July 13 is a Montenegrin national holiday which commemorates the country’s Statehood Day. It’s being celebrated for two reasons: firstly, it is the date on which Montenegro was recognised as a sovereign state in the Berlin congress of 1878 and, secondly, the day when antifascists began uprising against the occupying forces in 1941. The uprising was organised by communists and it was one of the biggest rebellions in occupied Europe.
Three days ago, to mark the date, there was a peaceful celebration of antifascists on the holiday in Nikšić, with elderly people, kids, women, men and everyone else singing partisan and Montenegrin songs.
At the same time, there was a counter-protest by fascists, that decided to demonstrate against “communist-invented nation of Montenegrins, Montenegrins Ustasha (Croatian fascists), and Nazis”. It was organised by a group that has strong ties with the Serbian Orthodox church, pro-Russian extremists and right-wing Democratic Front (DF) followers, with a lot of them wearing ‘Z’ t-shirts and/or Chetnik’s (Serbian fascists) emblems. They were glorifying Russia, fascist collaborator Draža Mihailović, Serbian post-World War One occupation of Montenegro and yelling many other things that go hand in hand with this ideology. These people are not, at least in the vast majority, from Serbia. They are identifying as Serbs with claims that Montenegrins don’t exist, as it is preached by their political and religious leaders.
The police was letting counter-protesters come close to antifascists while escorting them during songs about murdering Muslims, as you can see in this video.
We came closer to chant against this monstrosity, but the police were turned with their backs towards fascists and with faces and shields towards antifascists. After tensions, the police directed tear gas guns towards antifascists and let the bombs drop.
People were running around, but the streets were in majority closed by police cordons, so we had to hide in bars and coffee places. After the initial police attack, we came again to the police to protest and ask why they attacked the peaceful protesters that were celebrating the national holiday and uprising while defending the fascists. But the police, completely unprovoked, shot tear gas bombs at us again. Then it all escalated. Police brutality was responded to by throwing lighters and bottles.
I was at the spot and one of the tear gas bombs exploded right at my feet, during the peaceful part of demonstration. I threw up, ‘cried’ and even got burned by the explosion of the tear gas. More importantly, my girlfriend experienced the same symptoms. All of that while we were covered with anarcho-syndicalist and Montenegrin flags.
Meanwhile, the mayor of Nikšić is a self-proclaimed Chetnik (picture below) and, when he got elected, Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić donated two million euros to that municipality, to further spread influence. Also, Aleksandar Vulin, minister of internal affairs gave a speech, just a few days before the holiday, that all Serbians should live inside one country, addressing his already expressed dream of “Great Serbia”.
All of this is being watched by the ruling ‘green’ party URA for some reason. Investigating journalists implied this is due to the corruption ties between the prime minister of Montenegro, Dritan Abazović, and the ruling circles from Belgrade. And just like Donald Trump did after the Charlottesville shooting, our prime minister blamed “both sides”, while focusing much more on the antifascists for the incidents on July 13. In fact, four days ago, Dritan was walking on the edge of relativisation of the Srebrenica genocide in the middle of its memorial. It’s hard to believe that a holder of a PhD in Political Science did this unintentionally.
Just like the past government of neoliberal DPS was hiding its corruption with national narratives, now URA is doing the opposite – hiding nationalistic tensions with fight against the corruption. Unfortunately, both of the parties were doing this poorly. DPS was having close ties with the Serbian Orthodox church and they were on the same side during the war in Yugoslavia, while URA didn’t really do anything to free the justice institutions to tackle nepotism, organised crime and corruption.
It’s important to note that pro-government media was releasing hate speech articles towards Montenegrins and antifascists by labelling us as Nazis days before, and it all seemed as a very well-prepared set-up. As leftist historian Miloš Vukanović wrote: “There is no difference between attempts to demonise Montenegrins in defence efforts against Serbian nationalism, with all the positive and negative aspects, and the violent perception that Putin has been building towards Ukrainians.”
Montenegro, just like many countries, replaced corrupt neoliberals with right-wing populists that are affiliated with the church. However, when that happens in the Balkans, with the recent history of wars, imperialism and nationalism, it’s a completely different story. Especially because the government was elected on the wave of clerical-nationalism energy and even agreed upon in a monastery of a previously mentioned church* that was accused of hiding war criminals, pushing the narrative of ‘Great Serbia’, and pushing the Russian influence, as recognised even by a European Commission report.
(*We managed to ‘strip naked‘ and overthrow that government. But, the regime pretty much stayed the same, as the discourse never changed. The most important common denominator is Abazović, who was first a deputy prime minister, and now the head of the state.)
Just like a vast number of Montenegrins are against those politicians that hid their corruption behind a Montenegrin flag, a lot of Serbians (both from Montenegro and Serbia) are against the current government in both countries. People are not the problem, but the elites and ideologies are.
Constitutionally, multi-ethnic Montenegro is sliding towards disintegration into imperialist ‘big state’ projects, mainly through the Open Balkans initiative and internal problems with rising clericalication. One more sad thing lies in the fact that the war mongering organisation that is NATO is seen as the only opposition. But, as you can see, that’s not the case – NATO is not going to save you or guarantee you security if that doesn’t guarantee them selling weapons for profit. Once again, Montenegrins, Bosnians, Serbians, Albanians, Croatians, non-national people and others are victims of big political games and demagogy.
However, DiEM25 is not going to look away. We will try to shine more light on the situation in Montenegro and other Western Balkan countries.
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