During anti-governmental rallies in Podgorica

During anti-governmental rallies in Podgorica

© AP Photo/Risto Bozovic, Archive

MOSCOW, October 28. /TASS/. Montenegrin authorities’ charges that Russia may be behind the mass protests in that small country in the Balkans have no hard facts to rely on and have nothing to do with the sentiment of a large share of the country’s society, the head of the Modern Balkan Crisis Studies Center at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Yelena Guskova, has told TASS in an interview.

On Wednesday, the government of Montenegro posted on its website — not for the first time over the past two weeks — the charges Moscow was allegedly engineering the protests in the capital city Podgorica. Prime Minister Milo Dukanovic claims that Russia is determined to prevent Montenegro from joining NATO, for which it plans to use support from the opposition. In response, the Russian Foreign Ministry said there was no evidence at all Russia was somehow responsible for tensions in Montenegro and that prime minister Milo Dukanovic was acting in his own interests in attempts to dodge the responsibility for soaring tensions.

The Montenegrin parliament on October 16 voted for the country’s accession to NATO. The next day police cracked down on the demonstrators’ tent camp that had emerged in front of the parliament building in Podgorica at the end of September. The opposition’s leaders demanded that the authorities should form an interim government by October 24. Last Saturday Podgorica saw a mass rally. The protesters demanded Dukanovic should step down, a transitional government be formed and early elections called. Also, the opposition’s supporters came out against the country’s NATO membership. Police dispersed the demonstrators using tear gas and stun grenades.

When she returned from Podgorica last week, Russia’s leading expert on the Balkan affairs, general director of the International Fund of South Slavic Studies Yelena Guskova, said that most Montenegrins loved Russia and honored the centuries-old ties.

Guskova briefly reviewed the history of bilateral relations. In 1711 Russian Emperor Peter the Great issued a decree to support Montenegro financially in order to help it gain its own statehood. The Montenegrins always had an affectionate attitude towards Russia. Daughters of Montenegro’s last king Nikola were married to grand princes from Russia’s Romanov dynasty. Military officers of Montenegrin origin made successful careers in the Russian army, for instance, General Mikhail Miloradovich, a hero of the 1812 war against Napoleon and St. Petersburg’s military governor. In 1904, during the Russian-Japanese war Montenegro declared war on Japan in a gesture of solidarity with Russia. Russia and Montenegro were allies in the first and second world wars. The Montenegrins still have the saying: "We and Russians number 200 million," although the republic’s population is just 600,000.

"Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Dukanovic is unable or reluctant to understand that the people are sincere in expressing their feelings and their demonstrations are not engineered from Moscow. The demonstrators in Podgorica were carrying Russian, Serbian, Greek and Russian flags. Speakers at the rally said a great deal about Russia and called it the Montenegrins’ main ally. One of the leaders of the Democratic Party of Unity on October 7 congratulated Russian President Vladimir Putin upon his birthday. The crowd filling the square was chanting "Russia!" and "Putin!" It was really amazing for there were no Russians in the square at the moment except for myself," Guskova told TASS.

The main opponent of NATO membership in Montenegro is Metropolitan Amphilochius of Montenegro and the Littoral, Guskova said. Speaking at the protest demonstration in Podgorica Amphilochius asked: "How is it possible for Montenegro to enter NATO? What is it and who is it the Montenegrins will be fighting against? Against Russia? But that’s madness! The entire history of Montenegro has always been a history of brotherhood and cooperation with Russia. Now all of a sudden the Montenegrin authorities are taking some economic sanctions against Russia! At a time when 99% of the population are against the sanctions!"

Guskova pointed to one distinguishing feature of the two-week long mass protests in Podgorica. "The people are angry mostly over Milo Dukanovic, who has in fact usurped power for the past 26 years. Back in the 1990s he was accused of corruption and building a fortune on the smuggling of cigarettes and other items that were in short supply. Europe’s attitude towards Dukanovic was rather negative, too, due to his involvement in profiteering and unjust enrichment."

"In his attempts to conceal from Europe how angry the people are over his policies, Dukanovic has claimed for the past two weeks that all protests in Podgorica were Moscow-engineered and that pro-Russian demonstrations were aimed against the country’s accession to NATO. The West will instantly believe this without even checking. In this way Dukanovic manipulates with public opinion and uses anti-Russian rhetoric to secure the backing of the European Union and NATO," Guskova said.

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